Monday, November 27, 2006

Wren Cross - Gene Nichol's to the Board of Visitors (11-20-2006)

The following is Nichol's full statement about the Wren Cross before Board of Visitors. From the W&M News Service: Nichol discusses Wren cross decision with BOV Nichol discusses Wren cross decision with BOV News · W&M News · Notes · Wren Chapel cross Author: Staff, Source: W&M Notes Date: Nov 20, 2006 Several weeks ago, President Gene R. Nichol asked the director of the historic campus to change College practice and display the table cross in the Wren Chapel only during Christian religious services or, as requested, for individual worship. The decision generated much debate on campus and in the editorial pages of several regional newspapers (see below). On Nov. 16, Nichol read, in part, the following statement concerning the decision at the meeting of the Board of Visitors. —Ed. I’d … begin by saying a word about my decision to alter our practice of displaying the cross in the Wren Chapel. It will not surprise you that I have heard much about these actions. Some have expressed approval. Others have registered disagreement, or worse. The student assembly has considered the matter. Discussion has occurred in our faculty councils. An on-line petition has been assembled. University officials have received letters, e-mails and phone calls. Board members have as well. Some have thought that my steps disrespect the traditions of the College, or, even more unacceptably, the religious beliefs of its members. That perception lies heavy on my heart. I understand that I tread on difficult ground. It is, by now, well known that I am taken with William and Mary students. All William and Mary students. And 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 to others. That there are, at the College, insiders and outsiders. Those for whom our most revered place is meant to be keenly welcoming, and those for whom presence is only tolerated. That distinction, I believe, to be contrary to the best values of the College. It is precisely because the Wren Chapel touches the best in us—the brightened lamp, the extended hand, the opened door, the call of character, the charge of faith, the test of courage—that it is essential it belong to everyone. There is no alternate Wren Chapel, no analogous venue, no substitute space. Nor could there be. The Wren is no mere museum or artifact. It touches every student who enrolls at the College. It defines us. And it must define us all. I make no pretense that all will agree with these sentiments. The emotions and values touched by this dispute are deeply felt. But difficult issues are the grist of great universities. Amidst the turmoil, the cross continues to be displayed on a frequent basis. 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. ------------- If you are a graduate or a student of The College of William and Mary, you may be embarrassed by the words of the current president. They must be growing thin-skinned students at The College of William and Mary these days in general because I have travelled around much of the world, visited Tao Temples in China, visited Buddhist Temples in Thailand and Japan, visited Catholic Churches, visited Westminster Abbey - and in no case did I feel unwelcomed nor did I feel that I could not pray or worship the God in whom I believe. The removal of the Wren Cross is like a rape, a violation. The Wren Chapel without its Wren Cross is an empty place, devoid of the solemn majesty that guarantees all of us freedom of religion. It is a sad day when Christians have to plead, to ask permission from a secular authority that the Wren Cross be taken out from under lock and key so that it may be placed upon the altar in the Wren Chapel. Shame on the one letter writer who complained not knowing that in their "victory" stands the means for their defeat. And shame on the Board of Visitors for allowing such a disgraceful display. It is more than a present-day disgrace. The action is an overt "slap in the face" of the men and women who gave their lives centuries ago in Virginia, in Williamsburg, fighting to build our great nation to have the Wren Cross removed and the Wren Chapel belittled in this way. [For interested readers, The College of William and Mary has not always been a state school in the same sense as the University of Virginia has for example.]

17 Comments:

Anonymous Perri Nelson said...

Great post.
Mr. Nichol's actions lead to the perception that he views the Christian faith as somehow inferior to the faith and belief of non-Christians. This should more than weigh heavily on his heart. It should shame him.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

The folks at SavetheWrenCross.org seem to be on the case - big time. We are in for a rough time, maybe. No nativity scene in NY but the others???? Supreme Court hearing the case or may be hearing the case right now.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Shoulung said...

What an f'ing 'tard.
This is unbelievable.
I am speechless. Mr. Nichols evidently welcomes our new Shari'a overlords.

God save us.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Yes, I have to keep reminding myself that God is in charge.

12:51 AM  
Blogger james higham said...

Post going up immediately. Check in 15 minutes.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Thank you, James.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

It's sad to see discourse on religious freedom degenerate into name-calling: "whiny baby-student(s)"? "What an f'ing 'tard"?

