Of Archbishops and Crosses

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Sometimes you do just have to wonder what Rowan Williams is playing at. But then other times, you have to wonder how fair the media are.

There is a case going before the European Court of Human Rights wherein a lady called Nadia Eweida is fighting the decision by her employer to remove her from her job because she wore a cross and that cross might be deemed to be offensive to others and therefore a detriment to the business she works in. Yes, that’s right , a tiny little gold cross is now the subject of a court case. The British Government made a submission to the court, siding with the employer. Boggling as it is that they even felt the need to get involved rather than just sitting it out and watching, there is yet more to come.

Enter Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Telegraph has this report.

Speaking at a church service in Rome, where he met the Pope at the weekend, Dr Williams said the cross had been stripped of its meaning as part of a tendency to manufacture religion.

Taking as his text the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem he said the temple had become a “religion factory” rather than a place of worship.

“I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory,” he said.

“And the cross itself has become a religious decoration.”

“Religious Decoration”. The full text of the sermon is available here. Here’s the key paragraph:

Christians have been quite good at religion factories in their day, and the cross itself has become a religious decoration – not a call to renewal of life, not a call into a new world, but another thing that religious people make and hang onto.

Now, it first has to be said that Williams did not appear to be deliberately addressing the court case, but what he has to say is, nevertheless, pertinent.

…the cross needs to surprise us again every year.  We need to veil – to put away – what we think about the cross and just be brought up once again, starkly, against the reality of what the cross means: God in Jesus Christ, overturning all that we think about success and security, all that we think even about ‘religion’ as a nice leisure activity.  Calling us away from the religion factory into faith; calling us into trust in that unbreakable, undefeatable love, the kind of trust that will motivate us day after day to go in service of the poorest and the most unsuccessful and the most forgotten people.

Because that’s where all this leads – away from the religion factory and into service: service, love, silence, receptivity to God, and activity towards the world.  Not to win God’s favour, but to express God’s generosity.

Williams is calling us to genuine sincerity in wearing the cross. A sincerity that is seen not just in its wearing but in a cross-shaped life. To move beyond the “religion factory”, to genuine conviction. Rather than dismissing cross-wearing, he’s calling for what we might call genuine cross-living.

And, although I can’t believe I’m the first to make this point, surely we ought to recognise that Williams himself is not at all anti-cross-wearing as a genuine expression of Christian belief….

That is all. Make of it what you will!


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  1. Byron Smith

    Nice quote from the ABC there.

    I came across this post seconds after seeing this one, which was also a useful contribution to the discussion.

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