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in october 2006, the school’s president removed a cross from permanent display on the altar of the college’s Wren Chapel saying it was important for people of all faiths to feel welcomed in the college’s buildings.
that cross is still available (and actively used) for christian services, but would not be displayed by default.
a frenzy of opposition arose, largely from outside the college community. one petition collected 10,000 signatures demanding the “return” of the cross, but less than 30% of the signers had ever been affiliated with the school.
what few people know is that the cross isn’t actually property of the school — it has been loaned by bruton parish church (and caterbury, the parish’s college community) in 1931.
and, for the two hundred and fifty odd years before that loan in 1931, the chapel was without a cross of any kind — as no Anglican Virginia church displayed a cross during the colonial period.
but, just as in the pledge of allegiance — in which the divisive “under god” phrase wasn’t added until the mccarthy fueled 1950s but is seen by some elements as being core to the pledge itself — historical fact has little to bear on modern controversy.
during the late 1990s, i was the liturgist for caterbury (the “owners” of the wren cross) and was the person responsible for both the only regular service in which the was used and (in as much as anyone) for the cross itself.
while i didn’t threaten to revoke a $12 million donation to the school over the issue, you could argue i’d be one of the people most emotionally outraged by the wren cross controversy.
but i’m not.
why? because i’m comfortable in my Christianity, and as such I don’t need to cling to iconography to support my religious beliefs. i also feel like we all paid tuition to this great college without regard of our religion — and as such, we should all feel equally welcome in the college’s buildings.
unfortunately, the school’s president Gene Nichol resigned this morning — under pressure from alumni withdrawing donations from the school — for having these very same constitutionally guided views.
and while i know that the College won’t even notice, after much deliberation i have decided that I can no longer financially support a school that succumbs to such petty partisanship and radically exclusive views — even though i’ve been supporting the school financially every year since 1995.
i can only hope that someone comes along to right this ship, but that won’t happen so long as the campus remains obsessed with the views of fringe elements from outside it’s walls.