Congressman Denny Rehberg doesn’t care if it rains or freezes, he will save Big Mountain’s ceramic Jesus.
Count on it.
A half century ago U.S. Forest Service officials now forgotten gave local Knights of Columbus permission to mount a ceramic Jesus statue on a 25-by-25-foot tract of national forest land on the edge of the Big Mountain ski run.
The statue was to be a memorial for veterans. Many of the KC members fought in World War I and the Korean War.
The glazed Christ’s history raises a few questions: First, if this is not a religious statue, what is it? Rehberg swears it’s a monument to the valor of our fighting men.
Nice try, Denny, but no cigar. Who would raise a statue of Buddha, Confucius, Moses, or any other religious figure as a war memorial?
No one. None would erect a statue of Jesus for that purpose either. The Christ was the Prince of Peace, not the God of War. We have to suspect the Catholic boys from the Knights of Columbus were pulling the shirttails of the Forest Service officials.
Second, where did the Whitefish vets find such a piece of work? Near the largest cemetery in any Mexican city, tourists will find, perhaps on an alley behind the cathedral, a small shop that sells votary candles, incense, crucifixes and statues of saints.
These “Santos” are made by local craftsmen. They sell cheap and are worth it. Darned few of them are as ugly as the Big Mountain specimen.
The statue is not in the same class with the representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many of these are copies of classic works buried by Spanish Catholics during the 600-year occupation of Spain by the Moors. Tour Billings’ South Side and you will find BVN’s by the dozen in backyards, enshrined beneath half-buried, upturned claw-footed bathtubs.
Forest Service administrators were minding their own business when a letter arrived warning that a Wisconsin organization would sue the government if the lease for the Jesus memorial was renewed.
The lease had been renewed every 10 years since the early 1950s. It was about to expire again. Forest Service bureaucrats decided to cancel the rent-free lease.
They may have wondered how a bunch of busy bodies from Wisconsin had discovered the existence of a Christo hidden among the spruce high on a Montana mountain.
The truth is: the Wisconsin group was the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a fellowship of dyed-in-the-wool nonbelievers. They knew the lease was due to expire because atheists have ways of knowing such things.
There is no wondering how Rehberg learned of this threat to his Lord and Savior’s counterfeit. Rehberg is co-founder of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus and Michele Bachmann’s earliest endorser. Rehberg is a member of a cadre that can smell a government plot from half a continent away.
The congressman knew his duty. His campaign for the U.S. Senate was distressed. He was five points down in the polls and behind in fund raising. Neither he nor the Democratic incumbent Tester is Catholic, but Tester’s advocacy for veterans has made him popular among that group.
Rehberg promised steps to ensure the statue can stay put. He has proposed legislation that would hand over the landmark’s site - a 25-by-25-foot patch of land - to the Big Mountain ski resort. The resort, in turn, would swap the same amount of land elsewhere to the Forest Service.
The resort, where the statue has been a curiosity and sight to skiers for years, has said it does not want the statue to be taken down.
The Forest Service has warned that current laws and past court decisions could be stacked against allowing it to lease land for the Jesus statue. In reviewing its decision, however, the agency noted that eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places could help the monument.
Montana Cowgirl, a left-wing blog often critical of Rehberg, reports that another of Jesus of Nazarene’s fans, Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow, is scheduled to give a talk at the nearby Christian school in Kalispell.
Tebow, who wears his faith on his sleeve, is sure to weigh in on the Big Mountain Jesus issue, Cowgirl suggests.