National Cathedral continues to debate the Lee, Jackson windows

Stained glass fabricator Dieter Goldkuhle, who worked with his late father to install many of the stained glass windows at Washington National Cathedral, replaces an image of the Confederate battle flag after cathedral leaders decided in 2016 that the symbol of racial supremacy had no place inside the cathedral. The long-term fate of the windows honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson remains under debate. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] When sunlight shines through the Washington National Cathedral’s stained glass windows, colors disperse. Hues take flight from the visual stories that normally confine them to a framed, defined space. Illuminated, the freed colors alight on cathedral walls as patches of blue, shades of pink and splotches of purple, transformed from visual narratives into an ephemeral pastel version of a Rorschach test.

The aftermath of a hate crime brought two particular stained glass windows at the cathedral into sharp relief. On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof shot 12 people, killing nine of them, during a Bible study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The racially motivated violence prompted many institutions to take down Confederate flags. At Washington National Cathedral, then-Dean Gary Hall called for the removal of two windows – one commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the other memorializing Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Both are inlaid with a small Confederate flag, offering a clear acknowledgment of the Civil War-era South for which the generals fought.

Roof “surrounded himself in these Confederate symbols,” said Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian at the cathedral and professor of religion at Goucher College. Acknowledging the modern-day violence associated with the symbols, the cathedral’s chapter (its governing body) formed a task force to recommend a way forward, rather than simply removing the windows.

A stained glass window dedicated to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee window was originally donated to Washington National Cathedral by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1953. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

In a report last June, the task force proposed leaving the windows in place for the time being: “The windows provide a catalyst for honest discussions about race and the legacy of slavery and for addressing the uncomfortable and too-often avoided issues of race in America. Moreover, the windows serve as a profound witness to the cathedral’s own complex history in relationship to race.” The report further urged the chapter to resolve the matter by June 2018.

Report in hand, the chapter decided that while the windows should stay, the inlaid Confederate flags could not, and swiftly replaced them with clear two clear glass panels, one blue and one red.  “The [Confederate] battle flag is a problematic, racist image that has no place in the cathedral,” said Washington National Cathedral Chief Communications Officer Kevin Eckstrom. Brown Douglas, who sat on the task force, agrees. “Whatever the Confederate flag meant historically, it has come to symbolize white supremacy,” a stance in conflict with “Christian values,” she said. Flags aside, Lee and Jackson “fought for the Confederacy, and in so doing, they were fighting to uphold the institution of slavery,” Brown Douglas added.

Cathedral leaders haven’t always believed that the Confederate legacy clashes with Episcopal principles. The cathedral accepted an offer from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to fund a memorial of Robert E. Lee, an Episcopalian, in 1931. UDC’s top goal is “to honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate states.” Twenty-two years would pass before the project came to fruition in the form of the stained glass windows. Cathedral archives included in the task force report show a friendly, supportive repartee between cathedral and UDC representatives. On paper, at least, no one seems to have questioned including the Confederate battle flag.

A stained glass window honoring Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the nave of Washington National Cathedral features scenes from Jackson’s life and his death in battle. Photo courtesy Washington National Cathedral.

“It’s taken us a while to get here,” said Heidi Kim, the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for racial reconciliation. While Washington National Cathedral’s foundation was laid in 1907, decades after the abolition of slavery, Kim pointed out that slaves built many Episcopal churches. Many Episcopalians owned slaves and others, northerners among them, profited by trading slaves, a story told in personal terms in the documentary, “Traces of the Trade.”

“The degree to which almost anyone in the nation who had any economic privilege benefited from slavery, in the North and the South” was considerable, said Rev. Dr. Robert W. Prichard, a professor of church history at Virginia Theological Seminary and author of “A History of the Episcopal Church.”

In 2008 the Episcopal Church apologized for its role in slavery. The apology followed a resolution passed at the General Convention in 2006 urging the church “…to address systemic racial disparities and injustice in the church and the wider culture” deepened that sensibility. Opinion on what this means and how far it should go varies among Episcopalians.

Many think the windows should stay at the cathedral as a reminder of the Episcopal Church’s past. “There’s something about taking away those windows that seems a bit of a denial of where we’ve been,” said Danielle A. Gaherty, a member and lay leader at Trinity Lime Rock in Lakeville, Connecticut.

“I don’t think they should leave the building, especially at this time when there’s so much controversy in the world over race relations,” she said. “It just seems that it’s more important now than ever to remember.”

Retired parish priest William Thomas Martin of Williamsburg, Virginia, agreed. “By getting rid of the windows we [would] throw away the memory, and if we throw away the memory, we’re going to repeat [our mistakes]. The Confederate flag is a symbol of our original sin, I think. It reminds us of our own fallibility and our need for God’s grace.”

Doug Desper, an Episcopalian in Waynesboro, Virginia, thinks the Lee-Jackson windows should leave Washington National Cathedral. Like Gaherty, Martin and Riley Temple, he felt compelled to comment on a Religious News Service article about the windows posted on the ENS website in October. “I don’t think that battle flags of any sort belong” in a house of worship, he says. More importantly, he doesn’t like “the criminal South versus the virtuous North” feeling he gets from the discussion. That trope, he contends, ignores the complexities of mid-19th century American life. He advocates a reconciliation window to replace the Lee-Jackson windows, but “I don’t think we need to keep apologizing. I think what we need to do now is to look at how far we’ve come from where our ancestors were.”

As for a continued “we’re sorry” mantra, Brown Douglas agreed that’s not the answer. “Apologies are cheap grace,” she said. “The church should be talking about repentance. You have to name the sin, then turn around and go in a different direction.”

