Images of Christianity: How America’s Top 20 Churches “Brand” Their Message

Every church has a message to share. And nearly every established church these days has a website in which it promotes and “brands” its church and message. Doctrine aside, I thought it would be insightful to see just how the top 20 churches in America (in terms of reported membership) go about visually communicating their messages on their respective official church websites.

Below you’ll find a collection of visual images and a description of what I found in a brief survey of each website. What you’ll find may be surprising. I found that of the top 20 Christian churches, only 3 actively use images of Jesus Christ on their site. Most churches don’t visually emphasize church doctrine or principles, but rather emphasize recent news in the church or upcoming conventions, concerts, and speaking series. Most of the churches choose to advertise programs or other websites and they promote their bookstores and other products for purchase. Some churches emphasize healthy living, taking care of the poor, and providing relief during disasters. Some have a really strong emphasis on the leadership of their church, directing readers to church hierarchy and important people.

One thing you’ll want to notice from each church is whether or not they are incorporated. You’ll find an interesting connection between the churches that have a “.com” website address and their visual emphasis on money-making conventions. The .org sites tend to be focused more on doctrinal and faith-based issues (but not all).

If you’re wondering how your church visually promotes its message in comparison to the others, check out the top 20 below, listed in order of largest denomination to smallest. (Statistics from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research).

#1 The Catholic Church – 68,202,492 American members
http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm

1_CatholicChurch

The Catholic church’s official website has a heavy visual emphasis on the leadership of the church (primarily the Pope and cardinals) and on great edifices and other structures owned by the church. Some religious symbolism, such as the cross and dove can be found, but they are minimal in comparison to leadership buildings.

#2 Southern Baptist Convention – 16,136,044 American members
http://sbc.org/default.asp

Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention has a heavy visual emphasis on upcoming events (revivals, speakers, and annual meetings) and donations. Other images images include small photos that promote attending camps, listening to speakers, having patience with spouses, and helping the needy.

#3 The United Methodist Church – 7,679,850 American members
http://www.umc.org

3_UnitedMethodistChurch

The United Methodist Church has a strong visual emphasis on multiculturalism and global collaboration. The website is designed much like a news magazine and also presents many thumbnails of news stories around the globe.

#4 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) – 6,157,238 American members
http://www.lds.org/

4_ChurchOfJesusChristOfLatterDaySaints

Perhaps the most image-rich of all the denominations’ websites, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church) has a heavy visual emphasis on daily living according to Jesus Christ’s teachings. Images emphasize service, strong family relationships, praying, friendship, forgiving, marriage, giving humanitarian aid, sharing the gospel, and remembering heritage. It is one of the few websites that displays actual images of Jesus Christ.

#5 The Church of God in Christ – 5,499,875
http://www.cogic.org/

5_ChurchOfGodInChrist

The Church of God in Christ has a heavy visual emphasis on registering for upcoming events, mostly large conferences and convocations. Other images encourage donations, honor church leadership, show church hierarchy.
#6 National Baptist Convention , U.S.A. , Inc. – 5,197,512 American members
http://www.nationalbaptist.com/

6_NationalBaptistConvention

The National Baptist Convention has a heavy visual emphasis on upcoming events. There is also a strong visual connection to church leadership and voting. Some imagery emphasizes black heritage and donating to the church.

#7 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – 4,274,855 American mebers
http://www.elca.org/

7_EvangelicalLutheranChurch

Another image-rich site, the Evangelical Lutheran Church has a strong visual emphasis on global outreach and service to the community. Images emphasize starting Christian conversations and giving to those in need. Images also encourage praying and reading the bible.

#8 National Baptist Convention of America , Inc. – 3,500,000 American members
http://www.nbcainc.com/

8_NationalBaptistConventionOfAmerica
The National Baptist Convention of America has a strong visual emphasis on attending upcoming events. Images also encourage subscribing to events and purchasing new books and manuals on Christian topics. Images emphasize importance of church leadership.
#9 Assemblies of God – 3,030,944 American members
http://ag.org

9_AssembliesOfGod

Assemblies of God’s website is design much a like a news website with images emphasizing articles and stories around the church. Images advertise other church affiliated websites about following Christ, purchasing Christian resources, and the Assemblies of God Trust. Images also emphasize attending upcoming conferences.
#10 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – 2,675,873 American members
http://www.pcusa.org/

10_PresbyterianChurch

A site with relatively fewer images than the others, the images from the Presbyterian Church’s website spotlight local congregations, advertise news and events, and encourage attending workshops and summer camps for youth.

