The head of Scotland’s Roman Catholic Church has called on all Christians ( do I count? Not always sure with the RCs sometimes they call us fellow believers and at other times the Pope denies my church is church, sorry tangent!) to wear crosses as a sign of their faith. Of course this a controversial issue at the moment with several Christians losing their jobs over their insistence on wearing a cross. These cases are currently going to the European Court of Human Rights. So do I agree with the Cardinal or not?
Well on the wearing of a cross as a human rights issue, I do. Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans at work, Muslims can interrupt work to pray, their men wear long beards and women the veil and Hindu women can display the dot on their forehead. It seems like our society has accepted that people should be allowed to wear symbols of religious faith. Except when it comes to Christians it seems. Just heard a piece on the BBC news saying that the reason that many employers ban crosses is that they may be offensive. No evidence is given to support this, no explanation as to who finds the cross offensive or why they are offended. I suspect many more people may be offended by the Muslim veil? Yet there has never been any talk about banning it, except in face to face teaching in schools. Some have argued that wearing a cross is not an intrinsic or essential part of Christian faith and so it can be banned. However my understanding is that the veil is not an essential component of Islamic faith either. It seems to me that double standards are being used and Christians uniquely discriminated against. Christians apparently when they display an outward symbol of the foundational act of their faith are uniquely offensive in our culture. No explanation of why this is given, no studies are quoted to show that wearing a cross is more offensive to more people than any other religion’s outward physical display of their faith. When it comes to wearing a cross as a human rights issue I am with the Cardinal. ( I am sure he wouldn’t have lost any sleep if I hadn’t )
However theologically I have misgivings. The cardinal seems to be suggesting that Christians should wear the cross to demonstrate to others, however discreetly, the nature of their faith. As .I said above, I think those who wish to, should have the right to do so. My concern is that the Cardinal is putting the emphasis in the wrong place. When it comes to demonstrating the nature of our faith to others the New Testament is silent on the wearing of crosses or any other symbols. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to wear a cross but I do think it should make us wary of making it’s display the main way we expect to communicate our faith. I hesitate to say this, but I think the Cardinal in putting the emphasis on wearing a cross as the outward demonstration of Christian faith is in danger of subverting Jesus teaching on this subject.
Jesus was quite clear that there was a public way in which Christians could display their faith to the surrounding culture. He was explicit about it, ” Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 For Jesus it was Christian love which was to convince others of the genuineness of our Christian faith. Other writers of the New Testament make the same point, that the way we indicate and authenticate our Christian faith to those who don’t believe is by expressing the values of the Kingdom of God in our treatment of people. Sadly, I have met some people who wear crosses who were less than loving, patient or kind. My worry is that by making such a big emphasis on wearing the cross the Cardinal is in danger of diminishing the emphasis of Scripture and emptying it of it’s challenge to us. Those around me should realise I follow Christ not because I display a cross but because I live by the values of the cross, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, grace and concern for others.