A large stained-glass depiction of Jesus in a progressive Baptist church in Louisville, Kentucky, shone in the Gothic-style sanctuary on Sunday (Oct. 15) with a new look. Highland Baptist Church Pastor Mary Alice Birdwhistell told the congregants that the church had darkened a White image of Jesus to provide a more accurate look.
“Look up at our Revelation Window,” Birdwhistell said at the close of Sunday’s worship. “Look at the Christ figure, whose coloring we tinted this week to better reflect Jesus’s original skin tone.”
“May this Christ figure continue to challenge us and call us forward in the hard and holy work toward repair and justice in God’s world,” she added. “May our lives bear witness to a bigger and better story of God’s love for all people.”
On Monday, the church wrote more on Facebook about Jesus’s new look and why they made the change: “Highland celebrates a step forward in our ongoing reparations work. Last week, a local stained-glass window artist tinted brown the Christ figure in our sanctuary’s gorgeous Revelation Window. Seeking to correct the ways that American churches have idolized a White nationalist Jesus, we aim to present an image of Jesus that more closely portrays a first-century Palestinian Jew. We believe that accurate representation matters and impacts our beliefs and approaches to worship. May this window bring glory to Jesus, who took on human form to liberate us and draw us close to our Creator.”
In recent years, Highland has been examining its own history on racial issues and addressing its own shortcomings even as it had developed a progressive reputation. A 2021 task force report exploring the church’s history noted that two individuals honored in stained-glass were enslavers, while another was honored in a fellowship hall window. The report also highlighted occasions when the church seemed to look the other way and remain silent as significant civil rights efforts were occurring nearby.
The report and conversations that followed have been part of the church’s journey of becoming anti-racist and exploring reparations. The decision to darken the skin tone of Jesus is part of the ongoing effort.
During Sunday’s service, the sermon was brought by a guest preacher, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. He praised the new widows as “powerful work.”