MEMPHIS, July 4 -- On Independence Day, Lady Liberty was born again.
At a megachurch in Memphis, the Statue of Liberation Through Christ was consecrated Tuesday. The statue, says the church's pastor, is a way of "letting people know that God is the foundation of our nation."

As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown.

And in place of a torch, she held aloft a large gold cross, as if to ward off the pawnshops, the car dealerships and the discount furniture outlets at the busy corner of Kirby Parkway and Winchester that is her home. A single tear graced her cheek.

The Statue of Liberation Through Christ, as she is called, stands 72 feet tall from the base of her pedestal to the tip of her cross. She was the idea of Mr. Williams, a very successful pastor whose church, World Overcomers, qualifies as mega: it has a school, a bowling alley, a roller rink, a bookstore and, he said, 12,000 members.

In "The Meaning of the Statue of Liberation Through Christ: Reconnecting Patriotism With Christianity," he explains that the teardrop on his Lady is God's response to what he calls the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country's "promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism." In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin.

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78 Responses:

  1. thefrank says:

    *Another* "let's laugh at the yokels" piece? But if that same statue was covered with elephant dung or dipped in urine it would be "art."

    • jwz says:

      Are you implying that their intent was to be stupid, offensive, and un-American? If so, I guess the gag went straight over my head.

      • thefrank says:

        I'm implying that the NYTimes writer was pandering to his readership by portraying (yet again) southerners as white-trash, bible-thumping and uncultured. However, if the same statue was unveiled in a NYC gallery covered with poo, the Times would likely be hailing it as a stunning critique of the Bush Administration.

        Every six months the Times does a "Alice in Wonderland" style story about the south despite no shortage of weirdness in the five boroughs.

        • yurilax says:

          However, if the same statue was unveiled in a NYC gallery covered with poo, the Times would likely be hailing it as a stunning critique of the Bush Administration.

          LOL. That's a good one.

        • herbie says:

          I'm implying that the NYTimes writer was pandering to his readership by portraying (yet again) southerners as white-trash

          They did make a point of mentioning that the pastor and most of the parishoners are black, though that's neither here nor there. The NYT daily does stories about weirdness in New York, but nobody outside New York cares. Likewise, crap like this is reported all the time in southern newspapers, it just doesn't always have allure to make national papers.

        • margann says:

          in my travels i've found more often than not that stereotype is straight on. not to say there aren't xenophobes and ignorant people spread throughout the entire just seems a hell of a lot more pronounced in tennesse. i'm sure the new york times has blown tons of stories out of porportion considering the south concerning religious beliefs and racism, but this one is probably all fact. i could see a church in memphis doing that. i spent a few months there with friends' family, and whether i was at a restaurant, family gathering, whatever...more than three quarters of the time i would hear someon in my vicinity say something jaw droppingly racist. it's sad when the news media makes sweeping generalizations about anything... but tn is not completely innocent here, they sort of deserved to be sensationalized in my opinion. although you could argue most of the east and west coast are just as racist and just bottle it all up due to not thinking it's socially acceptable.

        • jwz says:
          1. I would also be making fun of it if it were in a Yankee gallery covered in poo. But I would find it stupidly harmless, rather than a terrifying vision of our future.

          2. If the trucker hat fits...
          • thefrank says:

            Given the waning power of the church in comparison to the dominance it used to hold over American society in ages past, I'll eat your trucker hat if this horrifying version of the future comes to pass.

            (Please buy a candy flavored trucker hat just in case.) *g*

        • spendocrat says:

          So the statue is photoshopped or made or something? Cause if it's real...

    • deus_x says:

      No. That would be hilarious.

    • Hey, if the yokel fits, I say laugh. Anal haberdashery speaks for itself.

    • sir_bissel says:

      or is it a "let's be worried about the neo-conservative, ultra zelous religious people" piece?

      • thefrank says:

        Other than wanting prayer in schools and blaming Hurricane Katrina on "immoraliity" in New Orleans, there's nothing about this church that strikes me as unusual for churches in general. The average NYTimes readers shouldn't be surprised that many churches are anti-abortion or that they believe that G*d had a role in American history if not current events.

