In a year filled with craziness across the United States and the formerly Christian world, two things in particular—apparently unrelated—have hit me especially hard: the burning of Mission San Gabriel in the eponymous town in Southern California, and the retrogression in status of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. Of course, there were other things to consider, such as the arson in Nantes Cathedral and at the United Daughters of the Confederacy Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, the attacks on statues of figures as diverse as Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town and Haile Selassie in London, as well as now-perennial favorites Christopher Columbus and Saint Junípero Serra, to say nothing of Saint Louis, Missouri’s saintly and royal namesake. Despite the wide variety of persons, places, and things, I maintain that the unrelation is only apparent, even if the ties that bind them together reside only in the dim collective unconsciousness of those who have perpetrated the assaults.
Let’s look at the first two, starting with San Gabriel Mission, and by extension, the Saint Junípero Serra statues. For the sake of full disclosure, I live near the Mission and have visited it countless times. It was the first Catholic church in the L.A. area, where the initial settlers of Los Angeles stopped to rest in 1781 before getting on with the business of city founding. It is arguably the holiest spot we have in my part of the world. Whether or not it was arson that claimed the venerable pile, the former would not be surprising given the atmosphere of anti-Serra hatred that is engulfing the state he founded. By any stretch of the imagination, the holy friar’s achievements were amazing even to the mid-19th-century Protestants and secularists who guided the Golden State after it was seized from Mexico—hence his statues’ location on public land and the U.S. Capitol. The mobs, on the other hand, hate not only Saint Junípero but his nationality and religion.
Even more interesting have been the reactions of their enablers in local government and business. When the city fathers of Ventura voted to take down the statue of the saint in front of the City Hall which has been an icon of Perry Mason’s birthplace since that fictional sleuth was born, the councilperson who oversaw the nocturnal dismantling—it was 3:00 am—is an ordained Catholic deacon. Most telling of all were the remarks of Bob Cullen, CEO of Skyline Crane Rental, which is the outfit the city farmed out their dirty work to. Despite the late hour of the deed, a small group of Catholics had arrived to protest. When Mr. Cullen showed up with the cranes, one of these Catholics told him that his business might suffer as a result of his participation. Before his hands-on pulling down of the statue, he airily replied that “he was glad to be part of the movement and that those people who opposed the removals are the minority and not in charge anymore….”
The above comes from an Aug. 25 story by Charles Coulombe in Crisis magazine.
What happened to both the Mission and the Hagia Sophia is terrible. Yet, it seems irresponsible to say “the burning of Mission San Gabriel,” listing it with other assaults and saying that arson “would not be surprising.” As a recently retired Fire Dept. arson investigator, I reached out to the jurisdiction responsible for the investigation, specifically a former coworker, and asked to be notified when a cause was determined and made public. Does anyone here know if the fire cause has been determined? (The City’s website says the investigation is ongoing and that a cause has not yet been determined.) Unlike TV, real investigations often take a seemingly long time. According to one report, it seems investigators found an area of origin, but not the point of origin. I’ve investigated church fires, both arson and accidental. Admittedly, a fire in the choir loft seems less likely caused by candles or incense (as are many church fires). But, until electrical or other accidental or natural causes can be ruled out, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Facts matter. Truth matters. if we play fast and loose with them, (among other things) our credibility suffers.
The last sentence is more true than most Christians realize. It’s a post-christian country. Christians have no meaningful influence on politics nor culture anymore. It’s going to get worse.
And if the worst threat that Christians can make is, “Your business might suffer as a result of your participation,” then Christians are going to learn very quickly how irrelevant they are. Such a comment deserved to be laughed off. Has Skyline’s business suffered? Nope. Empty threat.
Christians lost the fight over gay marriage, they lost the fight over removing the cross from the seal of the County of Los Angeles, they are losing the fight over Saint Junipero Serra, they will lose the fight over polyamory. Not that they’re fighting much. It’s just a small group of ardent believers, mostly stirred up by EWTN personalities, who don’t realize the country is lost to Christian faith as a meaningful influence in the culture and in lawmaking.
Whether by fire or force, Christian houses of worship are under siege and we must reclaim what is rightly ours. The battle is on, the question is do we want to win?
I was heart broken when I heard of the fire. I absolutely love that church. It was one of the most beautiful of all the missions I have visited. The altar was breath-taking. I felt so close to God when ever I visited it. I pray with all my heart that it can be rebuilt and restored to its original beauty..
Lord, please help them restore this mission.