Binghamton Presbyterian

September 12, 2019

New York Presbyterian Church Hosts Pagan Deity

A Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in New York made news this week after it featured the sculpture of a pagan deity in its chancel.

The United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton hosted “the Sviatovid idol,” which depicts a ninth-century Slavic deity, as part of a September 6-7 festival of lights.

Sviatovid (alternately known as Svetovid, Svantovit, Sventovit, or Svantevit) was a local Slavic god of war, fertility, and abundance in the Baltic region.

In the early twentieth century, an idol was discovered near the Zbruch River in Western Ukraine (accessible with free JSTOR account). This idol pictured was originally thought to be the local god Svantevit, mentioned above, and merely called “the Sviatovid idol” for reasons that are unclear or unstated. Later scholarship, however, decided that this idol, also called the Zbruch Idol, for geographical reasonsactually depicted the highest pan-Slavic god Perun, also responsible for war, fertility, and abundance, but who also may have been the god of the cardinal directions and the four seasons. As if this is not enough to keep track of, some scholars argue that Svantevit and “the Sviatovid idol” are the same as the head god Perun.

Binghamton Presbyterian

Sviatovid Sculpture, Bart Kresa Studio (https://www.bartkresa.com)

This is the deity Binghamton Presbyterian hosted in the form of a beautiful, mesmerizing sculpture, during the fascinating Luma Festival. In and of itself, a church hosting an art installation displaying the image of a long-defunct god is not sacrilegious, though it may raise a few eyebrows. The kicker is that, not only did the god “materialize on the altar” of the church each night, “[t]he church spire, pipe organ and stained glass inform[ed] the new work.” Admittedly, and thankfully, the purpose of Sviatovid in this festive context is not worship, but mere interest. Yet, there is something inside that recoils at erecting an ancient Slavic deity in a church chancel of the same God who commanded, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, ESV).

Maybe Sviatovid was invited into the church in the spirit of multiculturalism. Perhaps it was a subtle nod to universalism. False teaching, but a desire for the best for (literally) everyone. To put a false god in the same spot as God’s communion table, regardless of the fact that it was not during a worship service, raises questions of prudential judgment and is possibly sacrilegious.

English poet Philip Larkin, a famous agnostic, wrote a thoughtful poem on briefly stepping inside an empty church. It is worth quoting a few sections of “Church Going” here:

“Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence…

“Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

“Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this…

“A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious.”

Larkin’s agnosticism is displayed in the poem, but what is more apparent is his confused reverence for church. He acknowledges his failure to understand the draw of the church, and his deep-seated reverence for it, though he did not believe a word of the teaching therein.

If a famous agnostic such as Philip Larkin is careful of his appearance and behavior within a church, how much more should a Christian congregation be mindful of what goes on inside its building, every day of the week.

United Presbyterian has not commented on its choice to host the Sviatovid idol. The church affiliates with More Light Presbyterians and describes itself as a progressive congregation.

“We are a community of people questioning, learning, celebrating, connecting, risk taking, creating, and making music and art,” the church describes on its web site. Statistics provided by the PC(USA) research service show that from 2013-2017, the congregation dropped from 220 to 178 members (-19%), while Sunday attendance declined from 64 to 53 (-17%). The congregation is not diverse, reporting only four nonwhite members, while 72% of members are age 65 or older.

YouTube video of the Sviatovid sculpture during an earlier installation in Orlando:


31 Responses to New York Presbyterian Church Hosts Pagan Deity

  1. Of course they did. The wolves of the “Christian” Left got warm long ago and discarded the sheep’s clothing. Other than lying by holding onto the name “Christian,” they aren’t even pretending any longer.

  2. JR says:

    Okay, you need to work on your writing here.

    1) It’s part of a local Festival of Lights, and the ‘sculpture’ isn’t the original idol/totem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zbruch_Idol) – it’s an artist techno-rendition of such. Noting the pictures, it’s pretty significantly different (and pretty cool).

    2) I don’t know that I’d want to have an artists depiction of another god in the chancel area, but without understanding the layout of the space, I’m a little cautious about assigning blame on that point. (A quick glance at their website supports the idea that the platform area is probably where it was stationed and likely the only space to really get a good view of the thing).

    3) ditch the poem. That’s unnecessary filler.

    4) Bingamton – as a city, it’s not diverse, and it’s shrinking in population (-5.5% from 2013-2018). More on that particular church: http://www.wicz.com/story/36882548/local-church-commemorates-200-years-of-presbyterians-in-binghamton

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Josiah noted in the body of the story that it was part of the Luma festival and is an art installation. The photo at the top of this story shows it displayed in the chancel area of United Presbyterian. If I was tasked to dream up a caricature of a stereotypical congregation on the Religious Left, United Presbyterian would be hard to surpass: old, white, shrinking, preoccupied with the political, wrapped in a rainbow virtue-signaling bow.

      • Donald says:

        Bingo – AND to make the circle complete, very much anti-military and pacifist with their contemporary members of the military BUT woefully ignorant about what this god requires of people once invoked.
        Try being a contemporary service member and wearing your dress uniform into a PC(USA) worship service.

