Pressure mounts to remove Confederate symbols from Episcopal institutions

Polk plaque

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, is displayed in Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dean Gail Greenwell says it should be removed or relocated. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] Parishioners who attended Sunday worship at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Aug. 20 should not have been surprised that Dean Gail Greenwell’s sermon addressed the issue of racism, given the national outcry over a large white supremacist rally in Virginia the weekend before.

Those hate groups had gathered in defense of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. What may have surprised some Cincinnati parishioners is the Confederate symbols in their own cathedral.

Greenwell used her sermon to draw their attention to part of a stained-glass window honoring Lee and a plaque dedicated to Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general. She called for both to be removed.

“The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral,” Greenwell said in her sermon.

The growing secular debate over Confederate statues and monuments, amplified by the violence in Charlottesville, also is fueling renewed scrutiny of the numerous Confederate symbols that long have been on display at the Cincinnati cathedral and other Episcopal churches and institutions around the country.

Crew working with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island saw into one of the plaques commemorating Robert E. Lee at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Episcopal Diocese of Long Island

Two plaques honoring Lee had long stood outside a New York City church where he once worshiped and served on the vestry, until a bishop hastily ordered them removed last week.

At Sewanee: The University of the South, a school with Episcopal roots and Confederate connections, administrators say the school has been engaged in an ongoing discussion of Confederate symbols on campus, where a monument to a Confederate general still stands.

Washington National Cathedral in the nation’s capital is deliberating over whether to remove its stained-glass windows honoring Confederate generals Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Depictions of the Confederate battle flag already have been removed from the windows.

Such scrutiny even extends to an Episcopal church’s name. The congregation in Lexington, Virginia, decided in April it would remain as R.E. Lee Memorial Church, but the vestry faces new pressure to reverse that decision.

Vestry members, at their Aug. 21 meeting, approved a joint statement condemning racism and the deadly violence in Charlottesville. They also defended Lee’s reputation as a Christian and his five years as a parishioner after the Civil War. The vestry took no action toward removing Lee’s name from the church, a stance senior warden Woody Sadler supports.

“We would love to be all things to all people, and unfortunately we can’t. And I don’t think any church can,” Sadler told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview.

Just as Episcopal clergy members rallied Aug. 12 in nonviolent solidarity against hatred and bigotry in Charlottesville, Episcopal leaders are turning the focus inward and seeking opportunities for racial reconciliation churchwide in the debate over the legacy of the Confederacy.

“There’s nothing simple about this discernment,” the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation, said in an emailed statement to ENS. “Removing church windows, statues and plaques that honor and valorize the Confederacy may be necessary. I would say they so deny the spirit of Jesus Christ that they have no place in his house.”

But true reconciliation requires more than simply removing Confederate symbols from view, Spellers said.

“Removing them doesn’t change the reason they were originally installed,” she said. “It doesn’t change the way certain groups practically worship those figures. It doesn’t change the fact that our schools are now rife with revisionist history books that whitewash the evil perpetrated against indigenous, black, Asian, Latino and some whites who weren’t white when they got here.”

Charleston massacre was earlier catalyst

Even so, an unprecedented dialogue has occurred in America in the two years since Dylann Roof opened fire June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. After Roof’s arrest, details of his fondness for the Confederate flag prompted some Southern leaders to order an end to displaying the flag at statehouses and other public places, a sudden and dramatic reversal after years of resistance to calls for the flag’s removal.

The Episcopal Church’s General Convention also weighed in, passing a resolution in 2015 condemning the Confederate battle flag as “at odds with a faithful witness to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.” The resolution also advocated the removal of the flag from public display, including at religious institutions.

That resolution’s scope was limited to the flag, but racism has been a regular focus of General Convention for at least four decades. Through its resolutions, the church has committed to “addressing institutional racism inside our Church and in society,” ending “the historic silence and complicity of our church in the sin of racism,” and researching the historic ways the church benefited from slavery.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has identified racial reconciliation as one of three priorities during his primacy, and this year, his staff issued guidelines under the title “Becoming Beloved Community” intended to help congregations succeed in their local efforts.

This emphasis on racial reconciliation has aligned the church with people who oppose display of Confederate statues, monuments and other symbols. They argue the Confederacy cannot be absolved for leading the country into a brutal civil war with the goal of preserving slavery, and they say Confederate symbols now are inextricably linked to the racism espoused by the hate groups that rally behind them.

Others, while disavowing white supremacist groups, have cited history and heritage in arguing against removing Confederate monuments. They note slavery is a stain on the lives of many heroes of American history, not just Confederate generals, adding that removing statues succeeds in obscuring the past, not eliminating racial hatred.

Attempts by congregations to bridge such a divide can be painful, but the process also can be healing. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, is a case study.

St. Paul’s, located in the former Confederate capital, was once known as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.” Lee worshiped there, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was a member. Until recently, a plaque hung on a wall in the church honoring Davis and featuring the Confederate battle flag.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Courtesy of St. Paul’s

After the 2015 Charleston shooting, the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, St. Paul’s rector, challenged the congregation to think deeply about whether Confederate symbols belonged in their worship space. That challenge grew into the History and Reconciliation Initiative, and through an invitation to discernment, the congregation decided to remove all battle flags but keep family memorials to fallen Confederate soldiers.

