By Mark H Hunter, Regional Reporter
BATON ROUGE – When someone in LSU’s Sports Department airbrushed hand-painted crosses off the bare chests of the “Painted Posse” in a widely distributed photo following the LSU-South Carolina game, it sparked a controversy over political correctness and censorship of university students’ religious views.
The Posse, a group of Christian students who proclaim their faith by wearing the crosses, had a meeting and asked themselves, “What would Jesus do?” They publicly forgave the university for the incident and are urging everyone to put the incident behind them.
That is, until the LSU-Alabama game on Nov. 3. Thousands of fans, clad in LSU purple and gold and Alabama red and white, filled Tiger Stadium — with some from both sides also wearing crosses to support the Posse and their testimony of faith in God.
When news first got out about the altered photo and LSU was contacted by national and local media, LSU spokesman Herb Vincent claimed they altered the photo from the Oct. 20 game because they didn’t want to offend anyone.
“We don’t want to imply we are making any religious or political statements, so we airbrushed it out,” Vincent said. “It was just a straight sports communications message, no politics involved, no religion.”
From now on, Vincent said, they’ll just not use photos that could be construed to have religious overtones.
The Posse, formed in 2003 and featured in hundreds of photographs from ESPN to local newspapers, said they don’t want to further the controversy.
Posse member and LSU senior Sloan Bishop, a member of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry there, helped craft a statement released to local media and posted on the Posse’s Facebook page.
“We talked about how we wanted to respond and end it in the most Christ-like way possible,” Bishop, who attends The Ring church held at Grace Baptist in Baton Rouge, said in phone interview. “None of us feel attacked in any way. We bear no ill will toward LSU or staff members.”
The press release reads, in part:
“In light of the recent airbrushing of our crosses by LSU staff members and the discussion that has followed, the Painted Posse — a group of Christian LSU students — would like to thank the public for the outpouring of support both for the group and for Christ…. The University has reached out to our group and apologized for this incident.
“We … do not agree with the University’s recent decision to airbrush crosses out of the photo of some of our members. We also respect the opinions of those who do not agree with us. Despite what happened, our main focus is to represent Christ. This Christ is our Savior who died on a cross to save us from sin, was raised again, and now lives in our lives.
“Our goal as the Painted Posse is to portray Christ through our actions while cheering on our Tigers! Our group will return to our normal seats, with our normal, painted uniforms on November 3rd, wholeheartedly supporting our Tigers. We are humbled by the many who have shown support for our beliefs, but we would encourage all fellow members of the LSU family to please switch the focus from this story and the Posse to supporting our beloved university.
“We encourage anyone who would like to honor Jesus Christ to join us by wearing a cross on November 3rd. We strongly discourage the wearing of a cross as a way to protest the university or its recent decision. We desire that no further negative light would be shone upon the university that we love. We acknowledge the efforts of the LSU administration and look forward to serving the university as both fans and students.”
Bishop’s father, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Covington, La., when asked about the issue, he said, “I’m so proud of each one of these young men that they are taking a stand. It really surprised me that LSU airbrushed that out. When Sports Illustrated and ESPN has run their pictures it wasn’t airbrushed out. They’re not trying to cause a controversy. I think it’s awesome what they’re doing.”
Posse member Cameron Cooke told CampusReform.org, “The cross painting is important to me because it represents who I am as a Christ follower. And it reminds me who I need to act like in Death Valley.”
Posse member Joel D’Aubin told the NBC affiliate in Baton Rouge, “We all have a passion for LSU football and for Christ. Just being able to be that example every single Saturday is an awesome experience.”
The Posse’s Facebook page, which has more than 1,300 “likes,” has been filled with hundreds of comments.
Tiger fan Paula Jones Bergeron wrote, “I’m on a mission and need everyone’s help. The Alabama game is Nov. 3 and everyone needs to wear a purple or black shirt and wear a large cross, a shirt with a cross on it or face paint a cross on your face. The media will be everywhere and my goal is to have a campus of crosses.”
Jason Williams wrote, “This BAMA fan stands behind you! Wear your crosses! May God richly bless you and, of course, Roll Tide!!”