PC(USA) congregation hosts pagan sculpture at church

The Sviatovid exhibit
An artist's rendering of a sculpture of the Sviatovid idol, based off of a Medieval pagan deity, that was put on display at the United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton, New York in September 2019. |

A Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in New York has garnered controversy for its decision to host a pagan sculpture on their property.

The United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton, a PC(USA) congregation associated with the pro-LGBT group More Light Presbyterians, hosted a fifteen-foot tall totem sculpture known as the Sviatovid.

The sculpture, which was created by Bart Kresa Studio designer Akira Wakui, was put on display at the church earlier this month as part of the LUMA Festival.

“Sviatovid will materialize in the sanctuary of Binghamton United Presbyterian Church with additional content,” noted an announcement on LUMA’s website.

“In an homage to the striking 19th century architecture of the church, the students of the BARTKRESA academy will build an original 3.5 minute pre-show. The church spire, pipe organ and stained glass inform the new work.”

The hosting of the sculpture received the attention of the theologically conservative group the Institute on Religion & Democracy, which reported on it last Thursday.  

United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton
The United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton, New York. |

“Sviatovid (alternately known as Svetovid, Svantovit, Sventovit, or Svantevit) was a local Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance in the Baltic region,” wrote Josiah Aden of the IRD.

“Admittedly, and thankfully, the purpose of Sviatovid in this festive context is not worship, but mere interest. Yet, there is something inside that recoils at erecting an ancient Slavic deity in a church chancel of the same God who commanded, ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3, ESV).”

Aden went on to speculate the reasons for the sculpture being based in the church, including “the spirit of multiculturalism” or “a subtle nod to universalism.”

“To put a false god in the same spot as God’s communion table, regardless of the fact that it was not during a worship service, raises questions of prudential judgment and is possibly sacrilegious,” he added. 

The Christian Post reached out to UPC Binghamton for a response. On Monday, the church directed CP to a statement posted by lead pastor the Reverend Kimberly Chastain on Facebook.

In her response Chastain cited the Westminster Catechism, explaining that the historic confession states that “either everything is sacred (by God’s grace), or nothing is sacred (apart from the love of God).”

“If Sviatovid is apart from the grace of God, then it is purely secular, and there is no special significance to its appearing on the stage at the front of the room in which the congregation worships (not, as it happens, in the spot where the communion table can be found during worship),” wrote Chastain.

“Or if Sviatovid is sacred, it is sacred through the grace of God, and the contemplation of this work of beauty is not idolatry, but a gift from God.”

Chastain also noted that the event gave her congregation the possibility of giving Christian witness to those who created and setup the display.

“Mr. Kresa and most of his team have had little or no contact with Christianity, and none at all with Presbyterian theology and teaching,” stated Chastain.

“During the course of the setup and exhibit time, the pastors and community members had many opportunities to bear witness to our faith in Christ. Who’s to say that we did not plant seeds that, by God’s grace, will flower into faith?”  

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