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Christian college removes memorial to martyrs because of 'pejorative' language that called killers 'savage'


Too offensive?

The steeple on the roof of College Church on the campus of Wheaton College collapsed following a severe storm last summer. (Mark Hume/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school in Wheaton, Illinois, announced recently that the institution was removing and updating an on-campus plaque memorializing Christian missionaries who were killed by the South American tribe they were witnessing to.

The reason? The school wants to get rid of "pejorative" language on the memorial that refers to the attacking tribe members as "savage."

Wheaton President Philip Ryken announced the change in a letter to students, faculty, and staff Wednesday, the Christian Post reported.

What did the plaque say?

Erected in 1957 by the Wheaton class of 1949, the plaque honors the memories of of Edward McCully and James Elliot — both members of the class of 1949 — and three other missionary martyrs who were killed by the Waorani people in Ecuador in 1956. The missionaries were part of "Operation Auca," the Christian Post said.

The text of the plaque said the men "chose the jungles of Ecuador — inhabited by the Auca Indians. For generations, all strangers were killed by these savage Indians. After many days of patient preparation and devout prayer, the missionaries made the first friendly contact known to history with the Aucas."

"On January 8, 1956, the five missionaries were brutally slain — martyrs for the love of God," the memorial concluded.

In his letter to the campus, Ryken claimed some people had said they were concerned about the offensive language on the plaque.

"Specifically, the word 'savage' is regarded as pejorative and has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat indigenous peoples around the world," Ryken wrote, according to the Post, which obtained a copy of the letter. "Any descriptions on our campus of people or people groups should reflect the full dignity of human beings made in the image of God."

Wheaton's director of communications, Joseph Moore, told the Christian Post that the administration elected to update the memorial in order to "continue to honor the sacrificial witness of the five missionaries it honors while at the same time avoiding the unnecessary offense of pejorative stereotypes.

"This is especially important for a story that is central to our mission and identity — a story we want the world to know," he said. "In the 64 years since the College received this gift, we have also continued to grow in our understanding of how to show God's love and respect to others."

Elliot's daughter, Valerie, told the Daily Wire that she and her family were "saddened" that the plaque had been removed, but added that they prayed "that the attention that this action is generating will bring renewed interest in the amazing work of God that was done in and through their sacrifice."

The school will create a task force to come up with rephrasing options by May 1, which will "carry forward the memory at Wheaton College of brave missionaries and their sacrificial witness, while at the same time respecting the Waodani people with whom they shared the gospel of the love of Christ," Ryken said.

According to the Post, the plaque will return once the new wording is updated.

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