I have always enjoyed writing, but the writing bug really bit me in college when I started writing a column for my college's newspaper, the Wartburg Trumpet.
In reviewing some previous columns while going through a flashdrive recently, I came across a few that I thought I would share here. Tonight's comes from January 15, 2001. At the time, Wartburg was in the "talking phase" about the plans for a new student center. In the old one there was a chapel. The talk that was making some people mad was that the chapel was going to be replaced with an interfaith room instead. Students were irate, especially at a Lutheran college. I had another view on the matter.
Discrimination is discrimination
Being a college of the church means we should act like one
Wartburg Trumpet, January 15, 2001 By: Chris Thomas
In this line of work, I don't go searching for controversy and pressing issues; they somehow seem to find me, especially after two-and-a-half years of writing my opinions. This week is no different. Here's the story.
Wartburg College is in the process of designing a new student union. Something we can all agree that we desperately need. However, that isn't the issue. The issue is the Danforth Chapel and whether it will stay or go. When that is settled the next issue is what will replace it. The architects are recommending a meditation room, which would be a place where people of all faiths can come to pray, think and reflect. This has some of the campus up in arms. How could we, a good Christian, Lutheran institution aid the worshiping of other gods? Others say that it is everyone's right to worship who they want. Some call it freedom of religion. I think it is in the constitution.
As you can probably tell, I am with the people who would like to see an inter-faith meditation room as part of our new student union. And of course, let me tell you why. First of all, using the argument that we are affiliated with the ELCA is not really a strong point. Yes, we are a college of the church; but by being a college of the church, that does not make us a church. If this issue was raised at a local church, the obvious answer is no, an inter-faith room is not right. But since Wartburg is a college and not a church, why is it wrong? If we as a college are going to recruit international students and students of other faiths then they should have a place where they can feel safe and worship as well.
Second, if we do not allow other faiths to worship on campus, we are in turn saying that we shouldn't allow other faiths on campus. By this theory, someone should go over to the Vogel Library and remove all non-Christian books and the world religion class should be removed from the religion department.
Third, if we build a Christian-only worship room, what type of Christians are going to be allowed? I am an ELCA Lutheran. But if we are going to discriminate on the basis of religion, why stop with other faiths? Let's restrict the rooms use to only ELCA Lutherans. No Catholics, Methodists or Baptists. Sorry as well to all you Missouri Synod Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Church of Christ members as well. If we are going to discriminate, let's go all out.
Are my statements a little strong? Yes they are. But so are the statements that other faiths should not be allowed to practice their religions on campus. By allowing other faiths to practice on campus you are not denying your own faith. No one is going to make Christians worship Buddha or Buddhists worship Jesus. That is not what this is about. Not allowing other faiths to practice just shows everyone how closed-minded we are as a campus.
Maybe if you took the time to learn a little about other religions you could actually strengthen your own faith. In Philippians 4:8 (and yes, I'm actually quoting the Bible), Paul said, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is a lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or worthy of praise-think about such things."
Paul didn't say convert to Islam, he simply said think about such things. Maybe we can learn from each other and from each other's faiths and practices. But if nobody gives anybody else a chance, where will we be then?
As a side note. It is now 11 years later. The new student center has been built. The chapel is indeed gone, replaced by the Lilly Reflection Room...an inter-faith room meant to be used by students and faculty of all faiths. That makes me feel good.
Chris Thomas is a full-time teacher, part-time freelance writing, father of three, and most importantly, a very, very tired man.
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