One night, long ago, a Hebrew man snuck into the darkness to dismantle his father’s prized possession – an altar to Baal. While he was instructed to destroy the altar by God, he opted to do so at night so as not to be personally connected to the crime. Forwarding several thousand years to December 14, 2023, Michael Cassidy was less worried about anonymity when he entered the Iowa State Capital building and “destroyed beyond repair” an idol similarly dedicated to the forces and powers of darkness and evil.
Already an immensely polarizing display, the goat-headed demon statue placed by a self-described satanic group in Iowa has succeeded in turning Christian-against-Christian over what the proper response should have been to the idolatrous imposition. This may not have been the intended effect of the alleged Devil worshipers, but it appears to have been their greatest, though temporary, victory.
Many have pointed out that the statue is merely physical, does not have feelings, and its destruction does nothing to “further Christian values in a society based on religious freedom.” So why are so many so deeply invested, excited, and animated that a Christian from the Deep South drove all the way up the Mississippi River Valley to smash it up?
Guilt or Outrage
The short answer is that in 2023, courage is an extremely high-value commodity, and any demonstration of Christian intrepidness in the face of an incredibly hostile political/cultural landscape will be rewarded with enthusiastic support from a not insignificant percentage of the Christian community. But this does not mean that all of those who name themselves among Christians will feel the same way.
To borrow a term from Dr. Voddie Baucham’s recent, timely titled book on the social justice controversy, the “fault lines” separating current Christian views on political engagement are rapidly growing farther apart. The issue of the demon statue presents a situation where debate, argument, and conversation have little chance of reaching any real compromise or path forward. One Christian sees an opportunity to “highlight the differences between Christ and Satan,” and another sees a blasphemous representation of evil that should be destroyed without thinking twice. One believes that civil disobedience is sinful (except in a few historical instances that tend to include, often exclusively, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and/or MLK). All forms of opposition to the forces of darkness must be accomplished through bureaucratic channels. Many other Christians simply feel guilty for not taking action more immediately, “legal” or not. This last issue of conscience cannot be understated.
Difference of Perspective
Events such as the “demon-goat-head-statue-incident” demonstrate a profound difference in perspective, and they will become more and more commonplace as the American political paradigm shifts to something beyond recognition. It’s worth noting that there are both theological and political paradigms at play.
For example, if a Christian was anti-Covid protocol (especially the jab), didn’t buy into the mainstream narrative of the 2020 election, and would affirm the statement, “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to Christ,” it’s fairly easy to guess what their perspective on Cassidy will be. To this Christian, Cassidy didn’t commit an actual crime, he merely accomplished what any courageous Christian should have done in a “time of the Judges,” – obeyed God rather than man. The reverse is likewise, easy to anticipate.
Principles for Idol Smashing
Perhaps you’re frustrated by Christians who are “raining on the parade” and dedicating their time to making sure that other Christians don’t “take the bait” and never do anything that even remotely smacks of aggression. Or, perhaps conversely you’re frustrated by the “based-bros” high-fiving each other and making endless comparisons to St. Boniface. Either way, here are 3 principles for smashing idols to consider as more Christians gain the gumption to start taking them down:
1) Consider Your Culture
Cultural context matters, and Des Moines Iowa isn’t the same as Salem, Massachusetts. This is a hard sell in the “America is an idea” paradigm that most of us have been brought up in, but it’s intuitively obvious. This doesn’t mean that a satanic emblem in Salam shouldn’t be torn down, but it’s going to be much harder to find someone willing to do so and care enough to remove one from among the many. Also, a statue in a place of public rule can have many functions. Some are meant to purposely discourage and demoralize a population (like LGBT emblems). This particular case seems almost like a challenge, as a statue of Satan is not merely “another faith,” but the antithesis of the one true faith. It’s worth asking whether or not physical action will result in support or condemnation of the surrounding culture, as that will be indicative of just how Christian it actually is.
2) Consider Biblical Context
As with the beginning of this piece, Gideon comes immediately to mind when considering idol-destroying. But it’s worth noting that other examples of responses to idolatry in Scripture are contingent on context. It’s been frequently pointed out that Paul didn’t tear down idols on Mars Hill – rather, he reasoned with those who venerated them using their philosophers and teachers. However, Jesus didn’t do much reasoning when he cast out the idolatry of mammon from the Temple with a bullwhip. Working through the Scriptural examples is key to determining whether or not taking physical action is the right course. Elijah, Daniel, David, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, as well as a host of examples from church history, are worth examining before coming to an immediate conclusion. It’s worth remembering that many of these great men acted differently depending on calling and context.
3) Consider Your Calling
It’s also worth noting that not everyone is, or needs to be Michael Cassidy. If you feel guilty because you didn’t take the statue down yourself but you live in Perth, Australia, that’s a whole lot different than if you were an Iowa State Representative and lay pastor who walked by it each morning. There are practical considerations to take into account. If you’re upset with Cassidy for his “act of vandalism,” it’s also worth considering that Christianity is a faith of conscience, and “that which does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). God does not call all to the same path in every facet of life. He also redeems even those whose theology you disagree with and works through imperfect vessels, sanctifying them and bringing about His will through them. If there is an idol in your presence, it doesn’t mean that you must smash it. But it also doesn’t mean you mustn’t. Seek His will, and consider your calling.
“Don’t Devour One-Another”
It’s hard to conceive of a Christian being upset that any monument dedicated to the greatest evil in the universe is no longer standing. That being said, the paradigm shift of a post-Christian America/West will be messy – as with the Covid Saga, many are sifting through questions that they never thought they’d have to consider. Regardless of your view on how the statue should be dealt with, it’s important to take Paul’s words in Galatians 5 to heart:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
As we shine as lights in the darkness, let us not devour one another. Let us not use the tools of the enemy to destroy our brothers. Let us love and support one another as we seek answers to difficult issues in the Word of God.
And let us smash idols together. Be it the idols of our own hearts, or the one sitting on the pedestal in front of us that we’ve been called to tear down.