#11 African Methodist Episcopal Church – 2,500,000 American members
http://www.ame-church.com

11_AmericanMethodistEpiscopalChurch

One of the least image-rich of the churches listed here, what few visuals exist on the website strongly emphasize leadership and church hierarchy. Images encourage reading messages from the leaders, show how the church is structured, and where members can find active bishops.
#12 National Missionary Baptist Convention of America – 2,500,000 American members
http://www.nmbca.com

12_NationalMissionaryBabtistConventionOfAmerica

Another site with relatively few images, the National Missionary Baptist Conventional of America has a visual emphasis on leadership in the church and attending conventions.
#13 The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) – 2,278,586
http://www.lcms.org/

13_LutheranChurchMissouriSynod

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has a strong visual emphasis on upcoming events and conventions. Images advertise church radio stations and donating to disaster response. Other images ask “Who Is Jesus" and advertise articles that provide relief to those who suffer natural disasters.
#14 The Episcopal Church – 1,951,907 American members
http://www.episcopalchurch.org

14_EpiscopalChurch

The Episcopal Church takes an artistic approach to their website. Their images depict events within the church, both historical and contemporary that define what the church is today. This is one of the few websites that actually includes images of Jesus Christ.

#15 Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. – 1,800,000 American members
http://www.pawinc.org/

15_PentecostalAssembliesOfTheWorld

A very commercial website, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World has a heavy visual emphasis on attending their conventions. Visual emphasis is made to declare sold out events, hotel accommodations for events, and subscription magazines that advertise the church.

#16 Churches of Christ – 1,639,495 American members
http://church-of-christ.org

16_ChurchesOfChrist
With virtually no photographic images on their website, the Churches of Christ has little visual emphasis. Clipart icons and flashing bullets suggest a lack of funding to build the website.

#17 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – 1,500,000 American members
http://www.goarch.org/

17_GreekOrthodoxArchdioceseOfAmerica

With the use of artwork and imagery of older leadership, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has a strong visual emphasis on history and antiquated approaches to Christianity.

#18 The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1,400,000 American members
http://www.amez.org/

18_TheAfricanMethodistEpiscopalZionChurch

Very image-rich, the website for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has a strong visual emphasis on taking care of oneself and taking care of others. Images emphasize having health insurance, getting eye exams, helping those suffering during disasters, giving to relief programs, attending college, and going to conventions.
#19 American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. – 1,308,054 American members
http://www.abc-usa.org

19_AmericanBaptistChurchesUSA
The American Baptist Churches USA has a strong visual emphasis in highlighting church activities. Images emphasize involvement in the recent church summit, concerts, and in activities that involved giving to the poor.

#20 Jehovah’s Witnesses – 1,184,249 American members
http://www.jw.org/en/

20_JehovasWitness

Another image-rich site, Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the preaching of the gospel to all the world. Images emphasize the reading of the bible and subscribing to their magazine, The Watchtower. Images provoke inquiry by questioning “Should You Trust Religion" and “Is Protest the Answer"?

195 thoughts on “Images of Christianity: How America’s Top 20 Churches “Brand” Their Message

  • July 17, 2013 at 2:12 am
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    This was interesting! Thanks for sending the link. Now that I’ve finally switched from Google Reader to another blog-following site, you’re on my list. I’ll be seeing all your posts for now on. Yay! You’re very talented.

    Reply
  • July 22, 2013 at 11:53 am
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    Nicely done. Appreciate your staying positive and non-judgmental.

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  • July 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm
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    Fascinating!
    I wonder if churches refrain from displaying images of Jesus for fear of treading on the 4th Commandment about ‘graven images’

    Exodus 20:4-5

    4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

    5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

    Reply
    • July 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm
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      Very Fascinating. Thanks for putting this together.