        It's the obsession with class-markers in the writing (bowling alley, pawn shops, mega church) that caught my attention; more "tsk-tsking" from the highbrow tastemakers at the Times.

        • margann says:

          i don't think the aerage reader is surprised, but i think they're probably angrier than ever before about the lack of respect for human rights in general. in a way it's good that cnn, time etc are writing about this stuff to the point of excess, i think it's making a lot of people thinking about their moral values whereas it wouldn't have occured to them before. personally i think being as america is supposed to be founded on personal freedoms, religious people ARE kind of insane for wanting people who don't agree with them to be discriminated against.

        • baconmonkey says:

          Other than wanting prayer in schools and blaming Hurricane Katrina on "immoraliity" in New Orleans, there's nothing about this church that strikes me as unusual for churches in general

          and that alone makes it hard for me to sleep at night.

          • sc00ter says:

            Amen to that!


          • thefrank says:

            Would it help you to sleep better to know how many churches and parishoners gave generously to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina? Or the number of programs that are run by religious groups that serve the homeless and hungry? Churches do and say stupid things but (IMHO) on whole their public efforts outweigh the moments of stupidity.

            • baconmonkey says:

              I would argue that the counter-productive social programs they tend to push for cause far more harm than the pulic social assistance.


              discouraging sex by equating sex=babies does not reduce sex, but increases babies, especially among the poor. This creates more people in need of assitance, which I suppose creates more people who appreciate the assistance and will join the church. how convenient.

              Republican social policies, which churches often encourage, consistantly punish the poor, creating more need.

              Anti-intellectualism, a phenomenon common in churches, especially young-earth creationists and ID folks - discourages pursuit of the sciences, leading to America falling behind globally in deucation.

              Selective use of old testament law (shellfish good, gays bad) leads to justification of bigotry and persecution.

        • edlang says:

          Who cares about the class, race or geographical area issues: the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, that country with the extremely strong concept and belief in seperating the Church(es) from the State. Liberty, equality and fraternity, which by current implication are hated in the US.

          Then some Christian wanker decides "hey ho! this is a wonderful symbol to appropriate for religion, and my religion alone!"

          jwz is hard to read (for me at least), but I daresay that is one of the things he was commenting on...

          • thefrank says:

            I don't think symbols such as the Statue of Liberty are "off limits" for artistic interpretation, even religiously-themed artistic interpretation. Reasonable people can disagree on whether it's good art or appropriate art.

            If Jews and Muslims want to put symbols of their faith into the hands of Liberty Statues to show that the underpinings of their faiths have as much a role in US society, more power to them.

        • sir_bissel says:

          I dunno, I think there's a difference between being willing to say that Christianity had a large role in our history and having one of the symbols of America decked out with Christian images makes a bit of a difference-- mostly with the message that America is a Christian nation. Which, since we're not a theocracy, we aren't...

          • sir_bissel says:

            (forgive my "difference between...makes a difference..." ...I'm tired and stuff)

          • thefrank says:

            I can see their point. I can see your point. I think it's a case of the pastor painting with too broad a brush, overreaction by the usual suspects, and expecting far too much artistic subtlety from...Tennessee.

      • dygel says:

        Crazy shit like this is always a little bit funnier to me given that the country was founded on more Masonic principles than out and out Christian. Oops.

    • master_meio says:

      "If the extra chromosome fits..."

  2. chuck_lw says:

    Would it be in poor taste to nail up a Jesus statue on the cross she's holding?

    • spider88 says:

      Catholics are into crucifixes, to remember Jesus's torture. Protestants display the empty cross to signify Jesus's ascent into heaven.

  3. autodidactic says:

    It looks like she's warding away vampires...

  4. dwaleberry says:

    Ack, I feel slightly naseous.

  5. phoenixredux says:

    This is the ultimate in offensive art. Why not just chop up the Liberty Bell and turn it into shrapnal for abortion clinic bombs? Maybe we could take Independence Hall, raze it, and build one of those awful McChurches on the lot. I recently heard someone suggest that it's Jon Stewart that is making our generation into the most cynical one in American history. Nay! It is because of stupid shit like this! How can any intelligent person look at Liberty Reborn and not recoil in horror, upset with what is happening to our country?

