Occasionally the symbol of the Prince of Peace is used as a weapon. A current case playing out in New Jersey revolves around a Livingston man and his convictions. Originally erected for Lent, the homeowner in question placed a wooden cross within a municipal right-of-way zone where signs and potential distractions to drivers are prohibited. When informed of the violation the owner removed the original cross and placed a larger one just within the right-of-way zone. When asked to remove it he contacted the Alliance Defense Fund—a group of Christian lawyers (which sounds apocryphal to me) who advocate the spread of the Gospel. This bizarre case is now being cited as a test of a land-use law that protects religious expression. A few inches would have resolved this entire mess. Had the homeowner placed his second cross beyond the restricted zone, no fuss would have been made.
I don’t really feel safe in a world where bands of renegade Christian lawyers rove about seeking to support the violation of public safety ordinances. Instead of friendly persuasion the cross is here used as a cudgel. Perhaps wearing one’s religion on one’s sleeve ought to be accompanied with a measuring tape. Certainly there are those impressed by the masculine chest-thrusting implied in defying laws to assert one’s particular take on religion. Pushing such issues to the point of public funds being spent to enforce a law throws the action into sharp relief.
Some varieties of Christianity (and other religions too, I’m sure) thrive on the fiction of persecution. Is the quality of life of the homeowner affected deleteriously by not being allowed to place a cross in a no-sign zone? Is it not rather an attempt to set, in H. Richard Niebuhr’s phrasing, Christ against culture? What friends (besides lawyers) does it win to the cause? Having gone through a phase myself where PDR (Public Display of Religion) was considered the only way to be authentic about belief, I think I might understand the original intent of the homeowner. A clergyman, however, long ago set me straight with a frank discussion of subtlety. What I came to realize is that shoving only leads to shoving back. Perhaps moving the cross six inches would be the equivalent of turning the other cheek? But when the other cheek is turned, lawyers don’t get paid.