Latter-day Saint leaders want art of Jesus — and only art of Jesus — in church foyers

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) "Worth of a Soul," by Liz Lemon Swindle, has been approved for use in church foyers.

President Russell M. Nelson wants Jesus Christ front and center not only in the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but also in the faith’s meetinghouses.

To emphasize that, he and his counselors in the governing First Presidency directed local lay leaders Monday to place artwork that depicts Christ himself — or Jesus ministering to others — in all church foyers and entryways.

That will be the only art allowed in those prime spots. Banished to other parts of the buildings will be landscape paintings, portraits or pictures of Latter-day Saint leaders, bulletin boards, tables, easels, missionary plaques and other displays.

“To testify further of our central belief in Jesus Christ,” the First Presidency wrote, “we desire that our meetinghouses reflect an attitude of reverence for the Savior.”

So members should expect a new look greeting them when they return to worship services once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

“Artwork also can inspire faith and teach principles of the gospel,” Monday’s news release stated. “Framed artwork that focuses on the Savior should always be displayed.”

Local leaders have been told to inspect their foyers and entries yearly to “evaluate existing furnishings, artwork and finishes” and “replace and update” items as needed. If they need to get new artwork, the release included 22 paintings that top Latter-day Saint leaders have approved for church foyers.

“The church is clearly ... moving away from images that are particular to Mormons. Only two of the images are scenes from the Book of Mormon [the faith’s signature scripture],” Margaret Olsen Hemming, editor-in-chief of the Mormon feminist magazine Exponent II, wrote in a blog post. “ … I love the idea of featuring works on our walls that center around Christ. But the figure of Christ that consistently appears in every single image in this group is comely, quiet, unemotional, and extraordinarily European.”

(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.

Olsen also hoped to see more women in the approved art, noting that seven of the nine artists are men.

By Common Consent blogger Michael Austin said many Latter-day Saints won’t notice much difference, since these paintings already are commonly used throughout the church.

“These are the images of Jesus that many of us grew up with,” he wrote. " ... We are comfortable with this Jesus, and I think that, if we are going to stock our foyers with mass-produced art that makes us comfortable, then paintings of Jesus are the way to go."

But Austin isn’t convinced that comfort should be the aim. He would prefer to see more thought-provoking pieces that challenge viewers to consider more deeply Christ and his teachings.

“Jesus is hard, and the whole point of the gospel is to make us uncomfortable with things as they have always been,” he said. " ... Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Christian discipleship is supposed to stretch us and that other kinds of art, music, and literature can also add a depth to our worship that [a] white-Kenny-Loggins Jesus partially eclipses."