June 22, 2019

Churches Against Bladensburg Peace Cross?

Why did some churches support removing the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland whose constitutionality the U.S. Supreme Court just affirmed?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Baptist Joint Committee all signed a court brief siding with the American Humanist Association in urging removal of the Maryland state-owned 100 year old Peace Cross honoring WWI veterans.

The presence of a large cross on state owned land in a traffic circle supposedly violates the separation of church and state. Last week in 7-2 decision the Supreme Court ruled the 40 foot tall monument to war veterans had no sectarian purpose.

In their brief, the liberal Mainline Protestant signers claimed the Peace Cross “demean[s] the most sacred symbol of the faith” and “desacralize[s] the most sacred symbol of Christianity.” Interestingly, the liberal Protestants sounded like evangelical revivalists in their warnings:

On one widespread reading of Christian scriptures, the promise of eternal life is only for Christians. It comes with explicit threats of damnation for non-Christians. These Christian teachings are widely known, most famously from John 3:16. This widespread interpretation makes it impossible for the cross to honor non-Christian soldiers.

Amusingly, the liberal Protestants, in their focus on the unique Christian theological truth claims about the cross, quoted Bible verses they are not accustomed to citing, with hopes of scaring and repulsing the Supreme Court. And they cited the influence of dreaded Evangelicals:

Most troubling of all, on one widely known understanding of Christianity, the cross symbolizes the threat that non-Christians are damned. This view is most prominently associated with Protestant Evangelicals, who emphasize the need “to trust and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Evangelicals are the largest group of Christians in the United States, so their understanding of Christianity is widely known.

So the Peace Cross should be removed because Evangelicals will exploit it as a warning of damnation. The liberal Protestants further warned:

This understanding of Christianity is reflected in a Bible verse much publicized by Evangelicals: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Evidently the liberal Protestants are admitting they themselves, unlike Evangelicals, don’t much focus on John 3:16. To inspire further terror, they further intoned:

On this version of Christian teaching, some humans get the promise, and other humans get the threat. The cross divides the world between the saved and the damned. That alone makes it impossible for the cross to commemorate non-Christians.

The liberal Protestants, for the sake of their political argument against the Peace Cross, emphasized the cross in traditional Christian theology, even if they no longer fully subscribe to that tradition. Ironically, Mainline Protestantism for 100 years, since before the erection of the Peace Cross, has deemphasized the cross as instrument of personal salvation. Instead for them the cross became the symbol of wider human reconciliation and building a more harmonious society. Ironically, the builders of the Peace Cross in the 1920s may have been influenced by that then ascendant Social Gospel understanding.

Defenders of the Peace Cross, in their court arguments, largely accepted by the justices, stressed the Peace Cross had no specifically theological purpose. It only honored the dead and commemorated their sacrifice, while hoping for an end to war. Long before liberal Protestantism, the cross throughout Western Civilization had become a broader icon of sacrifice and service. One example: the Red Cross, which was prominent in WWI.

Even non Christians can admit Jesus was sacrificial and that His followers have in His example likewise sacrificed in service to humanity. Only a very narrow fundamentalism would reject the wide meaning the cross has assumed universally, which is a compliment to Christianity and doesn’t detract from the cross’s core theological purpose.

It’s sad that some elites of declining Mainline Protestantism, having often withheld the cross’s core theological purpose from their own constituency, now want its broader message literally expunged from public space. Thankfully the U.S. Supreme Court was wiser than they.


20 Responses to Churches Against Bladensburg Peace Cross?

  1. Roger says:

    John 3: 16 was given to Jews before the Resurrection. The companion verse for Grace Believers after the Resurrection is Romans 10: 9. Absolute: without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. The Cross is the instrument of the shedding of Blood by the Savior for sins.

    • The Gospel of John, like all the books in the New Testament, was written after the Resurrection, and was written just as authoritatively as Paul’s epistles to the First Century Church.  Jesus spoke the words of John 3.1-22 to just one man, Nicodemus, but they were not recorded to writing for several more decades, when John, according to Church tradition, wrote the Gospel while in exile in Patmos near the end of his life, sometime around the year AD 90.  John wrote his Gospel “so that you (his readers, whom he did not explicitly state to be Jew or Gentile) may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn. 20.31)  So, please stop trying to wrongly divide the Word of Truth by positing a false division in the New Testament Scriptures.