That pointed out, I wonder at the reasoning dictating that the right of one religious group to have its symbol displayed during non-religious events at a state-funded institution supercedes the right of all others to attend such non-religious events without the implicit favoring of one religion over any other. If the chapel and cross can still be used for religious events and private devotion, why is it important that Christianity be on display for non-religious events?

I'm honestly trying to understand that argument - I'm not trying to be rhetorical or disingenuous in asking that question. I would be interested in an honest answer from anyone who cares to respond.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Okay, Sarah, point well taken. I won't call them "whiny baby-students" again. The entire event seems to have been initiated by one letter of complaint.

The Wren Chapel is a Christian Chapel. People who wish to practice other "religious" services there ( a distinct minority) only have to ask that the Wren Cross be removed during their service.

Won't defend myself for calling them "whiny baby-students" just when I graduated from W&M, we seemed to have more tolerance, not less.

Have you been to the SavetheWrenCross.org site? That might offer more insight. Why in a Christian Chapel should a Christian students have to ask that the cross be dug out of a locked closet so that they can use it?

I shall amend my ways and refrain from calling them "whiny baby-students" because for all I know someone put some letter writer up to sending the one letter of complaint in the first place.

The Wren Chapel is not a meeting place for any old purpose, it is primarily for religious activities. The policy has always been that when a non-Christian group wanted to hold devotions there and they choose to do so, they could ask that the Cross be removed. That has been the policy for over 70 years. Also, The College of William and Mary was not founded as a sectarian college back in 1699. Please visit the .org site and also got to some of the links I've provided in earlier posts on this subject. They are full of information. At least, I found it good.

Thank you for your comments. We just need to hold on to some traditions or we have none. Perhaps that is the point - to have none.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

Sarah, you made your point with calling me a "fr''gn 'tard" which is slightly more harsh, don't you think? It is certainly not accurate given the general standards of measurement. But, you made your point.

Your comments are good but if you resort to calling me by what could be classified as profanity, those good comments will not get posted here and your comments are valuable. Stay safe...

11:37 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

To clarify, I was simply quoting one of your other commenters, who appeared to otherwise be in agreement with your post:

"Shoulung said...

What an f'ing 'tard.
This is unbelievable.
I am speechless. Mr. Nichols evidently welcomes our new Shari'a overlords.

God save us.
11:12 PM"

You even replied to their comment, so I assume you read it. That is why I included it in quotation marks in my original comment. I apologize if it came off as me calling you that name - it was certainly not my intent.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Beach Girl said...

No problem - I've been up too long and nursing a migraine. You have good comments. Do check some of the links I have in several other articles about the Wren Cross. The information is quite good.

Stay safe...

2:59 PM  
Blogger Steve Harkonnen said...

As you already know, I sent an email to Nichols, voicing my disapproval. I have yet to get a response from him.

