The cross was a project of the First Baptist Church of Brandon and the ministry Crosses Across America, headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The organization’s website explains that the group’s efforts to erect crosses on highways across the nation serve “as a reminder to all Christians, and as a means of reaching non-Christians, that there is hope in Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Scott Thomas told reporters that he petitioned the city to allow the 18-ton cross to be built next to the interstate where it could be most visible, thus reaching the most lives with a message of hope.
“We believe it will be an encouragement for not only the 50 million people that pass by us, but it will also be an inspiration and encouragement for people that fly over us from Jackson International Airport,” Thomas told MS News Now.
The federal Aviation Administration and Mississippi Department of Transportation approved of Thomas’ plan, but when it came time for the Brandon City Commission to vote on the matter, the pastor was told that the structure would violate state law. Mississippi reportedly limits structures to 20 feet in height.
“The cross is not a sign or a billboard; it’s a symbol,” Mayor Butch Lee told the Clarion-Ledger. “It does place government in a precarious situation if you allow a variance to a religious symbol at that height.”
But Thomas said that he believes city officials have other concerns besides state statutes.
“They asked other questions that indicate to me that there’s something else that concerns them,” he told reporter Todd Starnes. “They asked, ‘What if the Muslims, the Buddhists want to build a sign?’”
However, Lee remarked that officials have no issue with the cross in itself–only the height.
“I can assure you that our planning commission and our city board are without doubt, 100 percent born-again Christians–everyone one of them,” he said.
Earlier this month, by one vote, the request to build the cross was rejected by the planning commission. Soon afterward, the church withdrew its request as well, rejecting a compromise on the matter to build the cross 50-feet high.
“After prayerful consideration, the pastor, staff leadership and deacons of First Baptist Church Brandon have elected to immediately withdraw the churchʼs application for a variance from the City of Brandon Zoning Ordinance to allow construction of a 110 foot cross on church property,” the church wrote on its Facebook site, which has since been deactivated. “The decision to withdraw the variance application and end this controversy is motivated by our churchʼs love for our community and our deep desire to effectively minister in the Name of Jesus to our community.”
“First Baptist Church of Brandon believes that our ability to minister to our community, our Jerusalem, is a priority calling that no amount of controversy or negative exposure should be allowed to damage. This decision is not a reflection upon our belief in the merit of the cross project,” it continued. “We steadfastly believe that the symbol of Godʼs plan of redemption, the symbol of His unmerited favor, the symbol of His sinless substitute for sinful man, should be raised and displayed in as many places as possible.”
Crosses Across America has built 2,000 crosses in 29 states and two foreign countries since its inception in 2000.