Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Permanent Place Picked for Wren Chapel Cross, I Heard

I thought that March 6, 2007 heralded Armistice Day for the War of the Wren Cross. It seemed that threats by an unnamed donor to withdraw $12 million in funding from the college had the intended effect of driving President Nichol to reconsider his position. In keeping with the bureaucratic method, President Nichol formed his hand-picked Committee on Religion in a Public University to study options. They had magnanimously recommended the Cross’s deliverance from the closet of darkness to the light of the Wren Chapel.

Ah, victory—peace at last.

And then came the reality of the proffered treaty. It failed the smell test. There’s something about the display and placement of the cross in the Chapel that stinks like a pair of old gym shoes.

At the risk of dating myself, I remember the days in elementary school when the teacher would remove a rebellious and distracting child by making him sit in the corner facing the wall. The Cross shall suffer the same humiliation. The Cross that distracts from the doctrine of political correctness, the Cross that leads the rebels of tribal exclusivity, shall sit entombed in a glass box in a shadow-swaddled corner of the Chapel.

The Committee offered to place the cross “in a prominent, readily visible place…,” non-committal words, those. The Committee never intended to include the altar as an option for prominent display. According to Webster’s Dictionary, prominence means “conspicuous, noticeable at once”—in other words, where one’s attention is drawn. I suppose compared to where the cross has been displayed the last few months—in a closet smothered in blinding darkness—anywhere in the Chapel can be defined as prominent. If the committee meant “prominent” according to the universally accepted definition of the word, then they should have recommended that the cross be placed at the location where attention is drawn: the altar.

The Committee’s decision to confine the Cross chaps my backside even worse than the intended placement. Even with an accompanying sign to explain the College’s Anglican roots, sealing the Cross in a glass box has the psychological effect of erecting a wall between the Cross’s historical identity of the past and its active meaning today. Caging the Cross diminishes its significance as a piece of living history and reduces it to a meaningless, dusty old museum relic—like old bones. Yet other potential religious displays in the historically Christian chapel will have no such restraint. The rule that now requires the Cross to remain in the Chapel during all other types of ceremonies and meetings is pointless. Who would be offended by old bones?

Mr. Nichol’s propaganda machine, aka his religion committee, has a purported mission to explore the role of religion in the public university, whatever that means. Mr. Nichol’s bureaucratic edict for this bureaucratic arm is nothing more than a magician’s misdirection. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Rather, know that this whole process demonstrates that the Cross is neither equal to other symbols nor particularly welcome anymore in its own historical house. To the perpetually offended few this is a good thing. But the placement-and-display decision is not a solution but only a first step toward the real goal: a return to the status quo of October ’06.


At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The many of us who care about William and Mary are very concerned that this "cross under glass" decision will not help to bring back the donors. People are hurt and offended by the actions of President Nichol and many of us do not believe this is the correct solution.


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