“We Southerners have often made it an either-or thing,” Adams-Riley recently told the Daily News Leader in Staunton, Virginia. “That we either recognize our ancestors for their bravery or we get honest about all that was so dark, so terribly dark, about our culture that rested on the back of enslaved men, women and children. But the truth should set us free. We can afford to tell the whole story. What we want is more history, not to erase history.”

Plaques still mark the pews at St. Paul’s where Lee and Davis once sat, and the pair are featured in stained-glass windows.

National Cathedral 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. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral, like St. Paul’s, chose to remove all depictions of the Confederate flag from its stained-glass windows after the Charleston massacre. But the cathedral is only halfway through a two-year process of discerning whether to remove the Lee and Jackson windows also, Dean Randy Hollerith said in a June 30 letter to the congregation.

“These windows, and these questions, have exposed emotions that are raw and sometimes wounds that have not yet healed,” Hollerith wrote. “They have helped to reveal how much we still have to learn as we work toward repairing the breach of racial injustice and building the beloved community.”

A cathedral spokesman said this week the events in Charlottesville have added a sense of urgency to the process.

‘What we choose to revere’

Greenwell, the Cincinnati dean, was more direct in calling for the vestry to re-examine two memorials in the cathedral with the hope they will be removed.

One of them depicts Leonidas Polk, who was consecrated in 1838 in Cincinnati and served as the missionary bishop of the southwest. Polk, one of the founders of Sewanee, was bishop of Louisiana when he served as a Confederate general. He was known to wear his Episcopal vestments over his military uniform, “a thoroughly offensive merge of his professed faith and his fervor to see the institution of slavery endure,” Greenwell said.

Lee window in Cincinnati

Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, is depicted as receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade in this stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

The other memorial, a stained-glass window showing Lee receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade, was a gift from a Lee descendant, Greenwell said.

“We need to be very careful, very thoughtful about what we choose to revere on a plaque or put on a pedestal,” she said in her sermon.

The vestry is scheduled to discuss the memorials at its Sept. 13 meeting.

Sewanee, too, embodies the complex task of bridging this divide, given how its heritage, like that of the South, is interwoven with Confederate history.

The university in Sewanee, Tennessee, known in the Episcopal Church for its seminary, was founded in 1857 by several Episcopal dioceses under Polk’s leadership, though the Civil War delayed its opening until 1868. (Polk was killed 1864 as he and other generals scouted Union positions near Marietta, Georgia.)

Should Polk be honored at Sewanee? Even the relocation of a historic portrait of the school founder sparked debate in 2016, though university’s efforts to re-examine Confederate symbols extend beyond Polk and date back more than a decade.

A 2005 New York Times article reported on ways Sewanee and other Southern universities were trying to appeal more to students outside the South. In Sewanee’s case this meant removing controversial symbols, including Confederate battle flags in the chapel and a ceremonial mace given to the university and dedicated to a Ku Klux Klan founder.

Such moves alienated some of the school’s alumni, though traces of the Confederacy remain on campus, such as its monument honoring Edmund Kirby-Smith, a Confederate general who later taught math at Sewanee.

Kirby-Smith monument

Edmund Kirby-Smith was a Confederate general who later taught mathematics at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, where this monument to the general is located. Photo: Caroline Carson

Sewanee has removed “many of the most visible and controversial representations of the Confederacy,” Vice Chancellor John M. McCardell Jr. said in a written response to an ENS inquiry.

“It is too easy, however, to get consumed with the metaphor that the Confederate symbols represent and thereby miss the real need to combat hate, bigotry, and racism,” he said. “The University of the South has made intentional and effective strides in the past several years to address these very issues and will continue to do so.”

But what should a church do when its very name is associated with the Confederacy?

Lee Church sign

The sign in front of R.E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Virginia. Photo: Doug Cumming

Lee had been dead for 33 years when the church in Lexington was renamed R.E. Lee Memorial Church, and some members of the congregation see its identity closely tied to its most famous parishioner.

“Some say he even saved the parish,” Sadler, the senior warden, said.

Changing the name would alienate many members of the congregation, Sadler said, and he dismissed arguments that the name has become a distraction and makes the church less welcoming to those in the community who find Lee offensive.

“I feel that if the congregation wants to keep the name, then that’s what we want to call ourselves,” he said. “And we should not have other people who will never worship in our church … demand that we change what we call ourselves.”

Southwestern Virginia Bishop Mark Bourlakas is among those who warn the name is distracting the congregation from its gospel mission. He plans to discuss the issue during a visit to the Lexington church on Aug. 30.

But Bourlakas, who attended Sewanee in the 1980s when Confederate flags still were displayed in All Saints’ Chapel, also thinks it is important for Americans everywhere to open their minds to the pain such symbols can bring.

“People, especially white people, go along thinking, what’s the harm? It’s just a monument. What’s the harm of this flag? Big deal. It’s been up there forever,” he said, and unfortunately, it takes an outbreak of violence, as in Charleston and Charlottesville, for some people to consider a different perspective.

Spellers hopes the conversations underway in places like Cincinnati, Sewanee and Lexington will be steps on a longer journey toward racial reconciliation.

“Removing the symbols from their current places of honor and using them elsewhere for education and repentance has to be one part of a comprehensive effort to tell the truth, proclaim the dream of God, practice the way of love, and repair the breach in society,” Spellers said, “all of which are necessary to move toward Beloved Community.”

