Out in leafy, lakeside Davidson, N.C., an affluent college town 20 miles north of Charlotte, a sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man has sparked some local uproar. Lying blanketed and forlorn on a bench, "Homeless Jesus" has inspired a conversation about homelessness in general, appropriate depictions of Christ and at least one call for his arrest.
The life-size statue is the work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz who in his artist statement says he's "devoted to creating artwork that glorifies Christ." His "Homeless Jesus" is controversial for many reasons; most importantly because of the pose. The figure depicts Jesus as a man under a blanket, with only his exposed feet, wounded by crucifixation, to give away his identity — a starkly different image than the images Christ on the cross, Christ at the nativity or Chris the redeemer that we are used to seeing.
Textually, this a-traditional depiciton of Jesus is true to his story — one of poverty, charity and asceticism. Though millions may worship him, the realities of what that life would have looked like are an unsettling juxtaposition with our contemporary experience of poverty, as pointedly expressed in Davidson.
Driving by the figure of "Homeless Jesus" one local woman's first reaction was unease; she later called the police. "She thought it was an actual homeless person," David Boraks, editor of the local DavidsonNews.net, told NPR.
Others residents have spoken out against "Homeless Jesus," calling it creepy or insulting or just plain bad for the neighborhood. As one resident put it in a letter to DavidsonNews.net, "My complaint is not about art-worthiness or the meaning behind the sculpture. It is about people driving into our beautiful, reasonably upscale neighborhood and seeing an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench."