Conservative European politicians raged over artwork at the European Parliament in Brussels that depicted Jesus Christ delivering the Sermon on the Mount while surrounded by gay men dressed in leather BDSM outfits.
The image, which was part of a photography exhibition by lesbian Swedish artist Elisabeth Ohlson that ran in a restricted part of the EU Parliament building from May 2 to 5, was an attempt to display Jesus as supportive of LGBTQ rights, the artist said.
"There [are] a lot of pictures of Jesus with heterosexual [people]," she said in a Twitter video in response to the backlash. "Millions, billions of paintings, famous artists. But this is just 12 pictures of Jesus loving the LGBT rights, so 12 pictures should not be so scary for them."
Another piece of Ohlson's work featured in the exhibit depicted a naked Black man in the position of Christ on the cross while a naked White man cradled him.
The art was promoted by Swedish MEP Malin Björk, a member of the country's Left Party. The parliamentarian said during the inauguration of the exhibit that the art "shows that our societies have evolved in the past 25 years regarding LGBT rights," according to Evangelical Focus. The art had previously been rejected for display at the EU Parliament in the early 2000s.
The art drew condemnation from some Italian, Spanish and Polish members of European Parliament, who described the work as blasphemous.
"It represents Jesus surrounded by apostles dressed as sadomasochistic slaves," said Italian MEP Maria Veronica Rossi, according to the Times of London.
"It is legitimate to address issues of all kinds in institutional settings, but exploiting a religion is an intolerable lack of respect for millions of faithful throughout Europe," Rossi further told Italian outlet Italy24. "Other than cultural insight, this appears as a gratuitous provocation: Why offend and lack respect?"
Jorge Buxadé, a Spanish MEP, denounced the artwork as "disgusting and miserable."
"The European Parliament has become a space of impunity for the LGTBIQ+ lobby with the complicity of the left… and liberal," Buxadé wrote in a tweet. "My infinite contempt for the author, the promoters and those who have allowed it."
Deputy Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini excoriated the art in a Facebook post. "Art? No, it's only vulgar and disrespectful," he wrote in Italian. "In a word, DISGUSTING."
Ohlson has stoked outrage before, according to Catholic News Agency. She toured Sweden in 1998 with a series titled "Ecce Homo," which displayed images of Jesus featuring themes promoting homosexuality, transgenderism and BDSM fetishism.
When the series was exhibited at the Belgrade Pride festival in Serbia in 2012, it drew scorn from Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej, who called on the Serbian government to ban the art he described as "deeply insulting" and "blasphemous."