It's a battle of Christians versus Christians in Brandon, Miss. where city officials oppose efforts by a prominent church to erect a giant cross because it violates a zoning ordinance. But the pastor of the church said elected officials are also afraid the cross might offend Muslims.
The First Baptist Church of Brandon petitioned the city to install a 110-foot tall cross on its property alongside Interstate 20. The project is sponsored by "Crosses Across America," a non-profit group that builds giant crosses along the nation's highways.
"They were led by the Holy Spirit to seek a location in Mississippi," Pastor Scott Thomas told Fox News. "92,000 cars a day travel along the Interstate 20 corridor. Those are people who need hope, who need inspiration."
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Mississippi Department of Transportation signed off on the plan, but the church hit a snag when they took their request before the city's planning commission. They voted 4-3 to not recommend construction.
Mayor Butch Lee told Fox News the cross is considered an auxiliary structure and under the law the cross can only be 20 feet high.
"The tallest structure in the city is two stories," the mayor said. "The cross is 11 stories."
The final decision on the cross rests with the board of alderman and Pastor Thomas said the outlook is bleak. He said he suspects there's more to their objections than just the size of the cross.
"They asked other questions that indicate to me that there's something else that concerns them," he said. "They asked, 'what if the Muslims, the Buddhists want to build a sign?'"
But Mayor Lee said the planning commission's decision has nothing to do with Muslims or non-Christians. He also rejected accusations on social networking websites that the no-vote was an attack on Christians.
"Hogwash," he said. "I can assure you that our planning commission and our city board are without doubt, 100 percent born-again Christians – everyone one of them. I will stand by them whatever they decide."
The mayor said he is praying for a compromise.
"I keep waiting for someone to open that door and there seems to be no room for compromise – which I find very disturbing and very troubling. It seems to be one of these 'it's either my way or the highway' and no one seems to be willing to back up. That's really sad."
Pastor Thomas said the city did offer to let them build a smaller cross.
"They said they would allow a 50-foot cross but they would not allow a 110-foot cross," he said. "Our problem with that is that we want to make an impact. We want to make a statement. And it's on church property."
The pastor said it was disheartening that some of the elected officials are not even willing to listen to constituents.
"Frankly, they are against building this cross," he said. "At least be open to hearing from your constituents. Frankly, some of them have not even been open to that – and that has probably broken my heart more than anything."
The mayor said city officials will vote on Sept. 16. But in the meantime, he is still hopeful of a compromise.
"We've got Christians calling Christians ungodly," he said. "It's digressing to a sad point rather than both sides being in prayer and seeking compromise."