— David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Comments

  1. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    In making sure that she does all the right things not to get left behind in the current competitive mob hysteria about “racism” in the Episcopal Church, Dean Greenwell is acting like the cheapest kind of politician.

    • Nancye Van Brunt says:

      Yes. There is a difference between using a divisive symbol like the battle flag and honoring someone who actually had a connection to the church. If this one is removed, will they remove all plaques to bishops from the cathedral?

    • Mr. Oberdorfer’s response may seem a bit harsh, but I agree with every word of it. The Episcopal church has no appreciation of history, and it wishes to air-brush American history in much the same way as Stalin’s treatment of Russian history. The ramblings and vitriol of such church “leaders” as Dean Greenwell make me ashamed to be an Episcopalian, and it is this silly way of “carrying on” that has made the Episcopal church a moribund institution. I am quite certain, Mr. Oberdorfer, the Episcopal church will be caught up in the ignorant frenzy to remove Confederate monuments. I suppose the next thing will be to “edit” the writings of St. Paul
      regarding positions that the Episcopal church has taken on a number of “issues,” and such positions run contrary to Biblical teachings. No need to worry: our current ecclesiastical leaders know [NO!!] best.

  2. Every year, I look forward to “Lent Madness”. It is fun, it is inspirational, and it is educational. In many cases, we’ve heard the story of a saint or holy person, but reading the stories of these people, “warts and all”, is often as inspiring as enlightening. I am reminded that what we can be is not defined by what we have been or even what we are. I am reminded of the Cross. I am reminded why I shall not throw the “first stone”.

  3. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    Historical “cleansing” is inappropriate, Orwellian and intellectually dishonest. This is a form of modern day book burning. We must address racial, social and political issues openly and thoughtfully in the present. This type of reaction is by its very nature fascist.

  4. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    It is not surprising that historical “cleansing” is happening here in US. A society that sees only in terms of black and white, and no gray, this “cleansing” behavior is not unexpected. At one time or another, each race or community has faced considerable humiliation and degradation. Of these, Holocaust and Slavery stand out.
    Nazi symbols and insignia have been banned in many countries; it is now the turn of Black people to live in peace and with dignity. This should not be a surprise as many nations are working to correct erroneous ways.
    Regarding removal of symbols and statues, the Christian priests, centuries ago led the way by destroying many statues, temples, institutions and community that they deemed as idols and idol worshippers.
    In this computer age, we will be told what to say, what to think, what to do and someone will determine when to terminate our life. Sometimes I hear friends say – that US is Orwellian 1984 and Australia is becoming Aldous Huxley Brave New World.

  5. Doug Desper says:

    Every person reading this benefits from slavery.
    Every person reading this has a life intertwined in the servile misery of other people.
    We live in a pervasive servile system that we haven’t cured despite our wise commenters and social justice warriors believing that we are somehow more enlightened and more moral than Confederates.

    It is estimated that there are about 30 million people who are enslaved around the world. They are in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fishing vessels off the coast of New Zealand, garment factories in Jordan, the forests of Brazil, carpet factories in Nepal, agricultural fields of Florida, and everywhere in between. That means that slavery is happening across the globe and it ends up in your home. It could be the jewelry you’re wearing, the shrimp you had for dinner, the shoes on your feet, the phone in your pocket, the lithium battery you use, the jeans that you wear, the T-Shirts that you buy cheap, or the Christmas decorations adorning your tree.
    Any number of studies bear this truth out.
    You benefit from the slavery of others. So do I, and we should all be ashamed and hate it.
    We don’t see the slaves because they don’t live in “the quarters” out back. They are all around the globe creating the goods and services that we will refuse to pay much for. They are forced labor to ensure that we have what we want.
    So, guess what? We are just like Robert E. Lee, and all of the people of America in the 19th century. We, like they, benefit from a system that creates misery for others. If we wanted to end it it would have ended.
    So, while we critique the dead we are really condemning ourselves.
    We are criticizing the long dead for not having the instant cure to lives intertwined and dependent upon the misery of others. At least R.E. Lee and others called slavery a moral evil that needed to end. The “how” was what the Civil War was fought over.

    Haven’t we wised up to the fact that we are hypocrites and have barely moved an inch to destroy the American servile misery system in 150 years? Freeing a single race of people in 1863 did not end slavery after all. It was barely a start.

    Speaking of monuments, don’t forget that the Lincoln Memorial needs to come down. Read Lincoln’s quotes before the Civil War up to 1863. He used racially charged and insulting language about blacks and said that if he could preserve the Union by keeping blacks as slaves then he would certainly do it. Freeing slaves was NEVER a war aim. It only became a war aim in 1863 when the Union was losing the war and Lincoln’s government wanted to rally new volunteers behind some new cause. Only then – very late – was freeing slaves a concern. Even in the Emancipation Proclamation he left slavery intact in areas that he could have ended it.

    Hypocrisy. Tear down that memorial!

    Of all the work that needs to be done, criticizing the dead who were paralyzed in a servile system is cheap, mere symbolism over substance, and avoids the real work to be done. As people who still benefit from slavery, who do modern day judges and iconoclasts see at when they look at themselves in the mirror? Not a true image. Staring back at them — if they look closely — is the image of a modern day slave holder.

  6. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    Well said Doug – we all benefit from “slave” labor which is why I say the economic system needs some restructuring. Initially, slavery was based on color, caste, religious affiliations or ? Now it is based on economics – sweat shops in various parts of the world; thousands and thousands of workers from developing countries working for low wages in affluent nations; human trafficking, etc. Even in affluent nations many live from paycheck to paycheck or struggle to meet their daily needs.
    We lead a life of pretense, and of dubious moral and ethical values.

