Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Transforming the Statue of Liberty into a threat

By Diane Silver

Here's an interesting Independence Day feat: Some of the good folks of Memphis, Tenn., yesterday succeeded in transforming the Statue of Liberty from a welcoming image into a gesture of intimidation.

The New York Times reports that a megachurch called the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries unveiled its new $260,000 version of the Statue of Liberty. The morphed American icon has the Ten Commandments tucked under one arm and "Jehovah" inscribed on her crown. Instead of holding a torch aloft, the lady holds a huge gold cross. There is also one tear on her artificial cheek.

The statue was the idea of the church's pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams. The Times reports on some of his ideas as noted in several books he has written.
In "The Meaning of the Statue of Liberation Through Christ: Reconnecting Patriotism With Christianity," he explains that the teardrop on his Lady is God's response to what he calls the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country's "promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism."

In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin. Mr. Williams said his statue's essential point was that Christianity should be the guiding ethos of the nation.
The real Statute of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 and is most often associated with a poem by Emma Lazarus, called "The New Colossus." The poem's most famous lines read:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

I wonder if Williams' image of Lady Liberty should now be associated with a new poem. Shall we rewrite this as: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free, but only if they are Christian, and oh by the way, only if they believe in one narrow form of conservative Christianity that yearns towards theocracy and hates the American ideal of allowing all to worship as they please."

Because the United States really is the land of the free, Williams and his megachurch have every right to muck up the image of the Statue of Liberty. Because I personally believe in the ideals of this country, I defend his right to do so. But I do not defend or accept his message.

On this day after Independence Day, I think it's a patriot's duty to stand up for the true American Dream: The insane idea that we ALL have the right to be free to believe as we choose.
That is true freedom of religion. It is as true for Williams and his brand of Christianity as it is for me and my spiritual mix of Buddhism and New Age and for the many Americans who are secular. Until Williams and his conservative cohorts understand that, we are all in danger.

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