Friday, February 20, 2009

Attack of the 170-Foot Cross

Those of you who know me well know that I was raised a nominal Episopalian, and that in college I became a Southern Baptist, remaining such until Jennifer and I began the process of converting to Orthodoxy in 2001. In high school, my best friend was a devout Southern Baptist who attended a large church called Sagemont Baptist Church (which, along with thousands of other Baptist churches, later dropped "Baptist" from their name in order to appeal to a wider audience). I often would go to Sagemont with him, particularly to revivals and youth events.

When Jennifer and I returned to the Houston area after serving for five years as missionaries in Eastern Europe, we ended up buying a home that was only about a mile or so from Sagemont. Since we last attended there in 1998, the church has continued to grow, both in numbers and in wealth. Now they are in a massive building campaign. Part of that campaign includes the erection of a cross that is 170 feet high (they originally wanted it to be 200 feet, high, but the FAA made them reduce the height). I pass by the cross an average of two or three times a week.

As you might imagine, the cross has caused a wide variety of reaction, with some being opposed to the cross and others being in favor of it. Here is an excerpt from a story about the cross that appeared in the February 12 edition of the South Belt Leader, our small, weekly hometown newsletter. The writer's name is James Bolen.

Last week, Sagemont Church constructed a massive cross on its property near Beltway 8.

In the works since 2007, the completed structure stands 170 feet tall with a span of 60 feet at the horizontal beam. It is made of painted steel and weighs 90 tons and took three days to erect.

The purpose of the cross is to positively inspire passing drivers, according the Sagemont Church' senior pastor, Dr. John D. Morgan.

"We hope everyone who drives by will be reminded how much God loves them," he said.

Like all other Sagemont projects, the cross was being built debt-free. Morgan noted that the cross has not borrowed money since 1975, allowing Sagemont to do other things with money that many churches spend on interest each year.

This past year, the church spent approximately $1.5 million on local and global mission efforts. The church also gave a large sum to aid the community after Hurricane Ike, just as it did after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Morgan declined to put a monetary price tage on the structure, but humbly said, "It cost God his son and Jesus his life."

Due to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the cross will be lit at night, allowing it to be seen for several miles in any direction.

The base of the structure features a 2,500 square-foot platform designed to accommodate weddings, Bible study classes, and other special events throughout the year. The platform hovers over a small lake that includes an area for baptisms. The bank of the lake features an amphitheater designed to seat approximately 250 people. Two walkways connect the amphitheater to the platform...

...The cross structure is complete, but final details on the project will be finished over the next few weeks. Upon completion, the cross area will be open to the public at all times for people to come pray, picnic, or just look.

Now, if the cross just had two more bars on it...

So, what are YOUR thoughts about this cross? Your comments are not only appreciated, they are actively sought.


Thankful Paul said...

Hello! :)

Wade said...

Well...let me see what is my reaction to a 170 ft cross? My first thought is why did they do it, I mean other than what the preacher said. Some probably think it brings glory to God, others just that bigger is better and others I'm sure could find it a tad gaudy. Part of me thinks it is just another part of the mega-church phenomenon. (I came from one too - Second Baptist Houston.) What really concerns me though is what ever happened to humility? Would a church that is seeking to walk humbly before God ever erect such a thing as this? I don't know. I am not supposed to judge my brother but if St. Anthony's tried that I think I'd fight it big time.
God bless now and ever....

Paul said...

Maybe it's just me, but after all that money to buy the think, could they have not stood it upright?

I am trying not to take jabs at them, bless their souls, as Fr. Honeycut would say, but it looks like a My God is bigger than your God complex.

However, I would not want a 170 foot tall half moon crescent in my backyard either.

s-p said... it any different than St. Anthony's monastery having seven Churches on its property each costing millions...or any Orthodox Church pouring hundreds of thousands into hand carved iconostases and icons? The Cross is what their faith is about, it is their "statement". Our buildings and icons are what our faith is about, they are our statement. Theirs just happens to be very simple and big, and without judging motives it IS about Christ in the end. If people are scandalized, well... it IS the cross of Christ...I've erected goofier tributes to God in many ways in my life and I sure hope He honors the intention of the heart and not the actual actions or even the outcomes. Yikes.

d.burns said...

I find it interesting that we (assuming Orthodox readers and comenters) are troubled or questioning the piety of erecting of a large cross. I remember a story I worked on while employed by a west Texas newsroom, a local farmer/rancher built a 3 story cross on his ranch next to the highway. Given this was west Texas, one could see the thing for over 5 miles in any direction. The neigbors could've cared less. There have been others who've built large monuments to thier faith as well, as example, the giant statue of Jesus in Equidore.

Nobody cares if people errect collosal secular images like the Statue of Liberty or the statue of Sam Houston in Hunstville, TX. But people get bent out of shape when it's a cross or simular monument. Either the cross is the "Tree of Life" or it isn't. Let us not speculate as to the piety of the builders, but be thankfull of its message.

Wade said...

I'm feeling a little corrected right about now. That's probably a good thing. My response comes from 25 years in a mega church and seeing some very questionable things. I, and others, frequently asked the question - WHY? to some things that were done. The people dynamics and politics in a body that large is hard to fathom if you have not been in the middle of it. In any case I really hope their cross brings them to seek the Lord with all their heart soul Mind and Strength. Personally if I were to stand before a cross that big knowing what happened on it I would be driven to tears.

PS-The St.Anthony's I refer to currently meets in a trailer.

s-p said...

Hi Wade, I know too well the "knee jerk reaction" to our pasts. Ironically I was at St. Anthony's Monastery today and posted what I found there on my blog. Check it out.

Kirk said...

Isn't it astonishing how clean and white their cross is? What meaning does that carry?

Mike Fulton said...

I guess I'm with Doug on this one. I'm just thankful that there are people out there who love the Cross of Christ so much that they would erect something like this.