The Bishop of Wolverhamptons pastoral letter for October 2017
I have never been in such demand on a Sunday morning. Interviewed by 12 different local radio stations, from York to Cornwall, Hereford to the Channel Islands. All because I had referred to blasphemy and the cross in a single sentence.
The event that had started it all was a demonstration by a far right group, who I will not dignify by naming, in Wolverhampton City Centre. This was a feeble affair with only 20 people, all from outside Wolverhampton, taking part. However, some of those that did, were seen to be brandishing wooden crosses. It was their use of the cross that I referred to, in a statement, as a kind of blasphemy. My justification for the strength of the language I used was the strength of their racist ideology. For this particular group, the fact that we are an island nation consisting entirely of people who have migrated here over the centuries, is a most inconvenient truth. So they prefer to pretend that this country has people who naturally belong here and deserve special treatment, whereas everyone else, foreigners, have no right to be here. It is strange but true that one of the leaders of this group has a distinctly continental sounding name, the result apparently of her Dutch ancestry…
Why, the radio stations asked, did such a group like to brandish crosses when they marched? I was hardly the person to answer for them, but a look at their website suggests that they like to style themselves as defenders of Christianity in this country.
I spoke out strongly because if we allow the most sacred symbol of our faith to be hijacked in the service of neo-Nazi propaganda, then surely we are betraying all that it stands for? And that was the other question I was repeatedly asked: what does the cross represent? For many people of course, including those who carry crosses in their pockets or wear them round their necks, the cross has a deeply personal significance. It is a tangible reminder, one that we can touch, feel, cling to, of our own personal relationship with Christ. More generally it is surely the ultimate symbol of love, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…. It is the ultimate reminder too that love, true love, demands sacrifice.
I have memories, as a choir boy, of processing around our church singing all 11 verses of the well- known hymn which features the refrain Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim.
The crosses that were lifted high on that demonstration did not proclaim the love of Christ but rather the fallen nature of humanity, enslaved by our hateful prejudices towards one another. It is our responsibility as Christians to reclaim the cross as a symbol of love, with the power to unite and heal, bringing a message of hope not hate. In our digital media age, it may prove costly to speak out against those who would pervert the message of the gospel and traduce the most sacred symbol of our faith, but how small a price to pay compared with the ultimate sacrifice made out of love for us all.
Photo courtesy of the Express & Star.