One could make the argument that the West is moving into a post-literate culture. We may not have (entirely) lost the ability to read, but we are relying on symbols in communication much more than we did even a few years ago. And not just emojis, though that is part of it. Even my own bookmark bar in my browser is mostly just symbols with no text.
Symbols have always been important in culture, but the internet seems to have given a renaissance of sorts to them. With this (and even before), we see a battle over some symbols. After all, there are only so many to go around, and some of them are rather popular. The question becomes: what does a symbol primarily represent?
One symbol that has been reappropriated is the rainbow. Originally the sign of the Noahic covenant (Genesis 9:13), when I was growing up it was primarily the symbol of prepubescent girls and unicorns.
Now it has become the flag (literally) of the sexual deviants’ rights movement. It’s ironic and sad that a symbol originally instituted by God as a promise to not destroy the earth by a worldwide flood again as punishment for wickedness has become an emblem for wickedness.
Other examples abound. I recently learned that the Celtic cross, which I wear and serves as a dear symbol of faith to me and many others, is also misappropriated by some white-supremacist groups.
Again, it’s the twisting of a symbol — the cross — which tore down all barriers and made it so, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28) and using it instead to proclaim that one group is superior to another based on the color of their skin.
Even the clerical collar, while not appropriated by another group, has become associated with a minority of priests who have been abusing children. That’s not what the collar is to symbolize. Several years ago, I actually met a Catholic priest who had stepped away from that role because, in his words, he was “tired of everyone assuming [he was] a pedophile.” As far as I know he had no direct guilt in the matter, but it was the guilt by association that drove him away.
It is tempting to let the dissenters and malcontents have the symbols. Once they become tainted, it can be uncomfortable to still employ them rightly. Awkward conversations may ensue. But we must not let all of the symbols of Christian faith be co-opted.
We may have lost the rainbow for now — it has become so firmly ingrained as a LGBT symbol, most people automatically assume such sympathies when they see it — but crosses and collars must not be allowed to fall. Some awkward conversations are worth having, not because of sentimental attachment, but because the realities they represent are important. They have power to communicate to those around us as signs of hope, comfort, and strength.