  3. Patrick98 says:

    Just another quick comment: Presbyterian Churches do not have altars. We do have communion tables. Theologically this is because we believe that the sacrifice of Christ was complete and does not need to be repeated (that is why we don’t celebrate the Mass, either).

    That being said, bringing a depiction of a pagan idol into the worship space of a church is problematic. I would not want it in the church I attend.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      You are correct, Patrick. The festival materials used the term “altar” but this blog entry purposely notes the chancel area.

    • David says:

      Methodists did not use “altars” or brass crosses and candlesticks until about 1920. Prior to that time, churches were pulpit-centered, also with a communion table below the pulpit and behind the railing. However, in the 19th century, the railing was called the “altar” with the thought that one offered yourself there.

      In describing changes in the Anglican church, Kenneth Clark wrote: “To a good protestant of 1830 the least suggestion of symbolism—a cross on a gable or on a prayer book—was rank popery. All forms of ritual were equally suspect. The clergyman wore a black gown and read the communion service from his pulpit; no one knelt during the longer prayers, or stood when the choir entered; indeed, the choir, if it existed at all, was hidden in a gallery, where it performed to the accompaniment of violins and a ‘cello. The old Gothic churches had been gradually adapted to suit this type of service…Since altars were seldom used, even as tables, the chancel was either abandoned or employed as a vestry; and whatever symbolic sculpture existed in the nave was concealed by massive, comfortable pews for the rich and precarious galleries for the poor.”

  4. Dr. Todd says:

    I wonder how this God was worshipped in the olden days? Babies? Children? Old men? Failed kings? POWs? It had to be something like that to be the chief god. Perhaps its inclusion is more apt than we know.

  5. Lance says:

    2 Kings 21 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king…. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.

    Erecting idols to foreign gods in the Temple did not end well for Judah.

    Interesting that a “questioning” group displayed this idol in their sanctuary during the festival of lights. Lucifer, the fallen angel of light, wanted to replace God as well. Didn’t work out for him either.

    • “Lucifer” is a translation, found in the Latin Vulgate, the KJV, and the NKJV, of the Hebrew word “helel” in Isaiah 14.12.  Both words are names in their respective languages for the planet Venus.  The NASB translates it as “star of the morning”, and the ESV simply as “Day Star”.
       
      It appears in the context of Isaiah 14.3-23, which is a “taunt against the king of Babylon” (v. 4), and refers to the king of Babylon, not Satan/the Devil, “the fallen angel of light”, whose fall from heaven is recounted elsewhere (Lk. 10.18, Rev. 8.10-11, 9.1, 12.7-12).
       
      The Septuagint word used for helel is heosphoros, an alternate form of phosphoros, the Greek name for the planet Venus.  Phosphoros is also used in II Peter 1.19: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star (phosphoros) rises in your hearts.”
       
      Neither helel, heosphoros, nor phosphoros is used anywhere in Scripture as an alternate name for Satan.

  6. David says:

    Well, Binghamton, NY, like many post industrial cities has lost population. It reached its peak around 1950 and now has nearly half that number. The median age is around 35. “Urban congregations” often find themselves with older members and a serious lack of children. Sometimes their neighborhoods have become questionable and suburbanites decline to enter them.

    Some churches attempt to attract people with art exhibitions and events. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC has had an elephant walking down the aisle in addition to various concerts, etc. The item in question seems more like a light show than a pagan idol. I suppose one could call it “Job” or some other biblical name to avoid criticism.

  7. Richard Robinson says:

    Interesting enough is the dictionary definition of fes:ti:Val of lights. 1.another term for Hanukkah. 2.another term for Diwali.
    Diwali,Divali, or Divali is the festival of lights,which is celebrated by Hindus,Jains,Sikhs and some Buddhist every Autumn in the Nothern hemisphere. Diya and lighting,home decorations,shopping,fireworks,puja (prayers),gifts,feast and sweets.
    Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of lights and it remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, in Isreal. This happined in the 160s BCE/BC ..(before Jesus was born) …During Hanukkah,on each of eight nights,a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a ‘hanukkiyah’.
    As a Christian I do enjoy art,music,dance and celebrating the memorial of Jesus death as he commanded. I would not want such things in my place of worship or even paticipate in these celebrations.

  8. TexasBill says:

    The fact that the congregation and pastor in charge would allow the facsimile of an ancient pagan idol stand in the Sanctuary only proves how theologically vapid and bankrupt they’ve are. Thank you for a fine article.

    • Tom Griffith says:

      My goodness: we are a faith that believes in ONE God; that there are no other Gods;? and this was part of an art exhibit, not a subject of worship. Why does this even warrant all of these words? Are you all afraid the presence of a statue would in any way diminish someone’s faith in one God? This seems like “much ado about nothing!”

