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Monday, March 19, 2012

Wondrous Cross: Traditional Christianity Under Fire

     "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" is a Lenten hymn written by the 18th century English hymnist, Isaac Watts, known to history as “The Bard of Southampton”. It’s dignified simplicity and moving humility has made it beloved by Christians the world over and also stands out as an important part of the English religious heritage. Unfortunately, the cross which Watts wrote about has now come under fire as being “offensive” in the public sector of his native land.

    Just recently, a British airways employee, Nadia Eweida, was fired for wearing a small cross on a chain around her neck at work. Furthermore, the British government is now willing to defend the company’s decision in a European court, using British tax-payers’ money. The reasoning behind this rather extreme decision derives from a misguided desire to minimalize traditional Christianity in hopes of somehow making society more accepting towards those of different religious and cultural backgrounds.

    But some things are not so easily done away with, and a national shedding of identity does more harm than good in the end. The UK is a land indelibly marked by the sign of the cross. The Union Flag is emblazoned with three crosses, red, white, and blue. British men, no matter their religion, have given their lives fighting for their country under that flag, under the sign of the cross. The cross is the symbol that tops the British sovereign’s crown, and she was sealed with the sign of the cross when she took her coronation oath. She, too, surrounded with the trappings of the Christianity, represents Britain and the British people, whatever their individual religious or non-religious beliefs.

    Crosses can be used in a universal context because they traditionally symbolize good faith. That is why people would sign their names with an X if they could not write it out in letters. Crosses have historically been used as markers on major roads and highways, appropriate since they have always symbolized a journey. Crosses mark the intersection between life and death and the triumph of life over death on church steeples and grave stones alike. Viewing them as public taboos in any traditionally Christian nation as old as Britain is close to lunacy. And besides, tolerance towards one group cannot be validly brought about through intolerance towards another.

   One can be just as charitable and understanding towards people of a different religion or ethnic background without dissolving into an indistinguishable puddle of complete political correctness. I am a Catholic, but I have friends who are Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, and even Neo-Pagan. We are friends because we share many commonalities, but there are some things we know we cannot agree on, and we don’t try to hide what we are to be more “tolerant” towards one another. Pretending all religious and spiritual beliefs are the same would be doing a disservice to all of them, and our friendships would only be weakened by the false pretense. We must acknowledge our differences and respect them.

    While on the subject of “tolerance” and its many manifestations, another piece of news coming out of the UK has to do with the efforts of the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Tory Party to pass the Planned Marriage Act, a governmental redefinition of marriage as a relationship between any two adults, included those of the same sex. This is totally unnecessary, and the practical needs of same-sex couples could easily be met in many other ways, including the creation of separate “civil unions”. But once again, it is more a matter of trying to champion equality by making everything equivalent. Needless to say, it defies logic.

   Aside from traditional morality, this is a matter of anatomy and practicality. The life-giving element of marriage can only be achieved through the union of a man and a woman, and society is moved forward through that new life. Society must view this as unique from and superior to same-sex unions from a pragmatic standpoint. Saying that marriage is merely based on mutual commitment or some sense of vague romantic sentiment or sexual desire leaves this point unspoken entirely. And, in the end, it overlooks the fact that, physically and emotionally, it is natural for men and women to be together, like two poles of the magnetic field attract. Anything otherwise is disordered.

    By saying “disordered”, I do not mean to infer that people who have homosexual tendencies are crazy or stupid or just “bad.” The fact is that we don’t know all the answers as to why these sorts of desires take root to begin with, but they certainly are very real and often painful for those who are experiencing them, and they can do little about that. From a Catholic perspective, we would say that they were called to chastity. This does not mean the Church is condemning them to a life without love or commitment, but sexuality is reserved for one man and one woman in the bonds of matrimony. That’s the score for those with homosexual and heterosexual inclinations.

    Obviously, most people who consider themselves as “Gay” or “Lesbian” probably are not going to live out this admittedly difficult but ultimately reasonable teaching. They will go off and start relationships with people of the same sex, and we must be respectful and understanding towards them nevertheless. In a world where homosexuality is made to sound as if it were perfectly normal, we will see many more people claiming the Gay or Lesbian identity in the coming years, and we must learn to deal with that gracefully. This does not mean we have to support the act itself, especially if it involves a ceremony branded with the title “marriage”.

    Just recently, my own state of Maryland legalized same-sex marriage. As more and more states in the USA are opening their doors to the redefinition of marriage, questions are being raised. Will wedding centers and flower shops be forced to provide supplies for same-sex marriages? Will clergymen be forced to perform the ceremonies? And, of course, there is the whole business of adoption agencies being forced to give children to homosexual couples, as has been seen in Britain. In a broader context, will we be expected to say there is nothing wrong with homosexuality or be branded as bigots?

     All of these things need special prayer. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to wear a cross/crucifix around your neck, especially in this Season of Lent. It need not be showy, but enough to make a point and be marked a follower of Christ. If you are British, this gesture holds special significance for you at this time. Also, there's a call for all citizens of The United Kingdom over the age of 16 who support traditional marriage to put their signature on this protest urging to British government to abandon the project to redefine marriage:

May God grant us the gift of wisdom to navigate through these complicated times through the merits of Christ Crucified.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My greatest gain I count my loss
And pour contempt on all my pride!

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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