5 years after fire, new Jesus statue has fans, critics

Five years after the statue burned down, the name “Touchdown Jesus” still carries recognition.

Of course, that’s not the official name. Neither is “Big Butter Jesus,” another popular moniker for the statue that used to sit outside the Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75. “King of Kings” is the official name for the statue that burned down after being hit by lightning on June 14, 2010.

David Lovell, administrator for Solid Rock Church, said when he heard about the statue’s demise five years ago, his reaction was “shock, disbelief.”

“It wasn’t one of horror. It wasn’t one of fear,” he said.

Despite the loss of the statue, Lovell said something good did come out of it.

“All around the world, Jesus was discussed that day,” he said. Lovell said his daughter, who was on vacation, saw a report on the statue in the Cayman Islands the day after it burned down.

Though the 62-foot statue was a landmark for many, it wasn’t without its critics. One criticism was that the statue was a form of idolatry. Lovell acknowledged that it was a common complaint, but said, “No one worships that statue.” Some saw it as a joke, and the statue was even the inspiration behind the song “Big Butter Jesus” by comedian Heywood Banks.

“I think it’s a little silly, it’s a little overdone,” Cara Green, of Milford, said of the statue.

Lovell, however, said “Touchdown Jesus” was a good thing for Solid Rock and for Christianity as a whole.

“(The statue) helped the body of Christ in general because the name of Jesus Christ was discussed,” he said. “It forced people to have to come to a place of truly considering one, what Jesus did for us and two, that that statue is only that; it’s just steel and Styrofoam.”

The statue has even brought people into the church, Lovell said. “That image of Christ spurred something in them,” he said.

“I thought it was a neat statement to make,” Joel Smith, of Dayton, said of having the statue by the highway. “I think that’s the beauty of America is every one of us is entitled to say what we believe. Not everybody has to like what each other says.”

The controversy of the “King of Kings” statue didn’t stop Solid Rock from replacing the burnt statue two years later. The new statue is officially called “Lux Mundi,” which is Latin for “Light of the World,” and unofficially called “Hug Me Jesus,” among other nicknames.

Thea Anderson, of Dayton, said she was neutral on both the old and new statue.

“If their congregation likes it, I love it,” she said.

The $250,000 “King of Kings” statue was heavily insured, Lovell said, and the insurance money covered the cost of the new statue.

To ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, “Lux Mundi” is also made of fire retardant materials.

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