April 19, 2019
Just a little over a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a World War I monument honoring 49 men who died in the war to end all wars. The memorial, built by the American Legion in 1925, is just 10 miles from SCOTUS in Bladensburg, Maryland. As they have in most towns, the American Humanist Society sued the city, demanding it tear down the 43-foot tribute that's been standing for almost 100 years. The reason? The memorial is a cross, which the humanists say violates the so-called separation of church and state.
It's hard to imagine how the monument -- which has been in place for 94 years -- is suddenly in violation of the Constitution. The families who dedicated the memorial in 1925 to the fallen soldiers would have never imagined this country tearing down the cross. But, if the Supreme Court were to uphold the lower court decision, it could lead to -- not just this cross being torn down -- but crosses all across the nation, including Arlington National Cemetery.
There are a lot of people, including FRC's legal experts, who believe there's a good chance the justices will decide in favor of the Peace Cross. But the court would most likely reach that decision by seeing the cross as a purely symbolic and historical statement. As Justice Stephen Breyer said about the cross's age, "History counts. But no more." In today's world, he argued, such an overt reference to the religion wouldn't be acceptable. "We're a different country. We are a different country now, and there are 50 more different religions."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed skeptical that the cross could survive constitutional scrutiny on historical grounds. "It is the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity," she said. "People wear crosses to show their devotion to the Christian faith." Both of their statements miss the most important point of all: the power of the cross. Whether it's a memorial to mark the graves of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom or the victims of a tragic accident on a highway, or a shooting at a public school, there's a reason people turn to the cross when faced with the reality of mortality and the beckoning of eternity. As Paul wrote, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
There are a lot of ways we can miss the life-transforming power of the cross. We can have the wrong focus -- concentrating on religion instead of a personal relationship with Jesus. We can have the wrong spirit, believing it's about God's judgment, not God's redeeming love. Or, we can have the wrong priorities, thinking it's about us and this world instead of about God and His kingdom.
Jesus certainly understood the power of the cross. Of course, part of that resolve was because He knew it was God's plan. "For the Lord God will help me," Isaiah 50:7 tells us, "therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."
Our call to follow Him requires the same resolve. "If anyone desires to come after Me," Jesus said, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." It's only in the total surrender to a relationship with Jesus, accepting God's redemptive love and forgiveness, that we can genuinely experience the life-transforming power of the cross.
Take some time to think about this Easter weekend, and ask yourself: Does my life reveal the power of the cross?
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.