Washington National Cathedral decides to remove windows with Confederate generals

[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral and the Diocese of Washington announced Sept. 6 that the cathedral’s stained-glass windows depicting two Confederate generals will be removed, bringing to an abrupt close a discernment process that was expected to last into next year.

“These windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation,” cathedral and diocesan leaders said in a written statement. “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

The expedited decision comes less than a month after the violent clashes between hate groups and anti-racism counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that amplified the national debate over Confederate symbols in public places, including in Episcopal institutions.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will visit Charlottesville on Sept. 7 to meet with clergy, diocesan staff and Episcopal students from the University of Virginia. He also will preach at an evening worship service near where Episcopal leaders and others joined in solidarity Aug. 12 against white supremacists who were rallying around a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The melee, which left one counter-protester dead, prompted renewed scrutiny of Confederate symbols in Episcopal institutions, from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a church named after Lee in Lexington, Virginia.

Washington National Cathedral had been halfway through a two-year period of discernment over its windows honoring Lee and Stonewall Jackson. That process began in the wake of the June 2015 massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gunman Dylann Roof’s fondness for the Confederate flag sparked a broad re-examination of the flag as a controversial symbol of the South that had been co-opted by white supremacists.

The cathedral removed depictions of the Confederate flag almost immediately. Dean Randy Hollerith wrote a June 30 letter to the congregation urging patience with the longer process of discerning the fate of the windows themselves.

“There is real frustration that we have not yet decided the ultimate disposition of the windows,” Hollerith said. “I want you to know I hear that frustration, and I appreciate that many people have good reasons for feeling that this decision-making process is taking too long.”

But he said the congregation had embarked on the work of reconciliation “for the long haul” and would continue the conversations “over the next year.”

“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 told Episcopal News Service last month that the events in Charlottesville added a sense of urgency to the process, but the cathedral gave no updated timetable for a decision on the windows.

Instead of dragging on for months, the process came to an end with the statement Sept. 6 signed by Hollerith, Bishop Mariann Budde and Cathedral Chapter Chair John Donoghue. They said the windows, installed in 1953 when the civil rights movement was gaining steam, “will be deconsecrated, removed, conserved and stored until we can determine a more appropriate future for them.”

The statement also alluded to the violence in Charlottesville.

“The continued presence of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate in our nation cannot be ignored – nor will they be solved simply by removing these windows or other monuments,” the statement said. “The racial wounds that we have seen across our nation compel us to renew our commitment to building God’s Beloved Community.”

The full text of the statement follows.


6 September 2017

Dear friends,

Two years ago, following a tragic shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C., then-Dean Gary Hall called for the removal of two stained glass windows at the Cathedral that honor Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

At that time, we began a process to engage this community in deep questions of racial justice, the legacy of slavery and God’s call to us in the 21st century. Over the past two years, we have heard from deeply passionate voices who have engaged with us and held us accountable to this process, and we thank them.

The programs we have hosted, the conversations within our community and national events have brought greater focus on the key question facing us: Are these windows, installed in 1953, an appropriate part of the sacred fabric of a spiritual home for the nation?

After considerable prayer and deliberation, the Cathedral Chapter voted Tuesday to immediately remove the windows. The Chapter believes that these windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation. Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.

These windows will be deconsecrated, removed, conserved and stored until we can determine a more appropriate future for them. The window openings and stone work in the Lee-Jackson Bay will be covered over until we determine what will go in their place.

There are several things that we know to be true:

• Whatever their origins, we recognize that these windows are more than benign historical markers. For many of God’s children, they are an obstacle to worship in a sacred space; for some, these and other Confederate memorials serve as lampposts along a path that leads back to racial subjugation and oppression.

• A central question we have asked throughout this process is what narratives are shared within the sacred fabric of the Cathedral, and which are yet untold. We have concluded that these windows tell an incomplete and misleading account of our history. We are committed to finding ways to offer a richer, more balanced expression of our nation’s history.

