Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

Happy 243rd birthday, America. You’ve changed a lot in those 243 years. In some ways for the better. In other ways, not so much. But one of the most significant changes is in how the cross is perceived in our culture.

For centuries, the cross has been an undeniable symbol of Christianity. It represents the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. People who identify as Christians erect crosses on church buildings and in cemeteries. They wear crosses around their neck as jewelry.

So it’s not surprising that those hostile to the cross of Jesus Christ want it removed from public places. What is surprising—and sad—is the rationale for the recent Supreme Court decision.  And many Christians are cheering the decision without realizing the danger of the underpinning argument.

The American Humanist Association (AHA) had asked the Supreme Court to require removal of a 40-foot tall, concrete cross in Bladensburg, Maryland. The cross was originally a private venture to honor local men who died in World War I. The AHA protested the cross’s presence because it is located by a public highway and maintained by a government agency.

The Supreme Court rejected the claim that this was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. But here’s the kicker…the Court said this cross was essentially historic, not religious.

Justice Alito did say, “The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg cross has come to represent.” He added, “The image of a simple white cross developed into a cultural symbol of the conflict….The adoption of the cross as the Bladensburg memorial must be seen in that historical context.”

They permitted the cross to remain because it was cultural and historical rather than just religious. Let that sink in for a moment.

Judge Alito’s decision did note, “Its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of a hostility toward religion.”

Well, at least we have that. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for the supportive Court decision. Yet I’m torn because of the apparently diluted meaning of the Cross of Christ.

Sadly, this is the culmination of decades of nominal Christians going through the motions of religious activity without any heart change. Wearing cross jewelry because it’s fashionable or socially acceptable, yet devoid of association with the substitutionary death of our Redeemer.

Today, many people identify as Christian by default. Because their parents are Christian. Or because they go to church twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. Or because they’re not Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim, yet they still have a general belief in God.

The power of God’s Word, His redeeming work through Jesus Christ, and His ongoing work in believers through the indwelling Holy Spirit all seem to get lost in the default choice. People check one box because the others don’t quite fit. It’s no wonder the meaning of the cross is leaning more and more toward a cultural and historical context than a religious one.

Am I glad the Bladensburg Cross is allowed to stand? Absolutely. But I’m also sad that it’s allowed to stand while being slowly and inexorably stripped of its essential meaning.

When you see or wear a cross, is your understanding of it filtered through a cultural perspective or a biblical one? If it’s just cultural, you’re missing out on both the central meaning of the cross and the Person it points to.

What does the cross mean to you?

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  1. Mary Ann

    Well said, Ava, and so timely on the birthday of the greatest nation in the world. May we never forget what it cost to have the freedom we have.

  2. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Mary Ann.

  3. Debra Allard

    Great post, Ava. I’m sure similar instances of the intolerant trying to remove crosses happen across our country. And yet they aren’t labeled “intolerant.” So sad.

  4. Ava Pennington

    Sad indeed, Deb.

  5. Bonnie Dorsey

    Great Ava, Our country is going down if we Christians keep sitting on our back sides. When a major company will listen to one person and remove their product because it offends this one person. We are removing our history because some people don’t like them. The kids of today will not know that God is our creator and we are here because of Him.

  6. Ava Pennington

    Ahhh, Bonnie, yes it does appear our nation is often moving in a wrong direction. But before we can help our country, each one of us who claim to be a Christian need to get serious about our own relationship with the Lord!

  7. Paulette

    At Niagara Falls two young men had set up a rack with brochures by the sidewalk. As Faith and I approached I thought we would hear Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, I was surprised to see Arabic on the pamphlets. Of course Faith spoke to them! They told her she could take one but I smiled and said no thank you. BTW these two men were typically American, not at all what I stereotypically think of as Islamic. As we walked away I told Faith they have a different religion and she asked “don’t they believe in God?” I told her they believe in God but don’t believe in Jesus. “What?!?!” She was incredulous. Then she turned and looked at them and said, “I will pray for them”. Such wisdom from innocence ❤️

  8. Ava Pennington

    I love her heart!
    And if you think about it, the God of the Bible is Trinitarian in nature. Since Muslims do not believe Jesus is God, they really don’t believe in the one, true God as the Bible reveals Him.

  9. Nancy E. Head

    May we turn back to the cross in the sense of following Christ as a nation. Great post. God bless!

  10. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Nancy.

  11. Beth Bingaman

    I agree, Ava. There have been many decisions made that seem so good but underneath do not honor God in any way.
    Sadly, I have become skeptical of jewelry in the shape of a cross. Thankfully, the Lord has said we are to know the faithful by their fruit (not their jewelry)!

  12. Ava Pennington

    Love that, Beth! “We are to know the faithful by their fruit, not their jewelry!”

  13. Jessica Brodie

    It does make me sad that some in our society seem to value history over matters of faith. To me as a Christian, the cross is a critical reminder of our savior. I pray others come to know Jesus, too, and perhaps they will understand why I feel this way. xoxo

  14. Ava Pennington

    Yes, Jessica, it’s all about relationship!

  15. Karen Friday

    Thanks, Ava. I wholeheartedly agree on how so many have lost sight of Calvary’s cross and its power. May we always hold fast to these basics of our faith: the cross and an empty tomb.

  16. Marcie Cramsey

    You make a good point,

    “Sadly, this is the culmination of decades of nominal Christians going through the motions of religious activity without any heart change. Wearing cross jewelry because it’s fashionable or socially acceptable, yet devoid of association with the substitutionary death of our Redeemer.”

    It is sad and very noticeable to other nations that the western church is in trouble spiritually. Just last night I spoke with a man who shared about this very topic. He said of those who are coming to represent Christ in Israel, fewer and fewer are from the United States. Yet, other nations are growing in Christ. Other nations are sending missionaries to us!

  17. Ava Pennington

    Yes, Marcie, the United States is now a mission field for missionaries from other nations. What an indictment of us!

  18. Candice Brown

    So. Spot. On. I pray this message reaches many who trade the power of the cross for cultural relativism. This is a dangerous American and world wide trend!

  19. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Candice.

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