There is a widespread trend in Christian circles to talk about a conspiracy against our faith. Endlessly recirculated emails bring warnings that a mysterious ‘they’ want to burn Bibles, ban baptisms and – a more questionable threat to the faith – banish bishops. Personally, I tend to be very wary of such rumours. One reason is that I’d rather promote the certain truth of the gospel than spread dubious accounts of threats against it. And yet every so often I come across some act of such crass hostility that I find myself wondering in bewilderment if the conspiracy theorists do actually have a point.
The most recent occurrence of this has been in connection with the seemingly trivial news that the German food chain Lidl has created a brand of Greek food called Eridanous. The products are promoted with a delightful photograph of sun-drenched, blue-domed roofs overlooking an equally blue Mediterranean Sea. Yet the domes are not just those of any old roofs; they are in fact those of a church, specifically that of the Church of the Anastasis in Santorini. You would not know from this picture because the crosses that adorn these buildings have been Photoshopped out, apparently ‘to avoid offence’. You can read at least some of the details here.
Now as someone who is both Greek and a Christian this amazes and annoys me.
First, I find it insensitive. As many people will know, the Greeks have for over a thousand years taken pride in being the heroic defenders of Christian Europe’s south-eastern border. You may disagree with that role and that pride but, trust me, it is a fundamental part of the Greek psyche. In this culturally embattled corner of the Mediterranean the issue of whether a building is capped by a cross or crescent is no light matter. Here men and women still regularly overlook five hundred years of history to refer to Istanbul as Constantinople. Here, in living memory, the unfortunate tension between cross and crescent has erupted in bitter bloodshed in Cyprus and the horrid Balkan war of 1991–99. To remove the cross from the image of these buildings is a grotesque and blundering cultural insult. And as an aside, I can’t help wondering if the marketing geniuses at Lidl have noticed that the cross plays a major part in quite a number of European flags, not least the Union Jack. Are these to be removed as well? One of the problems of rampant political correctness is that in the effort to stop one offence it almost inevitably ends up creating others. There is nothing quite so inclined to create offence as political correctness trying to erase it.
Second, I find it troubling. This removal of crosses echoes the recent debates in the United States about whether to keep or topple statues of Confederate war heroes. Extreme political correctness demands that all that is offensive about the past be erased. This, of course, is impossible; history is a deep-grained reality that is not easily eliminated. It is also perilous; history teaches lessons and to ignore our past is to choose to walk blindfold into the future. We may find much about the past and the present offensive; the wisest reaction is to acknowledge what was done and to move on.
Third, I find that it is revealing. It is an intriguing fact that the symbol of the cross continues to arouse so much antagonism. Given the New Testament view that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the very heart of God’s programme of reconciliation for humanity and the world, it is perhaps not surprising that attacks on the faith fall here most fiercely.
A Christian faith without the cross is stripped of its power.
Objections to the cross go back to the very first days of the Christian faith; writing to the Galatians just twenty years after the crucifixion, St Paul comments on the ‘offence of the cross’ (Galatians 5:11). Want to understand Christianity? Understand the cross.
Ultimately, though, we Christians need to keep something like this in proportion. It’s a worrying and silly trend but the church has seen worse and outlived it. From the first Good Friday onwards there have been repeated efforts to bury the truth of the cross and the One who died on it. Yet the name of the church in the image is the Anastasis – the Greek word for the resurrection. It’s a reminder that no one can keep the truth hidden. The Roman Empire couldn’t and I don’t think Lidl will.