Accusations of blasphemy from an art school professor gave a big boost recently to an alternative Jesus photo project by Bill Burch, an art student at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado.
A conservative Christian professor harassed some of Burch’s models and threatened to “shut down” his project, which includes GLBT and female Jesus photos. The effort to stop the project had the opposite effect, inspiring many more students to volunteer as models!
“It seems the more biblical he gets, the more the student body reacts, like an equal and opposite reaction,” Burch reports. “Participation by his students has really increased, too.”
Now Burch is well on his way to completing his ambitious project of 64 alternative Jesus images. The flood of new models included the gay men pictured above in “Equal Means Equal Jesus” (above). Other queer images among the new photos are a female couple in “BFF Jesus” (left) and a man dressed as a woman in “Lady Liberty Jesus” (below).
The Alternative Jesus project is a concrete embodiment of Jesus’ own teaching that everybody is one with Christ. “If one believes in Jesus and accepts Jesus into their heart they become Christian, or Christ-like. They become Jesus, and Jesus them,” Burch explains.
The stated purpose of the project is to challenge traditional representations of the crucifixion by replacing the traditional Christ figure with other versions of the sacrificial lamb, archetypes usually repressed by conservative American Christianity. “If Jesus was a black lesbian would She be welcomed in Montgomery Alabama, or hung from a tree like strange fruit? It is this paradigm I question,” Burch says.
He plans to arrange the 64 unconventional Jesus images into a montage that looks like a traditional Jesus portrait from a distance. As the viewer approaches, the familiar face will disappear, revealing a multitude of different Christ figures. Each hangs on the cross, but they embody a variety of ages, races, body sizes, gender identities and sexual orientations.
Burch successfully defended his “Alternative Jesus” photos to a college committee including the conservative professor at a graduate review in December. ”Because of the depth of writing in my artist statement, my conservative professor’s arguments were totally defused,” Burch says. “The only question he asked was about the symbolism of two models on the cross. Previously, he had told me to ask my models what they would be willing to die for. I told him the two models said they would die for love, as simple as that. Amazing!”
The 2008 U.S. election inspired Burch to start the alternative Jesus project. He welcomed the “evolutionary leap” of America’s first black president, and decided use his art to counteract the “giant step backwards” of California’s Proposition 8. Conservative Christian groups were instrumental in passing Prop 8 to ban same-sex marriage.
“Many Christians are prejudiced against anything different, what they consider deviant. Jesus said, ‘What you do to the least of these you do to me,’” Burch says.
His own spiritual journey includes a Christian conversion followed by a religious phase, when he was so zealous that he was known as “Fireball Bill.” Eventually he became disillusioned by the hypocrisy of many Christians, and left the church.
Burch sees his Alternative Jesus project as “a post-modern iconoclastic reformation. It is a breaking and re-making of traditional religious iconographic representations.”
Sounds like what Jesus himself did!
For more Bill Burch photos, see my previous post “Transvestite Jesus appears in photo project.”