CHICAGO, Ill. — A 64-year-old plaque honoring famed missionary martyr and Portland native Jim Elliot and another of the five missionaries killed in 1956 by an Ecuadorian tribe has been removed at Wheaton College here out of concern that its wording is now considered offensive.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the historic plaque was removed March 16 from the chapel at the Christian college. Wheaton President Philip Ryken said the school plans to replace the plaque, and a task force will review potential new wording.
The plaque memorializes Elliot and Ed McCully, who were both members of Wheaton’s class of 1949. It was donated by fellow members of that graduating class.
Elliott, McCully and three other missionaries were speared to death by the indigenous Auca tribe in Ecuador. According to the college, concerns about the use of the word “savages” to describe the tribe have come from about a dozen Wheaton students and staff since the start of the current school year.
One of those students said such plaques cause pain to people and smack of white superiority.
In a letter to students and staff, Ryken said use of “savages” is not appropriate.
“The word ‘savage’ is regarded as pejorative and has been used historically to dehumanize and mistreat indigenous peoples around the world,” he wrote. “Any descriptions on our campus of people or people groups should reflect the full dignity of human beings made in the image of God.”
Joseph Moore, a Wheaton spokesman, told the Tribune it is understandable that wording on the longtime plaque would need to be re-evaluated, because the meaning of language descriptors inevitably changes over decades.
Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute, a religious freedom advocacy agency, has defended and praised Ryken during past controversies, but in her latest blog post said he appears to be losing to the “social justice” push on campus among professors and students.
She noted that “Auca” actually means “savage” and was the name used at the time by indigenous people to refer to the tribe, which for generations had killed all strangers. She said it is historical fact that the isolated tribe that killed the missionaries was known for its violent and war-like behavior.
“(Ryken) errs by acquiesing to the ‘woke’ mob who seek to dishonestly use Christianity as a weapon to silence all condemnation of sin,” she wrote. “In so doing, he has inadvertently caved to relativism. Does President Ryken believe that Christians should refrain from using any and all terms that the world now views as ‘offensive’?”
One of six children in a devout Portland family, Elliot attended Benson Polytechnic High School before enrolling at Wheaton.
The story of Elliott and the other slain missionaries has for decades captivated many worldwide. A review of Elliot’s life at Christianity.com summarized: “During his life, Jim Elliot longed for more people to become missionaries. In his death, however, he probably inspired more people to go to other countries to share the love of Jesus than he ever could have in life. “