When is a cross not a cross?
It seems like stories about towns and the displaying of religious images come
around twice every year — Christmas and the Fourth of July. Well, we must be
close to one of those, because there is a hot story making the rounds for
Here’s the first paragraph of the press release:
ANN ARBOR, MI — At a meeting on May 20, 2008, the City Council of
Frankenmuth, Michigan, dubbed by its Chamber of Commerce as “Michigan’s
Little Bavaria,” unanimously voted to retain the Thomas More Law Center to
defend its unique historical and cultural heritage symbolized by a small cross
in the city shield and a cross erected in a city park. Both the shield and the
park have been in existence for more than 30 years.
This one cuts close to home, folks. Frankenmuth means “courage of the
Franconians.” These are Bavarian comrades. Frankenmuth was founded by
Lutheran missionary farmers in 1845. And the “shield” mentioned in the
press release is actually a Luther Rose, with the cross at the center.
Usually when the topic of “separation of church and state” is discussed, we
approach the topic as citizens. In a democracy is it right for the sacred
symbols of some (even the majority) to be used as general symbols for all?
Instead I would like to see a good discussion within the church from the point
of view of people of faith. The assumption is that Christians would want to
see everywhere the symbol of Jesus’ death on what we call “Good” Friday,
only because of its result.
Not me. “Why,” you might ask.
I fear for the co-option of the symbols I hold dear. There is no denying that
these symbols have been used to justify, and even sanctify, a lot of
questionable activity by political leaders. It makes me shiver when I see a
cross painted on war planes that drop bombs on families in a foreign
country… whether the victims of those bombs are Christian children, Muslim
children, or pagan children. I fear that the message of the Prince of Peace is
irrevocably damaged if the image of the cross is the last thing someone sees
before the missiles land.
We who are Christians should be very disciplined about our symbols. We
cannot be too vigilant in protecting the ways that our symbols are used.
When these symbols are available for use by people with ulterior motives
(including ourselves), they can become the profane mirror image of their
intention. It’s one of the most dangerous, even demonic, realities confronting
Is this something we can talk about?