Wearing a Cross: Right or Wrong?

I occasionally wear a simple wooden cross around my neck, but I never feel that I need to show that I am a Christian in that way. But if someone does feel that need, then that’s their decision. And the last people to object are usually people of other faith groups. I have never met a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist who has objected to me wearing my dog-collar or wooden cross. Even when I’m in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem leading a group of pilgrims, no-one has ever questioned me.

So why all the fuss about the ‘right’ to wear a cross? Shortly after Cardinal Keith O’Brien made the headlines with his Easter sermon urging every Christian to wear the cross, I heard an eminently sensible representative of the British Humanist Association on the news. He said that he had absolutely no problem with Christians wearing a cross, and that common sense was all that was needed – not court cases or Acts of Parliament. If you are a surgeon, he suggested, you obviously don’t allow a cross around your neck to dangle into your patient’s abdomen. But a simple symbol is perfectly acceptable.

Some newspapers – and minority organisations which perport to represent the interests of the Christian Church – have claimed that the Church is under attack. I have even heard the word ‘persecution’ used. A leading national newspaper ran a leading article headlined ‘Christians Deserve a Break from Tormentors’. A former Archbishop of Canterbury is among a number of people who suggest that their faith is under attack from both Islam and atheists.

But all this fuss has been artificially and unnecessarily hyped up. The Church in this country is not ‘tormented’ or ‘persecuted’. That is an insult to those who, over the centuries, have really known persecution. And it conveniently ignores the atrocities perpetrated in the name of Christianity. Our track record is not good.

I have always believed that there may be certain things – but very few – which are worth going to the stake for. But nothing which is worth persecuting our fellow human beings for – certainly not religion.

I am a Christian. I will happily discuss and defend my faith with reasoned argument. But I feel confident that very few of my brothers and sisters, of whatever faith or none, are ‘out to get me’, to torment or persecute me. To pretend otherwise is to demonise whole faith groups or honest atheists and humanists.

There’s no doubt that the Church has often got things wrong and been rightly condemned by its critics. It is an all-too-human organisation. But, in a way, that is as it should be and it is how it was from the beginning. Jesus picked a pretty odd bunch of men and women as his first disciples. They got things wrong; they failed to understand what he was talking about a lot of the time; they let him down; and at the end they nearly all abandoned him as he was condemned to death by the political and religious authorities.

But a couple of days later they began to be changed by a growing conviction that crucifixion on Good Friday wasn’t the end after all. Somehow Jesus was with them again. Not as a corpse brought back to life, but as something completely new. The Church calls it ‘resurrection’. We can’t fully understand what happened, but things weren’t the same as they were before. Jesus could appear and disappear and pass through locked doors. The disciples sometimes didn’t even recognise him at first. Bit by bit they came to believe that he was with them all the time.

The cross wasn’t the end of the story – but what happened next was far more than a fairy-tale ending. It was a new beginning – a fresh start. So, in some ways, it’s strange that the cross eventually became the dominant Christian symbol. It certainly wasn’t in the early days of Christian history. The first apostles didn’t go around wearing or carrying crosses. That was a reminder of a painful and gruesome method of public execution and Christians were reluctant to use it.

The earliest Christian symbols ever found were either a simple fish or the ‘chi-rho’ – the first two letters of the word ‘Christ’ in Greek. It wasn’t until the second century that the cross became the main symbol of Christianity.

So should Christians wear or display the cross today? If there was a suitable symbol of resurrection or new life, then that would be more appropriate. But wearing a badge depicting an empty tomb might seem a little odd.

My own feeling is that we don’t actually need any sort of symbol. Because we ourselves are the living symbols of our faith. I know it’s hard at times to see Christ in us. But that’s what being a follower of Jesus is really about – being the living Christ in our world. We are his hands, his feet, his voice. We are not perfect – we are ‘work in progress’. But every single human being has the potential to become like Christ.

I have met a few people over the years whose faith just shines out of them. You can see the living Christ in their very being. Not many of us get that far on the journey – the life-long pilgrimage – to being ‘Christ-like’. But that’s what God wants. That’s his aim for us. And that’s far more important than just wearing a cross.
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1 Response to “Wearing a Cross: Right or Wrong?”

  1. 1 John Merrick April 25, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Thank you again, Geoff, for yet another reasoned, and reasonable, argument – putting into words exactly what I would want to say if I had the ability.

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