College President Gene Nichol defended his controversial decision to remove the cross from the altar of the Wren Chapel during his opening remarks at the Nov. 16 Board of Visitors meeting. Groups that oppose the decision have voiced their desire for the cross to be returned through a website, savethewrencross.org, a petition and numerous letters and e-mails to the College.
p. Nichol began his comments by acknowledging the many dissenters.
p. “Some have thought that my steps disrespect the traditions of the College or, even more unacceptable, the religious beliefs of its members,” he said, the Office of University Relations reported. “That perception lies heavy on my heart. I understand that I tread on difficult ground.”
p. He said that the Wren Chapel is very important to all of the College’s students, so it should not belong to students of a single religion.
p. “Though we haven’t meant to do so, the display of a Christian cross — the most potent symbol of my own religion — in the heart of our most important building sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than others,” he said.
p. Nichol concluded his comments by saying that more students would be comfortable in the Wren Chapel if it did not display such strong Christian iconography.
p. “Amidst the turmoil, the cross continues to be displayed on a frequent basis,” he said. “I have been pleased to learn that students of disparate religions have reported using the chapel for worship and contemplation for the first time. In the College’s family, there should be no outsiders. All belong.”
p. During the BOV meeting, Nichol also noted the appointment of College alumnus Robert Gates as United States secretary of defense, the high graduation rate of student-athletes, monetary gifts made toward the College Capital Campaign and other positive issues.
p. Rector Michael Powell followed Nichol’s comments with an expression of support.
p. “It is clear from your report that there are a lot of great things going on here, even the occasional controversy,” Powell said. “In all that you do, you continue to make this board proud, and we’re grateful for your leadership.”
p. The BOV did not publicly express any dissent toward Nichol’s decision to remove the cross.
p. The Nov. 28 edition of The Daily Press reported that the leaders of savethewrencross.org received only one letter complaining about the cross being on the altar permanently in response to their request for letters written to Nichol voicing concerns regarding the cross’s display.
p. Director of News Services Brian Whitson responded by saying that most of the people concerned about the cross talked to Nichol in person.
p. “The president feels strongly that this marvelous chapel should be welcoming and open to all members of the College community,” Whitson said. “That is why he made the decision.”