MONROE, Ohio – A six-story statue of Jesus Christ was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, leaving only a blackened steel skeleton and pieces of foam that were scooped up by curious onlookers Tuesday.
The “King of Kings” statue, one of southwest Ohio’s most familiar landmarks, had stood since 2004 at the evangelical Solid Rock Church along Interstate 75 in Monroe, just north of Cincinnati.
The lightning strike set the statue ablaze around 11:15 p.m. Monday, Monroe police dispatchers said.
The sculpture, about 62 feet tall and 40 feet wide at the base, showed Jesus from the torso up and was nicknamed Touchdown Jesus because of the way the arms were raised, similar to a referee signaling a touchdown. It was made of plastic foam and fiberglass over a steel frame, which is all that remained Tuesday.
The nickname is the same used for a famous mural of the resurrected Jesus that overlooks the Notre Dame football stadium.
The fire spread from the statue to an adjacent amphitheater but was confined to the attic area, and no one was injured, police Chief Mark Neu said.
Estimated damage from the fire was set at $700,000 â€” $300,000 for the statue and $400,000 for the amphitheater, Fire Capt. Richard Mascarella said Tuesday.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol was at the scene Tuesday to prevent traffic jams and potential accidents from motorists stopping along the highway to take photographs.
The patrol began issuing citations about 4 p.m. Tuesday to motorists for stopping on the side of the highway, dispatcher Adam Brown said. The number of gawkers coupled with construction had slowed I-75 traffic in the area to a crawl, the state Highway Patrol said.
Some people were scooping up pieces of the statue’s foam from the nearby pond to take home with them, said church co-pastor Darlene Bishop.
“This meant a lot to a lot of people,” she said.
Keith Lewis, of nearby Middletown, arrived at the church around 7 a.m. Tuesday to photograph the remains for his wife. Lewis said he had viewed the statue as both an oddity and an inspiration.
Cassie Browning, a church member from Dayton, said she was driving home when she saw smoke and noticed the statue was missing.
CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”
Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.
Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an “inappropriate, unethical and illegal” series of political endorsements.
“As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society,” the clergy wrote in an advance copy of their claim obtained by The Washington Post.
The battle over the clergy’s privileges, rights and responsibilities in the political world is not new. Politicians of all stripes court the support — explicit or otherwise — of religious leaders. Allegations surface every political season of a preacher crossing the line.