Every cross is a burning cross?

The Bible is quite big on the Cross, and why not? It’s kind of the point of the whole thing, really. I have a palm cross by my desk at work – not for the supernatural aura of protection that it exudes, but for conversation, and to remind me that there are higher things than the latest quarterly report, and (oh, all right) for decoration. And when I think of everything it’s meant to mean, I actually feel quite proud of it.

I hope I would have the humility to remove it if anyone found it offensive, though. From this I discount my former Jehovah’s Witness colleague, because lovely guy that he was, I don’t care if I wind up the JWs in general. At least, not in any areas of specious and/or totally made-up theology. But in other areas …

All this sparked by a recent blog post from Hal Duncan, a writer with whose work I am not familiar. An Open Letter to the Usual Suspects is a little more polemic than I would usually go for, and probably contains no words that your children don’t already know (but let’s not pass judgement), but it makes a couple of good points that I have not thought of before.

  1. The recent hoohah over the nurse forbidden to wear a cross with her nurse’s uniform tends to miss the point that dangly jewellery is a good vector for germs and diseases, and her freedom to witness to her faith is not the same as her freedom to give her patients MRSA. I don’t know if this has been taken into account or not, but feel it’s worth mentioning.
  2. (The big one.) The cross really is offensive to some people with good reason – specifically, as cited by Mr Duncan, gay or transgendered persons who have been on the receiving end of so-called Christian hate. I also think of Palestinians who lost loved ones in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, children abused by priests … I suspect the list could go on. Wearing a cross really is not going to get you any friends here. Hal puts it thusly: “every cross is a burning cross.”

Yes, yes, the burgeoning black pentecostal church, made of people whose forebears were persecuted by the Klan, seem to have got over it. Not the point. The getting over it was up to them, not imposed on them by others. I’m not taking my palm cross down on the off-chance that someone who once heard that Christians aren’t meant to approve of Teh Gay and fancies people of the same gender might get hurt. Hopefully exposure to me will by contrast bring a bit of love and light into their life, and if that positive exposure is amplified by contrast with their initially negative expectations then so much the better. But Hal’s post gives me cause to think twice before keeping it up, and to tune the antennae more sensitively should someone pass by who really has been hurt in the past.

St Paul can bang on a little about the virtues of the cross, and he was no great fan of homosexuality, and if you asked him about transgendered people you would have just got a blank look. But he also gives the exemplary advice of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33: our freedom to do stuff with a clear conscience does not come at the expense of other people’s hurt. Other people are more important.

I heard Nurse Chaplin on the radio this week saying that she put her cross on when she got confirmed and doesn’t want to take it off again. She is proud to witness for her faith. Well, fair enough. But putting your cross away, if it genuinely hurts people, is a much more powerful witness than displaying it come what may.

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