Frankenmuth, Michigan is often called “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” both because of it’s rich historical ties to Germany and because nearly 53% of it’s current population boasts German ancestry. The area was settled by conservative Lutheran immigrants in 1845 as a mission post to spread the gospel message to the Chippewa tribe. This history is commemorated on the city seal, which features a “Luther rose” on one side. The stylized rose contains a heart with a simple cross in the center.
Recently, this very seal has been a focus of controversy in the town, and it has been part of a movement which has placed Frankenmuth in the Michigan-and national-news. Back in 2008 The Saginaw News ran a story about St. Lorenz Lutheran Church of Frankenmuth giving away over 800 3-foot high wooden crosses for city residents to display on their lawns. A local construction company, Bavarian Builders, joined the backlash with a cross in front of its company office. Suddenly, little white crosses began to appear on lawns and in the windows of local businesses all over the town.
The unusual protest began when Frankenmuth leaders removed a pair of crosses from a local bridge after a resident, Lloyd C. Clarke, asked them to do so. Clarke stated he believed displaying the crosses on public property violated the federally-mandated separation of church and state.
This caused a stir among other residents… but it wasn’t until Clarke went a step farther that the crosses began to appear. Not long after his success with having the crosses removed, Clarke said he was considering a challenge to the city shield. The highly decorative shield includes, among other symbols, a Lutheran Rose. The symbol, a reminder of the city’s roots, is also a symbol of the Christian faith as a whole, and Clarke thought it also represented a challenge to separation of church and state.
It appears a majority of the town’s residents disagreed with this position, and began looking for a way to express their views. Enter St. Lorenz Lutheran Church and their offer of wooden crosses for anyone wishing to display their faith. The crosses, made by 3 church members, were a hit, and the idea even spread to local businesses.
Bavarian Builders General Manager Bryan P. Hoesman explained his company’s quick response to the issue: “From our standpoint, the Christian heritage of Frankenmuth is an extremely defining point. It’s as important to Frankenmuth as being called Little Bavaria.”
Clarke, who started the whole process, was apparently not bothered by the reaction of other residents and their “little white crosses.” He stated that it was very appropriate to erect such symbols of faith on private property.
Today, over 2 years later, those simple crosses remain in the front yards of Frankenmuth’s Christian residents as a statement of support for the town’s Christian heritage. The incident was largely unreported at the time, but has come to light again when Marci Phares of Bay City sent a letter to The Flint Journal. In it Phares stated, “After passing those crosses for two years, it finally hit me that a small cross in millions of front yards across our country could provide a powerful and inspiring message for all Americans passing them every day.”
Her words were picked up by others and now are part of an e-mail forward called “The Power of One Small Cross.” In the message, Phares notes: “The majority of Americans are Christians, why are we letting this happen to us?”
While the popularity of this e-mail will pass, as these things always do, the silent statement made by hundreds of little white crosses on the lawns of Frankenmuth, Michigan, will long remain as a silent testimony to the faith they represent. And, perhaps, the Christians there might spur others in cities and towns across the country to take a similar stand.