Shake every kudzu vine across America's southern Bible Belt, and no glow-in-the-dark plastic Jesus quite like Ohio's mega-messiah will ever pop out.
Nicknamed "Super Savior," the 62-foot-tall statue of Jesus looms over land reclaimed from a cornfield. It dominates a once-deadly stretch of Interstate 75 in southwestern Ohio that slices through some of the state's fastest-growing counties.
There is even a legend being created: Not long after a church had the roadside statue erected this summer, the highway suddenly became safe.
"There were a whole lot of folks, when I was growing up, who used to have St. Christopher on the dashboard," said Butler County Commissioner Michael A. Fox. "Maybe having a large statue of Jesus kind of takes care of the whole flow of traffic as it goes through."
The safer-streets story is the latest twist involving the monolith whose upraised arms have been compared to a football referee signaling a score, earning it another nickname, "Touchdown Jesus." Those hands and arms, by the way, could hold a dump truck.
To those in God's evangelical armies, the monument has become a sacred mile marker.
The less-reverent view the statue as something akin to industrial-strength Christian kitsch.
In Internet chat rooms, debate has been fierce between those with an affinity for the sculpted figure and those who question its purpose. Some of the more orthodox have protested that it violates a commandment against graven images. Others say it promotes idolatry. There seems to be no middle ground, as this comment posted in the Google East community attests:
"As my wife said to me when we first drove by it, 'Jesus would be rolling in his grave right now, if he were still in it.' "
On another Web site last month, a visitor remarked: "I love religious monuments. I've been amazed by European cathedrals. But the question I've always asked is: Isn't it more Christlike to use those resources to help people than building some silly monument?"
Mike Rundle, who drives past the statue every workday, says he was initially fascinated but now is pretty much bored with it.
"Only I still wonder," Rundle said, "why did that church spend the money that way?"
Some are crediting the giant Jesus with working a miracle of sorts. The fatal wrecks that frequently bloodied the section of I-75 where it stands, about midway between Dayton and Cincinnati, now seem to have stopped.
Indeed, there were 14 deaths over two years before the sculpture's appearance. Many crashes involved drivers crossing the median into opposing lanes of traffic.
Could the statue have calmed that storm?
Pastor Lawrence Bishop and his wife, Darlene, think so. They spent $250,000 from their Solid Rock Church -- a nondenominational charismatic congregation with about 3,400 members -- to build the towering fiberglass and Styrofoam rendering. The statue is just north of the Monroe interchange on I-75.
Darlene Bishop said those who complain about the amount spent on the structure are misdirected. She said the church operates a home for unwed mothers and is financially supporting an orphanage in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"Some people . . . said the money could have been taken and used to feed the poor," Darlene Bishop said. "Well, we do feed the poor."
Because the statue is attracting wide attention for the church, it is prospering, she added. That, in turn, has moved the congregation to increase its aid for the orphans. "We're expanding down there," she said.
Her husband said the criticism has been a blessing. "It turns out that all publicity is good publicity," he said.
And, he added, "since that's been up, there hasn't been one wreck out there. We didn't build it with that intent, but that's what's happened."
After 14 people were killed on that stretch of highway in 2000 and 2001, the state spent $1.1 million to install a cable that runs down the median. The cable barrier is designed to prevent vehicles from crossing into oncoming traffic.
Jay Hamilton, the highway agency engineer who designed the barrier, is not willing to give the giant Jesus the credit for ending the carnage.
"I honestly think that Jesus can perform miracles, but I don't think the statue was the miracle out here," he said. "It was the barrier."