September 5, 2013

Christians Carrying the Cross Through Town

Jesus carrying cross
Jesus carrying cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have seen my share of strange things since I moved to Mississippi approximately 10 years ago. Even though I had lived in a few different states before ending up here, the culture I found is very different from anything I had previously experienced. Some of the initial shock has worn off, but there continue to be times when I have to shake my head in disbelief over something I have seen or heard.

I find that many of the times when I still feel out of my element or experience a touch of culture shock involve the behavior of the evangelical fundamentalist Christians that are so prevalent here. In this post, I'd like to share an example of one of the common cultural practices I have seen many times but that I continue to find fascinating.

I'll start with the first time I saw it. It was right before the Easter holiday, and I was running errands around town. The traffic had slowed to a crawl, and there were flashing lights up ahead. I figured it had to be an accident. It turned out to be a group of 10-15 individuals, mostly men, one of whom was carrying a large wooden cross. This procession was taking place on the median of the busiest street in town, and it appeared that a police escort was involved. It struck me as extremely odd that this group of people would choose to celebrate Easter in such a public manner. I would later realize that this was a common form of Christian proselytizing around here.

What I assumed was some sort of Easter celebration would be something I would see several more times, most of which would not be in the same month as Easter. From the local newspaper, I learned that it was common for an evangelical Christian pastor and several congregants to do this when the pastor moved from one church to another. I saw a couple of these processions and read accompanying articles explaining that this is what was happening in the paper.

Some of the processions I have seen only involved two people, one to carry the cross and one trailing behind. Some involved crosses that are clearly made out of plastic, including some that appear to be made of PVC pipe. In one recent example, the cross was in the back of a pickup truck while Christian athletes ran behind the truck (see here for more information about this particular procession).

In spite of the variations, most of these odd Christian parades seem to have a few things in common. They all happened on the busiest street in town (although this could just be the ones I saw because I have to drive this street daily). They all interfered with the flow of traffic. While I have seen a few on weekends early enough in the day that the traffic was minimal, I have seen many others during my commute to work. Many involve a police presence, which I assume is related to the traffic obstruction they create. And based on everything I have read about these processions, the goal appears to be proselytizing.

It is this last aspect (i.e., proselytizing) that I find most bizarre. Many of the Christians involved in these processions genuinely appear to believe that they are doing something for Jesus and that he would approve of their marching a replica of the implement of his death through town. The notion that witnessing such a spectacle would convert anyone is beyond my comprehension.

I am sad to say that I have been unable to get any photographs of these spectacles, although I have nearly had an accident on three separate occasions trying to do so. There are some decent pictures out there that others have taken, but they all appear to be copyrighted so I cannot include them here. If you were to do an image search of "carrying cross Mississippi," you'd see some examples.

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