• We have asked whether it is possible to contextualize these windows or to augment them with other narratives. The Chapter concluded that there is no way to adequately contextualize these windows while keeping them within the sacred fabric of the Cathedral.

• We want to be clear that we are not attempting to remove history, but rather are removing two windows from the sacred fabric of the Cathedral that do not reflect our values. We believe these windows can yet have a second life as an effective teaching tool in a place and context yet to be determined.

• The recent violence in Charlottesville brought urgency to our discernment process.  We find ourselves compelled by the witness of others, moved by the presence of God in our midst and convicted that the Holy Spirit is pointing us toward the answer. The continued presence of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate in our nation cannot be ignored – nor will they be solved simply by removing these windows or other monuments. The racial wounds that we have seen across our nation compel us to renew our commitment to building God’s Beloved Community.

There are questions we cannot yet answer, such as what will replace these windows. Those answers will come after careful thought and deliberation. But we know this for sure: while this part of our work has reached its end, the harder task of working for racial justice, combating intolerance and fostering reconciliation continues with renewed urgency.

We recognize that there are people of goodwill who disagree with our decision, and also others who have been hurt or confused by the amount of time it took us to reach it. We trust, however, that what unites us in Christ is greater than our differences. We continue to hold the entire Cathedral community in prayer as we strive always to see each other as beloved children of God.

In the coming weeks and months, the Cathedral leadership will create opportunities for all in the Cathedral community to express their views and feelings. We promise to listen carefully to all who are willing to share. And we renew our commitment to follow Jesus and do our part to build the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Faithfully,

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Washington 

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean, Washington National Cathedral

John Donoghue
Chair, Cathedral Chapter

Comments

  1. Ronald Davin says:

    Is that the same Episcopalian vestryman and General who worked so hard for peace and reconciliation after the War ?

    • Nolan McBride says:

      And as part of that work for reconciliation he opposed any sort of statute or memorial to himself or the Confederacy after the war, so by removing these windows the cathedral is in fact honoring his wishes. And these windows were not installed to honor his work for reconciliation, but to memorialize him as a general of the Confederacy. Whatever his personal views may have been, by choosing to fight for the Confederacy he chose to fight to defend slavery. It is this, not reconciliation, these windows honor. Keep in mind these windows were installed in he 50’s, right around the time a spike of Confederate monuments were erected as part of a push back against civil rights.

  2. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    What the Episcopal hierarchy has done at the Washington Cathedral is in spirit exactly what the Nazis did during the 1930s when they banned what was referred to as degenerate art (Entartete Kunst). Shame on them.

    • Nolan McBride says:

      On the contrary, it’s much more in line with what Germany did after WWII when it took down Nazi monuments and memorials, and outlawed Nazi imagery.

  3. Doug Desper says:

    In that Robert E. Lee did not approve of monuments to the Civil War in his lifetime I agree with this decision. A hope: that the vilification by half-educated activists simmer down below a dull roar. They are looking for saints without humanity – but they won’t find them. They are looking for causes to challenge like a modern-day Gandhi – and defaming many along the way. None of us lived 160 years ago, and the complexities of our nation cannot be summed up by an oversimplified argument about slavery. That’s looking at life through 1960s-era glasses. If wise minds of today can figure out the easy road to solving life back in the 1860s then good luck. More importantly, those wise minds had better peep under their own beds. They benefit (we benefit) from the misery of modern-day slaves just as much as long ago. Where is the angst and energy to drastically destroy our lifestyles and national economy now in 2017 for their road to emancipation? Ain’t happening, is it? Well, guess what? That means that most everyone hissing at Confederates today is, in fact, a near exact replica of them. Destroy our national economy? Put millions out of fortunes and work? Pay many times more for goods and services? HECK NO! …. but how is that better than the choices facing Americans in the 1860s? (Crickets). Lee admitted that slavery was wrong and wanted a decent end to it. He was among many, many people of good will who thought so. He believed, however, that the tactics of the federal government to declare national martial law was not how to achieve that end. Today, Confederates are fair game. Who is next? The iconoclastic glare of activists isn’t finished. Some well-nourished targets? Lincoln’s statue should come out of the Cathedral because he used racially insulting language about blacks and the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all blacks in the area of Lincoln’s control. Not forgotten is that he authorized warfare against civilian populations throughout the South. Read “The Burning” by John Heatwole. Those of us living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia have a collective memory of the Autumn of 1864 and the wrath of an out-of-control federal government. Martin Luther King Jr? His doctoral degree was flagged for plagiarism, he rubbed elbows with Communist organizations bent on the defeat of our country, and he was an adulterer against his wife. Woodrow Wilson is certainly next because he re-integrated the U.S. Army during his presidency. Pretty soon the Cathedral is going to look like a Quaker Meeting House — if we aren’t hypocrites and go the full measure just for consistency.

