For six years, a 62-foot steel, styrofoam, and fiberglas sculpture of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings Statue (also affectionately and condescendingly referred to as “Big Butter Jesus,” “Touchdown Jesus,” and “Drowning Jesus”) has stood in front of a reflecting lake between Solid Rock Church and Interstate 75 in Monroe, Ohio, with its hands reaching for the sky. On Monday night, as was reported by WXIX in Cincinnati, its seeming supplication was answered by lightning strike from on high. And if there is some kind of quick judgment to be made, it is apparent that “Touchdown Jesus” scored low on its trial by fire, because the King of Kings Statue stands no more.
When the fire was put out by local firemen, officials estimated that the amount of damage to the statue (which was completely burned away except for its metal framework), the Solid Rock Church, and the surrounding area, was approximately $700,000. The statue itself is estimated to have cost $250,000 when it was built in 2004, but Pastor Lawrence Bishop of Solid Rock Church, which has a nondenominational membership of at least 4,000, has already said that he hopes to replace the King of Kings Statue.
Constructed in 2004f, the 62-foot King of Kings Statue had become a landmark in the area. Over the years it had acquired quite a few nicknames, the most popular of which were “Touchdown Jesus,” so called because the figure has his hands raised in the traditional ‘score’ signal, and “Big Butter Jesus,” which came from the combination of its coloration — a light yellow — and that it began at waist level, making the figure look as if it were melting into the ground (or drowning in the lake it faces, hence “Drowning Jesus” and its brother term “Quicksand Jesus”). in 2007 comedian Heywood Banks immortalized the “Big Butter Jesus” nickname in his novelty song of the same name.
According to WXIX in Cincinnati, the King of Kings Statue was struck by lightning at around 11 p.m. EST. Fire crews responded and battled the blaze for several hours. The fire spread to an adjacent amphitheater but was contained. No other buildings were damaged. No one was injured.
Witnesses said it was the right hand of “Touchdown Jesus” that was first struck by lightning, according to 911 calls.
As might be expected, the burning down of what has become a religious icon has sparked debate about its demise. The internet was afire with articles, videos, and pictures — some objective, some irreverent, and some concerned — showing the King of Kings Statue (many referring to it by its nicknames, “Big Butter Jesus” and “Touchdown Jesus”) before and after the fire. Four of the Top 10 trending topics on Google Trends on June 15, the day after the fire, were about the statue, the fire, and its nicknames. As for the dialogue, some were calling the fire an act of god, a striking down of a graven image (forbidden in the ten commandments). Some were calling a sign to build a bigger, better, butter-colored Jesus. Some are just poking fun at the entire incident.
Regardless of one’s stance on religion or whether or not one believes that the burning of the King of Kings Statue was an overt act of god, one must acknowledge that simple science explains the fire as well. “Touchdown Jesus,” whose blackened and charred metal frame is still very visible beside the Solid Rock Church, had two very long steel structures (encased in styrofoam and fiberglas) for arms. They were, in effect, giant “lightning rods.” And when electric energy builds up to the point it needs release, a steel structure becomes a likely conduit (because lightning actually originates from the ground).
The mixed media artist who constructed the King of Kings Statue, James Lynch, told the Wall Street Journal he would like to see the sculpture rebuilt, he would like to see it “bigger and better.” But he would change the design, which wasn’t his. He would make “Touchdown Jesus” into a pensive whittler, because Jesus was a carpenter.
Pastor Lawrence Bishop said that the original idea had come from his wife. The statue was never meant to impress, he said. It was meant as a “beacon of hope and salvation.”
It is unclear if the next King of Kings Statue sculpture would be constructed of non-conductive and fire-retardant materials as well, perhaps with a nod to the name of the megachurch: Solid Rock Church.