The point that Lee and Jackson were as complex as any men, the nuances of their life stories larger than stained glass windows, Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, said that acknowledgment isn’t enough to put him at ease about the windows, even if their context is explained. “For me as an African-American, those are symbols of a very painful, horrific past,” said Coates, who participated in the cathedral’s panel discussion “What the White Church Must Do” last July. So much so, he says, that leaving the Lee-Jackson windows as-is would “make it difficult” for him to feel fully welcome at the cathedral.

Former cathedral task force member Riley Temple wants the cathedral to beef up its efforts around the windows now. He thinks the events to date have been intellectual to a fault; that they fail to address the array of emotions at play. He wants the cathedral to address this imbalance. “No one’s thinking about our level of discomfort and the continued injury and assault of the windows,” he said. “They don’t want to make white people uncomfortable. The truth is going to make us squirm, and we can’t get to reconciliation without squirming.”

But Brown Douglas cited another essential step in this process: “Before we can talk about reconciliation, we have to talk about justice.” To that end, she said the cathedral is creating programs and forming partnerships, including one with Coates’ congregation. During Lent, Brown Douglas will run a study program on social and racial justice. And on March 29, she will participate in the cathedral’s panel “Saints and Sinners: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.”

Mobilizing a social justice and reconciliation movement within the broader Christian church makes sense to Coates. “Racism and structural racism in America were justified theologically,” he said. “In order to make progress on a range of social justice issues, we must reclaim and reimagine our own theology.” Willie James Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, author of “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race,” agreed. “Racism has a deep Christian architecture to it, and there’s no way to reckon with that past without coming through Christianity,” he said.

The theological and ethical journey of reckoning for Episcopal churches and others with very few African-Americans must include an honest look within. “It does come down to a denomination having a sense of its own whiteness,” he says. “They don’t understand how their Christianity and their whiteness feed each other. [As Christians] it is always important for us to show people what it means to be living in the truth.”

The strong emotions unleashed when people talk about race warrant attention – they’re important. Jennings pointed to “deep frustration about how people just refuse to honor the horror of all this.” If there’s good news on this challenging path, it’s that “the church has a vital role in helping people come to terms with what they feel, not just what they think,” he said.

Right now, feelings about the windows seem inextricably linked to a pervasive concern not about this country’s past, but about its current interpersonal and political climate.  “We’re as divided a nation as we’ve ever been. We’re as divided racially as we’ve ever been,” Brown Douglas said. By calling its Lee-Jackson windows into question, the cathedral stepped squarely into that sensitive, uneasy space.

Whatever the outcome, Coates and Jennings credit cathedral leaders and community members for calling the question on their role in memorializing and glorifying a painful past with omnipresent fingerprints. “I want to acknowledge the courage it takes to see what others refuse to see,” Jennings said. “I’m thankful that they’re doing that. It’s really important.”

In its report, the task force recommended digging into the topic as a community with forums, an “audit” of the stories the cathedral close buildings tell and with art of all kinds. Brown Douglas hopes the process will answer the questions: “What are we suggesting about who we are? But more than that, what are we saying about who God is?” She also hopes it will uncover “the voices that have gone unheard, the subjugated history.” How to incorporate those voices into the National Cathedral and just how the Lee-Jackson windows will fit into a now-evolving narrative remains to be seen.

— Heather Beasley Doyle is a freelance journalist based in Massachusetts. 


  1. Ralph Davis says:

    I wonder when we will realize that you cannot erase history, you can only learn from it.

    • Judy Schneider says:

      Agree wholeheartedly. We can only go so far in erasing history. And if we erase history, what is left to remember to guide us in the ways in which we should go.

    • Michael Redmond says:

      Exactly. This controversy is ridiculous. I’m a Union man, 100 percent. I despise the Confederacy. Leave those windows be.

    • Bobby Armstrong says:

      So true. Cathedral needs to take a page out of Nelson Mandela’s life.

    • I recognize that the Comfederacy is a dark period in our history. But I think that is all the more reason to leave the windows in place at at the National Cathedral. Those are teachable images.
      Besides, if we want to obliterate past images, what does that say about us?

      • Mary Ann Fraley says:

        If we DID obliterate past images, we would begin to sound an awful lot like the former Soviet Union with their rewrites of history. We excoriated them then…

        I say we should leave the (objectionable) windows as they are and use them as teachable moments. I’m sure there are plenty of creative people around who could come up with several ways to do that.

      • Robert B. Hunter says:

        When the Church seeks to promote its’ Washington National Cathedral as a “House of Prayer for All People” and at the same time preserve the Cathedral as place preserving “white supremacy”; that is indeed a “complicated mission”

    • Carmen P. Figueroa says:

      So true, Amen.

    • Allen Rawl says:

      Why not look at the symbols as something we overcame as a nation. It is our strength In the American Civil War, 600,000 people died to bring a divided nation back to one nation. It is a part of our past and should be a reminder not only to us but the rest of the world of what can happen to a nation that allows itself to be divided. “Sweeping it under the rug” won’t help anyone.

    • Robert B. Hunter says:

      When the Church seeks to promote its’ Washington National Cathedral as a “House of Prayer for All People” and at the same time preserve the Cathedral as place preserving “white supremacy”; that is indeed a “complicated mission”

  2. Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD says:

    If we value the sacrifices of those who raised the funds to originally place these windows in the Cathedral, then we do nothing. If we think history can be erased then we are doomed to repeat it. I say celebrate the good and leave the windows as a testimony of God’s Grace toward us all. Episcopalians have a problem when it comes to understanding: “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.”