    R.E. Lee should be remembered for more than his military life, so the Confederate Window was never an adequate portrayal. How about a Reconciliation Window with the life episode wherein Lee is in St. Paul’s, Richmond kneeling for Communion next to a former slave. That says so much more….unless the activists object, of course. Maybe, at long last, they will exhaust their targets and peep under their own beds in the Autumn of 2017 — and see the eyes of their own slaves staring back at them.

  4. Wm. Thomas Martin says:

    Earlier, I expressed my opposition to the removal of the windows, because I felt they had a place in the great Cathedral as an expression of our pain and suffering as a nation. The windows reflecting the ‘pride of the South’ placed before us our ‘original sin’ as a new nation. But now in the light of Charleston and Charlottesville, it is time to remove and replace this window. But the task before us, is far greater. We must find away to remove the hatred and prejudice and racist attitudes in our hearts so that we may live as one people in a country, that historically, welcomes all!

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

    I am disappointed in this decision. It shows a lack of the depth of understanding church leaders have of the Gospel of Jesus. One cannot erase or change the history they disagree with. The next stained glass windows to go will be those of Jesus Himself. Jesus didn’t teach against slavery, it taught a proper respect that owners should have toward their slaves. The Roman Empire had institutional slavery, but the laws of Rome gradually changed to the place where they were laws enacted to protect slaves from the abuses of their owners. Slavery remained an institution for many years and gradually became an under class of surfs who worked the land for landowners. The National Cathedral has proven by this decision that it neither respects the God of history or the history that God has revealed Himself through to us. Shame on you.

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

    I am disappointed in this decision. It shows a lack of the depth of understanding church leaders have of the Gospel of Jesus. One cannot erase or change the history they disagree with. The next stained glass windows to go will be those of Jesus Himself. Jesus didn’t teach against slavery, it taught a proper respect that owners should have toward their slaves. The Roman Empire had institutional slavery, but the laws of Rome gradually changed to the place where they were laws enacted to protect slaves from the abuses of their owners. Slavery remained an institution for many years and gradually became an under class of surfs who worked the land for landowners. The National Cathedral has proven by this decision that it neither respects the God of history or the history that God has revealed Himself through to us. Shame on you.

  7. Catherine Cummings says:

    Wasn’t the goal of the Confederacy to break away from the United States of America and form another separate republic? Didn’t Lincoln state in his first inaugural address “The Union shall and must be preserved”. 1953 is a little late to honor a man who died in 1870 and who asked that no statues be erected to him. Dr. King tried to make US society more just and responsible. What is the point of saying “with liberty and just for all” if no effort is made to make that statement a reality.

  8. P.J. Cabbiness says:

    Sad. Poorly thought out. Reactionary. The Brownshirts started out with the best of intentions also and they were fond of erasing truth and history in this manner. I am asking our PB to please let us know what art to destroy, books to burn, statutes to melt, etc. so there is no confusion on how he would like us to proceed. Also, which of us equals are more equal than the others? Just a basic Animal Farm question that I would like answered.

  9. Deacon Dorothy Royal says:

    What’s next, the cross because it will often some one else. Please think about this🙏🙏

  10. Glenn Johnson says:

    Saint Paul said that slaves should be obedient to their masters. Does this statement mean that we should remove his letters from the New Testament? They constitute a considerable portion of the whole. How much better to view things in their historical setting.