      @Luke

      I hope that is why they don’t have pictures of Christ. I think a lot of churches have slowly forgotten why they exist and are more concerned about funding themselves.

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      • August 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm
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        I think they were never about Christ to begin with. They are only about money.

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        • August 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm
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          I’m pretty certain The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (mormon church) does NOT provide any kind of funding to those in leadership positions; it’s strictly volunteer work. Probably one of the last churches that isn’t passing around a basket to pay for the leaders.

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          • August 11, 2013 at 9:40 pm
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            As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints (Mormon church), I can affirm that most (if not all) of the work done for our church is volunteer and without income. The money given to the church goes to building new churches and temples, humanitarian aid, and to help 18-26 year olds get the money they need to spread the beliefs of the church to other places.

          • August 12, 2013 at 12:48 am
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            You’re right, we only provide our leaders who are in positions that require all of their time what they need to live. We don’t give them any more than they need, and people like our bishops don’t get paid because they still have enough time to have a full-time job.

          • August 12, 2013 at 3:23 am
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            To be clear (from another member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)some leaders do get a stipend to cover expenses, travel and time away. Most ‘positions’ or callings world-wide are volunteer and members enjoy serving in those positions.

          • August 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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            But the church does expect tithing from its members for them to remain in good standing. The money also goes to pay for the church’s educational system from seminaries to the BYU campuses.

          • September 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm
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            If you would like to know more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, go to Mormon.org

    • July 23, 2013 at 3:30 pm
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      I don’t think anyone can calm the 2nd commandment as the reason why they don’t have pictures of Christ on their website if they 1 have pictures of Christ in their buildings, home, or anywhere else and 2 if they have pictures of anything else on the website. If you interpret the commandment to be that you can not have pictures “of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” then you wont have picture at all. I remember hearing there was some religion like that where they can only have abstract art. But I’m pretty sure most Christen denominations understand the commandment is to not make anything that you can worship, we worship only the true Living God, not images or idols (pictures are perfectly fine as decorations). So if you have pictures of anything anywhere, then you can’t clam the 2nd commandment as why you didn’t have Christ on you website.

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      • July 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm
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        Its claim! not calm nor clam. LoL 🙂

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        • August 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm
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          We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

          We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

          That’s why we know about our Savior, Lord Jesus Christ. If you have believe in God ask him by the way of prayer Our HEAVENLY FATHER answer us by our prayer. That why we know the truth.

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          • August 11, 2013 at 1:52 am
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            Amen, Brother.

        • August 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm
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          @darryl you are clearly interested in very minute details. People like you are important in the world. But, religion is not a detail oriented instiution of knowledge. Religion explores the things that are unexplained by detail oriented institutions such as the scientific community. During the new testament times, christ was consistently criticized for not living up to the minute details that the pharisees pointed out. We have learned from his example that there are things that matter more than these relative principles of life. Wars have started over minute details. It’s clear that detail oriented people in the religious community have always created contention in almost every setting imaginable… kind of like your comment stirred in this conversation.

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          • August 15, 2013 at 9:23 am
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            Hi Alex, I believe religion can be looked at as both detail oriented and yet simple. The gospel can be summed up easily by loving God and your neighbor. But lets be honest, the Bible is pretty complex and detail oriented. Most people can’t understand it. I believe most religions have gotten away from details and moved toward “non-denominational” religions for fear of offending others. They just want to all get along. Its no wonder…look at all the divisions in Christian churches since the early days of the Catholic Church. When philosophies of men crept into the church there were many changes and divisions. I believe the right thing to do is to not avoid the details, but to seek after truth and hold to it. Instead most people go shopping for a church they “mostly” agree with or a preacher they like best. In reality there is only ONE truth and there are many details to it. Some things matter more than others – and we should focus on the things that matter most, but I believe each person has an obligation to continue searching after truth and knowledge for their entire life as much as possible (including the minute details). Yes, the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus and Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees. I don’t believe they were criticized for being detail oriented, but for going beyond the mark or adding to or changing the law. Jesus knew they had changed the true and everlasting doctrines of His gospel and Jesus had to come to restore those truths – including every minute detail.

        • August 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm
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          Also, correcting someone’s grammar in response to a discussion of this nature – seems like a bit of a scapegoat. I would love to hear your response, and mean that with all due respect.