So, with that, the emails will continue on a daily basis until I hear from him, at which time I will send you his response and please feel free to post it as you wish on your blog.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first came to Williamsburg in 1974 as an incoming freshman at the College of William and Mary, and though I spent a year away after graduation, I returned to Williamsburg and have lived here ever since. I have been in the history field for 26 years, working for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. I spent ten years of that time mostly at the Wren Building, presenting the colonial history of the college.
I feel obliged to point out certain things in regard to the present controversy over the altar cross in the college chapel. The college was established by royal charter in 1693 as an organ of the Protestant Episcopal Church of England, and was maintained as such until 1776. Nearly all the faculty were clergymen, and the avowed purpose of the college was to train Christian ministers. In the colonial era, the Church of England was decidedly more Protestant than it has been more recently. The Rev. James Blair was the founder and for fifty years (1693-1743) served as the first president of the college. All the college buildings built before the 20th century were built during his administration, including the chapel wing of the “Wren” building.
The Rev. Mr. Blair would never have permitted a cross to be displayed on the chapel altar. Mr. Blair would have regarded such an ornament as an idolatrous relic of Roman Catholic superstition. Neither was an altar cross employed in any other church in Virginia during the 17th or 18th centuries.
In 1777, the Rev. James Madison became president of the college. He would soon become the first Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. He served as president for 35 years, well into the term of his cousin James Madison as President of the United States. The Rev. Mr. Madison worked hand-in-hand with William and Mary alumnus Governor Thomas Jefferson to reinvent the college in 1779. The school of divinity was dropped in favor of a law school and a medical school (the med school didn’t make it), and for the first time non-Episcopalians were admitted to the college. Thus the college became a private, essentially secular institution. Bishop Madison was a firm believer in moving with the times. Tyranny and autocracy was out; liberty was in. Bishop Madison was said to sometimes speak of the Republic of Heaven in his sermons rather than the Kingdom of Heaven.
In 1786, Virginia adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom that requires Virginia to be entirely neutral on religious questions, and give no persons privilege or advantage, penalty or disadvantage in regard to their religious beliefs. Virginia became a beacon of religious liberty at that moment. The strict separation of church and state had been fought for in Virginia, long and hard, by Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Quakers, Mennonites, Jews, and the new denomination of Methodists.
Private institutions are under no obligation to be neutral, of course, but public institutions are.
A century ago the trustees of the college appealed to the state for support, and in 1906 the college became a public institution, and all college property was transferred to the state. This did not mean that the college was now welcoming to all Virginians. African Americans (and other non-white persons) and women were still forbidden to attend. In 1919 the first woman was admitted to the college, but the first black undergraduate was not admitted until the 1960s. Each time one of these new groups was allowed to enter the college, there were alumni and students who protested against the violation of the traditions of the college, and bemoaned the demographic change in the student body.
In 1907 the local Episcopal Church, Bruton Parish, acquired by gift a rather plain brass cross for it altar; the first altar cross in the church’s history. In 1938, they acquired a better one, and donated the old one to the college. This was put on display in the Wren chapel in 1940. The chapel had stood for 200 years and been through several remodelings and rebuildings without anyone thinking to add a cross to the altar.
In 2006 college president Gene Nichol decided to return the college chapel to its pre-1940 appearance by storing the cross when not actually in use for a program in the chapel sacristy, a small room originally provided for the storing of clerical vestments and possibly communion vessels.
Nichol’s intention was to make the college chapel more religiously neutral and equally welcoming to all college students, and not merely to 75% who avow themselves Christians.
Much to his astonishment, this has raised a storm of protest among some students and alumni, and even more so among many who have no direct connection to the college.

Those campaigning to “Save the Wren Cross” have fallen into several errors.
The cross has not actually been removed; it has been moved five yards or so to the sacristy where is available for anyone who would like to have it displayed for their use.
Moving the cross is not breaking an ancient tradition. People easily fall into the fallacy of thinking that if something has been around for “as long as anyone can remember” then it has always been around. There was no cross in the Wren chapel for over 200 years. As the chapel was restored in 1931 to its colonial-era appearance, the presence of the cross is an anachronism, and historically improper.
Moving the cross is not an insult to the college’s Christian origins. In fact, placing the cross on the altar is an insult to the college’s Protestant origins. Neither the founder of the college, Rev. Mr. Blair, nor the reinventor of the college, Bishop Madison, would have tolerated a cross on the altar. (Bishop Madison and his cousin the president were both great supporters of the Statute for Religious Freedom, and were opposed to religious favoritism in state institutions.) At no point in the college history has anyone thought a cross necessary there until now. There would never have been a cross in the chapel if Bruton Church had not thought this one no longer good enough for the church, and replaced it with a better one. The college received this one almost by accident as a hand-me-down.
Moving the cross does not make the chapel less of a Christian space, unless religion is to be regarded chiefly as a matter of brass ornaments. If the essence of Christianity is the displaying of altar crosses in houses of worship, then colonial America was anti-Christian, for the laws of that era were strongly against the Roman Catholic church, the only sect in colonial America that approved of displaying crosses on altars, or using them as an object of veneration.
Moving the cross does not put Christians at a disadvantage at the college. There are several large churches adjoining campus; there are a dozen more within easy reach. There is also a small synagogue, but there is no mosque, no Buddhist or Hindu shrine, and no other place on campus suitable for religious observances or meditations. Christians constitute a clear (but not overwhelming) majority of the student body.
Moving the cross was not bowing to pressure from the “politically correct”or the perpetually offended. It was an act of simple hospitality, conveying the message that the college chapel is equally a place for all the college students and community, not merely for most. The chapel and the cross are both as much available for Christian purposes as they ever were.
The chapel of the college should be a space that all can share on an equal basis.
Kept to its ancient and traditional form, it is a space to which people can bring their own spiritual furniture, internal or external.
The perpetual display of the altar cross thus has only one purpose: to assert Christian ownership of the chapel, and thus of the college.
The message of the “Save the Wren Cross” organization to the larger college community is simple: “This place belongs to us, not to you. We will graciously allow you to use our space, and we will even allow you to temporarily remove our cross when you are too sensitive to tolerate its presence, thus demonstrating our generosity and moral superiority. You must always remember, however, that you are a guest in our institution, not an equal member or partner.”
To reinstate the cross now to permanent display would be to abandon hospitality, equality, and tradition in favor of consciously conferring privileged status on some because they have yelled loud and long enough to compell it. To reinstate the cross now would be, in fact, to abandon principle to placate the perpetually offended. It is true, the college was once a Christian institution; it was in fact a white, male, Protestant Christian institution. It is no longer. It is high time the policies of the college reflect reality.
This debate is not about tradition, or history, or spirituality, or religion. It is about whether the chapel and the college exist equally for the benefit for all members of the college community, or only for some.
As a William and Mary alumnus, a 30-year member of the Williamsburg community, and a historian, I applaud the action President Nichol has taken to restore the chapel to its 17th century appearance and simutaneously open its doors wider than ever before to let in the 21st century.

