Saturday, June 22, 2013

Crosses on the River

I live in a wonderful town - Evansville, Indiana.  Sure, we're a little provincial - a little behind the curve - a little afraid of anything that even smells new.  Find me a town in the Midwest where that isn't true. 

Our fair city sits on the banks of the Ohio River.  We have a wonderful levy and greenway that offers residents a place to walk, talk, and enjoy the beauty of the river.  It is becoming a "go-to" place in Evansville, after years of despising the river.

A few churches in town have an idea to place 30 crosses on the public walkway.  These crosses will be "decorated" by children in the Vacation Bible Schools sponsored by the churches.  They will be in place for a couple of weeks.

Here's the problem: the crosses will be placed on the public walkway. 

Now, I'm one of those weird Christians who believes in the separation of church and state.  I'm one of those odd ducks within the Christian family who thinks this is a terrible idea.  Religious symbols - of any kind - and public property cause be great discomfort.

For one thing, Christians can't agree on what the cross means.  For some, it is a symbol of a blood-thirsty God who must be appeased with a sacrifice.  For some, the cross is a symbol of "divine child abuse" - the symbol of a God who nailed its child to a cross.  For some, the cross is a symbol of our own complicity in attempting to silence God's message of love by silencing the messenger.  For still others, it is a symbol of triumphalism - our faith is better than yours.

The churches that are pursuing this project are not at fault.  They believe in doing whatever they can do to get the message of Jesus' sacrificial death to as many as possible.  I get that.

The fault - such as it is - must be placed with the city authority that permitted this display to proceed.  They obviously have no idea of the lawsuit to which they exposed this city and its people.  They have overlooked the growing population of non-Christian residents - who pay their taxes and participate in the public arena with commitment and honor.  They have allowed the world of the mid-20th century to be confused with the 21st century world in which we now live - a world in which Muslims, Jews. Buddhists, Hindus, Wickans, and others are full and equal citizens.

So, my humble proposal is this: plan another display that will highlight the symbols of the rich religious diversity that forms the fabric of religious life in Evansville.  Let's have each faith community across the city create a symbol of their faith tradition and let's display them once the crosses come down.  Let's celebrate the wealth of faith experience that is ours and avoid the exultation of one tradition over another.


  1. If someone can photograph a crucifix in piss and get tax payers to fund it, then this is acceptable too.

  2. Besides, no one is saying the Buddhist, or the Muslims, or the Wiccans, or anyone else can't have public displays too. Why not take a year and have each tradition get a month, or a week, or two weeks to display what they want.

    Also, in your definition of what the cross symbolized to some people, all the examples were overwhelmingly negative -- child abuse, or triumphalism. for some of us it represents peace.

    Lastly, if no religious symbols can ever be publicly displayed, then I can no longer feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or help the needy in public because I do these things in the name of Jesus Christ, so they become religious symbols -- they point to and participate in the Kingdom of God.

  3. if it is not a copywrighted image, I, personally, would support funding a permanent public sculpture of the image "coexist" that is designed with the symbols of most if not all of the world's religious traditions .... which I have seen as bumper stickers, T-shirt emblems, etc. for several years... and Mr. Owles: your threat to with-hold service to the poor is a "my way or the highway" posture that gives Christians a bad name

  4. Read it again, it wasn't a threat. It was a statement that if you decide that religion cannot be public, then you decide that it cannot have a public function or serve a public need. But it you need to twist what I'm saying so you can counter it, so be it.

  5. Mr Owles comments are typical of those who compare the reach of their personal belief systems with the legal realities of our 21st century political/social systems. Time and again, the courts have ruled that overtly religious displays may not be imposed on others by local governments authorizing them on public property.
    Neither his nor my nor anyone else's personal opinion or beliefs matter here -- except that they ALL MATTER, which means that public lands may not be used to display our religious symbols.
    That is the ultimate legal point, and there is no question that a public lawsuit against the city - should one be filed - is one which the city will not win.
    It is past time for us ALL to recognize that public deference equates to public support -- which is not legally permissible.
    I personally have no problem with the crosses -- and I have MANY friends and associates who would be deeply offended by them.
    Let's find a symbol of unity and universal acceptance which is NOT religious and put 30 of them up on the public walkways instead. I'll help.
    Reverend Gregory Myers

  6. "The instinctive aversion that most American Christians will feel at the thought of accommodating, on public land, an exhibition of Islamic symbols as far as the eye can see, should give them a clue about the appropriateness of the 30 crosses

    In a nation that’s not a theocracy, there’s a certain nose-thumbing aggression about erecting dozens of downtown crosses as tall as a room; and there’s an unmistakable whiff of chutzpah in the twinkle-eyed assertion that they’re works of art rather than three-dimensional billboards for Jesus."

  7. I filed a complaint with the Indiana ACLU the morning the story broke and I have heard back from them. We will be speaking tomorrow via telephone. I will report back on the blog and keep everyone informed. For me personally, I am all about your faith, your non-faith, your symbols, whatever floats your boat. And I want you to express yourself in your front yard or in your place of worship. I don't want to avert my eyes when I walk down the street. The United States is a secular nation. We do not have a national religion. And that is a good thing.