'Sacrilegious' Display Questions Faith vs. Art

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WASHINGTON - It's a question artists, philosophers, and educators have wrestled with for years -- what is art?

Most recently, the Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., was forced to remove part of an exhibit that was deemed sacrilegious.

The display included a video titled "A Fire in my Belly" that depicted Jesus Christ on the cross with ants crawling over His body.

The four-minute clip -- intertwined with Old Testament audio references of what the Bible defines as clean and unclean -- was supposed to highlight the AIDS epidemic.

Instead, it has sparked public outcry.

"I believe that this exhibit at the Smithsonian is the antithesis of art. It's trying to do the exact opposite of art," said Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of CNSNews.com

"It's trying to move people toward bad. It's trying to make people think that things that are in fact perverse and vicious, are good and normal," Jeffrey said.

CNSNews.com broke the story of the exhibit, which later resulted in the video's removal from the National Portrait Gallery after a month on display.

Jeffrey believes the entire exhibit should be pulled. Although the controversial video is gone, the display still features a picture of Ellen Degeneres grabbing her breasts, two brothers kissing, and other images critics call homoerotic.

"I think it's a strategic retreat," Jeffrey said. "I think what they're hoping is that people won't draw attention to what's, at heart, wrong with this exhibit - by pulling out the thing that is in fact the most outrageous."

Supporters of the video say it's not anti-Christian and that the reaction amounts to intimidation, setting a bad precedent.

But Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, promises an investigation in January when Republicans gain control of the House.

"I support the First Amendment, freedom of speech and expression, but not on tax dollars," he said.

Kingston also feels the controversy exposes a double standard when it comes to Christians.

"It's always okay to kick Christianity, and a picture of Jesus as an AIDS victim being eaten by ants, that's fine," he explained. "They probably would never have done it if it were Mohammad or other religions."

The exhibit is scheduled to continue through the holidays until the middle of February.

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John Jessup

John Jessup

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John Jessup serves as the main news anchor for CBN, a position he assumed after 10 years reporting for the network in Washington, D.C. His work in broadcast news has earned him several awards in reporting, producing, and coordinating elections coverage. Follow John on Twitter @JohnCBNNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/John.V.Jessup.