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          • August 12, 2013 at 2:25 am
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            and scapegoat came from the old testament. Full Circle.

      • July 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm
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        Agreed. The most important thing about that commandment is that you do not bow down and worship the images. I don’t bow down and worship any images of Christ, I worship the living Christ.

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        • August 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm
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          Bowing down is not necessary for worship as you can worship an image in your heart without bowing to it. It is what is in your heart that determines what you worship and will dictate your outer actions.

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          • August 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm
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            I can see Patti’s point. But, the only problem with arguments regarding false representation and the worship of images of God is that everything in reality is a representation of something else if you really think about it. I don’t think it’s a healthy practice to become overly detail oriented with respect of these types of things, but if we are going to look at the small and less significant details of the biblical teachings… it is also important to understand that there are false representations that are even more misleading than pictures of Christ.

            If you think about it, our eyes have to translate images that we see through our brain; we never really see anything directly. Everything we have to reference to God is a representation from something else and that puts us in a position that we have to recognize that even scriptural representation is somewhat faulty.

      • July 29, 2013 at 2:24 am
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        One of the things that is interesting to me about referencing the use of “graven images” as a reason for not putting pictures of Christ on a website, is the use by many churches now in Banner Ministries, in using banners as a symbol of God and Christ. Many people will bow before these banners, so isn’t that worse than displaying a picture of Christ on your website? Just curious what others think.

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        • August 12, 2013 at 3:56 am
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          Agreed, and again, the whole idea of a “graven image” is simply stated in a dictionary:

          graven image
          noun
          a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship.
          ORIGIN with biblical allusion to Exod. 20:4.

          Thus, bowing to an image is breaking God’s commandment. The first commandment clearly states, “Thou shalt have ano other bgods before me.” Clearly the Lord wants his people to worship him, not a statue or picture. He can answer prayers and give us salvation, they cannot.

          Great comment!

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          • August 12, 2013 at 4:56 am
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            I truly believe that Heavenly Father is not displeased with His children having or admiring pictures (or statues) of Jesus Christ. They help us to visualize who He was, what He did and taught, and they help us to remember Him. Normally when I am saying my prayers it is not in front of a picture of Christ, but, I must comment that even if I was, I wouldn’t consider that worshipping the picture. My prayer is still directed to God, it is Him I am talking to, it is Him I listen for, and it is Him that I love. Not the picture. So I don’t believe that this commandment is referring to pictures or images of Christ, rather, they are other gods, or in fact they could be anything. Video games, money, our jobs, accumulations of material possessions, sex—these are all things that could be “idols” or “graven images” or “other gods” if we are not careful to remember that they are just things, and we can’t live for them and center our lives around them. Heavenly Father wants us to center our lives around Jesus Christ and our families.

    • August 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm
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      4th commandment in to remember the Sabbath day, is it not?

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      • August 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm
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        you are right. it is the 2nd commandment that is being discussed here. the 4th is to remember that Sabbath day and keep it holy.

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    • August 10, 2013 at 10:16 am
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      Fascinating!! Haha. What is the first and foremost commandment luke?! It is to love The Lord thy god with all thy heart, mind and strength. Don’t you put pictures up of those who you love most?! Especially our Father in heaven and his son Jesus Christ who has made us everything that we are?! Graven images is talking about images that are false, or that mock God, making them in vain and bring condemnation. Not pictures of himself that bring peaceful feelings to ones soul. You. Any just Interpret scripture which ever way you feel like to try and prove your point. But nice try tho.

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    • August 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm
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      The LDS church doesn’t show images of heaven but when Jesus came to earth.

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    • August 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm
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      The LDS church doesn’t show images of heaven, It shows when Jesus was on earth.

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    • August 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm
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      The LDS (Mormon) Church, frequently accused of NOT being Christian, adorns all of its building interiors with beautiful paintings of Jesus. However, they do not have any visual imagery in their ‘chapels’– the main room of worship in their church buildings– precisely for the reason given. “No graven image” is taken literally, but only in worship, as mentioned in the commandment. The hallways and foyers and offices are replete with them. Virtually every publication, building, handbook, pamphlet, etc., produced by the LDS Church includes artwork of Christ. Despite the claims of some, the very center of the LDS faith is Jesus Christ and our returning to live with Him and our Father in Heaven.