    I can't believe that enough people take him seriously that he regularly fills a McChurch. I shall go and use my tears of rage to extinguish a flag.

    • thefrank says:

      I guess people support odd depictions of the Statue of Liberty in the same way that people support the right for others to burn the American flag even though they disagree with flag burning.

      It takes a bit more to make me "recoil in horror, upset with what is happening to our country." Your mileage may vary.

      • phoenixredux says:

        Of course I agree he has the right to say what he's saying even though I completely disagree with his message. But I admit, if I were in Tennessee with a Humvee and a tow-chain, the scene might look something like this:

        Good thing I'm in Minnesota with a Saturn.

        • thefrank says:

          Which would only serve to justify the pastor's initial idea that "people" need to be "reminded" that "God is the foundation of our nation."

          I choose to look at it as "outsider art" designed to provoke spirited discussion and reflection. ; )

          • phoenixredux says:

            Oh yes, we have our McChurches. We also have the Temple of Eck, the nexus of Eckenkar, a mere five miles from where I presently sit. I can feel the positive vibrations from it sapping away my will to work and inspiring me to dink around on LJ. It features all the architectural wonder of a modern megachurch, and combines it with the oddball ravings of a well-funded cult.

            I would submit that Liberty, and not God, is the foundation of our nation, and we would do well not to confuse them in the public mind. If spirited discussion is the goal, I think it's a goal well met. However, this attempt at Art in a nauseating abomination which really disturbs me. It seems to embody and portray all of my fears of what is happening to America, and makes them real in a way that they should never be able to manifest.

            • I couldn't help but stop and comment when I saw you mention the Temple of Eck since I live about 10 miles away from it. It's really enough just to be able to say you live near something that...crazy.

              You must also be familiar with Grace Church then, in Eden Prairie? That church makes me want to vomit. Since when are churches supposed to resemble shopping malls and airports?

          • sherbooke says:

            And look at what a rotten foundation it is - Dan Brown hit it right on the nose. Audrey Tatou & Tom Hanks against the evil Church! All those child-abusers and secretary-chasers should tremble in their robes! Yah!

            Mind you, I fail to see how this statue can be considered "outsider art" when the "church" in the US are the mainstream. How is it designed to do anything but display the power of the church over the secular foundation of the US?

            I see you are readying your credentials for the coming theocracy. You forgot to say, "I for one, welcome our statue-worshipping overlords". I believe the term is "useful stupid".

            • thefrank says:

              Without any emoticons, I must assume that your comments were serious and not tongue-in-cheek. With that....

              I don't take my understanding of theology from pop culture fiction like "The DaVinci Code."
              Yes, the church is mainstream, but religious art nowadays is certainly the exception rather than the norm. (Not that I'm complaining.)
              If the statue is displaying the "power of the church over the secular foundation of the US", I would argue that power is influence not direct control. Huge difference.
              The term is "useful idiots." Coined by the Communists years ago when discussing people who could be duped into serving their cause.
              I'll make certain that your death is a humane one when the Theocratic Overlords and I start rounding up dissidents for the death camps. But only because I like your icon.

              • sherbooke says:

                If the statue is displaying the "power of the church over the secular foundation of the US", I would argue that power is influence not direct control. Huge difference.

                I agree, however, you have to admit that there are worrying signs that the US churches influence in the US administration is becoming more pervasive. "God is in the White House" and all that shit, "people of faith" on more and more committees "influencing" ever larger budgets. I think Rove started something the GOP will find hard to control. It may not tip over into actual control, who knows. I hope not.

                Thanks for the correction on the "useful idiots". I also thought it was Stalin who was the originator; according to wikipedia, nobody actually knows who coined it, which sounds about right for this things.

