Tom Gilson

Facts, Values, and the Wren Chapel Cross

Gene Nichols resigned as president of the College of William and Mary–just five miles or so from my office–this week. In his resignation letter he listed four things that he thought had led to College’s decision not to renew his contract for next year, which in turn led to his stepping down. The letter includes:

First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events — both voluntary and mandatory — in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.

[From Statement from Gene Nichol: Feb. 12 | University Relations]

A teacher at church this morning said that in effect, Nichols had decided the cross’s presence in the chapel was illegal, exclusivistic, and odious to other groups. (There’s more on that controversy here.) What strikes me is that he did not even address whether the cross represents any actual reality. Whether the Cross of Christ speaks of any truth seems to have become irrelevant. It didn’t even enter into his decision.

Facts and values continue to be separated by miles.

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1 thought on “Facts, Values, and the Wren Chapel Cross

  1. Tom, I interpret his action as a reasonable course when the public (including people of all religions, as well as atheists) disagrees as to the actual truth of what’s behind the cross, and no consensus is forseeable. Its truth *is* functionally irrelevant when all we can do is to agree to disagree, which means privileging no one standpoint on the issue, especially at a public university.

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