As a child and teen, church was the center of my life. My dad was the rector, which made me a PK (Preacher’s Kid). I was an acolyte and loved serving at the altar. I was big into our youth group. If you wanted, I would give you a private tour under the church, in the pipes of the pipe organ, and in the bell tower. I could even teach you how to ring the bells. In the winter, if it snowed on a Saturday night, Dad woke me at five in the morning to shovel all the sidewalks around the church. I was the unofficial gofer for anyone who needed something done.
Every year at the church’s annual meeting, Dad gave out four or five silver crosses to those parishioners who went beyond the call of duty. I have never admitted this to anyone before now, but for years I coveted this award. Finally, at fourteen, I was awarded one. I was one proud kid and wore that cross everywhere.
For many years, I saw the cross as the symbol for Christians and Christianity. Then I had one of those experiences that makes one look at life differently. I was the youth minister to over twenty-five hundred teenagers at a large church in the suburbs of Honolulu. In 1965, I started to see some of the boys who had been in my youth group come home from Vietnam—in body bags. Why? Then it dawned on me—war is awful! The only winners are defense contractors, bankers, and big companies manufacturing defense products who make obscene amounts of money—all on the backs of these young people. It infuriated me. I became a Vietnam protester, and I still feel every war the United States has entered since World War II was simply a moneymaker for the rich.
Because of my antiwar stance, I was fired from that church. Let me repeat that: I was fired from a Christian church because I was against a war. After that, I took a hard look at war and violence, and it dawned on me that the cross I wore was really a symbol of cruelty, torture, and evil—a symbol of humanity at its worst and the pettiness of people. What a terrible symbol a cross is to represent Jesus, a man who embodied love toward everyone regardless of where they were from or where they were going. At that stage, I stopped wearing a pectoral cross and removed every cross we had displayed in our home.
In my head, I can hear some folks saying, “No, Bil. You have missed the point of the cross. It symbolizes that Jesus died for my sins.”
That raises some big red flags. I have a problem with that theology. There is no way that I think Jesus died for my sins. That’s odious to me. Saint Paul invented the idea that Jesus was tortured on a cross, one of the cruelest forms of torture, for me because I “messed up.” Logically, that just doesn’t make any sense. I think when I mess up, I have to be responsible for my behavior and not use Jesus as a scapegoat. Paul tried so hard to make Jesus become the new Paschal Lamb. That’s a real stretch for me.
I have another problem: the doctrine of the atonement also states that Jesus’s cruel death is part of the Divine Plan. Think about this: a loving God developed a plan to have His Only Son cruelly murdered so that you and I can continue to be forgiven for doing stupid things. Does that really make any sense? In the twenty-first century that “divine plan” is called child abuse, and the perpetrator could spend fifty years to life in prison.
I have a rather simple solution. Get rid of all the crosses in the world and replace them with a dove, a symbol of peace and love and caring, which, coincidentally, is what Jesus is all about. Maybe this peaceful image of a dove would make this a very different world!
What are you going you do? Keep your crosses? Or buy some doves?
By the way, if anyone is interested in buying my old collection of crosses from all over the world, please contact me.
Photo courtesy of istock.