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Reform Magazine | March 30, 2017

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Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Giant Jesi

Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Giant Jesi

One night in 1977, US televangelist Oral Roberts had a dream about Jesus. The Lord commanded him to build a world-class hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and, as a sweetener, promised to let Roberts in on the cure for cancer. So far, so normal – in the Magic Roundabout world of Pentecostal televangelism. But what sent the dream a little bit off piste, was that the Christ he met was 900ft tall, with burning eyes, and able to pick up huge buildings.

You don’t argue with a Christ like that – even in a dream clearly fuelled by late-night pizza – and so, in two or three years, the hospital was built. But it closed down within a decade, because Tulsa already had plenty of hospitals – as medical experts had said all along. My theory is that the supersized Saviour seen by Roberts was probably down to him reading JB Phillips’ book, Your God is Too Small, just before he turned in for the night.

The thing is, Oral Roberts’ dream is not all that unusual. Plenty of people have had dreams of giant Jesi (the universally recognised – by me – pluralisation of Jesus) and have then gone on to build them.

One of those people is Father Sylwester Zawadzki, who dreamt of putting up a statue of Jesus in the small Polish town where he is the priest. He started out by wanting a statue no bigger than “a small garden sculpture” (which in my book is basically a garden gnome) but then things got a bit out of hand and Father Sylwester ended up with a 440-ton concrete Jesus standing 33 metres tall. In fact, the Christ of Świebodzin, which was topped out in 2010 with a crown that looked like it had come out of a cracker, is the biggest Jesus in the world.

However, as it says in the Book of Job: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Even as Father Sylwester’s Christ was having a launch-day bottle of Communion wine smashed against it, another ginormous Jesus – outside a Pentecostal megachurch in Monroe, Ohio – was going up in flames after being struck by lightning, which was most embarrassing, theologically.

The Ohio statue depicted Jesus from the waist up raising his arms high in the air, like a charismatic worshipper stuck on spin cycle. His official title was “King of Kings”, but travellers on Highway 75, which passes close by, had long nicknamed him Touchdown Jesus, because he looked like an American football referee signalling a goal. What no one had twigged was that Touchdown Jesus, all 19 metres of him, was made mostly of flammable styrofoam, so he was a cremation just waiting to happen.

There are 29 king-sized Christ statues in the world, each of them over 20 metres tall, the height of the Angel of the North. Surprisingly, eight of them are in Mexico. Less surprisingly, none of them are in Britain.

Why do the statue-builders want to magnify the Lord in this particular way? This was the question asked when a big bronze statue of Christ was erected on Cherubim Mountain, Syria, in 2013, in the teeth of the Syrian civil war. A local Christian leader explained: “Jesus would have done it.”

Another gigantic monument, this time a 43-metre, bulletproof concrete cross, currently going up in Karachi, Pakistan, is there for essentially the same reason. The businessman behind it says it will encourage the minority Christian population: “God will protect you. Stay in your country. Don’t be afraid.”

I personally think that having to select the bulletproof option on the concrete menu could be a clue that discretion is the better form of witness – but I’m not the man on the spot. A colossal Christ certainly gets you and your faith noticed, and not only by friendly eyes. The Cherubim Mountain Jesus, standing at an elevation of 2,000 metres, can be seen as far away as Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan – and Islamic State.

The only thing going for giant Jesi is their hulking height. Shrink any of them down and put them on a shelf in a junk shop, and they would look perfectly at home as the hackneyed art they are. But is size enough? Jesus himself was never a fan of people who look down on others from a great height. The only time he was at a great height himself was in the company of the Devil.

Jesus said: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” I’d rather hear that in a pizza-fuelled dream than the words of a 900ft Christ.

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This article was published in the July/August 2015 edition of  Reform.

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