--- B. J. Pryor
Williamsburg, Virginia

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To carry the Cross,

It is interesting to read the tolerant and secular scribes for humanity who are so quick to categorize the Cross as just another symbol of faith and argue that compromise, or sacrifice, is what will build a peaceful and just society. I am writing to respond to the historian. Thank you for your lecture and let me be the first to show you your errors. First, if you are going to write, “I have been in the history field for 26 years”, then do not blush when I say your facts cannot merge with your wishful thinking. I carry the cross on my left arm because of my faith and so that people like you will not be able to take it down for reasons of tolerance. Luke 14:27 is my citation. Oh, your the historian so citations were not necessary for you. Luke 14:27 states clearly that the Cross is not a Catholic “symbol”. It says that those who will not carry their cross and follow Jesus cannot be his disciples. This means removing the cross has just as much meaning as say Israel being taken away from the Jewish people or negative things said about Muhammad to Muslims. What is the meaning of being a follower of Jesus and carrying our crosses? It means to sacrifice our time and effort and possibly our lives in this world to help those around us. It's interesting that you would classify Christians as bigots by writing about the placement of the Cross and writing about the lack of equality the College had. The two are independent of one another. Did you know that your facts lack citation? I disagree with your dates since you provide no reference that certain events took place. If you are the historian and wish Christians to agree with your argument; provide references. I agree tolerance is important, but at whose loss? Certainly not the board of trustees, unless funding is altered. But what of us folks who care for tradition as a mystical experience? Let us discuss the Jewish people and their Shoah and their Israel. It is factually true Jewish people suffered. What of the American Indians? But one group has land and the other does not! Or perhaps we can talk of the Slave trade and more facts related to the College, but of course you would rather point out,

“A century ago the trustees of the college appealed to the state for support, and in 1906 the college became a public institution, and all college property was transferred to the state. This did not mean that the college was now welcoming to all Virginians. African Americans (and other non-white persons) and women were still forbidden to attend. In 1919 the first woman was admitted to the college, but the first black undergraduate was not admitted until the 1960s.”

And finally, the error sir is your lack of understanding of what the Cross means to Christians. The removal of the Cross is a declaration and statement. The crosses, which represent the fundamental essence of Christianity, are not just symbols as you would like to believe. The removal of it, of which I am only a mere observer, is another blow to America's greatness. What would become of a nation without a religion if you are truly the historian you claim to be? Why is Israel so important to the Jewish people if religion is something best kept behind closed doors? Why do Muslims care so much about their “Law”, Shari'a, if separation of Church and State is to be of necessity? I really believe you are either paid off to write on this blog as an objective dispenser of facts or are just a bigot who is living in a theoretical world of politics without the influence of the mystical nature of faith. As a Christian I ask Jesus to help you understand that when we compromise, it is in remembrance of the crucifixion and not because we believe that those in authority made the right and just decision. The crucifixion took place under whose authority? And I suppose under that same, secular authority, the removal of the Cross again takes place. It was always, and will always be wrong for Christians to persecute the Jewish people because the real enemy of us Christians is the secular establishment who do not believe in the mysteries surrounding God and His people as well as the disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Just a Christian

