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LEFT OF SINNER

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…” 

Genesis 11:4

Rarely do religious folk make such a blatant show of the cognitive dissonance between their actions and their professed faith as that demonstrated by Mississippi’s leaders at the dedication of an 18-ton, 110-foot cross in Florence, Mississippi earlier this month.

The cross was the result of efforts by Carroll Berry, owner of Berry’s Seafood and Catfish House.

As the Clarion-Ledger describes it, the event was “part political rally and part tent revival,” where attendants “sang, prayed, witnessed, held signs with Bible verses on them and swayed with their arms in the air.” They were also waving American flags, too, of course.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the old rugged cross stands here today, a bright shining emblem of the salvation that has been eternal and, with God’s blessing, it will remain so,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said of the cross that an estimated 28 million motorists will pass in the coming year.

U.S. Congressman Gregg Harper suggested his hopes that the sight of a mammoth cross will convince legions of hellhound passerby to turn over their lives to Christ.

“As the souls that are driving by right now, I dare say that there are more who do not know Jesus Christ than do know Jesus Christ and we need to remember to pray for those,” Harper said. “And, I think this cross is an incredible reminder of the love that we have.”

Certainly, the cross raising was a great opportunity for our Republican leadership to remind the God-fearin’ people of Mississippi of how righteous, godly, and Christian they are. For those of us who actually read our Bibles, though, it’s just another reminder of the hollowness of these men’s faith.

Now standing next to an all-you-can-eat buffet, the 110-foot cross, which was privately funded to the tune of over a hundred thousand, does nothing to advance the cause of Christ. It does not feed the hungry. It does not clothe the naked. It does not shelter the homeless. It does not give care to the sick.

Instead, the raising of this towering mass of steel reinforces the pride of the state’s traditional religious cohorts. It stands as a symbol of conservative Christian supremacy in a state where that supremacy is wholly unquestioned.

For the religious right, it’s a great opportunity to offend their neighbor and stick a needle in the eye of their ideological opponents. In remarks at the dedication, Berry made that quite clear: “You’re gonna get people coming against you of course, your atheists, your critics, they’re out there. But, when you take a stand for Christ, he’ll take a stand for you.”

Berry, of course, would likely think that this edition of Left of Sinner is just another example of the devil’s front-linemen coming out to attack the true, long-suffering servants of Christ. But there is something distinctly unChristian and clueless about someone, flanked by the state’s top officials at the dedication of a 110-foot tower to their own faith, foretelling their own social persecution at the hands of the state’s most marginalized minorities.

In a Facebook post, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves shared one of his favorite quotes from Berry’s speech:

“Ain’t it great to have a governor, a lieutenant governor, and congressman that still stand on the values that this country was founded on over 200 years ago? If everybody was like this, this country wouldn’t be going to hell like it is. Period. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

For religious conservatives like Berry, Reeves, Bryant, Harper, and friends, Christianity isn’t about the things Jesus spoke of–loving thy neighbor, treating others as you would like to be treated, caring for the least of these (in poverty, in homelessness, and in sickness).

Instead, their idea of Christianity is about establishing social supremacy over those they see as competitors–those gays, those atheists, those ‘militant feminists,’ and those liberals responsible for the nation “going to hell like it is.”

The Florence cross, then, is not about establishing a symbol of God’s grace. No, it is more akin to a dog taking a piss on a patch of grass. The dedication of this cross was nothing more than the gathering of a tribe intent on marking their territory, staking a claim to a piece of land to the exclusion of everyone else.

The same arrogance that led to the building of the original Tower of Babel is the spirit that drove the erection of this one. Christ’s followers should know better.

Amen?