DAVIDSON, N.C. -- A sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man installed outside a church in Davidson has neighbors and church leaders debating its message and appropriateness.
According to articles on sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz's website, the same "Homeless Jesus" now at St. Alban's Episcopal Church was rejected by cathedrals in New York and Canada. Schmalz's site also includes articles claiming Pope Francis blessed and accepted "Homeless Jesus" into Vatican City.
From a distance, especially at dusk, you would swear the sculpture is a real-life homeless man sleeping on a bench in front of the church.
Cindy Castano Swannack called police the first time she drove by it.
"I was concerned for the safety of the neighborhood," she said.
A closer look reveals it is bronze, not flesh and bone.
Crucifixion marks in the feet offer the only clue to the man's identity on the sculpture itself. A plaque next to it shows the "Homeless Jesus," title and that the inspiration came from a passage in Matthew: 25.
"It's Jesus representing the most marginalized of society," said Rev. Doctor David E. Buck, the rector at St. Alban's.
Buck says the sculpture combines beauty, art and religion.
"We're reminded of what our ultimate calling is as Christians, as people of faith, to do what we can individually and systematically to eliminate homelessness," Buck said, "Part of a faith commitment is to care or the needy."
The work includes room to sit on the bench, which makes it interactive.
It brings church members like Chuck Dillman that much closer to God.
"I've you've been through what I've been through... somehow I got lost about religion," Dillman said while sitting on the bench.
"It brings me right up here with Him, yeah," said neighbor Ellen Donaldson, "It gives me an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort."
"I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want this" said Buck.
Swannack says it’s an inappropriate message and wrong for the neighborhood. She wishes it showed Jesus standing over the homeless protecting them.
"Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help," she said, "We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy."
The work ended up at the church because a member set aside money years ago to honor a friend and fellow church member who died of cancer in 2007. They finally decided upon a piece of art they liked and gave it to the church.