Monday, January 03, 2011


While Goshen College continues to wrestle with the issue of the National Anthem, Pepperdine has a long-standing issue with the Phillips Theme Tower, a tall slender obelisk with a cross that can be back-lit:

The tower was completed in 1973, but because of concerns expressed by the locals, it does not shine nightly as was the origninal intention.  Every few years, the debate resurfaces, and here is a clip from the LA Times in 2006:

Support for Lighted Cross Rekindles an Old Debate - A tower at Pepperdine was supposed to be illuminated 33 years ago but critics blocked it.

Thick streams of light in the shape of a cross burst from the tower at the front of Pepperdine University -- at least they do on the college's seal splashed across sweaters, mugs and T-shirts.

In reality, nobody has dared to flip the switch that lights a 25-foot-tall cross set into the tower's walls. And whether to finally give it light after 33 years of darkness has become the center of a philosophical debate on the Christian campus just west of Malibu.

Students relate the 125-foot, stucco-and-steel tower to a passage from Matthew 5:14: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."The Phillips Theme Tower isn't a city. But it is planted on a hill 345 feet above sea level, visible for miles along Pacific Coast Highway and to ships at sea. More important, students say, it is a symbol of Pepperdine's "commitment to the restoration of New Testament Christianity" -- a commitment set in stone at the base of the tower.

"For us not to light the tower seems to say that we are either ashamed of our heritage or willing to compromise our beliefs and our message," said Austin Maness, a junior at Pepperdine.  Maness created an online group dedicated to lifting the tower from its darkness at, a college-oriented social networking website. The group has grown to nearly 100 members, including a former Pepperdine professor who posted probing questions:

"Is that truly what we have become? Is that our enduring legacy to the world? A place that used to be light unto the world, but has now burned out? Or more accurately, one that has been disconnected and boarded up?"

The Facebook group is just one of many student-led tower efforts that Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton has watched take off in the last five years. He has observed the growing interest in the tower with curiosity -- and some admiration.

"It's sweet, and it's thoughtful, and it reflects the joy of my work: the students' enthusiasm," Benton said. "But should we light the tower? I still don't know. Is our message conveyed clearer? I don't think it takes a neon-lit cross to strengthen our outreach."

In 1973, when the tower was completed, then-Pepperdine President William S. Banowsky promised Malibu residents that the cross would never shine as originally planned. It now stands not as a beacon, but as a landmark with only the sound of electric bells chiming every half-hour.

Another article from 2005 can be found in Currents, a publication of Seaver College.  Having spent a fair amount of time at Goshen College and at Pepperdine, what I find most intriguing about the cross at Pepperdine and Benton's comment about outreach is that the major symbol found on campus is not the cross but rather the American flag.  Only two crosses come to mind - the Theme Tower and on top of the Stauffer Chapel, while US flags can be found in abundance.  Interestingly, several of the flags are lit at night, and while the crosses disappear into the darkness, the flags emerge.  There's the huge flag at the President's house that is lighted and can be seen from PCH, high above the theme tower; flags can be found at the Hero's Garden, in front of the Thorton Administration Building, in front of the Chapel, inside Firestone Fieldhouse [no cross there, but lots of Anthem-singing], and numerous other places on campus.  And of course there is the regular display of over 3000 flags to commemorate 9-11, but not three crosses on any Easter, as far as I know.  I would not characterize the students' concern as sweet, but rather a question regarding the institution's primary allegiance.


Anonymous said...

should park a spotlight across the street at night and light it up, renegade style

Jackie! said...

aimiehIn country songs, a good Christian is a proud American... And everyone goes to heaven. It's so sad to me that the gospel is lost in tradition and "making others comfertable" which basicaly translates to making YOU more comfortable. It's so sad to me that we CARE about what PEOPLE think more than what GOD thinks. It's so much easier to tell a random stranger, "I feed the homeless because I am a Christian." Feeding the homeless is seen as good. Kind. Something ALL people SHOULD do. It's hard to say, "I pray for a better world everyday. I believe in miracles. I worship Jesus." Some of these things are not accepted. As Christians, we are not caled to pledge alegence to A N Y T H I N G, except Jesus. The truth. Good. Love. We can't be ashamed of ANY part of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Amen?

DES said...


DES said...

And, I also like the renegade light!!!

Bizzy Brain said...

The cross is important as it represents Christianity. The flag is important as it represents nationalism. They are mutually beneficial. Keep our nation strong and Western Civilization and Christianity will flourish. Let the liberals succeed in destroying the country in favor of their dream of an "integrated world community" and Christianity will vanish.

DES said...

Busy B - true, but are they equally important, particularly on a campus that is self-identified as Christian? At Pepperdine, there seems to be an imbalance toward the state, and at Goshen, toward the church. I personally believe the Cross will remain long after the Stars and Stripes have disappeared.

Tony M. said...

Good post.