  7. Rev. Stan Upchurch says:

    God cares less about our monuments , and more about or tretment of people. We zas Christians are called to see all people through the eye’s of God. We are called to be his hands. We are called to use his voice of love avd acceptance. Physical objects do not matter… but how I love and treat my fellow person is!

  8. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    We lead a life of vibrant economic competition, access to capital, and the freedom to pursue opportunity and economic security for our families. This freedom is available to all who choose to jump in and participate. These freedoms and opportunities exist because of the Lord’s providence and the hard work and struggle of those who came before us who asked for nothing but religious freedom and economic freedom. We should understand our history, correct mistakes and move forward with the gifts we have been given. The current controversy is contrived and irrelevant. Our energies should be spent on building up our families, communities and our nation as a united people rather than tearing down statues, plaques and monuments.

  9. Bill Louis says:

    One question: If we remove all the confederate monuments, all the stain glass depictions of the civil war, and all plaques commemorating anything or everything about slavery will that heal racial relations. I doubt it. There will always be another issue at hand to take its place. The Episcopal Church has become a political progressive /leftist organization that justifies its political stand by convoluting Scripture and shaming those who think otherwise.

  10. John Ira Clemens says:

    Let’s not forget also Polk has memorials in almost every church in the south. They memorialize his service to the church as a great bishop, while most who know his history thought he was not so great a general, and would prefer to forget that part of his life. Augusta, GA and New Orleans are blessed with his body parts. Are we to remove them as well? Monuments that glorify Jim Crow racism perpetuate it without context and explanatory sidebars. I don’t think anyone advocates “tearing them down.” We don’t really want to forget or hide a history as disgusting as the Holocaust.

  11. Bruce Garner says:

    I am a native southerner, having been born in Georgia and having lived here all of my life. Consequently, the Confederacy, the Civil War, etc. etc. etc. have always been part of my life journey. Being born and raised and living in Atlanta adds to all of those influences. I grew up in a part of the city where most of the Battle of Atlanta was fought. I attended John B. Gordon grammar school, named for a Confederate General. My townhouse sits in what were battle trenches during the Battle of Atlanta. We lived on Confederate Court for 9 years of my life. There is little else that could add to my “pedigree” as a southerner.

    What I learned in history classes decades ago was very simple: The reason for the Civil War was centered on the right to own slaves. While that cause was often cloaked in the mantle of “states rights,” the states’ right in particular was that of owning other human beings. The economy of the south at the time was agricultural and highly dependent on slave labor for its success.

    Over the years I have witnessed all sorts of attempts to glorify the Civil War as some gloriously lost cause. I have never bought that argument. Put bluntly, the Civil War was the result of arrogance and hard headedness on both sides. It should be always identified as what it was: an awful stain on our history as a nation supposedly founded to secure freedom for all. It will be such a stain for all of history.

    It is time that we relegated statues, banners, flags, plaques, and the like to museums and other institutions where there story can be told accurately. Such facilities already serve as the repositories of historical documents and artifacts. There is NOTHING that makes Civil War and Confederacy symbols any different. That does not alter or wipe out history. Instead it puts the proper perspective over a dark and dismal time in our history. Our churches should be no different. Create places for historical items and documents, tell the real story and lets move on with the worship of God. We are prohibited from worshiping idols….yet that is what we are doing with all of this foolishness about statues, monuments, flags, banners, etc. God is well aware that we worship these idols….it’s time we owned that as well and ended the practice.

  12. Brother Tupper Morehead, TSSF says:

    “God make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.”
    The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, a former Knoxville, Tennessee citizen, is correct in her theology and in her understanding of scripture. Let us follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and may our contemplation lead to action.
    pax et bonum

  13. ronald freeman says:

    are you people crazy?…our history is to be saved so we do not forget..it is who we are and why we did go to war then and now. i am a 71 yr old vet,try and take away , if you wish to be an ass,the names that are on the books in all our churches in the south who fought in the civil war for the south.so stop…and leave my history alone my church is not left or right..if you wish to have two left hand keep them out of my church.in CHRIST,TRINITY EPISCOPAL.

  14. Ronald Davin says:

    With all the suffering and devastation going orn in Texas today from the hurricane, I hope your not wasting too much time and energy on this, instead of helping victims of Hurricane Havey.

  15. mike geibel says:

    In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the 4th- and 5th-century monuments and statues of a standing Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in central Afghanistan. Since 2014, ISIS has pursued the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, Libya and Iraq, destroying at least 28 religious buildings including historical Mosques and Christian churches. The Virgin Mary Church was destroyed on Easter Sunday in Syria. Dair Mar Elia, the oldest monastery in Iraq, was demolished sometime between late August and September 2014. In August 2015, the historic Monastery of St. Elian was destroyed. These reminders of history and a former culture, have been lost forever, all on the altar of religious “correctness.”

    The TEC seems to have appointed itself the new American Taliban and is waging a cultural jihad and “cleansing” of American history under the banner of racial and social justice. The White House was constructed by Slaves, as were some churches. Under the logic of cultural “cleansing,” should these structures not be razed as well, together with the statues of d Thomas Jefferson—he owned slaves.

    Precipitous actions are not justified by the criminal acts of a few wacko white supremacists. The backlash against the events in Charlottesville is probably welcomed by the extremists. The pretext was to defend the city’s Confederate memorials, but the real reason was for the marchers to flex their muscles as a so-called movement and to polarize the nation and attract supporters.

    Most of the soldiers fighting for the Confederate Army were poor farm boys whose families never owned slaves. Their loyalty was to states’ rights, not to the concept of slavery, and they fought because they didn’t want those damned foreigners up north and in Washington telling them what to do.

    More Americans died in the Civil War than any other war in our history. The scars of Sherman’s destructive March to the Sea are permanent and will never be forgotten or forgiven. There were heroes and evil on both sides of that conflict. Let us not throw gasoline on the new civil war that is brewing in our country.

    Rather than try to erase history, would it not be better, as Bruce Garner suggested, to move these artifacts to museums, or to erect statues and memorials of Martin Luther King or other civil rights leaders, and place them next to the statues of Confederate heroes.

  16. Dn. Dorothy Royal says:

    If we get rid of everything having to do with the Civil War will that get rid of the history ? No. Is the next thing to go is our crosses on our churches? One catholic church removed the statue of Mary for fear of offending people of other faiths. Does anyone remember what happen in Germany? Please think people. It is a part of our history, good or bad. There isn’t a country on this earth that doesn’t skeletons in their closets.

  17. Josh Thomas says:

    The Old Testament history of salvation comes down to one word: Exodus. Our God is a Liberator who freed the Israelites from slavery.

    The New Testament history of salvation can be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Our Savior is a Liberator who freed us from sin and death.

    Yet here are Episcopalians demanding we exalt the Egyptians.

    I have no clue who these Episcopalians’ god might be, but I know their demigods: Lee, Polk & Grandpappy. These churchgoers jump at the chance to demonize Dean Greenwell, Canon Spellers, the Presiding Bishop, the General Convention and everyone else who denies their false gods.

    Sewanee is my role model in how to deal with these American idols. If anything, Vice Chancellor John M. McCardell Jr. understated the university’s fine record of showing the rest of us how to clean house, because Sewanee’s been at this for years and has made wise choices. Keep something honoring Polk – he was an incompetent general but he founded the place – and Wm. Porcher DuBose, its great theologian and ex-Confederate adjutant; he founded the School of Theology the whole Church is proud of. But the mace, the battle flag and the lesser idols’ time has expired.

    We must let the Holy Spirit guide us, not our own opinions, upbringing, family history and ideologies. She knows where she’s going with this, and it isn’t back to Egypt. It’s on to the Promised Land.

    • Tony Oberdorfer says:

      Josh Thomas unfortunately is as guilty of worshiping “false gods” as those he casually and recklessly accuses. It’s sad that he and many Episcopalian lefties like him are totally unaware of this.

  18. F William Thewalt says:

    It is not racist to have a church named for a Confederate General. It is not racist to have Confederate leaders depicted in stained glass. It is not racist to show our history warts and all. The other culture in my lifetime that attempted to re-write history was the Soviet Union and now I expect the Chinese Communists. Keep the E-church from this political correct nonsense.

    • I disagree that naming a church for a defender of The Cause (restoring the Aristocracy), and raising funds for Stained glass windows of them is not racist. In my opinion they were serious and quite effective methods of eluding emancipation, the 13tg, 14th, and 15th amendments. These were actions that propagandized the notion that races exist and the white one is supreme over the black AND that is The will of the God of the church memorializing CSA. This notion has been scientifically rejected. I’m not into smashing Tiffany Windows, but failure to leave them without powerful refutations of the beliefs in white supremacy they promote is not excusable. I would even say, is sinful.

  19. Ione Hodge says:

    I have to agree that we can’t abolish the memory orf slavery or the civil war. We don’t need to remove plaques and statues. They are our history. The names of churches, notations on pews denoting where people sat, statues of founders are not racist. It is time to remember that to forget or unlearn our history dooms us to repeat it. The modern day equivalent of slavery is the people who work one or more minimum wage jobs to pay for housing, food and clothing. We need to remember hat everything come from God. The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.

    • I welcome your definition for f the modern equivalent of slavery.
      I would add that while a just money price is hard to determine, finding ways to shift allocations of control over money and benefitting from it away from heirs of famous slavers to at the very least alleviate the super exploitation of the disproportionate number of American blacks in for profit prisons, would be a good thing

  20. Peggy Dobbins says:

    Well, I couldn’t read A L L the comments, so I wonder if you should spend time adding to them.
    The United Daughters of the Confederacy’s chapel beside the Episcopal church I visited to find an ancestor’s grave in Petersburg, Va, isn’t mentioned. They raised money from the legislature of every former slave state to pay for Tiffany Windows to that state’s hero to “the cause.”
    Knowing that one is the heir not just of people who made however much money they had from slave labor, but of post emancipation, post 13th, 14th, 15th amendment white women as guilty as any KKK, Jim Crow politico, maybe more so, in creating and consolidating white supremacy and yes if you use one of the scientific abstract definitions, fascism, to approximate the appearance of being Southern aristocrats, imposes the moral obligation to repent and repair.