    • Nolan McBride says:

      On the contrary, biblical scholarship shows that not all of the letters attributed to Paul were in fact written by him, but by a “second” and “third” Paul who sought to minimize the radical elements of Christianity and make it more acceptable to Roman sensibilities in response to persecution. And, based on when these windows were installed, putting them in their historical context indicates they were most likely created as part of a pushback against civil rights.

      • Ernie Hammel says:

        Nolan, God allowed the letters of Paul to be part of the Bible….The entire Bible has been inspired by God…. how else can we know what God’s intention for us? It is not prudent to decide which parts of God’s message we humble children of God chose to follow. In those days, it was best for the slaves to be obedient to their masters as stated in the Bible. Any re-interpretation of the Bible is man’s own folly, trying to be smarter than God. Beware of this trap.

  11. The decision to remove the Confederate windows from Washington Cathedral is a cheap, self-serving example of political correctness. It is both Orwellian and ignorant. Glenn Johnson’s September 7 comment is perfectly valid and it cannot be refuted. How will the cathedral hierarchy respond to it? My guess is that they will simply ignore it as they march forward with their self-righteous, purging agenda.

  12. Howard Stringfellow III says:

    Are the windows to be deconsecrated, removed, conserved, and stored memorials given with the understanding that they would forever be part of the sacred fabric of the Cathedral? How shall that understanding be honored?

  13. F. William Thewalt says:

    We should follow the USSR and re-write all of our history we dislike. Future generations only need to know what we want them to.

    future

  14. Nolan McBride says:

    I commend the cathedral for making this decision. I hope the windows are donated to a museum where they can be displayed with the appropriate historical context.

    • Nolan McBride says:

      I just wanted to add that my personal suggestions for what the replacement windows should depict are the Brethren church at Antietam battlefield and the life and martyrdom of Brethren elder John Kline. The Brethren are one of the three historical peace churches together with the Mennonites and Quakers, yet one of their churches stands in the midst of the battlefield of the deadliest single day in the Civil War, where he was turned into a hispital to treat soldiers of both sides. John Kline was an elder of the church, roughly equivalent to a bishop, and a doctor, who refused to let the war get in the way of his duties as a pastor and physician. He was murdered by his own neighbors, who accused him of being a spy.

  15. Amy Hanrahan says:

    I totally agree with Nolan McBride and support the decision to remove the stained glass depicting Robt. E Lee & Stonewall Jackson.
    Isn’t it curious that it was installed in 1953? Lee & Jackson were just substitutes for George Wallace & Strom Thurmond as part of the wave of support for the Dixiecrats and to reinforce Jim Crow.
    Why bother to “deconsecrate” this window? It should be broken and thrown in the trash. This is not rewriting history, it’s repudiating previous bad acts.

  16. Charlotte W Majewski says:

    My own pastor brought it to our attention that slavery of biblical times was radically different from slavery in the antebellum south. I understand the assorted reasons behind the removal of the windows especially since they only date to the 1950’s. I don’t really feel political figures of any sort should have a memorial in a church. Same thing with statues. Those belong in cemeteries and museums. What on earth are they going to replace these windows with? I hope not some nauseating politically correct subject matter just as obnoxious in a different way. And while they wait to decide on this matter and have something made, what are they going to put in the void? Are they really going to have plywood in the National Cathedral? I never knew until I saw this story that those windows existed.

  17. Jawaharlal Prasad says:

    In quite a few nations (esp democratic ones), there is a push to correct not only history but also remove false beliefs that we have been fed over the years under religion and spirituality. A denomination finds a way to Biblically justify slavery, another religion to justify casteism, another to propagate anti-Semitism, etc. Something is not right.
    I hope the correction continues so that we can all live in true harmony as brothers and sisters.

  18. Terry Francis says:

    Come on people! You can’t send EVERYTHING that offends you to museums!

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