That old secular Mojave cross

Print More

A few days ago, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and one of the Pooh-bahs of conservative evangelicalism, had this to say about the upcoming argument before the Supreme Court in Salazar v. Buono, the case of the Mojave cross.

Arguing for the retention of the display, lawyers for the government
are expected to argue that the Mojave cross is constitutional because
it represents a secular symbol intended to honor those who died in the
nation’s service in World War I.

At this point, Christians should pay particular attention. While the
government’s lawyers try to press their case, Christians should reject
any argument that presents the cross as a secular symbol. There is
nothing remotely secular about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Arguments for the constitutionality of religious language and symbolism
based in the supposedly secular character of the speech or imagery may
win in the courtroom, but the arguments are devastating to authentic

Of all people, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must be the first
to insist that the cross is a symbol of Christian faith, pointing
directly to the cross on which Christ died as our substitute. The cross
must not be reduced to a generic symbol of death and the memory of
loved ones.

The logical conclusion to such sentiments is that it’s more important to preserve the religious integrity of the cross than to maintain it on public land under false secular pretenses. Mohler, of course, doesn’t go there–but I’m confident that his Baptist forerunner Roger Williams would have. No one was more vigilant about separation of church and state than those early American Baptists.

In the event, the most notable secular defense of the cross yesterday came not from the government’s lawyers but from Justice Antonin Scalia, who has always been more interested in preserving religious establishments than guaranteeing religious liberties. And it fell to the lawyer for the ACLU, Peter Eliasberg, to articulate Mohler’s point of view; to wit: “…a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.” For that reason, Eliasberg said, the cross could not be taken as honoring the Jewish war dead.

Scalia’s response was telling:

It’s erected as a war memorial. I assume it was erected in honor of all of the war dead. It’s the–the cross is the–is the most common symbol of–of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn’t seem to me–what would you have them erect? A cross–some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslim half moon and star?

After Scalia went on to call the claim that a cross could only honor Christian war dead an “outrageous conclusion,”  Eliasberg responded, “This cross can’t honor us because it is a religious symbol of another religion.”

What I’m wondering is how Al Mohler would feel if the only symbol honoring the Christian dead on the shores of, say, Tripoli, were one of those Moslem half moon and stars. Would he agree that they were honored by that symbol? Would he want it removed? Or would he advocate for the erection of a cross alongside it?