      • Correction: The reference in the second sentence should be John 3.1-21, not 3.1-22, as v. 22 begins a separate section, distinct from the Lord Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

  2. Tracy says:

    What next? Are they going to ask that the Red Cross, change to the Red X? This is just ludicrous and getting more so everyday. It is about honoring those who sacrificed everything so the rest of us in this country can be free. Is this the thanks they get? People should be ashamed.

  3. Reynolds says:

    Thanks to SCOTUS the cross will outlast both the UCC and PCUSA. I guess both of the were jealous of the Cross 🙂

  4. Donald says:

    Mark – I could have written the first paragraph of your article w/o any effort, because this is a partial list of the ‘usual suspects’ within the church who oppose everything decent. These folks only trumpet the power and story of Scripture and its sacred symbols when it suits their devious cause. The rest of the time they undermine the authority of Scripture and encourage the foolish and ignorant to walk on that much wider road in the belief that it will end at the Pearly Gates rather than that other Doorway with the ominous sign.

  5. David says:

    The 1920s were a period of transition for many protestant groups. In his history of the Gothic Revival, Sir Kenneth Clark wrote, “To a good protestant of 1830 the least suggestion of symbolism—a cross on a gable or on a prayer book—was rank popery.” One rarely finds images of Methodist churches with the now common brass crosses and candle sticks prior to this period. Indeed, Methodists abandoned the traditional pulpit-centered meeting house architecture with galleries and sometimes semicircular seating for the altar-centered Episcopal style church.

    Today, people would hopefully be more considerate of those who are not Christian and would be less likely erect a monument that might offend the beliefs of others. The 1920s were not a period of tolerance and one where the Klan prospered. The use of a cross was likely a mistake, but not one the rises to the offensiveness of Confederate generals. I would be inclined to agree with the court. However, the intrusion of religion into the pledge and on our currency is another matter.

    • Jason says:

      At one time, one of the components of the American culture was Christianity. That doesn’t mean that we were a “Christian nation”- or that everyone was a Christian- but it does mean that the Christian faith was one of the things that united our nation. Therefore the Cross was never (until recently) an offensive thing; it was a “American” as speaking English, representative democracy and self-reliance. As the push for “multi-culturalism” took hold, it helped to disintegrate the various things that once held us together as a nation (i.e. our “culture”). Now, it seems, we are united only in our tribalistic rejection of others. This- in my opinion- is not “progress”.

  6. MikeS says:

    These “Churches “ oppose it because they oppose orthodox Christianity.

  7. Richard S Bell says:

    I agree; (a) liberal Christians oppose the Peace Cross because, they say, it symbolizes a privilege of believers in Jesus, and (b) they disbelieve a believers’ privilege.
    I agree also that (a) conservative Christians advocate the Peace Cross because, they say, it does not symbolize a privilege of believers in Jesus, and (b) they believe a believers’ privilege.
    There may be reasonable disagreement about what something symbolizes. As for the Cross, I am conservative enough to agree with the liberals.

    • John Schuh says:

      The cross was a symbol that marked graves in the Western culture because Christianity so influenced western civilization. Nother “conservative” about trying to erase a historical symbol that goes back 1500 years.

  8. Carl Fuglein says:

    Jesus said to love God, and love one another. What part of that is so hard to understand. I, at one time, belonged to one of those churches, and while they condemn the cross, I’m just shaking my head in disgust

  9. Jed Hester says:

    Jed said, I hear a crackling underneath their feet and I see something orange growing there.

  10. Terry R. Carlson says:

    The only surprise concerning the cited mainline denominations that oppose the cross is that there are not more of them. The fact that not all who claim to be in the Church at large are Christ’s, an observation and warning given by Jesus and the apostles, which was evident in the early Church and yet more prevalent today. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

  11. Nick says:

    This article is purposely misleading, read the brief for yourself. Of particular note: “The ELCA does not share the theological view described in section I.B. of this brief, i.e., that the cross symbolizes a threat of damnation to unbelievers, but recognizes that some Christians do have that view, and that non-Christians are likely to be aware of that view.
    The ELCA and its predecessor denominations have continually supported religious freedom…“ Thus the actually stated reason is respect for the rights of our Jewish brothers and sisters who gave their lives in the war protecting America.

  12. Mitch says:

    Lord, May I be worthy of being one of the 7000 remnants that have not bowed their knee to what is going on in this world.

  13. Gary Smith says:

    Wolves among the flock…..

  14. Most Christians will consider this decision to be a great victory.

    Hardly a victory. More like a scrap thrown to dogs by their masters.

    That a case regarding the displaying of a cross for any reason can be/has to be adjudicated by any court in the land SCREAMS Christians have been conquered and will only get an occasional “victory” by begging for them from those who have conquered them!

