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March 13, 2012


Of Archbishops and Crosses

Sometimes you do just have to wonder what Rowan Williams is playing at. But then other times, you have to wonder how fair the media are.

There is a case going before the European Court of Human Rights wherein a lady called Nadia Eweida is fighting the decision by her employer to remove her from her job because she wore a cross and that cross might be deemed to be offensive to others and therefore a detriment to the business she works in. Yes, that’s right , a tiny little gold cross is now the subject of a court case. The British Government made a submission to the court, siding with the employer. Boggling as it is that they even felt the need to get involved rather than just sitting it out and watching, there is yet more to come.

Enter Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Telegraph has this report.

Speaking at a church service in Rome, where he met the Pope at the weekend, Dr Williams said the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion.

Taking as his text the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem he said the temple had become a “religion factory” rather than a place of worship.

“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.

“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

“Religious Decoration”. The full text of the sermon is available here. Here’s the key paragraph:

Christians have been quite good at religion factories in their day, and the cross itself has become a religious decoration – not a call to renewal of life, not a call into a new world, but another thing that religious people make and hang onto.

Now, it first has to be said that Williams did not appear to be deliberately addressing the court case, but what he has to say is, nevertheless, pertinent.

...the cross needs to surprise us again every year.  We need to veil – to put away – what we think about the cross and just be brought up once again, starkly, against the reality of what the cross means: God in Jesus Christ, overturning all that we think about success and security, all that we think even about ‘religion’ as a nice leisure activity.  Calling us away from the religion factory into faith; calling us into trust in that unbreakable, undefeatable love, the kind of trust that will motivate us day after day to go in service of the poorest and the most unsuccessful and the most forgotten people.

Because that’s where all this leads – away from the religion factory and into service: service, love, silence, receptivity to God, and activity towards the world.  Not to win God’s favour, but to express God’s generosity.

Williams is calling us to genuine sincerity in wearing the cross. A sincerity that is seen not just in its wearing but in a cross-shaped life. To move beyond the “religion factory”, to genuine conviction. Rather than dismissing cross-wearing, he’s calling for what we might call genuine cross-living.

And, although I can’t believe I’m the first to make this point, surely we ought to recognise that Williams himself is not at all anti-cross-wearing as a genuine expression of Christian belief….

That is all. Make of it what you will!


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13 comments

I admit that I no longer care to give the ABC the benefit of the doubt.  His duplicity is well known.  But:

Williams is calling us to genuine sincerity in wearing the cross. A sincerity that is seen not just in its wearing but in a cross-shaped life. To move beyond the “religion factory”, to genuine conviction. Rather than dismissing cross-wearing, he’s calling for what we might call genuine cross-living.

This is what he was saying in context and he is correct.  As someone once said what would we think if people went around wearing an electric chair or gallows around their neck?  The cross is an insturment of one of the crulest froms of execution known to humanity.  It reminds us that Jesus overcame the cross and transformed an instrument of death to one of life.

By all means wear your cross, the bigger the better, but wear it not as meaningless jewelry, but as the intentional declaration that Jesus is Lord and that you are a Christian.

[1] Posted by Br. Michael on 3-13-2012 at 08:03 AM · [top]

++Rowan is taking his cue from Michael W. Smith!

[2] Posted by Jagged Edge on 3-13-2012 at 08:25 AM · [top]

The AoC’s remarks unfortunately sound like an underhand way of saying, “That other person wearing a little cross does not have a sincere and deep understanding of the cross.”

[3] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-13-2012 at 09:21 AM · [top]

I also hate to give Williams the benefit of the doubt, but in this case, having read the whole sermon, I think he actually was right in what he said. He’s not in any way dissing the cross, or suggesting that we shouldn’t wear it. He’s saying that for some it has become a symbol that wwe don’t really think about, and we should think about it. I agree. And look at how it’s used by rock stars, by fashion designers, etc. - in those instances not even a symbol, just a decoration (probably to be outrageous). (I saw Madonna on a talk show recently wearing a cross; yet she’s presumably into Kabbalah, and therefor presumably “Jewish”.) I think his mentioning the cross in this sermon may not have been related to the court case at all.