    • Thomas D. Orr says:

      I think that Dr. Flint’s reply is a superb one and cannot be improved upon. In this era of political correctness run amok, we are too inclined to air brush history in much the same way that Stalin did until history reads the way that that trends of the time desire. I wonder if Westminster Abbey will displace “Bloody” Mary because of her active dislike of Protestants. I doubt it! The English have a much more appreciative view of history than the Americans, and they do not feel a need to apologize for a past that cannot be changed. We can learn from the past or we can pretend to erase it. That is not possible, and all the political correctness generated will not eradicate the past.

    • Interestingly, Robert E. Lee’s family were devout Episcopalians attending church in Alexandria, Virginia. Stonewall Jackson is portrayed as a “low church” Episcopalian. I agree with Dr. Flint that “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” It is better for us to remember The War Between the States as part of our imperfect history, than to try to hide the fact because of political correctness.

  3. Doug Desper says:

    I appreciated Heather reaching out to several of us. One thought not included in the article was that I object to the windows because they take a brief slice of the lives of two great Christian men and reduce them to the image of soldiers under Confederate battle flags. Battle flags and brief glimpses are no way to understand the entirety of the lives of Lee or Jackson. Having felt that the impetuous and rash acts by leaders and governments had forced a national unrest and conflict Lee worked very diligently at reconciliation both during and after that war.

  4. Ronald Davin says:

    General Robert E Lee was a distinguished member of the Episcopal Church, who fought, no so much for slavery, (he had freed his before the war as for state’s rights. His statement , at the end of that “”We must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them.” as said General E Lee was truly an inspiration to us all.

  5. Mollie Williams says:

    Our history is what it is.Changing a window will not change what has happened or thepain we have caused one another. Our God is large enough to embrace it all. We need to be the same. Please leave the windows alone.

  6. Shirley E. Viall says:

    Please leave the windows alone!!! Enough political correctness has already overtaken us. We have much larger issues for the Church to consider. one would be to draw people together rather than find another reason to divide.

  7. Martha Richards says:

    Those windows are part of our history. We need to show forth love and inclusiveness to all and not always be politically correct. We can change how we act, but we cannot change history. The civil war happened, we need to remember, but not try to erase it. We need to remember that we are all God’s children and act like it.

  8. The Rev. D F Lindstrom, M.Div. J.D. says:

    The history of our Church is the story of real people who struggled with the challenges of life, culture and faith. They are and were saints and especially sinners. To attempt to scrub the Church’s history of periods, which some now see as bad, is to attempt to erase that which is part of our collective journey in faith. Do we believe in being “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” or do we forever want to burn those some consider heretics at the stake!

    As for Robert E. Lee, no one who has read his biography can deny that he was a great man, a gentleman, a scholar and a devout churchman.

  9. Elizabeth Dingman says:

    Please leave the windows alone so future generations can reflect on the past history of our country mistakes and all as we reflect on the entire history of mankind. We cannot erase the errors we have made, we can hopefully only learn from them and not keep repeating them. The windows are beautiful works of art such as the works in European cathedrals. Let us keep some of our treasures.

  10. Dr Joseph L. Graves Jr says:

    Recognizing that individuals or symbols do not conform with Christian values is not an attempt to erase history, nor is it “political correctness”. Removing salutes to these individuals or symbols is a recognition of our growth in the faith. Lee and Jackson were racists who upheld the institution of chattel slavery. Those who wished to memorialize them were racists as well, who in their actions reminisced for the institutions Lee and Jackson supported. Undoubtedly no African Americans participated in the decision to add these windows to the cathedral. This situation resulted from the “political correctness” of that time period which meant that persons of African descent had little or no say in secular or Episcopal Church matters.
    The analogy that I find most useful when attempting to describe to persons of European descent how harmful Confederate individuals and symbols are to persons of African descent is that of Nazi symbols to Jewish people. If the Lutheran Church in Germany had a cathedral with stained glass windows featuring individuals like Rommel or Von Ronstadt and Nazi flags, I think the world would unanimously express their outrage. Yet in the United States, Confederate generals still have statues and streets named after them. In those same states, few /no monuments stand to the Christians who fought slavery and racism (underground railroad, European- and African Americans who fought for the union from the Confederate states, e.g. 37th NC Colored Infantry). We don’t have monuments/windows for these colored troops in the Episcopal Church because many African Americans left the church because it (unlike most Protestant denominations) refused to take a stand condemning slavery. Without significant numbers of African Americans in the church, a full discussion of who and why the church should be honoring individuals from that war was never enjoined.
    Taking down these individuals and symbols is an example of restorative justice. Doing so results from a more critical examination of what it means to follow Christ, and a recognition that when it came to race, European American Episcopalians of this time period did not really understand what Christ meant when he said “love they neighbor.” Episcopalians were active at every level of racist ideology in the 19th century, including one of the chief proponents of Negro racial inferiority Samuel Morton (see Graves JL, The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium, RUP, 2005). So it is not a surprise that some Episcopalians fought to maintain racism (as Lee and Jackson did).
    It is now time for the Episcopal Church to become an anti-racist organization (as described in Barndt, J. Becoming an Anti-Racist Church, Fortress Press, 2011). This is required by our faith in Christ. This begins with taking restorative actions, such as taking down racist symbols and putting up anti-racist symbols. This is not erasing history, it is replacing racist history with inclusive history. Where are our windows honoring Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass? Taking such actions will engender deep and faithful conversations, much more than leaving up images of hateful individuals and symbols.

