"My Cross" Project Splits Swedes
Starting as a grassroots movement in Sweden, the "My Cross" initiative on Facebook has grown quickly to engage and divide ordinary citizens, elites, and the Church of Sweden.
My Cross connects more than ten thousand Swedes via social media, posting photos of crosses from everyday life in solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world. This practice has ignited a fierce debate regarding Christian faith and its relation to politics and tolerance for other religions.
The idea for the project came from three priests in the Church of Sweden who were horrified to learn that ISIS-linked fighters murdered French priest Jacques Hamel in July of this year. For them, that attack connected with their concerns about persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
So they launched a Facebook group, open to anyone, asking people to take photos of the crosses in their lives and post them, whether the cross was personal jewelry, in a painting, or even a tattoo.
The three priests, Annika Borg, Johanna Andersson and Helena Edlund wrote a piece for the "Kristen Opinion" website (Christian Opinion) on July 26, 2016 – the same day that Islamic terrorists murdered Fr Hamel as he conducted a service in his church.
“The world´s Christians are under attack,” their article stated. It went on to invite participation in the My Cross project. Over on Facebook, the group introduces itself this way: “The group My Cross takes a stand for persecuted Christians by openly and proudly wearing the cross in our everyday lives. Take a photo of yourself wearing your cross and post it here with hashtag #mycross.”
"We were very upset (by world events), all three of us. We had feelings of powerlessness and sorrow and felt a need to do something," says Annika Borg.
Just one week after the publication of the short article, My Cross had more than one thousand members. People took photos of crosses everywhere. Many of those posting photos to the group also wrote a short essay about their cross, or about what is happening to Christians around the world, or even about their personal faith.
Early on, no one objected to the purpose of My Cross or questioned the group's existence. However, the communications officer for the Church of Sweden, Gunnar Sjöberg, sparked the debate by asking if the priests “wanted to start a religious war” by launching their group on Facebook.
He wrote: “Christians wearing a cross to support something or being against something– this isn´t something new. But the appeal seems to stir something up and feels unchristian in relation to the ongoing antagonism.”
The Christian and secular press in Sweden began covering the debate more closely. The Church of Sweden was heavily criticized by a number of its own priests as well as outside intellectuals. "Why did the Church of Sweden seem to discourage priests from supporting persecuted Christians?" some wanted to know. Others supported Gunnar Sjöberg's view, saying that Christians should be aware of the tensions among religions and support persecuted persons of any religion.
The prominent journalist, author, and Jewish intellectual Göran Rosenberg wrote an article in the secular Paper Expressen, warning of “a religious war” between “the Islam of hatred and the Christianity of Charity.”