                • thefrank says:

                  Saying "G*d is in the White House" can be a bone thrown to constituents (we are discussing politicians after all) and an expression of personal belief that has little impact on daily policy. (Personally, I'd rather have a legislator take a moment to pray and reflect before making major decisions.) Environmentalists and vegetarians have deeply held moral beliefs but I doubt anyone would argue that they should be excluded from having their beliefs (humane treatment for animals, emissions reductions, etc.) impact policy debates. They too are demonized as having a "dangerous" level of influence over US policy in certain quarters using exactly this type of language. (This is the point where someone mentions gay marriage as a counterargument. *sigh*)

                  I think the influence of religious groups over legislators seems more prevalent because having an anti-religious attitude/fear of religion is the popular wisdom. (See all the hysterics and snarkiness in this thread as an example.) Religious "power" in the U.S. was at it's hayday in the late 19th through early 20th century. If they couldn't establish dominant control then, it's doubtful they can do it now.

                  I don't think people would be posting about "worrying signs" of influence if that influence was being used for their pet project. (nuclear disarmament, universal health care, leaving Iraq, etc.) If there are concerns about separation of church and state, directing all this energy towards one tacky statue is a waste of effort.

    • dasht_brk says:

      "Hey, man, said McChurch has a bowling alley where you can dump the kids for the evening. And y'know, at that secular bowling alley I heard some of the kids were drinking and smoking pot and besides that kid down the street got arrested in the parking lot there last year. Oh, and did you know that Bill next door got his fancy job (nice minivan, Bill) from a guy he met at Bible study? And anyway it makes perfect sense because, as pastor says, it's all those crazy lunatics who have pretty much gone wild with their sodomy and their drugs and their high taxes and their sodomy. My God (pardon me, but) have you seen TV lately? It's all sodomy this and sodomy that and now they want children and marriage. And you know, you and I were brought up in the Church and, sure, it wasn't like this, but at least with God's help we can save our children from all that sodomy. And no wonder Jim and Karl, God bless their souls, are out of work and no wonder all the damn money is going to the Mexicans. It's scary! I'm scared as hell about where this country is going. My kids get a little crazy sometimes and, God help us, I'm sure they're going to get tempted by all the drugs and all the sodomy and they're gonna wind up like Billy, who, you know, hasn't worked in a year. I don't think Billy's into that sodomy stuff but do you ever seem him at church? Oh, no way, man... we're gonna retake this country. We're gonna make it nice and peaceful and like a place for families again. Pastor's got the right idea -- we just have to kneel down and have faith and stick together and fight for what's right and never compromise on basic values. The only thing left of this old town is the Church, and, you know, I think there's something to that."

      Well, that's what she said after her third scotch and before telling me about how the clap was going around the neighborhood and she was thinking of filing for divorce but couldn't imagine how she'd survive let alone take care of her children so she probably wouldn't. And frankly, while I saw her, and her pastor, as stone cold crazy -- the plain truth was that the social cohesion they were creating was better than some of the altneratives. It was hard to tell where to jump in because.....

      Red state, blue state, red neck, sodomizer -- it's all about clinging desparately at the hope of personal dignity in challenging times.

      Lemme rehearse a bit..... ahem .... "Brother, can you spare a dime?" No, no, that's not right. How about....

      You know it's all true,

  6. It would be really cool if they added a rocket pack to her back and it would light up like she was zooming to spread Christ and Freedom to all of the world.

  7. rosefox says:

    I liked the comment I saw in another article along the lines of "I like it well enough, but couldn't they have used that $280,000 to help the community?".

    • xinit says:

      Supporters would defend that the statue does help the community by turning sinners to Christ or some such nonsense.

    • thefrank says:

      Of course that logic applies to everyone and everything. "I like your new car, Bob, but couldn't you have bought something cheaper and used the difference to help the community?" or "I like Federal funding for your ballet company but couldn't we have spent the money on something that directly helps the community?"

      • daria_4 says:

        But unless Bob lives his life publicly as part of Team Jesus, I wouldn't expect him to help the community. It'd be nice if he did and all, but it's a little different, I think, between an individual spending money like that and a church--whose purpose in life is supposed to be FOR the community.

        • thefrank says:

          Under that theory, cathedrals should not be build because they are an unnecessary drain on resources that could be better spent serving the community. Many share this view.

