Recently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.
When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).
However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.
When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.
All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.
Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.
I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.
After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).
The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.
There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.
But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).
On a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.
What do you think?