Church Displays 'Controversial' Paintings of Jesus as a Jew

A Wisconsin church displayed a set of paintings this past Sunday which were initially described as being "too controversial" by a local hospital.

The series, titled "Rabbi Jesus," was painted by a Jewish artist, Clara Maria Goldstein, and displayed in English Lutheran Church in La Crosse, Wis., as a way to show the common heritage that both Jews and Christians share.

The Rev. Mark Solyst, pastor of English Lutheran, welcomed the artwork and questioned why there had been so much debate over the theme in the first place.

"We don't find Jesus as a Jew to be at all controversial," explained Solyst in a statement. "I think Jesus was a Jew. His mom was a Jew, his dad was a Jew, the twelve were Jews, the larger group of disciples, Paul the apostle, the early church was a Jewish church. That, in itself, was not controversial to us."

The problem began last fall when Goldstein was initially allowed to hang ten of her "Jesus Rabbi" paintings in La Crosse's Gundersen Lutheran Hospital. After realizing the content of the paintings, hospital officials forced the artist to immediately remove them because the art pieces would make patients feel uncomfortable and were "too controversial."

The paintings were also refused from an exhibition at Viterbo University in LaCrosse.

Although the hospital incident gave the paintings national attention, Goldstein continues to believe that her paintings are in no way controversial. They are a way for Christians and Jews to build peaceful connections to one another.

"I see the gap between Christians and Jews as I see my relationship with Romanians," explained the Nicaraguan artisan to The Christian Post. "Just as I have a special place in my heart for the Romanian people because we adopted one of our sons from them, I hope people who love Jesus would have a special place in their heart for the Jewish people because Jesus came through them. I could not hate the Romanian people, just as people who love Jesus should not hate the Jewish people. Such rancor does not make any sense."

Twelve of Goldstein's fifteen paintings (including the original ten) made their way into the English Lutheran exhibit. She plans on creating 25 total paintings to depict Jesus' Jewish roots.

Some of the themes of the paintings include Jesus celebrating his bar mitzvah, the twelve apostles as Jews, Rabbi Jesus saying to love one another, and even Mary preparing Jesus for circumcision.

As a main message, Goldstein wanted to portray the love that Jesus showed to all humanity. The core to the art is that it connects people through that love.

"The Rabbi Jesus series honors Jesus' Judaism, an aspect of him many artists have left behind," explained the Jewish artist and former Roman Catholic. "I hope that painting a truth about Jesus would enlighten the world and promote love. The lack of artistic portrayals of Jesus' Judaism has facilitated the opportunity for some to turn Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the cross into a tool to inspire ultimate hatred towards the Jews, in a complete reversal of the love that Jesus was all about."

Goldstein does also realize that the two religions are not the same and tried to respect both sides when creating her pieces. More than anything, she wanted to create an air of acceptance between Jewish and Christian faithful and foster peace.

"In the creation of these paintings, I keep in mind the differences between Jesus' religion, Judaism, and Christianity - the religion about Jesus," added the painter. "I also keep in mind that both religions are for God, goodness, and love. My intentions are not to offend anyone, but to defend Jesus' stand for love."