          I believe the main counterpoint is that large cathedrals, works of art, etc. demonstrate the presence of the faithful and their influence in the community. They also serve to inspire. If made of stone, they can show that the church is "eternal."

          I think that most churches do enough good works in the community whether through dubiously effective prayer, teaching dubious standards of ethics, or just outright running soup kitchens that we can allow them the latitude to build the occasional large structure or dubious statue.

  8. tkil says:

    C'mon, where're the flames on that there cross?

  9. tiff_seattle says:

    They shoulda dressed her in a Burka.

  10. xinit says:

    Isn't there something in the bible about bowing down before graven images?

    • wisedonkey says:

      The bible says whatever the preacher says it does. How dare you question the church.

      • xinit says:

        Hallelueia... the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I am one with the lord almighty. Verily and foresooth and whatnot.

    • baconmonkey says:

      "graven" means engraved, sculpted, or carved.
      But you know, those old testament laws don't apply any more. Except sodomy. Cuz, you know, you can't let people think that a group of 13 men who hang out and fish naked, who don't like women... might like a little backdoor action.

      Mark 14:51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
      14:52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

      John 21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

      1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

      anyways, back to the graven images:

      Exodous 23:24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.

      Deuteronomy 4:16-18
      Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the simultude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth.

      Deuteronomy 5:8 Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

      Deuteronomy 27:15
      Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman.

  11. wisedonkey says:

    It should be noted that Katrina damaged quite a few Southern Baptist and other evangelical fundamentalist fruitcake Christian strongholds in Mississippi. Of course, when have evangelical fundamentalist fruitcakes ever cared about facts?

  12. wfaulk says:

    My favorite parts are the warped cross (nice symbolism, IMO) and the fact that they've submitted it to Guinness as "World's Largest Jesus" when Cristo Redentor is clearly much larger and also quite well known.

  13. valentwine says:

    Holy lawn art! Where can I order my miniature?! I'd like one with a sprinkler built in to the top of the cross.

    I was in Memphis this weekend and somehow managed to miss the unveiling by a few days. I'd have stuck around for this if I'd known. How did they possibly hold out for July 4th when El Presidente was in town just days before[*]? Would Bush have missed that photo op? Come on now.

    There are, believe it or not, more bizarre examples of religious art in Memphis. See Crystal Shrine Grotto for perhaps the campiest of them all.

    [*] - We were actually driving South on old Highway 61 out of downtown when a secret service sedan came screaming through traffic with lights blazing. He slammed on his brakes in the middle of the intersection, jumped out of the car and started waving us all through with a don't-even-fuck-with-me look on his face. I looked back to see the Presidential motorcade no less than a block behind us. Fucking amazing.

  14. korgmeister says:

    Ergh, that is hideously tacky.

    Dear megachurch whackos:
    A: Stop making my religion look bad.
    B: I like secularism and humanism. Being a born-again Christian, the idea that people only practise Christianity because they want to appeals to me greatly. (If my faith had come through force rather than choice, I doubt it would have ever been sincere)
    C: Your need to vandalise a monument to liberty with overt expressions of your faith betrays a deep-seated insecurity.

    • valentwine says:

      C: Your need to vandalise a monument to liberty with overt expressions of your faith betrays a deep-seated insecurity.

      Or a sublimely unwitting appreciation of absurdist art!

      All I know is, I've found this year's Halloween costume.

  15. pfig says:

    i remember from some years ago that the display of some renaissance statues was forbidden in certain places because their dicks and tits were showing. but somehow this is allowed.

    happy 4th!

  16. tregoweth says:

    Typical day here in the red states, really.

  17. Yoink! I am so cross posting this!

  18. slayersyrena says:

    Pretty cool. But is it real?

  19. saltation_lj says:

    > The statue, says the church's pastor, is a way of "letting people know that God is the foundation of our nation."


    The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

  20. lolagoddess says:

    I live in Memphis, and I saw this statue for the first time a couple months ago. It's absolutely ridiculous (and most of Memphis thinks so, too).

    The holy rollers who go to World Overcomers frighten me.