[4] Posted by Nellie on 3-13-2012 at 09:30 AM · [top]

Dear Nellie,

Being “into Kabbalah”, whatever that means, does not make one Jewish, any more than being into putting up Christmas decorations makes one a Christian. Here’s a citation to a Wikipedia article; I’m being lazy just to post it. You can Google “Judaism-conversion process” and see that even the Reformed branch of Judaism has a set of belief and practice requirements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_to_Judaism 

I am going to give the Archbishop the benefit of the doubt on this. Here is a link to a site showing photos of various celebrities (ugh - what kind of society are we to have *this* as celebrities?) wearing crosses. I have not come across any articles of any of them declaring him/herself to be Christian (not that declaring oneself to be a Christian means that one truly is!)
http://girlstalkinsmack.com/8-celebrities-wearing-crossesrosary-beads/

[5] Posted by sophy0075 on 3-13-2012 at 10:37 AM · [top]

Well, of course it is stupid for the PC police to harras anyone about all this.  But after all, there is no Bill of Rights in UK so freedom of speech etc. are fair game.  Come to think of it, ours is also defunct.  That being said, I will have to agree with the ABC.  Symbols can loose their meaning and be taken over for something just the opposite.  Sort of like the God ordained brass serpent of Moses which years later had to be destroyed because the Israelites were worshiping it!  This can also be true of just about anything in the Christian churches such as ordinances, trappings, liturgies, customes.  As Calvin pointed out, our hearts are idol factories.  Now I am not saying that anyone wearing a cross is not sincere.  From a PR perspectinve we must know that the younger post moderns are spring loaded against hypocracy (but not in themselves!) and they may look on all these symbols as just so much spin and cover for hypocracy.  IMHO

[6] Posted by PROPHET MICAIAH on 3-13-2012 at 10:44 AM · [top]

Well, #5, it’s true that being into Kabbalah doesn’t make you Jewish; in fact, I don’t really know what does, other than being born Jewish. I know people “convert,” but I don’t know how Orthodox Jews view that. In any case, as for Madonna, I jsut read something today about her not doing concerts on Friday nights. So I don’t know hwether she considers herself Jewish. In any case, she sure isn’t a serious Christian, and the cross can’t possibly mean for her what it does for you and me.

[7] Posted by Nellie on 3-13-2012 at 03:58 PM · [top]

I wear a St Columba’s Cross, which for me symbolizes my Celtic heritage and my Christian faith.  I do not see it as a “decoration.”

[8] Posted by cennydd13 on 3-13-2012 at 03:58 PM · [top]

My wearing a cross may offend some people, but I don’t care.  Some of my friends wear the Star of David, but that doesn’t offend me, but it does offend some thin-skinned people, and that’s too bad.

[9] Posted by cennydd13 on 3-13-2012 at 04:03 PM · [top]

Exactly, cennydd. The left sees tolerance as being all one-way.

[10] Posted by Nellie on 3-13-2012 at 05:49 PM · [top]

Nellie, there is a process for conversion to Judaism, and the Orthodox Jews recognize Orthodox conversions.  A cousin of mine did so.  It’s not easy, and the numbers are few.

[11] Posted by Katherine on 3-14-2012 at 06:10 AM · [top]

This whole fracas is deeply unfair to the Archbishop. The media have taken a Lenten meditation on idolatry and such and made it refer to a controversy which is (a) unrelated and (b) on which the Archbishop has already been very clear, and in the same newspaper!
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7552145/Archbishop-of-Canterbury-hits-out-at-cross-ban.html

’‘With a bit of a sigh, we read about yet another legal wrangle over the right to wear a cross in public while engaged in professional duties; one more small but significant mark of what many Christians feel is a sustained effort to discriminate against them and render their faith invisible and impotent in the public sphere.

‘‘One more mark of the curious contemporary belief that Christians are both too unimportant for their convictions to be worth bothering with and too dangerous for them to be allowed to manifest those convictions.

‘‘Now it is quite likely that this latest folly, like others, is less a sign of deep anti-Christian feeling as such than the result of wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness combined with a well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians.

[12] Posted by Andrewesman on 3-14-2012 at 06:57 PM · [top]

It’s possible to convert to Orthodox Judaism. It is HARD.

And it may be that he gave no thought to the court case. In the US that wouldn’t be a big deal.

But this is the UK, where His Grace the Most Reverend Archbishop of Canterbury sits in the House of Lords. He has no right to speak in ignorance of religious court cases.

[13] Posted by Ed the Roman on 3-14-2012 at 10:04 PM · [top]

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