Photo: Hachette Book Group
Portraits of Texas megachurch pastor Joel Osteen and other evangelical Christian leaders have been removed from a public library in Grayson, Ga., after a complaint by a Jewish woman over the exclusively Christian nature of the paintings, all done by a Christian artist.
The portraits were part of an art showing, where local painters were allowed to exhibit their work for a select period of time at the public library. Last Friday, however, Lawrenceville artist Ralph Beach, who painted the portraits, was contacted by the Grayson Branch Library and informed that a Jewish woman complained that the sketches were "not inclusive enough" and made the library seem too Christian. His art was then removed from the library.
"We have worked with Mr. Beach before and he has exhibited with us before. We love his work," expressed Barbara Spruill, branch services director with the Gwinnett County Library System. "However, we felt the scope of this particular exhibit was a little too narrow for the broad public audience that we have. This represented a singular point of view and we did have to respond to that – as well as to ensure that the artwork that is on display does not make anyone uncomfortable in the library."
The artist has shared his dismay at the decision.
"The manager said it was easiest to take it down when no patrons were in the library," Beach told the Longanville-Grayson Dispatch. "Why was this woman's rights more important than mine? The exhibition was not excluding anyone. It was not about religion – it was about my relationship with Jesus. What about my civil rights? What about freedom of speech? Isn't that what reading does – exposes us to other ways of thinking and how others think, feel, live."
The paintings included portraits of eight different evangelists, the most prominent of them being Osteen, who heads the largest congregation in America at his Lakewood Church, which gathers a 40,000 weekly attendance and reaches millions around the world.
Beach's work is available on his website, although it was offline at the time of publication. A cached version of his biography page, however, shows the following statement: "Other artists may offer similar services, but my services are the best, and come with my attention to detail and the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit."
The library has offered him a chance to participate in another exhibit, although the artist has said he has reservations about accepting the invitation.
"They said I could put something else up, but now I don't think I want to," Beach said. "Now I'm asking, 'What can I put up?' What if I wanted to do all pictures from the Holocaust or slavery? What then? Where does the censorship end? Art is supposed to evoke emotions."
"Since I can't show (this art) anywhere else except for churches where it's home at, maybe I can bring them there, then offer to sell prints of the originals and the sale of every print goes to the church."