    When I came back to the South in 1996, I realized that while good Catholics go to confession weekly, that Atonement is the highest holy obligations of Jews, and Muslims spend a whole month at it, I had not been raised with a religious path or ritual for expressing repentance. I couldn’t speak for all Protestant Christians, but I knew that within my white Southern Episcopalian liturgy, all I had was a General Confession, so general that it covered everything from forgetting to write a thank you note to chaining humans to lie in their excrement beside others who died on the crossing. Thus, please see PeggyDobbins.net/labyrinthofrue.html

  21. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    These comments are all white perspective. There needs to be a dialogue about what those statues, stain glassed windows, and memorials mean to the African Americans and their descendants who were enslaved. Then we will know who is really hurt.

    It isn’t erasing history to take them out of churches and putting them into museums. Or even side chapels that give context. If telling the historical record is so important, then where are the statues of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, et al? They should be side by side telling their stories of anguish if the goal is to tell the real story. If you don’t tell the story of the agony inflicted on the slaves, and their subsequent inequality (redlined out of eligibility for FHA loans, voter suppression, etc.), then you aren’t “preserving history” you are whitewashing it with one side, the side that still wants supremacy.

    There’s a terrific modern opera that tells a great and true story of a female emancipated slave, making a good life for herself in Colorado, while searching for her family over decades. The very first scene is a slave auction where her family members are sold to different plantation owners. It’s crushing, absolutely heartbreaking, and sadly, it isn’t fiction.

    In the opera, her daughter arrives to meet her mother (I believe with her children in tow), on Easter Sunday.

    We need that Easter Sunday in America. We need reconciliation. And those symbols of hate in public squares and houses of worship are a barrier. I’m speaking the truth, and you would hear it, and more, if we asked our African American sisters and brothers in a “safe space.” Be aware that they might be more concerned with unarmed men being shot and killed by police, the racist school-to-prison pipeline, and the FBI reports that white supremacists have infiltrated local law enforcement. But if so, it begs the question: Who and what is affirmed by those symbols?

    I’m waiting for the story of the US, slavery, and racial relations to be a story of love and redemption.

    • If you’re white, I urge you to notice when you react against something that suggests a black person or blacks in general are not subordinate to you or whites in general. Carrying on about love and reconciliation without scratching enough to reveal my white supremacist within, made repentance, much less openness to reparation impossible. Redemption is impossible without atonement. “Cheap grace” it’s called

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      Doug, nothing I said was false. You paint with such a broad brush that several of your statements don’t ring true: “The men who initiated, led, and successfully concluded our colonial rebellion … the founders and earliest leaders of our government, were almost universally men of property and therefore slave owners.

      This is a statement that makes light of the real struggles in forming our republic, the arguments, issues, and compromises that were hammered out are the stuff we continue to wrestly with today. The Northerners were not slave owners. John Adams owned a 40 acre farm and hired workers to help farm it. When Benjamin Franklin saw that half sun etched in a chair, he wondered if it was the sun rising or the sun setting, and I’m sure slavery was on his mind. The republic couldn’t be formed without Virginia so they agreed to awful compromises, like counting slaves as 3/5’s a human being – and it could be argued that African Americans still have not been recognized as 5/5ths. Redlining. Lynching. Inequality in housing, education, and work…

      As you’re not an Episcopalian, then it wasn’t clear to you that I am saying that any church that wants to keep Confederate flags, names, and whatnot in their churches are morally obligated by our Baptismal Covenant to then tell the whole wretched story within their church, so that there is no hypocrisy in “telling the story” in the revisionist way that excludes the misery that was inflicted by these people, in the name of these people, and using these symbols.

      Sadly, racism in general and white supremacy in particular, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are indeed amongst the worst of the problems we face today. White supremacist terrorism has been identified by the FBI and others as the number 1 terrorist threat here at home. Unequal pay and opportunity costs families – more equality would lift 40-50 percent of people out of poverty. All people, but people of color, women, and children are disproportionately impacted. We Episcopalians have an obligation to consider all of that.

      We need to tell the real history, and not the revisionist, white supremacist version that has become the crucible of “alternative facts.” Doug, you are not bound by the Baptismal Covenant, we are. And so you are arguing in a context in which you are not versed at all. We have a theological lens and our guide is the Jesus who said love your neighbor without compromise.

  22. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    Pure Orwellian rationalization and a complete absence of intellectual maturity. Down the slippery slope we go, pushed over the edge by the emotive good intentions of the fascist left.

    • Attn P. J. Cabbiness,
      Sir or Madam, I am presuming it is I to whom your ad hominen attack is directed. that you genuinely believe you never have racist thoughts, and that your area of intellectual expertise is not the history of fascism, theory or practice of anti-fascism, nor history or theory of what has evolved, or “matured” if you will, over the last couple of centuries, such that using the word “fascist” as an adjective of the noun left” illustrates the reasoning of which Orwell wrote.

      A bit of self examination is never wasted.

  23. Bindy Snyder says:

    “The Episcopal church has no appreciation of history”
    Whuuut?!

  24. James Grillot says:

    The historical revisionism, such as the Confederacy situation, being championed by TEC is incredibly irresponsible, or to be more blunt, stupid. This issue and many more, such as the “Thank President Obama” email in 2013, are examples of why I find it increasingly hard, if not impossible to be intelligent, thoughtful and Episcopalian at the same time. TEC has become an arm of the Democratic Party, using their playbook and falsehoods with abandon. Such a shame! A once great church continues its dive to the bottom.

