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Tag: Pastor Johnny Maxwell

The Cross of North Alabama: I Thought God was Omnipresent?

cross of north alabama

In a country where Christianity is increasingly becoming irrelevant and unimportant, zealous Christians seek ways to remind Americans that their God is alive and well; that he still matters; that they still matter.

Twenty years ago, “God” gave Johnny Maxwell, the pastor of Nature’s Trail Church — an Evangelical church in Priceville, Alabama — a “vision” of erecting a 120-foot cross. Nature’s Trail Church advertises itself as the “Outdoorsman Family Church.”

Today, Maxwell’s “vision” became a reality. AL.com reports:

The Cross of North Alabama now stands, a glistening white symbol raised Thursday morning to its prominent perch near Decatur with one group’s mission of helping share the hope and love the Bible says is found in Jesus.

A crowd gathered to watch, perhaps 200 people or more who lined the site just off Alabama Highway 67 in Priceville with their cars and lawn chairs and armed with cellphone cameras to capture the moment. The raising of the cross began a minute or two after 10 a.m. and the head of the construction company that raised it declared the process complete about 30 minutes later.

It’s a striking structure, standing an attention-grabbing 120 feet tall a few yards off the busy highway in an otherwise rural area about two miles east of Interstate 65. And that’s the point.

Maxwell told reporters:

We want all Christians and all people who care about Jesus to know that they can come here. This is a good place to kneel and pray and have your time with God.

While Christians and churches are free to spend their money as they wish, I question whether the $300,000 spent to build and erect this cross could have been better spent on meeting the tangible needs of the people Jesus called “the least of these.” Outdoor spectacles such as this one are common, but to what end?

Every time I drive to Cincinnati, I pass by an Evangelical church in Dayton with a huge Jesus statute.

big butter jesus

This big ass Jesus is called by locals, Big Butter Jesus. This Jesus is a replacement for the first Jesus who was struck by lightning and burned to the ground — a sure sign that God meant it when he said “no graven images.” 🙂

before and after big butter jesus

The Cross of North Alabama (CONA) is meant to be a place where Christians can come and pray. I thought God was omnipresent; that God is everywhere. Why do Christians need a $300,000 spot along the highway to pray? How about shooting a prayer up to Jesus on your way to caring for orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners in jail, and providing for the homeless? You know, that stuff Jesus mentioned a few times in the Bible. Did Maxwell and his merry band of followers ever bother to ask, What Would Jesus Do? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

CONA is not just any old cross; according to Maxell, it’s a monument to hope. How is the cross a monument to hope? It is a 120-foot reminder of Roman cruelty. What’s hopeful about an itinerate preacher being nailed to an instrument of execution?

Five Bibles were placed in the foundation of the cross, including one from an Iraq veteran. Christians also wrote Bible verses on the metal substructure of the cross. Feel good stuff, to be sure, but nothing that will make a meaningful difference in the world. “We Love You, Lord” was spray painted on the interior structure of the CONA. Evidently, the sovereign Lord of the Universe — the God who knows our thoughts and sees everything we do — doesn’t know who loves him.

You can learn more about CONA here. So far CONA has raised $52,000 for its project.

I suspect that if Jesus were alive today that he would not approve of the CONA. So much real need and suffering in the world, yet Christians continue to spend massive amounts of money on everything but. I took issue with such behavior back in my preaching days, and I still do today.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

While Christians will endlessly debate what Jesus meant, it seems clear to me that he was saying that how we spend our money and what we spend it on reflects what we truly value and believe. This is true for Christians and atheists alike.

Again, Maxwell and his friends are free to spend their money on whatever they want. Just remember, the world is watching.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser