By MARJORIE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
LONDON--Ernesto "Che" Guevara's Christ-like portrait has been
used to inspire leftist revolutionaries around the world, but for the
first time, Britain's churches are using his image to arouse interest in Jesus.
On black-and-red posters for the churches' Easter campaign, the
bearded Marxist revolutionary in a beret has been transformed into
Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. The slogan underneath reads: "Meek
and Mild. As If. Discover the real Jesus. Church. April 4."
The ads have drawn outrage from conservatives in the churches and
members of the political elite who say that using a violent Communist
and atheist to promote Jesus verges on blasphemy.
"A travesty of the gospel message," said an editorial in Wednesday's
Daily Mail tabloid. "It is hard not to despair when churchmen can
seriously promote such offensive, dishonest and ignorant rubbish.
"Of course Christ was a revolutionary. His message today is as
challenging and unsettling as ever. But he never planted bombs or
'executed' his enemies. His whole ministry was a repudiation of hatred
and violence," the editorial said. "Indeed, the central message of the
gospels is the redeeming power of love."
The Christian advertising executives who dreamed up the campaign say
their critics miss the point by focusing on Guevara the man instead of on
Guevara the revolutionary symbol.
"We are trying to get away from the image of Jesus as a guy in a white
nightie with a halo. The Sunday-school image," said Chas Bayfield of
HHCL and Partners advertising agency.
"The New Testament is like an action film--violent, sensual, funny,
revolutionary, angry," Bayfield said. "It is almost never gentle, meek and
mild, despite all of the songs."
The ads were commissioned by the Churches Advertising Network, or
CAN, which represents the major Christian denominations in Britain.
The Rev. Tom Ambrose of CAN said the poster was meant to make
people reconsider Jesus.
"Jesus was a revolutionary figure and more revolutionary than anyone in
the 20th century," he said.
Hence the casting of 20th century Guevara as Jesus. But although
Guevara undoubtedly is a symbol, he also was a man.
Guevara, a native of Argentina, helped Fidel Castro overthrow Cuban
dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959, before moving on to try to
spread Communist ideals and revolution in Congo and Bolivia. He
failed, was captured and executed in Bolivia in October 1967.
After his death, two photographs of Guevara became world famous.
One was a portrait of him in a beret, with uplifted eyes reflecting an
unseen source of light. The other was a photograph of the dead
Guevara, eyes open and body laid out, looking a lot like Jesus.
The first portrait, taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, helped
turn Guevara into a martyr and icon for a generation of leftists in the
1960s and '70s from Berkeley to Berlin, Mexico City to Paris. The
Korda photograph appeared on T-shirts, key chains, posters and
countless other items of kitsch and objets d'art. It also appears on
Cuban currency and billboards throughout the island state.
Now, just as Christmas, Jesus' birthday, has returned to officially atheist
Cuba, Guevara's image is being used for a variety of unrevolutionary
Last year, Pope John Paul II made his first visit to Castro's Cuba,
ushering in a new era of rapprochement between the Communist
government and the Roman Catholic Church. Last year, Christmas
became an official holiday for the first time in Cuba since 1969, although
the government warned its citizens against focusing on commercialism
instead of spirituality.
Meanwhile, the Smirnoff vodka company in Britain recently launched an
advertising campaign using Guevara's image to sell booze. Guevara the
fiery Latin revolutionary is being used to promote "hot and fiery" spirits.
And Christian churches here are using Guevara to promote spirituality.
The new ad was created by overlaying the Korda image with a painting
of Jesus that advertising executives Bayfield and Trevor Webb of the
agency DMB&B found on the Internet.
"This poster is sacrilegious," said Harry Greenway, a former Tory
member of Parliament and sponsor of the Conservative Christian
Fellowship. "Jesus was perfect. It is grossly sacrilegious to liken him to
Che Guevara. I feel extremely strongly about this, and those who are in
any way responsible should be excommunicated."
Ann Widdecombe, a Tory member of Parliament, added, "We should
be modeling ourselves on Christ, not modeling Christ on us."
The conservative Mirror tabloid ran a picture of the poster under the
headline "Chesus Christ."
Bayfield was unmoved. "We are not interested in appealing particularly
to conservatives in the church who are responsible for putting people
off," he said.
Bayfield and Webb are part of the team responsible for a similarly
controversial Christmas campaign two years ago called "Bad Hair Day."
That one carried the caption, "You're a virgin, you've just given birth,
and now three kings have shown up. Find out the happy ending at a
church near you."
Bayfield and Webb, who work with a small, nonprofit group called
Christians in the Media, donated their time for the campaign.
"All we got was a lot of flak," Bayfield said, laughing.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times.