  25. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    Media and education system should do a better job of providing accurate history. Growing up in a developing country, we rarely heard anything good about the character of Black people. The local English media pretty much parroted what the Western media said about the Blacks. I won’t be wrong in saying that in every country where Blacks find themselves in a minority, they are treated with contempt. This attitude ingrained in the psyche of non-Blacks need to change. This may take a while, and all institutions should strive to correct their erroneous ways.
    There was a time when Jews were hated and despised for killing Jesus; we know better now. In many countries, symbols, monuments, insignia offensive to Jews are no longer permitted.

  26. Terry Francis says:

    A bit of self examination is never wasted Ms Dobbind ? I totally agree. And may I humbly suggest you follow your own advice.

  27. James Grillot says:

    Words of agreement from a fellow Episcopalian:
    I totally agree Jim. I am continually amazed and saddened by those I’ve known for so many years who buy into what’s being sold now. I’ve loved the worship services at the Episcopal Church for many years but I can’t support what it has become. I keep praying it will turn back into what it once was but don’t see that happening in my lifetime.
    Then when my priest told me that everything we had learned in the Baptist church was all wrong I knew I had been abandoned by my church. I had a choice to make – was the Bible the Word of God, or did I simply discard the parts that weren’t deemed to be “politically correct” by TEC leaders? It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but it was an incredibly sad one.
    I keep hoping that a new rector might make a difference in our parish, but I think the “holier than thou” attitude extends too far up in the hierarchy. When a church becomes political they have lost what they are about.
    IN ADDITION, FROM SNOPES: Public Law 810 refers to Part II, Chapter 23 of U.S. Code 38 which says that the government should, when requested, pay to put up monuments or headstones for unmarked graves for three groups of people:
    (1) Any individual buried in a national cemetery or in a post cemetery.
    (2) Any individual eligible for burial in a national cemetery (but not buried there), except for those persons or classes of persons enumerated in section 2402(a)(4), (5), and (6) of this title.
    (3) Soldiers of the Union and Confederate Armies of the Civil War.
    QUESTION: Do members of TEC feel it justified to flaunt federal law which paid for monuments and/or headstones of Civil War soldiers which were authorized by Federal Law by removing or otherwise disturbing them?
    The historical revisionist movement continues to sicken me. To quote my friend, Ron: “These idiots who are out destroying statues have no idea what they are destroying!

  28. bob wadkins says:

    Brothers and Sisters
    Those of us who are descended from “rebels” must remember one salient point, i. e., we are a conquered people. To the victor belongs the spoils. The United States of America defeated the Confederate States of America and forced the defeated states back into the union. We went through a rough time during the war and it continued through several years of “reconstruction.” It has continued into the present. We lost.
    And now the battle flag (St. Andrew cross) has been co-opted by the stupidest and most ignorant amongst us (much like TEC has hi-jacked christianity.) We and our ancestors are branded as vile and evil by the conquering nation. Did we not expect it? It has been building for a long time. We lost.
    Do you find it interesting that U.S. Grant owned slaves but R.E.Lee never owned a single slave. Lee was married into a family which owned a large number of slaves and he undoubtedly benefitted from the system but he was a man who lived a Spartan life and taught his children to do the same. Lee espoused that the existence of the “peculiar” institution should and would cease to exist in due time.

    Lee and Jackson have been branded as traitors to their country by clergymen in this forum. These clergymen do not understand that Virginia WAS their country. Don’t we all long for the days when the clergy were educated? But, we lost.

    Jesus was not a social worker desirous of sweeping changes. TEC has latched onto this theme because it creates a feeling of superiority. Does anyone know a Bishop who doesn’t just reek of superiority?

    Well, we lost and they will do everything they can do to humiliate us and there is nothing we can do about it. So, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

  29. mike geibel says:

    The Civil War has been over for more than 150 years, and the scars are still there. But the current TEC leaders understand only their political-utopian ideology. This social justice agenda stems partly from indoctrinated beliefs of atonement based upon “white guilt” and “white privilege,” terms which themselves are inherently racist.

    This social cleansing agenda is not unifying the membership, but is the voice of division and discord. Every week it’s a new demand that we all kneel at the altar of politico-religio correctness: no guns, no oil pipelines, no cars, no borders, one world order, communal bathrooms and showers for all, and now—no statues to the demi-gods of the evil Confederacy. There is no tolerance for those who may urge caution, and negative reactions by some members are of no consequence. The comments posted here will fall on the deaf ears. Their course is charted, the ship has been steered sharply to port, and the abandon ship siren is sounding in your ears.

    I am no Southerner, but I would not be surprised if the foreseeable backlash to the removal of symbols of the Confederacy may result in having to rename each Episcopal Church in the South as “The Little Church of Nobody Home.”

  30. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    I wonder who will pay the salaries of the bishops and priests that are instigating the nonsense of airbrushing the church? Most sensible people will go anywhere to get away from this tyrannical nonsense. While the TEC focuses on sins of the past, they overlook this sense of judgment, self-righteousness, in their own form of idolatry. Will he start airbrushing the Bible next?

  31. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    I wonder who will pay the salaries of the bishops and priests that are instigating the nonsense of airbrushing the church? Most sensible people will go anywhere to get away from this disrespect for history. While the TEC focuses on sins of the past, they overlook this sense of judgment, self-righteousness, in their own form of idolatry. Will he start airbrushing the Bible next?