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    • August 12, 2013 at 1:28 am
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      That might be one reason why they don’t use pictures of Jesus, but also, for me anyway, it seems odd to use images of someone whose actual appearance is unknown. It seems silly to have images of a fair skinned Jesus with flowing locks, when more than likely he was dark in coloring. Personally, when imagining scenes in the Gospel, I have an image of a thin, average middle eastern man with a big nose. 🙂

      But like you said, it seems like the Bible would discourage us from focusing on his appearance at all, since it matters so little.

      With that, I’m done!

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      • August 15, 2013 at 10:02 am
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        Hi Crystal, why do you state that Jesus’ actual appearance is unknown. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was a descendant of King David who was a descendant of Judah, son of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). Jacob’s father was Isaac. Isaac’s father was Abraham who descended directly from Noah. Through Jacob came 12 sons whose descendants are the 12 tribes of Israel and became the Hebrews that Moses led out of Egypt. Jesus was a Jew and a direct descendant of Judah. In fact, if the Romans had not conquered Israel, Jesus as the supposed first born son of Joseph would have been the literal King of the Jews by birth. Its no wonder King Herod was so anxious to kill Jesus when he was only two years old! King Herod KNEW he didn’t have a right to the throne.

        In addition the Bible provides 4,000 years of prophets from various cultures and backgrounds who spoke with God and saw Him. “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Exodus 33:11) Stephen saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God prior to being stoned to death. “And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Act 7:56) There are countless other references in the Bible. The Book of Mormon also teaches that prophets spoke with God in America anciently. I believe that God continues His same pattern and speaks to prophets in our day. God must reveal Himself, or forever remain unknown. His image reminds us that He has a resurrected body of flesh and bone. His image reminds us that He lives. I believe His image is absolutely critical to understanding who He is and who we are.

        “26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

        27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

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    • August 12, 2013 at 3:38 am
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      If you look up the definition of “graven image” it says: graven image
      noun
      a carved idol or representation of a god used as an object of worship.

      Thus, unless a church is creating these things to worship, the commandment is not being broken. I, too, as some on here have said, am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I know that our images of Christ are to remind us of his work. They help us remember, reverence, and worship him, not an image of him.

      Hope this helps!

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      • August 12, 2013 at 3:46 am
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        Correction: We worship God, the Father, in the name of Christ – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him" (D&C 59:5.)

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    • August 12, 2013 at 12:46 pm
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      At the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Church, held in 787 AD, the church fathers discussed this issue and came to the conclusion that representations of Christ were NOT a violation against the second commandment.

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    • August 12, 2013 at 6:26 pm
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      That’s a true statement, it is a concern when people start to focus on funding the church as opposed to improving one self through the atonement of Christ. Good point mate. I know the religion I belong to focuses on the atonement and Christ.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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    Thank you for the overview and positive approach here. Also thanks to the commenters for doing the same. I learned a lot from this and gained a better respect for the various churches out there.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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    How is a picture of Christ a “graven image”? If we are Christian and we would like to exemplify any image, would it not be the very image of our Savior? If we are to take the verses literally then we should not be having pictures of anything regarding heaven and earth, really? I have a picture of the Savior in every room of my house, it reminds me and my family of whom we serve and invites Him, His image and His Spirit into our daily family life and activities. I prefer to have pictures of Jesus doing holy things and inviting me to come to Him than to have symbols of the cross. I guess I prefer to worship His life and that He still lives and can transform me to love as He loves than I do on His crucifixion, that sacred personal and private atonement is too precious to me to be displayed in my home casually, I prefer to remember it privately.

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  • July 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm
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    I only have one question: HOW did the Mormon church get ” actual images of Jesus Christ”???

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    • July 23, 2013 at 5:36 pm
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      Either they’ve got a time machine or “image” does not equal “photograph.” I’m not sure which one.

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      • July 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm
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        @John Gardiner- it’s the time machine. We have it in the vault next to the machine that puts horns on our heads 🙂

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        • July 29, 2013 at 2:29 am