    • Jane McKinney says:

      Well said Dr. Graves

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      Dr. Graves: You are too full of yourself. Get over it! History is the great teacher, not the synthetic history you want to see! Real history is what this represents. These are generals of their time and it is true history. Let it be. Donate for a few more windows that you want to share your revisionist theories. Certainly, they can find some place to put them and have them used as contrary history.

    • Laura Provonche says:

      dear Dr. Graves, i would like to give you one correction. Neither Lee or Jackson believed in slavery and in fact opposed it. neither one owned slaves, in fact when his mother left him the family holdings, Lee freed all of the slaves because he strongly did not believe in slavery. Both men were devout Christians, Lee was even Episcopalian, i am not sure if Jackson was or not. i will leave you with a trivia fact about Lee. After the Civil War, Lee went to church in D.C. and when he took communion he knelt at the railing next to an African American gentleman. When church was done, he was confronted with the fact he had done that. Lee’s response was “Friend, all ground is level at the foot of the Cross” Peace of the Lord be with you and God bless.

    • Laura Provonche says:

      I do agree with a monument or window dedicated to the African Americans who fought for this country since the Revolutionary War, especially the Civil War. That is a part of our history, too and should be acknowledged the same way.

    • Mary Rayes says:

      It would seem that Dr. Graves does not know his history and it is he who appears to be a true racist. General Grant had slaves, so let us try to erase him from history, as well. It is all so insane and fueled by cowardliness of the face of the cultural terrorists, who jumped on the bandwagon to fulfill their agenda, using the horrible massacre in Charleston as a catalyst.

  11. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    We have African American sisters and brothers telling us that they can’t feel welcome in the church with those windows. White people: this is a clue. The witness of our brothers and sisters NOW is what matters. If good discernment leads to the decision to remove the windows, I’m all for it. We don’t need a controversial window to remind us of our history. The past is still with us , in fact much of it isn’t even past.

  12. Rev. Alison Martin says:

    I understand that these windows may be offensive to some. These represent our history as Americans. hopefully they will represent how far we have come as a nation. They are a reminder to not forget our history and to do better.

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      Rev.Alison Martin,
      You are so very right. Much of history is offensive. None more so than this war where brother fought against brother.
      We have risen far above those days.
      The TEC goes out of its way collectively to support people of color, people in need, people in all walks of life and color has little to do with it. Let history be history and let God be God.

  13. Len Freeman says:

    History is what it is… and if we erase it, we forget it and all the complexities of life it has to teach us of.

  14. Fr. George B. Salley, Jr. (Retired) says:

    I think the Cathedral’s Chapter should pass a resolution to take this matter up again in 50 years, and, in the meantime, leave the windows where they are. Feelings are too high to make a reasonable decision now.

  15. William Russiello says:

    These windows honor prominent men who fought to destroy the United States as a nation in order to preserve slavery. In good conscience, they should not remain in any Christian Church, and certainly not in our Church. They should be removed, but not destroyed. Readers are right when they say that history cannot be ignored. The windows should be placed in a museum (or on neutral display) somewhere accompanied by the full historical record. The museum should not be any place that would honor or commemorate the theme of these windows (like the museum of the Confederacy). It would be even better to charge a small fee or suggest donations for viewing them, and contribute the proceeds to an African American charity.

  16. One image which comes to mind is Christ’s admonition to Peter and the disciples when they say they have two swords: that’s enough.
    Two windows, two swords, neither is what a perfect world would want.
    But, that’s enough.

  17. Alfred Fant says:

    Symbols have a way of taking on new meaning. The swastika is a sacred symbol in the Indian subcontinent and has holy meaning to Hindus and Buddhists. The symbol as been around for over 11,000 years, according to some experts. Yet we would not endorse putting a swastika on a stained glass window because of the recent meaning the symbol has taken on. In the same manner, the confederate flags have taken on an uglier meaning over the past several decades being used as symbols of active racism and racial hatred. I agree that they should be replaced but put in a place where the church can discuss how it reacted during the war and how it is working now to improved the unity and harmony of all of God’s people.

  18. Bob Scruggs says:

    The dialog about removing the Jackson and Lee windows is making a molehill out of a molehill. They were important figures, and helped shape the history and future of the Republic. Surely we Southerners have the right to remember our heroes, to which some of us have emotional and family ties. Depicting historical figures doesn’t have to absolve them of perceived sins. Should all of us Southerners be exterminated? My father’s family and my mother’s family owned slaves. On the other hand, I marched during the troubled times when Blacks were justifiably asserting their right to have rights. I also was involved in fundraising for some Black causes. I am white, and some of my best friends are white. However, I believe blacks and whites are all of God’s children. If Blacks do not wish to worship in the Cathedral in Washington, D.C., it is their business. It also smacks of racism and racial intolerance on their part. Leave history alone, and work for a better future for all of us humans. Nations are involved in many hostile campaigns of war, which could lead to a general war which would wipe out humanity. How important would windows be if there were no one alive to fret about making windows a moral and ethical issue?

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      Bob Scruggs.
      Thank you for your reasonable approach to this problem. It is a molehill and we have better problems to solve in our time. Destroying the past history depictions of the US is a waste of time.
      For those who don’t wish to see these windows, there are plenty of others to see in the building that might be more acceptable. Or, is that not a problem at all but a choice made by those who themselves are racists.

