Robert Kirby: When it comes to art of Jesus, remember that holiness is more than skin deep

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) "The Sermon on the Mount," by Harry Anderson has been approved for use in church foyers.

The latest directive to make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a more Christ-centered faith came last week from top leaders.

From now on — or at least once we’re allowed back in the meetinghouses — the only paintings that will be permitted in the foyers and entryways will be those that feature Christ.

No pictures of current church leaders, Joseph Smith, Orrin Porter Rockwell, or angels helping pioneers push handcarts in the snow.

For the record, I was not consulted on this policy change. It conflicts with my proposal to have illustrations of the deaths of the original apostles posted there to remind us of the strength of their faith.

Peter, tradition says, was crucified upside down, James the Great was beheaded, doubting Thomas was stabbed to death with a spear, Simon the Zealot was sawed in half, Bartholomew was skinned alive, and Horace the Bothersome was hurled from a cliff by an annoyed mob.

Thanks to the shadows of history, all of these fates are somewhat speculative. The truth is we have little idea of what actually happened to them.

This, of course, brings us to the permitted illustrations of Jesus now mandated for meetinghouse lobbies.

Let’s start with the fact that no one knows what Jesus looked like. There are no paintings of him from the time, no handwriting samples, no Roman wanted posters, or even a description of his appearance that would serve in a police lineup much less a court.

The modern version of Jesus is one with which we’re comfortable. Something worthy of a mostly European populated church.

What passes for accepted illustrations of Jesus Christ — at least in Mormondom — are paintings that make him look nothing like the Middle Eastern Jew he reportedly was.

I only bring this up because if we’re going to get fussy about things, maybe it’s time to update our representations of his appearance. Shouldn’t be that hard, given advances in science and genetic research.

In all likelihood, Jesus had dark complexion, brown eyes, and was considerably shorter than the 8-foot Nordic representations we are fixated upon now.

The Savior of the world is always portrayed — at least in the Mormon universe — as white, slender, and with blow-dried locks hanging about his shoulders. But what if he was actually balding, a bit paunchy and missing a finger? Hey, he was a carpenter once.

One of the most telling things about the Lord’s actual appearance is that most people at the time and place he lived, ignored him. They wouldn’t have been able to overlook a giant, auburn-haired Viking yelling at them from a hill.

Suppose the next time you go into a meetinghouse, there are illustrations of a nearly black, hairy guy who looks more like a scruffy Cuba Gooding Jr. than Brad Pitt. Tell me that wouldn’t mess with your faith even just a bit.

Personally, my biggest disappointment with the portrayal of Christ (at least in the church I attend) is the utter absence of humor in his face. He never seems to be having a good time. As usual, it’s probably our fault.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.