Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cross Purposes: Do We Really Want Our Christian Symbols to "Lord" It over Everyone Else?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cross Purposes: Do We Really Want Our Christian Symbols to "Lord" It over Everyone Else?

Article excerpt

"THIS STATUE PROVES THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD over America; he is Lord over Tennessee; he is Lord over Memphis." That's how Apostle Alton R. Williams of World Overcomers Outreach Ministries in Memphis described the purpose of his 72-foot-tall, $260,000 "Statue of Liberation through Christ," an adaptation of the Statue of Liberty--with a few twists. Instead of a torch, Liberation holds a cross, and on her crown is inscribed "Jehovah." Instead of a tablet welcoming the poor, Christian Liberty holds the Ten Commandments. A single tear slides from her eye, which, according to The New York Times, Williams explains as "God's response to ... the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools, and the country's 'promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism, and humanism.'"

Not surprisingly, reactions to the "Lord's Lady Liberty" were mixed; most focused on the political question of the relationship between church and state. But for Catholics, with our sensitivity to symbols and their meaning, I think there is a purely religious dimension to Liberation's giant cross: Should we Catholics be encouraging such use of the cross? Is its meaning for us indeed that "Christ is Lord over" everything and everybody?

One response may simply be to dismiss this as an evangelical phenomenon. My home state of Tennessee is, after all, in the heart of the Bible Belt, and almost every adult bookstore has an impressive cross in front of it, erected by some local congregation who would prefer such business was done elsewhere, if at all.

But we Catholics have indeed built churches and bell towers in ways that still dominate the villages of Europe and even the urban centers of the United States. The new Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles, for example, sits right next to one of the areas busiest freeways, ostensibly to be seen by commuters. Traditionally Catholic countries like Spain and Italy even now are debating whether crucifixes--at one time required by law--should be removed from public buildings, with defenders insisting that the symbol indicates the Catholic identity of the country. The issue has become even more polarizing as growing numbers of Muslims make Europe their home. But such use of the cross actually goes much further back in history, to the Emperor Constantine, who was the first to place the cross on the shields of his legions. …

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