Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Will wearing a cross make the churches more relevant today?

Should Christians proclaim their faith by wearing a cross every day of their lives - a bit like a 21st century version of Richard the Lionheart with his cross-emblazoned tunic?

The suggestion comes from Cardinal Keith O'Brien in Scotland who, in fairness, is suggesting something a bit more subtle than the Lionheart look (a lapel pin will do, he says.)

The good cardinal believes the Christian religion is being marginalised. His comments (in his Easter sermon) come at a time when two women are taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights for the right to wear the crosses they were barred from displaying by their employers (a hospital and an airline).

So you might think he has a good argument. But will encouraging the mass-flaunting of the symbol of Christianity make a whole lot of difference?

As an unbeliever myself I've absolutely no problem with the notion of people displaying crosses (or the symbols of other religions) in the workplace. So long as it's not going to cause a health and safety hazard which I imagine applies in only a few rare cases.

Our obsession with banning things "which may cause offence" is well past the point of lunacy.

If people take pride in or comfort from wearing the symbol of their religion why should it offend the rest of us? Doesn't bother me is all I can say.

But do you cross a line when, like Cardinal Keith, you encourage the mass display of crucifix and cross as some form of "fight back?"

Doesn't it change everything when it becomes something other than private, personal expression and veers towards organised campaign? Without wishing to sound preachy, Christians I thought, were supposed to proclaim their faith through their actions - not enamel lapel pins.

And the Christian church has always been something of.. well ... a broad church, has it not?

So you have to wonder if one badge will sit comfortably with both conservatives (like the cardinal) and the more liberal wing who have no problem with, say, women in pulpits or gay rights.

But perhaps most pertinent is the question of how such organised symbolism would be viewed by those outside the church.

Would they see it as a simple declaration of support - a religious equivalent of One Direction T-shirts or those coloured rubber bracelets everybody was wearing a few years back?

Or would it be seen as an in-your-face statement of intent - the badge of a church intent on clawing back a power and control that has dissipated in an increasingly secular and diverse society?

The former is about flagging up allegiance. The latter about flagging up ... what? ... defiance ... difference?

The irony of course is that the cross is already everywhere to be seen (check out the jewellery section of the Argos catalogue) although, granted, not everyone wearing it is doing so for religious reasons.

A re-branding ( or reclaiming) exercise might make it entirely the preserve of the godly. But will it actually strengthen the church?

It was telling that "marginalisation" was a recurring and popular theme for archbishops of all ilk in their Easter sermons.

But how much of this perceived marginalisation has come about because the various churches are seen by so many people today as increasingly out-of-step and out-of-touch with those they seek to attract through their doors?

In these dire days lapel pins would be little solace to those who find themselves marginalised in the real sense; young people facing unemployment and lack of opportunity, the old fearing poverty and lack of proper health care, minority groups fighting discrimination and even downright hatred ... Is all this still seen as, well, just the cross they have to bear, while the church concentrates on more important issues - such as the cross they should be encouraged to wear.

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