  19. Rick Smith says:

    The windows should stay. Remove them WHY? Will our history or past somehow be changed? I live in Richmond VA we have statutes of Lee, Stonewall, and many other generals and before anyone asks Lincoln as well. Does that make us in the South racists? NO.
    Leave the windows and to the folks who comments are about “restorative justice” or “White people: this is a clue” Really. OK if we remove windows that have Southern Generals lets remove ALL windows with all the past Presidents, Military hero’s, frontiersmen etc that murdered to the point of genocide Native Americans. White people came to this land and stole, rapped, murdered innocent people just for land and even today make fun of and insult Native Americans (Football team names). So what’s the difference between General Lee and General Custer?
    Problem is some self-righteous people only want to see what they want to see and forget about the rest of our past. The mentalities that if we remove a window everything will be better; we “fixed” this so everything will be great except nothing will be better.
    We have some serious issues and problems in this country a handful of windows is not going to do anything except make some feel that they made a difference. Leave the windows and lets start working together to solve real issues that will make a difference, think about crime rates in Chicago and other major cities, health care, immigration, far wages, the list just keeps getting larger. You want to make a difference take on a real cause; a window is the least of our issues.

  20. David Leedy says:

    There are many horrendous and disgraceful things done in the Confederate Old South. However, if we believe that the South could not be separated from the North (that’s why we had a war), then these things were perpetrated in the United States. To excise them from the South, without excisng them from the USA is impossible.

    There are a number of good things from the Old South in addition to Bourbon and sour mash. One of these is respect and manners. While gentlemanly courtesy may be contrary to the belief of some feminist, I believe they are appreciated by most. Civility was an0ther gift from the Old South, and it certainly could be used in Washington, D.C. today. There are many more.

    I say to not be so quick to throw out the bad and then throw out the good with it.

  21. Dr Joseph Graves Jr says:

    Mr. Scruggs, I invite you to examine your phrase “all us southerners.” My family is southern too, but we were owned by persons of European descent. Historically secession only benefitted slaveholders, not persons of European descent who did not own slaves. One of the great tragedies of this war is that many of these poor folk were used as cannon fodder to buttress this immoral system. Furthermore the Confederacy implemented rules that protected the slaveholders from having to fight in the war to protect slavery. So there is no rational analysis that makes either the political or military leadership “heroes.” Furthermore after the war people like “Lee” offered silent support to terror organizations like the KKK which fought to prevent reconstruction efforts that were building a new anti-racial South. Again removing these symbols is not about “erasing” history, it is about correcting the lies of history. It is only with the truth may we be set free.

  22. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the more primary problems noted in many books written over recent years by our leaders like: “Honest to God”, written by Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson in 1963 and more recently: “Why Christianity Must Change Or Die,” by John Shelby Spong. We no longer live in a world that is Earth Centric, the era when all of our scriptures were written, yet we insist on keeping this language that is defiant to our religious and scientific ideas after the Age of Enlightenment. The science of Archeology and Forensics, in the last 100 years, give great question to that which was “once delivered to the saints,” that may be causing more denigration than our outward and visible sins over our history? Perhaps it is time to work on the “renewing of our minds?”

  23. The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone, Jr. says:

    It is doubtful that Lee and Jackson were any more racist than the average citizen in the United States in 1860. It was a different world, in which slavery was legal throughout the country and seemed to be supported by biblical passages. These were exemplary men in many respects, who fought not a war of aggression but in response to the military invasion of their states. The Civil War was a conflict not just over slavery but many other issues as well. These windows honor good men who were caught up in the turmoil of their times, men of integrity yet also men limited by their times, just as all of us are today. I say leave the windows as they are, as reminders of the imperfection that we all share.

  24. The Rev. Suzanne Johnston says:

    These windows serve as an important catalyst for discussions of our own acts in history (both the underlying principles as well as the creation and installation of the Windows themselves). To remove such is an act of censorship and a denial of the constitution on which this country was founded. To have open discussions on the inherent problems with their creation and installation provide for us an opportunity to learn from the past and work to do better as we greet our culturally diverse future.

  25. Sharon King says:

    I can guarantee that no person of color will look at those windows and think “How far those white folks have come.” Leaving the windows in place or not leaving the windows in place says more about where we are now as a church than all the theological arguments you can gather on the head of a pin. Do we have a window to commemorate the conveners of the Salem Witch Trials? Do we have a window to commemorate the planners of genocide of the aboriginals we drove before us as we moved west?

    Why then do we want to hold onto a window that commemorates slavery and the people who supported it? If the windows were draped in repentant purple or grieving black, I’d say leave them up. If they hurt or offend any child of God, take them down. As scripture says: If your eye offends you, pluck it out it is better to lose your eye than to be cast into the pit of hell.

  26. Freda Marie Brown says:

    I am an African-American priest, and I am appalled at the lack of compassion or consideration for other members of the Body of Christ whose experiences do not mirror those of the majority in the Church or in this country.
    The very fact that the rationalizations used in the comments I’ve seen, from keep the Windows to remember the past to the South was no worse than the North in the late 19th century simply smacks of privilege that many of us do not enjoy even today. Has it ever occurred to some of you that self-denial and the willingness to Take up the cross of Christ might actually be experienced in your willingness to HEAR someone else’s pain?

  27. Lloyd Newell says:

    Is this a political driven? History is what happen and one needs to place them in the events during the time the events occurred. To pretend the Civil War is just a * in our country’s history is a misjudgement at best.