  32. mike geibel says:

    Hugh:
    The TEC has already airbrushed the Bible by omitting references to passages that appear inconsistent with its “social justice,” alternative lifestyles, agenda. The Episcopal Church has apparently adopted the revisionist ideas first put forward by Jack Spong that all the traditional truths of the Christian faith are negotiable. The upcoming 2018 convention, (where the TEC threatens to “boycott Texas” over the Bathroom Bill), will include proposals to the Book of Common Prayer that fundamentally alter how and to whom we should pray so as to more closely follow the political re-imaging of the Church. Undoubtedly, gender sensitive language, and social / ecological justice themes will be front and center. Based upon the flurry of negative ENS articles on Confederate statues, we should now anticipate there will be proposed insertions condemning “white privilege” and promoting the demonization of historical figures judged by the Church under current mores to be guilty of the human flaws of their times.

  33. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    Being an immigrant, I fail to understand so much controversy surrounding Confederate symbols. At this point in history, we must try to look forward as a society knowing full well that past is past and many in past era did and said things that were socially acceptable to majority of the people. Yes, it is true that symbols do send a strong message but then what are we do to do with matters concerning religion and many other social issues.
    I really felt appalled when University of Ghana decided to remove the statue of Mahatma Gandhi accusing him of being a racist. Gandhi was a worldly man when he went to South Africa but over a period of time, his views on race, human psychology, religion, etc. kept on changing for the better. Those intellectuals who accuse him of being racist, casteist, sexist have really not done their homework. Gandhi’s statements and actions are taken out of context, and a smear campaign has begun against him.
    If this line of thinking is to be pursued then why have mosques. After all, Prophet Mohammed indulged in violence and war, the older he got the younger wives he acquired, and larger his harem became! Or for that matter Jesus…I have heard psychiatrist talk of Jesus as someone who enjoyed tormenting his parents. Remember the incident when Jesus stayed behind at the temple talking to the priests while Mary and Joseph left thinking he had gone ahead. Why should we have statues of Nelson Mandela; after all, he indulged in violence at one stage of his life? Or for that matter Dr. Martin Luther King?
    Was Nelson Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, n number of people, and many other notable personalities fools to regard Mahatma Gandhi as a saintly person?
    Perhaps, I am naïve but we should channel our energy for constructive activities.

  34. Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    People are missing the point. Most of the monuments and naming (e.g. Robert E. Lee Memorial Chapel) were created to distort history and re-impose white supremacy. Plenty of them were put up at the beginning of Jim Crow and in the 1960’s as a reaction against Civil Rights. So this crap about “erasing history” is a complete red herring – even more so as people who call for the removal from our churches are suggesting putting them in museums and cemeteries, with context. Few people are calling for destroying them altogether – but would it not be a good idea to finally tell the whole story and the actual truth? Why not put black heros like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass along side the generals? Why not include the documents of succession that make it crystal clear that the states succeeded to continue the “sacred” institution of slavery and God ordained white supremacy? If this is about history, then make it about history and tell the story from the African American point of view. Include how blacks were redlined out of FHA loans and cheated out of using the GI Bill after fighting for our country? Talk about the FBI report that states that white supremacists have infiltrated local law enforcement and ask the hard questions about whether that contributes to the fact that unarmed black men get killed by police at a far higher rate than any other unarmed victims of police abuse. Tell the real story of how the wounds of the Civil War are not healed.

    As Episcopalians, our concern has to be loving our neighbor, all our neighbors, black and white, gay and straight, etc. Jesus didn’t allow for exceptions (that’s what the questioner was seeking when he asked “who is my neighbor?”). Given the level of pain that is still out there, isn’t it our job to seek healing? Redemption? Reconciliation? Isn’t it our job to be welcoming to all people? How could an African American feel comfortable and welcomed with symbols of their oppression in the windows, names, plaques, whatever, in the church? Why does white attachment to totally fabricated warm fuzzies take precedence over the the obvious pain of our sisters and brothers who are people of color?

    Why does this myth hold such sway? The truth is really painful, but none of us were there. We can look to our Saviour and know that the job is bring peace and healing, and the truth is that those windows and whatnot are an impediment. You can’t worship a false narrative and expect to be welcoming to people who suffered the real deal.

  35. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    It certainly helps to know the true history. We live in a strange world. Those in power always wish to continue pursuing policies that will keep them in power. At some point in history, there seems to have been a marriage between the Church and the Government. Many Christian priests (some well meaning) went to tribal areas to spread the Gospel; little did they know that they would be caught in a tug of war between multinational corporations, govt policies and church politics. The tribal found themselves in a situation of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. They saw some improvement to their lot and in turn, lost their identity, lands, minerals, etc. History has written much about this. This continues to be played out in different parts of the world.

    Cynthia – I can empathize with you given my own experiences in graduate school, at work and also in social settings. I know it was not pleasant for me and was hurt in more ways than one. I realized that evil is powerful and found comfort in all that is good. I can only imagine the pain and the hurt that the African Americans carry. I am not sure if there will be reconciliation/healing between the African Americans and the Whites; I fear there will be more bloodshed. If you believe in the Second Coming of Christ, there is hope then.

    “Who is my neighbor?” We all know what Jesus said. Many years ago, I got to know an elderly white gentleman who was bitter about his life – fought in WWII, lost his home in divorce, poor health, children gone, was managing somehow. He had a dog that he loved very much. The dog was very protective and always stayed with him. On few occasions, the gentleman told me – a dog is the best friend one ever has!

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