Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Stolen Cross

The cross was erected in 1934 to honor veterans of the Great War. It remained in its spot on Sunrise Rock in California's Mojave National Preserve for generations. Then a former preserve official felt offended by this religious symbol standing on public land.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit, and the cross was covered in a plywood box to hide its offensive shape until the issue was legally resolved. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in April that sometimes a religious symbol could honor all veterans and not promote a certain religion. Sometimes a cross is just a cross. For once common sense won.

Then someone with common senselessness took the law into his own hands. On May 9 under the cover of darkness, the cross was stolen. What the courts refused to do, an anti-religious vigilante did. The anonymous thief sent a letter to a local newspaper explaining his reason for the theft.

The letter writer asserted that he was not opposing Christianity but government-sponsored favoritism of one religion. The writer said the cross would be returned if it was replaced by a nonsectarian memorial or erected on private land.

Now a $125,000 reward has been offered by an anonymous veteran for information leading to the conviction of the criminal. To their credit the Atheist Alliance International, an alliance of atheist groups, denounced the stealing of the cross. To their shame they also offered $5000 to erect the alternative memorial the thief advocated, thereby sending mixed messages.

As a Baptist, I take issues of religious liberty and the separation of church and state very seriously. But I think the highest court made the right decision here. Sometimes a cross is just a cross. Furthermore, the veterans group ought to forget the whole hullabaloo about the old cross and use the reward money to erect a new cross!

Personally I am more concerned with discipleship than lawsuits. I am more concerned about the cross missing from the lives of Christians than the cross missing from a desert hilltop. Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Crossless Christianity robs the Christian of the life-changing power of Christ. This is the real stolen cross.

I am saddened that an anti-religious bigot took the Sunrise Rock cross. I am saddened more that religious Christians do not take up Christ's cross. As Jesus said, "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

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