Symbol of Faith, Symbol of Controversy

February 8, 2007

Source: The Roanoke Times

The decision by the College of William and Mary's president to remove a cross from the college's historic Wren Chapel sent an appropriate message of inclusiveness to the campus community.

At a college with increasing religious diversity, Gene Nichol was correct in his step to make the chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths. The centuries-old chapel, which had no cross until the one removed was put on display in the 1940s, is being used more for nonreligious events.

Opponents have criticized Nichol's decision as overly politically correct. His decision has been called "a dramatic erosion" of the college's historic identity, signaling "a new tolerance for the intolerant."

Who's intolerant here? It is difficult to lend serious credence to arguments that fail to acknowledge diversity. Displaying a cross, as Nichol said, "sends an unmistakable message that the chapel belongs more fully to some of us than to others."

That same failure lies in arguments against using the Quran instead of the Bible at an unofficial congressional swearing-in. It lies in the flap over what to call trees decorated during the month of December.

Symbols -- including those of our faiths -- can be interpreted as exclusionary. The problem is not that the symbols offend, but that they shut out those who don't share the same beliefs.