Christ Church, Alexandria to move plaques commemorating Lee and Washington

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Christ Church, Alexandria in Virginia, founded in 1773, has a rich and complex history, which is represented by two plaques dedicated to Robert E. Lee and George Washington hanging at the front of the church. Both men were members of the church and were involved, in various ways, with its development. For several years now, Christ Church, now a vibrant and diverse parish, has been considering the fate of the plaques. In a letter to the parish on Thursday, Rev. Dr. Noelle York-Simmons and the vestry announced that the plaques would be removed, but not before another place on the grounds was found for them.

As part of the decision making process, which has taken several years, the parish has held several series of lectures, covering the history of the church as a whole as well as the particular roles of Washington and Lee. While George Washington was officially a member of a church closer to Mount Vernon, he worshiped regularly at Christ Church, and held a pew there. He may also have served on the vestry. Robert E. Lee was a member of Christ Church, and his wife gave a significant sum of money to begin the church’s endowment. Julie Randle, a parishioner, has been studying the history of Christ Church in great depth, and helped lead the seminars. Regarding the decision making process, she said, “We started by exploring who we were in terms of our southern and racial history, to help discover who we are now. How long this will take, and what the results will be, the only one who knows is God. The parish’s leadership’s focus is on let’s look at the big picture of race relations and see where it takes us. What is God leading us to do? What are the hard things we are being called to do?” York-Simmons added, “We are a vibrant, intelligent and curious congregation looking into how we can be a community that recognizes the full scope of its history in order to best serve a hurting world before us and continue to build a bright future that proclaims the love of Christ for all people,”. The plaques were installed in 1870, the year of Lee’s death.

The status of the plaques gained a new urgency with the events in Charlottesville in August. The protest by white nationalists over the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, a counter-protester. Christ Church decided to remove the plaques because they “create a distraction in our worship space and may create an obstacle to our identity as a welcoming church and an impediment to our growth and to full community with our neighbors.” However, not wanting to sweep any part of their complex history under the rug, or pretend it never happened, the decision included the caveat that the plaques would be rehung elsewhere on the church’s campus. York-Simmons said, “We are deeply committed to our history, but even more we are deeply committed to the worship of Jesus Christ. The question is, how can we reflect both?”

The full text of the letter to the congregation can be found here.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Sacred? reductio ad absurdum. They are plaques and the idea of objects of worship is ad absurdum. Recall that the problem was with visitors being put off, not false worship.

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John Chilton
Editor
John Chilton

The plaques went up after the Civil War. Washington was only brought into the space because of the desire to bring Lee into the space. They were placed left and right of the altar as if they were objects of worship. They certainly didn't belong on that wall. At the very least they needed to move from that wall of the sanctuary. As it is they will find a new home, just not in the sanctuary. Some of the reactions above suggest they are sacred; it's that view that tells us we're worshipping the wrong thing. (Also posted on Episcopal Cafe Facebook page.)

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Bill Swartzer
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Bill Swartzer

George Washington? Good Lord. Will this stop when the boomers who weren't able to march with Dr. King finally go to glory?

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Quentin Durward
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Quentin Durward

And they'll wonder what happened to the NFL, ESPN, the Episcopal Church, and all the other political "tools".

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

We were all assured there was no slippery slope...this won't happen with Jefferson or Washington or Grant...

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Bruce G. Kozak
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Bruce G. Kozak

This is an example of "Political Correctness" running amok. I can understand individuals having some reservations concerning Robert E. Lee. This is an example,particularly with George Washington, of attempting to placate individuals from an ultra progressive point of view .
Washington risked everything to help forge an Independent Nation and if the British had succeeded in controlling the colonies, he would have been hung as a traitor to the Crown. Who is next person to be placed under the Joseph McCarthy scrutiny of historical eradication? Abraham Lincoln?

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