  28. Enough of political correctness. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen” Harry Truman
    Robert E. Lee, his birth family, and his own family were lifelong Episcopalians. Thomas Jackson had
    Calvinistic leanings. Both men were Christian believers and practiced same openly. The windows
    should stay where they are, to do otherwise is to abrogate historical fact. This is the same illogic that
    prevents us from enjoying Uncle Remus in Song of the South, a fine motion picture by any standards.
    Time brings about change as evidenced in Hidden Numbers, a current best seller in theaters.
    Is the Jewish population whining about enslavement under Roman rule ? Moses led them out, and
    forty years later arrived at the promised land, desert like then, green and prosperous now. They’ve
    excelled in every avenue practiced today; Medicine, Law, Education, Music, Entertainment, and more.
    An enviable role model indeed. Even overcoming six-million of their people killed by Nazi attitude.
    Slavery was the vehicle that brought Africans to this, the greatest country on the planet. While
    unpleasant initially, now free to choose individual destiny, without complaining about a couple of
    stained glass windows. Opportunity abounds, Fr. Absolom Jones knew that, and succeeded in life.

  29. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    I have lived in the South and experienced the near worship of Robert E. Lee. The fact is both Lee and Jackson were traitors to the nation they swore to defend. They caused the death and suffering of countless thousands in their attempt to establish an independent, slave nation. Former Dean Gary Hall was right to call for removal of the windows honoring Lee and Jackson. Harvard University has repeatedly denied petitions to add memorials to Harvard graduates who fought for the Confederacy in the Memorial Hall built to honor graduates who fought in the Union army.

  30. The Rev. Dr. Robert H. Crewdson says:

    I was active in 1963 in working with Mennonite and Church of the Brethren leaders to integrate (peacefully hopefully) Rockingham County in which I served my first parish in VA. One of the two churches I served was on the Port Republic Battlefield where Stonewall won his second battle in two days. I studied Jackson and the history of that period extensively.

    Jackson did own slaves while in Lexington as slaves wanted him for a master as he was kind to them and would let them work for their freedom. What most people don’t know is that Jackson started an illegal Sunday School in Lexington where he lived to teach slaves to read the Bible. He had 8 teachers from the Presbyterian church and one from our Episcopal Church. He kept this going by sending much of his pay as a soldier to the school. It had 300 slaves attending. It was illegal because he taught slaves to read. The slaves loved him. I see him as a civil rights leader for that period in history. I believed he was kept out of jail because of the stature of the teachers as upstanding members of the community.

    • Doug Desper says:

      Reverend Crewdson, thank you! The bumper sticker versions of history just don’t tell the whole truth, but you remember. People in the 1860s inherited a life dependent on the servile misery of others and they knew that they had daily moral choices to make, including how to bend or break the law to the benefit of such people. Lee and Jackson were handed a national crisis of unheard of proportions, and as men of faith and men of the military they had to pick a side. They sided with state’s rights instead of the heavy-handed and impetuous Federal government’s tactics of unity at the point end of a bayonet. They – and hundreds of thousands – resisted as the Federal government deepened the crisis by swelling a federal army with poorly trained recruits who were given the authority to occupy non-combatant communities. Slavery was not a war objective until later in the war when Mr. Lincoln had to come up with a new rallying point to finish the war. The war was all about forced unity and the poorly contrived and ruinous policies that would cripple the country if not resisted. Even Union General McClellan couldn’t bring himself to lead the army to carry out such a policy of forced occupation of communities and he slow-stepped his battlefield plans praying that cooler heads would prevail. In the end he was fired and then opposed Mr. Lincoln’s policies as a presidential candidate.

      Now, about us. In our time we have slaves. They are unseen. They don’t live “out back in the quarters”. Like Lee and Jackson our lives benefit from the servile misery of others – just differently: child labor in mines to collect lithium for cell phone batteries, and the misery of sweat shops around the globe in order for us to have affordable goods. No, we can’t pretend that we are somehow more moral than those 160 years ago. Any critic of Lee and Jackson IS, in fact, living in a similar way; dependent and intertwined in the misery of others.

  31. The Rev. John C Humphries, Jr. says:

    The windows are an art form in and of themselves. An effort to change historic written texts would be rallied around and called censorship. Leave them be for what they are.

  32. Ione Hodge says:

    I can not understand those who would remove a depiction of things as they were during the civil war. You are trying to change history not just remove a picture/window which depicts a painful memory. That would be the same a rewriting history to say that the settlers of the new world did not steal land for the Native Americans. Let the windows stay! Those who find them offensive don’t have to look anthem.

  33. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    Two statements apply to those who want to de-Christianize Lee and Jackson. “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Number two: “he that is without Sin should cast the first stone.” These were people from a different era. If those naysayers above were to take this self-righteous position with respect to the Anglican church, then Cranmer and many others would not qualify as a part of our history. Wasn’t the body of Christ riven and wasn’t his blood spill to cover all of our sins, even the Sin of racism, even the Sin of Pharisaism, and even the Sin of a judgmental spirit. Please leave the windows and let us accept these men as brothers in the faith who had many of the same faults that we have. They no doubt prayed the prayer of forgiveness at every Eucharist just as we do.

  34. Terry Francis says:

    Rev. Delman Coates and Rev. Freda Marie Brown do not speak for THIS African-American. I have no problem whatsoever with the windows. I’m sorry they do. Not all African-Americans feel the way they feel. I don’t want only progressives calling the shots as to what can and what can’t be seen, taught, read, or looked at in this cathedral. As I said in a previous comment regarding this issue, Abraham Lincoln had always believed the black man was inferior to the white man. Even suggested that maybe the blacks should all leave the United States and start a colony of their own. Should we now do away with the Lincoln memorial bay? And would Rev. Coates feel unwelcome because of the presence of the George Washington bay? After all, he owned a large number of slaves at his beloved Mt. Vernon. Where does all this self-righteous liberal pc nonsense end? Political correctness has virtually become another sacrament of the Episcopal Church!

