Recently, President Obama chose the Gaston Hall stage on the campus of historic Georgetown University to deliver his remarks on the state of the economy. I am sure Georgetown University President John J. DeGioria was thrilled to have the President of the United States on campus to deliver a national address on such an important issue. In fact, he was so thrilled that even though Georgetown is a Catholic University, he agreed to honor the Obama Administration’s request “to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind Gaston Hall stage.” Why is this a big deal? Because the most prominent symbol of the University is the gold “IHS,” the symbol of Jesus name, which appears on the pediment just above where the President was speaking.
There are two important questions that need to be asked and answered here. First, why would the President request this sacred symbol of Jesus’ name to be covered? When CNSNews asked the White House for an explanation they refused to respond. According to Julie Green Bastaille, who serves as associate vice-president for communications at Georgetown, “The White House wanted a simple backdrop of flags and pipe and drape for the speech, consistent with what they have done for other policy speeches.” She added that, “the pipe and drape wasn’t high enough by itself to fully cover the HIS and cross above the GU seal and it seemed most respectful to have them covered so as not to be seen out of context.”
Excuse me…Jesus out of context as the background for a speech on the economy? Maybe someone needs to remind Ms. Bastaille that according to the New Testament, Jesus spoke more about money than any other subject. When you take the Old and New Testament together you find over eight hundred references to money.
Maybe, just maybe the problem with the economy begins with the fact we have removed Jesus and the entire counsel of the Word of God from any discussion of the economic policy. Maybe we could have avoided our current economic meltdown if we had heard and heeded the words of Jesus in Luke 14:28 when He asked, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough complete it?” If General Motors had counted the cost of their union contracts and their runaway expansion they might have avoided coming to the brink of bankruptcy. If our nations financial and insurance institutions would have spent a little more time counting the cost instead of covering up their financial reversals we might have avoided the need for so many bailouts.
On a personal level, our individual accumulation of debt that has so many people bound with chains of high interest might have been avoided if we had listened to the words of King Solomon who said, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
Symbolically removing Jesus and therefore the Word of God from an economic speech to protect Him from being associated with the context removes the best chance we have for finding the real solution to our financial problems. Our economy has been based on the principles of the world for at least the last fifty years. Maybe the time has come for us to ask, “how is that working our for us?”
Much was made during the Obama campaign of Jesus as a “community organizer.” The background for an economic speech should allow Jesus to be a financial advisor. Since President Obama names the name of Christ as a Christian he should understand that Jesus belongs in any context. For too long, we have allowed Jesus to be covered up in the public school system with the result being the decline of test scores and the dismissing of any sense of shared morality.
We have allowed Jesus to be covered up in the culture and we have teenagers who think it’s cool to send naked pictures to each other over their cell phones (better known as “sexting).
All of this leads me to my second question. Why would Georgetown University, a Catholic school, agree so readily to allow Jesus to be covered up? As an administrator at North Greenville University (Where Christ Makes The Difference) I can assure you we would never allow Jesus to be covered up at the request of any earthly leader, be it president or king. Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University agreed that the covering up of Jesus by a Catholic school was unexplainable. Mr. Nakas said, “I can’t imagine, as the bishops’ university and the national university of the Catholic Church, that we would ever cover up our religious art or signage for any reason. Our Catholic faith is integral to our identity as an institution of higher education.”
Perhaps the problem is we live in a world where Christians are losing their ability to stand in the face of the pressure of secularization. When Hitler came to power in Germany, the church faced the same temptation. At first, the church refused to replace the cross with the swastika but as time went by, more and more pastors acquiesced to Hitler’s promises of protection. The church chose the soft words of safety and allowed Jesus to be covered and removed from the context of the country’s march toward a new Germany. A few brave pastors such as Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisted the temptation to cover Jesus and replace him with the political context of the day. Niemoller paid by losing his freedom and Bonhoeffer paid with his life.
I pray that God will raise up a generation of leaders who will realize nothing good comes from covering up Jesus…. in any context.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.