In Defense of $700,000 Crosses

Earlier today, popular blogger Rachel Held Evans posted a story from her hometown of Chattanooga (which also happens to be my hometown). It was about a church in town which is erecting large set of crosses at alongside an extremely busy stretch of interstate. The reaction from the satirical "Stuff Christian Culture Likes" sums up the reaction I saw across my social media streams:
What a waste! What about the poor! What about mission! No one needs that! What a perfect example of what is wrong with the conservative Christianity!
(From the Crossing Church FB Page)

My first impulse was to chime in. But I didn't, I sat on my hands and thought.

I thought about the time I spend helping congregations and other organizations think about communications. And they say to me - How can we spend money on that? It's so wasteful! No one needs a website! Every day, congregations around this country are spending money to share the Word of God. Newsletters are printed and mailed. Advertisements are bought in newspapers and radio. Mailers and invitations are sent out. This congregation may have spent a lot, but I bet you that the cost per impression - given the amount of traffic on that stretch of road - is significantly less than the average church newspaper ad.

One of the things I love about the church is that it has traditionally been the patron of the arts and other projects that would not have been possible in any other way. I am grateful that they church through history has paid artists (sometimes quite handsomely) to create art that tells the story, art that has been passed through generations. And this project - whether you like it or not - is a form of art, and stands in the long tradition of large-scale church-funded projects.

Could the money have been used to help the poor? Of course!
But the same could be said of each and every dollar spent by the church.

In fact this is precisely the argument used against any spending in the church that one disagrees with. It is a strawman argument, used only against those with whom we disagree. Unless a church has zero expenses and zero assets, it could be said that they are using money that should be used to care for the poor. And while there are some of those churches, there aren't many.

Frankly, I think we should become worried when we find the words of Judas in our mouths. "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (John 12:5). Or, perhaps, with the Pharisee we pray "I give you thanks O God, that I am not THAT sort of Christian."

At the end of the day, though, it is not about the money. It is not about budgets or about roadside crosses.

It is about how easily Christians find it to criticize one another. The church is every bit as divided as the political sphere. And that is troubling.

There is criticism that comes from love. There is helpful correction within the Body. But that is not what we are doing. Both "sides" believe that the other are not "real Christians." Both publicly belittle, chastise, mock, and ridicule the other. Both are quick with the playground defense, "But they started it!"

In what way is that helping the Gospel?

I don't want to be a conservative Christian or a liberal Christian. I want to be a Christian. Period.
I don't want to criticize the choices of other Christian communities. I want to do what is best for the Gospel here in my context, and assume others are doing the same.
I don't want to try and knock other Christian leaders down a peg. I just want to do my best to care for the flock that has been entrusted to me.
I don't want to sit back and try and judge the orthodoxy of people I have never met. I just want to do my best to understand the God who has loved me and called me to love my neighbor. 


UPDATE: My friend Aric Clark wrote a wonderful response to this post, which offers some great pushback. Aric is - as always - insightful and gracious in his critique. You should go read it at Two Friars and a Fool.