    • Tony Oberdorfer says:

      I agree completely with Terry Francis, especially his last sentence. The arrogance of those intent on politicizing the Episcopal Church beyond repair is overwhelming. Unfortunately, all of us will eventually have to pay the price when so many have left the Church that it can no longer sustain itself.

  35. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    I think this discussion draws forth controversy and needless conflict among members of this church. I see no discussion of unity or “Forgetting the past I press toward the more of the high calling of God which is in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, I feel that a number of the statements are infused with bitterness, a bitterness that may breed even more bread bitterness. I sense today that there are many who want to simply move on toward our evangelical destiny. I am definitely one of those people. How about more articles in this ENS publication about the positive work of the Holy Spirit in this great church?

  36. My great-great grandfather had a farm in Dekalb County, Georgia. He had three sons, ages 16, 18, and 21 in 1960. He owned no slaves and planted no cotton. In the election preceding the Secession Convention, he voted for a candidate who opposed secession. He never took up arms in the Civil War that ensued. His sons did so only a year after the invasion of the South. They served honorably in the Confederate Army to the end of the War, which to them was a war in defense of their Country. The family farm was burned to the ground by Sherman’s troops and all their produce and livestock was destroyed or consumed by the invaders. It took two generations to restore the family’s security. The invading Union army deliberately sought civilian casualties and “collateral damage” and their slave-owning general was an outspoken exponent of “total war.” I am tired of my Confederate ancestors being demonized and the rapacious invaders lionized. My family, and countless others, never had any great affection for the Confederacy and no interest in slavery. That hideous, unnecessary, and devastating war was imposed on our country by greedy, ambitious, self-righteous leaders on both sides. Countless brave and innocent persons were killed on both sides. Now, one-hundred and fifty years + later, can’t we forgive each other and in the words of the priest-poet of the Confederacy offer “love and tears for the blue and tears and love for the gray” and offer thanks to a merciful God for a reasonably “happy issue out of all our afflictions.” Sadly, the Confederate flag, like the Nazi Swastika, has been appropriated by rabid American racists, but neither symbol has been redeemed or its historical meaning changed by this. I see no reason for our National Cathedral to display the “Stars and Bars”, simply because its current meaning is so offensive. The national flag of the Confederacy is not so well known, nor has it been so tarnished by modern identifications with it. But, it seems to me, we cannot claim this to be a NATIONAL Cathedral if its precincts only recall one side of a truly national conflict.

  37. i am afraid the Cathedral has painted itself into a corner with no way out. Remove the windows and offend many folks who have devoted themselves to the Cathedral, not to mention the donors of the windows. Keep the windows and offend many, especially African-Americans who say they do not feel welcome at the Cathedral because of the windows. Perhaps the windows could be removed and displayed somewhere else on the Cathedral close.

  38. John Williamson says:

    What next? Do the protesters want to take scissors to the Declaration of Independence and the original copy of the Constitution to remove the names of signers that are not considered politically correct?

  39. Leaving the flag in the window stands as reminder that the Episcopal Church never spoke out as a body against slavery. The General Convention simply closed shop until the unpleasantness was over. Historians can debates the merits of should we or shouldn’t we have done it. The reality we didn’t. Until this country apologizes for building a country on the backs of slaves and the near genocide of our Native Americans we will never be able to truly move forward on race issues. I don’t think we have the right to take that flag out yet.

  40. James Boyd says:

    In a sermon by the Very Rev. Gary Hall at the National Cathedral on June 28th, 2015 he said: “There simply is no excuse for the nation’s most visible church to display a symbol of racism, slavery, and oppression. None.” This is his call to remove the Lee and Jackson windows that have been in the National Cathedral since 1953. His sermon is available via YouTube, but the comments section is no longer viewable.

    If the Very Rev. Gary Hall truly means what he says then he needs to do the following:

    He needs to remove the Lewis and Clark windows in the National Cathedral. They were both slave owners and even took a slave with them on their trip.

    He needs to remove the Thomas Jefferson window that’s in the National Cathedral. He was a slave master.

    He needs to remove the James Madison window that’s in the National Cathedral. He was a slave master.

    He needs to remove the tomb of known racist and segregationist President Woodrow Wilson from the National Cathedral. I know that Dean Francis Sayre was the grandson of Woodrow Wilson, and he marched with Martin Luther King at Selma, but he also was the man that installed the Lee and Jackson Windows.

    He needs to remove the statue of the slave master George Washington that’s in the National Cathedral. How can the National Cathedral reside in Washington, DC anyway when it was named after a slave master? Move it all out now!

    He needs to remove the memorial to General Nelson Miles, the man that slaughtered countless Native Americans honored in the National Cathedral.

    Why does the National Cathedral still accept money with slave masters on it? You’re good with pennies, $5’s and $10’s, everything else has a slave master on it. That goes for the gift shop and the entry fees charged tourists too.

    He needs to change the name of the National Cathedral’s Elementary School which is currently named after the retirement home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

    Some of these steps may sound extreme, but in order to comply with the crusade launched by the Very Rev. Gary Hall they have to be done if he really means what he says. He leaves no “wiggle room” in his sermon. Here’s his statement again for reference:

    “There simply is no excuse for the nation’s most visible church to display a symbol of racism, slavery, and oppression. None.”

    In an interview with NPR on June 27th the Very Rev. Gary Hall goes as far as to compare Lee and Jackson to the Germans during the Holocaust!

