I may have read, or else vaguely remember, a scene from a book or film about the persecution of the Christians in Ancient Rome. The heroine is to be brought before the Roman officials (I forget exactly which ones) for Examination on suspicion of being a Christian.
A brutal-looking, scarred guard glares at her, enjoining her to remember in whose hands her fate now lies. Apparently by accident, he spills some powder on the terrified girl’s bureau, and, again apparently by accident, his expression unchanging, traces two intersecting curved lines in the spilt dust—a fish, the Ithyus, the most ancient symbol of Christ and Christianity.
It is a genuinely moving moment, an affirmation that the persecutors do not know everything or have everything their own way. The guard has risked his own life to remind her of the Good News, and that Hope may glow in the darkest places.
Coming right up to date: The Pastor of Harvest Baptist Church in Ovid, Colorado, Mark Baker, recently lost his wife Linda to cancer. One of his wife’s’ last requests was that her tombstone would be inscribed with a Christian Ichthus fish with the name of Jesus in the center.
Pastor Baker relayed Linda’s request to Shawn Rewoldt, the director of the city cemetery in Sterling, Colorado. Rewoldt told him that the Ichthus fish would be okay, but that he would not approve of the inscription of Jesus’ name on the tombstone.
When Pastor Baker and his family asked why, Rewoldt at first told them that it wouldn’t fit, but the family didn’t buy that excuse and pressed him for the real reason. Eventually, Rewoldt admitted that the real reason he wouldn’t approve of having “Jesus” inscribed on the tombstone was that he believed it might offend others.
Stacy Adams, the Baker’s daughter-in-law, described what happened next, saying:
“At first they told us it wouldn’t fit, but after we kept pushing them, the cemetery director told us that it might offend somebody. They weren’t going to allow it.”
Adams then spoke about the cemetery, saying:
There are full Scriptures everywhere you look. You can’t walk two feet without tripping over them.
City officials refused to come to the family’s aid, although the cemetery is publically owned. The cemetery director defended his position with a logic-defying and utterly insulting hypothetical: “What if someone wanted to put up a swastika?” thereby equating a representation of Christ with a symbol of genocide. The city reversed its position only after public outcry and media attention.
Since the cemetery belonged to the city, the Baker family took their request to Joe Kiolbasa, City Manager. Adams described what happened: “He refused to work with us. He said he would have to take it to the city attorney. They were being difficult.”
Not knowing where to turn to next, the family decided to post their story on Facebook. The story spread and a number of people began contacting local media and the city. Not long afterwards, Kiolbasa contacted the Baker family to inform them that Rewoldt had made an error in judgment. He told reporters:
This gentleman thought it may have been objectionable to someone because of the Christian connotation. It has been corrected.
If those “offended” are atheists, it does not explain why they should be offended by a Name which according to their own scheme of beliefs does not exist. If it is thought Muslims may be offended, it does not explain why Jesus is regarded by Muslims as a major prophet.
Adams responded to the City Manager’s statement, saying that it disturbs her and she is grieved that:
People are so fearful of one Name that they would go to such lengths to try and eliminate it.
The government shouldn’t tell us what to think, what to say and what to believe. In their misguided attempts to offend no one, they ended up offending many.
This has been only one of a myriad of cases, especially under the current [Obama] administration, in which even the most minor instances of church and State identification have been hunted down by secularists with an implacable zeal reminiscent of that shown by Saul of Tarsus.
During the recent government shutdown, Catholic priests at Government defence establishments were warned that they could be arrested for celebrating Mass, even if performed on a voluntary basis. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s direction and determination was that priests do not “contribute to the morale” and “well-being” of military personnel. Thus, offering of the sacraments was prohibited and the Eucharist placed under lock and key.1 Curiously, this curtailment applied only to Christian services.
According to information released at a press conference in May by the families of Navy SEALs killed in an August 2011 helicopter shoot-down in Afghanistan, “military brass prohibited any mention of a Judeo-Christian God.”2
One commentator remarked:
Christians have been too quiet and passive over the past 50 years and have allowed the screaming minorities get their way at the cost of our Christian freedom. Christians didn’t mob the Supreme Court in the 1960s when we lost our rights to pray, read the Bible and talk about God and Jesus in the classroom or on any government property. Christians didn’t storm Congress or the White House when homosexuals were given more special privileges than normal Americans have. Christians didn’t make their voices known when they were told that they couldn’t pray at football games. Rev. Jerry Falwell was right when he referred to America’s Christians as the Silent Majority and it is that silence that has allowed the open persecution of Christianity in America today.
1. “DOD Bars 50 Priests from Administering Sacraments, Locks Up Eucharist; Priest Sues”, CNS News.com, 15 October 2013 – http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/terry-jeffrey/dod-bars-50-priests-administering-sacraments-locks-eucharist-priest-sues
2. “Were Navy SEAL Team 6 Members Condemned To Hell By Muslim Cleric During Funeral?”, Freedom Outpost, 10 May 2013 – http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/05/were-navy-seal-team-6-members-condemned-to-hell-by-muslim-cleric-during-funeral/
Hal Colebatch is a widely respected poet and essayist. This article first appeared in News Weekly and is republished with the author’s kind consent.