      • Melonie Anderson says:

        Would the church display a carving, statue, painting, or anything else being passed off as an object d’art of … oh, let’s say, for the sake of conversation , Satan… it with equal enthusiasm? I’d have to ask, “What’s the difference between the two?” There is very little difference between an “artistic” statue of an idol and an “artistic “ presentation of Satan just to display an artist’s idea of Satan. Both are evil in God’s eyes. The profane is always profane, the ungodly is always ungodly. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

        The Church (regardless of denomination) is tasked with looking out for the spiritual well-being of its congregates. The United Presbyterian Church of Binghamton failed to do this by introducing an idol under its roof. God’s word tells us to have nothing to do with idols. No exceptions! Shame on it.

  9. Robin says:

    re the Chancel of UPC/Binghamton: The area you’re describing is actually a platform currently functioning as a chancel. The actual chancel of the sanctuary is a raised area no longer used in worship, nor for display of this art object. The use of the platform is an attempt to bring the worship leadership and the now smaller and less formal congregation closer together. I don’t know if this will assuage the concerns of those who feel concern for a facsimile of an artist’s rendering of a non-living god in the “chancel.” Let us remember that we worship the Living God. No other gods have any power, but may be artifacts of historic and artistic interest.

  10. Ruth Hartness says:

    John Calvin is turning over in his grave.

  11. Leon M. Green says:

    Psalm 16:4Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.

  12. Rev J. T. Smith says:

    Trash writing, trash comments, trash magazine. We need actual thoughtful exploration of theology and culture. This is click bait. No thanks.

  13. Robert Munday says:

    This idol of Sviatovid is a projection-mapped sculpture that was inspired by a ninth century Slavic deity. BART KRESA Studio took inspiration from the all-seeing nature of the figure. With four faces, Sviatovid was not omniscient, but could literally take in the world in an all-encompassing way.

    Now what I would like to know is: if you are an artist who “sculpts” using digital projections, of all the things in the world you could sculpt, what makes you use your talent to re-create a pagan idol and take it on an exhibit tour around the world?
    There is more going on here than meets the eye. https://vimeo.com/325370958

  14. Paul Zesewitz says:

    A ‘god of war’ being hosted by a Presbyterian Church? Quite odd indeed for a denomination whose own members admit to being pacifist! Next thing we know they’ll be returning songs like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Am I a Soldier of the Cross’ to their hymnal!

    • Ancient pagan idols are no more meaningful to More Light Presbyterians than the God of the Bible, and this one was no more the object of the worship at the UPC of Binghamton than He.  What is left in the PC(USA) is of a mind to collapse the First Great Commandment into the Second, as if the First were fulfilled exclusively by fulfilling the Second.
       
      The art and device of man figure greatly among those who are left in the PC(USA)—especially among the leaders—for these are the idols that command their worship and their obeisance.  But the Lord warns,
      “Stop regarding man
           in whose nostrils is breath,
           for of what account is he?” (Is. 2.22)
       
      “For the LORD of hosts has a day
           against all that is proud and lofty,
           against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; …
      “And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
           and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
           and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
      “And the idols shall utterly pass away.” (Is. 2.12,17-18)

  15. Hannah says:

    This world has gone completely crazy. A statue of a pagan god should not be anywhere in, on, or around any Christian church ( not even in the attic or basement). Does anyone at all follow the teachings of the Bible anymore. The world is in a sad state.

  16. Jackie says:

    I don’t have degrees in front or behind my name to display. I do believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and we should love him with all our heart. Nothing else to say….. this is just wrong! Yes, the world has gone crazy!

  17. John Williams says:

    That idol looks satanic.

  18. Peggy says:

    Arguments here regarding the declining population of the church community, and knit-picking about how the article is written, ignore the fact that a Christian Church placed an idol at the front of their sanctuary. THAT is the issue.

  19. Daniel McCoy says:

    Well, it IS the PCUSA, so…

  20. Jennifer Mason says:

    Not surprised, why should you? PCUSA is one of the many churches on a world-wide basis that has apostatized years ago.
    Let’s get over it!

  21. Jeff says:

    Luther thought idols to be in the heart. Those who get up-in-arms about art pieces are perhaps focusing on the wrong thing. This is church that has given much of itself to a struggling urban community, and continues to do so. Though membership is small on Sunday mornings, hundreds more who pass through its doors everyday consider it a beacon of light in a needy community.

  22. De Cz says:

    If you do not know the word you are open to deception. Jesus said my people die for lack of knowledge. If you knew the word you would never erect an idol in a city much less a church building. If you knew spiritual truths at all you would know that anything in the likeness even though it is not the original still has attached demonic entities. You have opened your church and given legal right for the devil to reign in your church. You have opened the door to him to come and go freely. The pastor and leaders are accountable for endangering your people and our city. Don’t wonder when bad things happen and/or more deception comes in. Shocking. This is God’s house and you defiled it by placing a large statue of an idol. You already have been fooled by the enemy. Just like the early Israelites making an idol for themselves. Moses was furious. If most of your congregation is older people you all should have more sense. You must repent and ask God to close the portals made for the devil to have a right to come in. Just the fact you think it is okay shows your ignorance to spiritual truths and the Word of God itself. Defiling a place where the Holy Spirit should be. God Bless you and have mercy upon you all. Please search the word of God for truth.

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