Last week in Poteau, Oklahoma, a monument bearing the Ten Commandments was unveiled on the lawn of a local bank.  The monument, approved by Le Flore County commissioners last year, was originally intended to stand on the grounds of the county courthouse.  However, those plans were put on hold pending the outcome of a court battle over a similar monument at the Haskell County courthouse.  Supporters of the monument in Poteau are hopeful that its current location on private property is only temporary.

Across the nation, there are numerous ongoing lawsuits, countersuits, and appeals related to the display of religious imagery (Ten Commandments monuments, crosses, nativity scenes) on public property.  Court decisions have lacked consistency and have been all over the map.  On the very same day, June 27, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Van Orden v. Perry that the monument on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin (pictured above) was constitutional, but, in McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the same justices ruled against two similar monuments at courthouses in Kentucky.

A lot of time, emotion, and energy (not to mention enormous sums of cash) are expended by both sides in these legal battles.  I have to admit that, from a Christian perspective, I cannot “catch the vision” or “embrace the crusade” for such displays on government property.  I cannot grasp the “victory” that will be gained for faith in Christ, even if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of all such efforts.  As I have expressed in earlier posts about “In God We Trust” on our currency and statements of faith on license plates, I fear that such physical expressions can become the modern-day equivalent of the broad phylacteries and lengthened tassels against which Jesus spoke (Matthew 23:5), mere symbols, signs, and talismans that give us a false sense of confidence in our personal piety, or worse, our national righteousness. 

Perhaps the bank lawn is exactly where the monument in Poteau needs to stay.  Are we lacking sufficient private property upon which to erect monuments and proclaim our faith?  I have never seen a church with such a monument on its grounds or in its facilities.  I have never been to the home of a fellow Christian who had such a monument in their front yard.  Why is there such passion to take these battles to the Supreme Court when most of us would be reluctant to even bring the issue before our homeowners’ association? 

Then there is the question over the Ten Commandments themselves.  There is more than a little irony involved when the King James Version text appears on the monuments with its verbiage concerning the making of “graven images.”   Do Christians really want to keep the Sabbath (Saturday) as a holy day and have the government enforce its restrictions?  One wonders why Christians would not be more desirous of displaying the teachings of Jesus Christ as opposed to a law delivered through Moses.  Though Kurt Vonnegut was a thoroughgoing humanist, atheist, and skeptic who denied the divinity of Jesus, he nonetheless admired many of Jesus’ teachings, particularly the Beatitudes.  Vonnegut once questioned why Christians were not more interested in displaying “Blessed are the merciful” at the Supreme Court and “Blessed are the peacemakers” at the Pentagon.  Good questions!

I love my God, and I love my country, but I cringe when the lines are blurred between the sacred and the secular, and between Christianity and nationalism.  On the back of the Ten Commandments monument in Poteau, there also appears the preamble to the Oklahoma state Constitution, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a dedication message.  The dedication indicates that the commandments are “suggestions to live by” for people of all religions and beliefs.  Suggestions?  Both God and Moses would take issue with that.  When the monument was unveiled in Poteau, a retired minister appeared dressed as Moses carrying two stone tablets.  High school students sang The Star Spangled Banner.  God doesn’t require national endorsement.  The cross stands independently from the flag.  Christ is not dependent upon Caesar to proclaim His gospel or expand His kingdom.

I don’t believe that God is concerned about granite monuments, but He is extremely desirous to write His law upon our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  Of Christians, the apostle Paul wrote, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on the tablets of human hearts” (II Corinthians 3:2-3).  Being a “living monument” to Jesus is far more demanding and meaningful than the one-time effort and artistry involved in engraving an inanimate stone.