Wren cross controversy overrated

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February 13, 2007

9:12 AM

Over the past few months, there have been numerous and varied reactions to President Gene Nichol’s decision to alter the display times of the Wren cross. The most vocal reactions, unsurprisingly, have come from those who have felt offense, disappointment and outrage over this action, and most who have objected to the President’s decision seem to have done so for religious reasons. My reaction to the Wren cross situation comes from a similar place.

p. It is partly because of my religious upbringing and background that I do not object to Nichol’s decision. I was raised and confirmed as a Roman Catholic, a religion which uses the crucifix, a cross depicting the actual body of Jesus. We pray to the cross, our priest enters the church behind a cross, an enormous cross hangs behind our altar and most traditional Catholic churches are actually shaped like crosses.

p. When Catholics make the sign of the cross (a ritual hand motion tracing the cross on one’s body), we recite, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” articulating the significance of our movements. There has never been a doubt in my mind what the cross symbolizes for Catholics — a constant, and quite literal, reminder of faith.

p. I have now started attending a non-denominational evangelistic (not to be confused with evangelical) church. Over the course of our four-hour services, there is rarely ever a mention of the cross, and I have not noticed a cross hanging in the church building. The use of a cross is just one of the many distinct differences between these two denominations of Christianity, and yet, their foundational beliefs are still the same.

p. Essentially, I see no hindrance of faith caused by Nichol’s decision. My religious beliefs have always been extremely personal, and have not changed with the scenery, symbolism or rhetoric of my church experiences. I do not see how changing the Wren cross’s presence from “permanent” to “every Sunday, and whenever it is requested” stands in the way of Christian worship. I can understand how the presence of a permanent cross could offend non-Christians; what I do not understand is the lack of a permanent cross’s ability to offend. The presence of a physical cross may add to one’s religious experience, but its absence should have no bearing on one’s capacity for prayer, meditation or contemplation.

p. It is clear that when President Nichol made his original decision, he had no idea that the outrage would be so great. I believe that he made his decision based on comments he’d received from students and chose to alter the display times of the cross accordingly. While I certainly understand and agree with the point many have made asserting that our president should not unilaterally make controversial decisions (and while I clearly do not speak for Nichol), I contend that he did not foresee the controversy that would arise.

p. It is ridiculous to assume that Nichol would make the decision he did knowing that people would react with such fervor. The fact that his decision has turned into a controversy does not indicate a secret agenda, nor a lack of desire to consult with others on difficult issues. It is my opinion that Nichol has been criticized too harshly for this “unilateral decision” when he makes countless others on a daily basis — it is the job he was hired by this College to perform.

p. At this point it is clear that no matter what consensus is reached there will be disappointed individuals, since many personal opinions and beliefs are involved. Perhaps, then, we should take a look at what facts we have available to us. Professor Holmes from the College’s religious studies department has shown that not permanently displaying the cross does not offend history — the Wren Chapel never even had a cross until the 1930s.

p. At last week’s Board of Visitors’ meeting, College alumnus and leader of OurCampusUnited.org, Brian Cannon (‘04) revealed the extent to which outsiders have jumped onto this issue: a whopping 70 percent of the signatures from the “Save the Wren Cross” petition are from individuals with no affiliation to the College. James Ambrose, the student liason to the BOV, added that, from his conversations on campus, most students seem to think that the Wren cross is not a significant issue, and generally approve of Nichol’s performance over the past year.

p. It seems to me that the voice of protest against Nichol’s decision has been dominated by outside parties and political operatives. While I respect the dissenting opinion, I would much rather hear from those affiliated with the College who disagree with Nichol’s decision, not outsiders taking on the cause themselves for political gain. In fact, I would love to see a civilized discussion about this issue among students, an important population whose views on the matter (on both sides) have not been taken enough into consideration.

__Devan Barber, a junior at the College, is a Staff Columnist. Her columns appear every Tuesday.__

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