    The National Cathedral’s very own website says the following:

    “As docents are quick to note on tours of the Cathedral, the presence of such a controversial set of figures as Jackson and Lee underscores the building’s role as a repository of American memory, carrying the very wounds of war within its walls.”

    Since the National Cathedral will no longer be a “repository of American memory, carrying the very wounds within its walls” what will it be other than a hollow shell?

    “Cathedrals do not belong to a single generation. They are churches of history. They gather up the faith of a whole people and proclaim the goodly Providence which has welded that people together as they have hoped and suffered and believed across the centuries.”

    That quote comes from the National Cathedral’s very own website and from the mouth of Dean Francis Sayre himself. Dean Francis Sayre was BUILDING a National Cathedral whereas the Very Rev. Gary Hall seems to be trying to tear it down.

    Words have meaning, don’t they?

    Lee and Jackson did not slaughter those innocents in Charleston, nor did the Confederate Battle Flag. Lee and Jackson would pray with us for them and their families if not lead those prayers themselves. It would be difficult to find two men more devoted to God than Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.

    Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote of General Robert E. Lee: “His noble presence and gentle, kindly manner were sustained by religious faith and an exalted character.” His minister told him, “If you are as good a soldier of the cross as you are of the Army, Christ will have a great worker in His Church.” President Theodore Roosevelt described General Robert E. Lee as: “the very greatest of all the great captains that the English-speaking peoples have brought forth.” When President Gerald R. Ford reinstated Lee’s citizenship on July 24, 1975 he said: “As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox … General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations …” Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee Biographer, said of Lee: “Lee the soldier was great but Lee the man and Christian was greater by far.” Freeman’s summation of Lee was: “Character is invincible – that, it seemed to me, is the life of Robert E. Lee in three words.”

    In 1855 Thomas Jonathan (aka Stonewall in 1861) Jackson began teaching Sunday school classes to slaves in Lexington, VA which was a violation of Virginia’s segregation laws. In 1906, long after Jackson’s death, Reverend L. L. Downing, whose parents had been among the slaves in Jackson’s Sunday school, raised money to have a memorial window dedicated to him in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church of Roanoke, Virginia—likely making “Stonewall” the only Confederate general to have a memorial in an African American church. That stained glass window is still in that African American church today.

    The National Cathedral has a stone gargoyle of the fictional killer of millions in Darth Vader, but chooses to no longer have a stained glass window dedicated to these MEN OF GOD that’s been in place since 1953?

    Is this what MY Episcopal Faith has become?

    Please leave the Lee and Jackson windows as they were.

    • Kilty Maoris says:

      Thank you for your citations. Most have never heard the repulsive statements of Gary Hall. All the better I am sure. Fortunately, his tenure was rather short and after causing so much dissension there is a new Dean of the Cathedral. We all can hope and pray he well guide this to the proper resolution and cease the problem with windows and hear the real history of this space. I suppose it would be far wiser to just tear the building down and build a parking lot. This is the people’s cathedral not the possession of one group or another. Accept our past as the past and let us enter a new era of learning from it.

  41. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    To James Boyd: To answer your question, I’m afraid that’s exactly what our Episcopal faith has become and the degradation started years ago long before the present controversy at the National Cathedral. It is as demeaning and insulting to decent black Americans as well as white to have to put up with clerics such as the Very Rev. Gary Hall who evidently care little about the history of our country but are willing to besmirch true American heroes in order to curry favor with the those engaged in propagating our country’s sad Zeitgeist. Thanks for speaking out, I wish more people would.

  42. If you assume that the Lee and Jackson windows are works of art, please explain to me the difference between what the powers that be at the National Cathedral are considering, and what ISIS did to the Greek temples in Palmyra and the Taliban did to the statutes of Buddha in Afghanistan. Destruction of art because you disagree with its politics I find very troubling.

  43. bob wadkins says:

    I am an Episcopalian. Thirty one of my direct and collateral ancestors died while fighting for the Confederate States of America. All of them fought under the St. Andrews “battle flag.” None of them fought to preserve the institution of slavery. They fought for the right of self government. Slavery is an economic institution, not a vehicle for the self righteous co-option of many of these comment makers. Whenever the opportunity and need converge there will be slavery. It is human nature.

    The real core excellence of the Episcopal church until the 1970s was that it recognized and accepted human nature for what it is and simply strove to have us employ the better parts of our nature in our dealings with each other. Not many are left who remember the profound feelings invoked by the collects at Morning Prayer. Now it is just “touchy – feely” and come to Jesus.` So, now we have those who think he or she is a better person for having condemned an historical fact. These are the kind of superficial emotions that are being promoted by our church — and have been for the last thirty years.

    Getting back…On second thought, there is probably no getting back to the old church and many of you will be happy with that thought believing that you are a force for “good.” So be it. The church has long since passed me by. You can leave the windows or remove them, I do not care. You can put the battle flag back in or not. I do not care. The Episcopal church is in its death throes and I no longer mourn its passing. The very idea that I should apologize for the actions and ideals of my ancestors and for Lee and Jackson shows how far we have slipped spiritually and intellectually.

    Robert L. Wadkins

  44. F William Thewalt says:

    The Soviet Union was the last government I knew that re-wrote history and it was condemned. Why should we re-write history? Let it stand as a teaching monument. See John Williamson, Feb. 22.

Speak Your Mind


Full names required. Read our Comment Policy. General comments and suggestions about Episcopal News Service, as well as reports of commenting misconduct, can be e-mailed to