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One blogger wrote that "much to his astonishment", poor innocent Gene has been blasted for his cross theft. HELLO? Where does Gene live, la-la land? Please, what a pathetic bunch of BS. You know very well that Nichol is quite aware of the current PC war on Christianity. Or has he been asleep for the last 10 years? Does he not own a TV? He's not heard of the "culture war"? (He certainly must have been at least semi-awake during his ACLU meetings.) Unless we have a 13-year old child for President, how could he not be aware of the stink his actions would cause? And if he really is that ignorant and incompetent, should he really be President? For those of you defending Gene for his cluelessness and his supposed "innocence", please spare us your ridiculous notions of poor, downtrodden, innocent Gene. We're not that stupid, you're not that stupid, and if Gene really is as stupid as you seem to indicate, he needs to go.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, this one takes the proverbial cake: "I applaud the action President Nichol has taken to restore the chapel to its 17th century appearance". Well, I hardily boooooo your ridiculous attempt to make excuses for Gene's PC campaign. Gene as a historical recreator? What utter nonsense. Then he should be running Colonial Williamsburg, not W&M. He could do some additional restoration work by recruiting colonial whore re-enactors and have them ply their services on DOG Street. The "sex worker artist show" would then have a permanent home.

Is that what they now teach at the College? Sophistry, socialism and sex and stupidity? I better get myself a community college degree and flush the W&M sheepskin. So you're a "historian"? Right. Tell me, historian, since when did the College president become Bishop of Wren? We're all the presidents of the last 70 years just bigots and fill-in-the-blank o'phobes?

Gene is ACLU through and through, palin and simple. He could care less about restoring anything, much less a chapel. He walks like a duck, talks like a duck... he's a duck. Sorry, "historian", you need to repeat US History... high school level. And get some new glasses. You can't see the ACLU lawyer for the duck feathers. Gene as a chapel restorer... what a laugh.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodness, look at all my typos... (I was angry right down to my finger tips!) we're=were palin=plain "sex and stupidity"="sex & stupidity", etc. Can't do much about the misspellings. W/O spell check I'm hopeless.

While I'm here, let's put one more nail into that "Gene as Pope Innocence" coffin. Wasn't his wife involved in another anti=Christian campaign at UNC? As University Counsel didn't she try and disenfranchise several Christian groups on campus but eventually lost after a federal lawsuit? (We won't talk about all the UNC money wasted in court or decreased alumni support for that little stunt.) So where was Gene during all this? Asleep again? I suppose as a good lawyer he recused himself. I can see them together in bed at night: She starts to talk about those SOB Christians and Gene sticks his fingers in his ears and goes, "la la la la, can't hear you!, la la la". [I admire him even more now. I've used the same technique myself but usually for more mundane subjects like redecorating the den or yard work.] Are you really telling me that after that huge mess at UNC he learned nothing at all? Really? Nothing!? That experience did not even provide the tiniest clue for his present dilema? So he's not only not very smart he's also untrainable? Is that really what you're telling us?

Gene as innocent, surprised, unaware, or, most idiotic, 17th century restorer, are simply unbelievable and not worthy of any further consideration. Gene is a politically correct crusader and the cross removal was his attmept to use raw power to impose his political will on campus. Furthermore, his inability to back up his claims of even small numbers of so-called "offended" persons seems to indicate the entire incident was invented by him from whole cloth. I suppose his supporters would prefer that he's regarded as just a bit naive rather than a calculating politician and prevaricator. Unfortunately, their agruments are reinforcing the latter rather than the former. Nor does it help that they slavishly try to divert every discussion away from the overwhelming POLITICAL implications and onto frivilous subjects. Besides, Gene now has the Queen to distract us, so he doesn't need your help right now, thank you very much. Come back later to tell us how "off guard" Gene found himself when he changed the Yule Log ceremony to the Winter Log ceremony, took all references to God out of the Alma Matter, ended the fraternity system, or invited Ward Churchill to take over the Brafferton along with a group of other fake American Indians.

10:48 AM  

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