    And as long as Christians and patriots claim these rare decisions as victories, they’ll never be seen for what they really are: scraps thrown to slaves.

    What was Christendom (Christians dominionizing society on behalf of their King) in the early 1600s has tragically devolved into merely four-walled, stain-glassed, pewtrifying Christianity, aka Christians skulking in defeat. The bulk of today’s Christians are best depicted by Christ in Matthew 5:13 as salt that’s lost its savor, good for nothing but to be trampled under the foot of man.

    Time for Christians to regain some of their saltiness and begin again to take seriously their dominion mandate in Matthew 6:10 & 33, Romans 12:21, Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 6:1-6, 2 Corinthians 10:4-6, etc.

    For more, Google free online book “The Romans 13 Template for Biblical Dominion: Ten Reasons Why Romans 13 is Not About Secular Government.”

    See also blog article “Self-Imposed Impotence.”

  15. Linda Goforth says:

    Put it in lincoln cementary in bladensburg. Settle it .

  16. It is interesting to note the signatories to the amicus curiae brief linked to in Mr. Tooley’s article.  These include the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the American Jewish Committee, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and J. Herbert Nelson, II, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the only individual to put his name to the brief.
    The BJC appears to be the organization that spearheaded the brief, and although its website claims, “Our positions cannot be easily categorized as on the political ‘right’ or ‘left’, … the stand we take is the one that, we believe, best supports religious freedom,” the positions it has taken in the briefs it has filed in the cases listed on its “About BJC” webpage, including the Bladensburg case, make it exceedingly clear that they are unmistakably categorized as a political “left” organization.  Indeed, the fifteen Baptist “organizations” its Wikipedia article states that it “serves” (ostensibly “speaking to”, not “speaking for”) are unanimously politically liberal, including, most notably, the American Baptist Churches USA (one of the “seven sisters” of formerly “Mainline” American Protestantism) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (the denomination that split off of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990s after the SBC recommitted itself to Biblical Inerrancy, which ostensibly started off as “Moderate” but is now dominated by “Progressive” leadership), and excluding (most notably) the SBC.
    I will say nothing about the two Jewish groups lending their names to the brief, as I am not a student of contemporary Jewish affairs, and I believe that the ELCA’s and UCC’s appendance of their names speaks for itself, given the Progressive political commitments of these two denominations.
    I would say the same thing about the PC(USA), as an Old School Presbyterian since my mid-twenties, but I find it rather interesting (if completely unsurprising) that the current Stated Clerk of both my two previous church homes (both of which are now in the EPC) found it necessary to append his own name to the brief, rather than tack the name of his denomination to the brief, as did the denominational leaders of the ELCA and the UCC.  For those unfamiliar with him, Nelson was elected in 2016 to his current position—the highest elected position in the PC(USA), charged with leading the General Assembly Council, the branch of the denomination’s bureaucracy that supports and oversees the work of the General Assembly, the PC(USA)’s highest governing body—a four-year term (likely the first of two or three terms, based on the tenure of his predecessors), after having served many years as the Director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC.  He is, first and foremost, an animal of the liberal political machine, of the Liberation Theology school of thought that has dominated the PC(USA) since the mid-1960s, and which, more than anything else, has been responsible for the unmitigated membership decline in the denomination for the past 54 years.
    Liberation Theology, which Nelson proudly represents, is deeply ashamed of the Gospel of Salvation from sin and death found in the atoning sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross alone (Mk. 8.38, Lk. 9.26, Rom. 1.16, II Tim. 1.8,12,16).  Instead, they substitute for it the so-called “Social Gospel”—a false “gospel” of works done on behalf of the poor, non-Christians, and the sexually immoral—and they misappropriate the Lord Jesus as their mascot, citing His application of Isaiah 61.1-2 to Himself in Luke 4.16-21, reading, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  They collapse the First Great Commandment into the Second, believing (if not actually preaching) that one demonstrates love for the Lord our God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength SOLELY by demonstrating love to people groups identified by Progressive Christianity as oppressed, in all the ways approved of by Progressive Christianity and Liberation Theology.  To be sure, fulfillment of the Second Great Commandment is indispensable to fulfillment of the First (I Jn. 4.20), but the First is not fulfilled by simply performing “social work” and political advocacy in accordance with the Progressive and Liberation agenda, while paying lip service to the Triune God and ignoring the holiness of God, the self-destructive reality of sin deeply embedded in the human heart, and the remedy for that sin found solely in the atoning death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

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