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Friday, 24 July 2009

A church that has an “inclusive Christian ministry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities”, the Metropolitan Community Church, is behind Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art’s (GoMA) bible defacing scandal.

Wikipedia says the denomination was founded in 1968 to cater for this emerging demographic. The first congregation was founded in Los Angeles. The Edinburgh congregation, which in the past has lobbied for the right of gay couples to marry, “proposed” the exhibit at GoMA where visitors have an open invitation to write in a copy of the bible placed alongside a container of pens, according to a story on The Times website.

“If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.”

The exhibit, Untitled 2009, was proposed by the Metropolitan Community Church, which said that the idea was to reclaim the Bible as a sacred text. But to the horror of many Christians, including the community church, visitors have daubed its pages with comments such as “This is all sexist pish, so disregard it all.” A contributor wrote on the first page of Genesis: “I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this.”

Whoops.

While church bodies in Europe have condemned the activity (“a Christian lawyers’ group said that the exhibition was symptomatic of a broken and lawless society”), The Punch journalist Leo Shanahan asks how the exhibit can be considered controversial and dares the artist to use a Koran instead of the Christian’s holy book.

But given the role and shape of Islam in the world at present, maybe it should be just as much a target of artistic critique in the west as Christianity often finds itself?

His reason for the suggestion is that the current art installation is, to put it bluntly, quite tame.

Another point to be made here is that exhibitions like this cater to a rather middle-class undergraduate sense of what it is to be shocked (“let’s like rip-up the Bible guys”), and if churches choose to handle these incidents with more maturity and tolerance themselves in can serve both as the best advert for their faith and best rebuttal to their critics.

It is possible that the Metropolitan Community Church of Edinburgh proposed the exhibit as a way of improving the size of its congregation, which has dwindled in recent years as a result of internal ructions.

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