In recent years, groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation have enjoyed significant success in efforts to remove what they consider to be “religious displays” from public buildings in our country. However, in certain parts of Europe, the winds are blowing in the opposite direction. One example of this is in Bavaria (western Germany), where crosses are being not removed, but put up in government buildings.
This order to display the most sacred of Christian symbols disturbed Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishops’ Conference. He criticized the order to display crosses as “an act of cynical political manipulation that has caused division, unrest, and is pitting people against each other.” However, most people in the region, including church leaders, take a very different view. In an interview with Bavarian radio, Cardinal Gerhard Muller said that he supported the move because, “I prefer politicians who hang up crosses to those who take them down.”
Yet does displaying a cross in a public building really benefit either a society or individuals? Seeing a cross certainly doesn’t automatically make someone kinder or more Godly. People wearing crosses around their necks are capable of saying very nasty things and can even commit horrible crimes. Putting up a cross in a City Hall does not guarantee that a community will be more virtuous or civil. However, I also prefer politicians who hang up crosses to those who take them down. One “non-religious” reason for this is that displaying crosses may serve an important, but often neglected, educational purpose.
In recent years, it seems more and more people are unaware of the essential role played by Christianity in forming the Western Civilization that has shaped life in Europe and North America for over 1500 years. No, the impact of Christians on society has not always been positive. Sometimes parts of the Church allowed themselves to be corrupted by the surrounding culture. Various conflicts and wars seemed to pit one faction of the Church against another. Yet it is important to realize that the institutions and values that characterize our society did not develop in a vacuum. Liberal democracy, constitutional government, human rights, racial equality, and compassion for the poor are concepts cultivated and nourished by Christianity. Many grammar schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, and relief agencies owe their existence to individual Christians or churches. A world without Christianity would have been and would be a much darker place. If seeing a cross helps people remember this often forgotten truth, it seems a good thing that this symbol is displayed.
In Bavaria, a joint statement by Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders reads, “The display of the cross is a necessary comment on the sacred source of all authority. A liberal-democratic society lives on prerequisites and builds on foundations that it itself cannot guarantee… Establishing human rights without contradiction is hardly possible without recourse to the reality of God, as a glance at states with other spiritual traditions shows.”
Friends, whenever I see a cross, I am reminded of the great eternal salvation Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection. The symbol points to God’s grace and love, declaring that even though we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The cross is also a reminder of the very positive impact the Lord Jesus has had on His followers and that these followers have had on this world. May those things come to your mind the next time you see a cross, wherever that might be.