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How to respond when a mistake happens

How to respond when a mistake happens

UPDATE: Letter from St. Paul’s rector, see below.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond Virginia agreed to host an event put on by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. The event was to be a roundtable discussion on the topic of “Debunking the Myth of the White Confederate Military”. But sometime on Friday, the day of the event, the church canceled.

The Atlantic has this account of the days activities:

“The day began with a small rally of SCV faithful at the Lee monument on Monument Avenue. At least one unit marched while chanting the following:

What do we do?

Kill Yankees!

How Many?

All of them!

Apparently, some time on Friday, officials at St. Paul’s canceled the church portion of the event. I have no idea why they did this, though it seems safe to assume that enough people within the church community voiced their disapproval. What we do know is that the SCV has done everything in its power over the past few years to alienate reasonable people. “

(The account is part of a larger article that argues that organizations like the Sons of the Confederacy are older and graying and no longer appealing to young people. And that if they want to survive, they are going to have to rethink some of their stands. Which is very similar to an article making the same point we published earlier this morning.)

The Richmond Times has a further description of the activities which took place:

A small plane with a banner reading “Richmond, Embrace Your Confederate History” circled the gathering as speakers denounced Abraham Lincoln and praised Lee and Jefferson Davis.

“What a wonderful day to be in the Capital of the Confederacy,” Louisiana resident Chuck McMichael, past national commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the crowd.

Michael Rose, the Virginia commander, expressed outrage that the General Assembly considered a bill establishing a holiday to honor Lincoln “in Virginia ” and drew cheers when he said it had been killed in committee.

Mind, there are reasons that you might not want to dismiss the study of the Confederacy out of hand:

“What people think is if you’re studying the Confederacy, you must be a racist. And that’s bad labeling,” said S. Waite Rawls III, president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy.

And perhaps it was because of efforts like these that St. Paul’s initially agreed to host the event. But whatever the original reason was, clearly as the event’s tenor became clear, St. Paul’s withdrew it’s invitation.

[Rightly so in this editor’s opinion. And not surprising given St. Paul’s reputation in the area and their commitment to reconciliation.]

But here’s a question for our readers: How much background checking should a church do before it allows a group access to the church facilities? If a mistake happens, how much responsibility should the church take?


The mission of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is to proclaim Christ in the heart of the city. And that mission calls us to promote healing and reconciliation, whenever and wherever we can. We seek to be responsive to that call – and it means to us that St. Paul’s, with its deep history and roots in this city and this nation, must serve as a place and a community that fosters such healing.

With that in mind, we declined to rent space to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans for their event previously scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, February 25. Regrettably, we did not receive complete information regarding the nature of the event.

Yours truly,

Wallace Adams-Riley

Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Richmond, Virginia


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Bill Dilworth

Bro. David, the North was complicit in slavery and its after effects up to its collective eyeballs. Yankees were very important in the slave trade, tended to sell their slaves to Southerners when their own states abolished the institution (as opposed to freeing them), used various means to keep African Americans out of their territory, denied them the vote, and physically segregated them. And of course, the Northern textile mills that set off the Industrial Revolution depended on slave-grown cotton. Even after the North got rid of its de jure segregation, de facto segregation lingered on in many places. And from the lynchings of the New York Draft Riots of the Civil War to the busing riots in Boston, African Americans were the targets of violence in the North all too often.

The system of racism was more open and virulent in the South, it’s true, and hung on longer there. That, and the fact that history is written by the winners, combined to help the North erase its racist heritage by making the South its whipping boy. The myth that the Civil War was a grand Crusade to free the slaves, rather than a war to preserve the Union, feeds into this sanitizing of American history. I’m not arguing that the states of the ex-CSA have clean hands: they do not. But the story that the record of the rest of the country has been one of racial brotherhood, while all those mean old racists lived (and live) in places like Memphis and Birmingham is just that – a story. The United States, and not just parts of it, has a deeply racist heritage. It is also, unfortunately, part of the heritage of the Episcopal Church, and not only in the South.

As Adam mentioned, many people who fought on the Confederate side did so out of a sense of patriotism and loyalty to their states rather than dedication to slavery. I believe that’s as true for enlisted men as it is of officers like Robert E Lee. Southerners fought to defend their states from invasion, not because they were proto-Klansmen.

Emotions still run high in the South on the topic of the Civil War, but I think that much of it is because of the shared experiences of Southerners during and after the War, rather than a nostalgia for the good old days of slavery. The South is the only part of the US that has seen widespread suffering as a result of total war, the lack of discrimination between military and civilian assets we rightly condemn when we see it in other countries’ conflicts. People starved as a result of deliberate Union policy and actions. The part of Reconstruction when the Radical Republicans were in charge saw a good deal of corruption and the further impoverishment of the South at the hands of opportunists. I believe that much of the Civil War romance that people like the SCV indulge in arises as a response to that suffering, and is a misguided attempt to salvage some honor from it.

I respectfully disagree that anti-Latino racism is a Southern phenomenon. Historically it’s been most predominant in the Greater Southwest, mainly because that was where the majority of Latinos lived in the US. My home state of Texas lies both in the South and the Southwest regions, so its ample history of anti-Latino racism might be unfairly associated with parts of the country like Mississippi that didn’t see sizable Latino populations until the last decade of the 20th century. The geographies of racism overlap here, but are not the same.

David Allen

You are in no way fair in your comments about Confederate soldiers or about those who survived the Civil War.

Ask those blacks whose families in the south endured the next 100 years after the US civil war of segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, beatings, rapes and lynchings if they agree with you.

Ask me and my latino sisters & brothers about the racism that still occurs, more so in the south in our experience, than other areas of the US, if they agree with you.

I think that saying that the war between the states of the USA was not about slavery, is just as dishonest as saying that the issues causing the divisions in the Anglican Communion are not about homosexuality.

Bro David

Bill Dilworth

Brother David, I am a Southerner by birth. I am not still fighting the Civil War, or waiting for the South “to rise again,” and up until recently I’ve been happy that the Union survived (and my present disillusionment has nothing to do with that War). However, I have had a craw-full of people beating the South and Southerners – especially for things (like racial injustice) which are the common heritage of the United States as a whole, and not only a section of it.

You are in no way fair in your comments about Confederate soldiers or about those who survived the Civil War.

Adam Spencer

Brother David,

I’m no Civil War historian but from what I DO know about that conflict not every Confederate soldier signed up to defend slavery. Many signed up to defend their home states from what they perceived to be the invading Federal government. Was slavery present in that context? Yes. Did they sign up to fight FOR slavery? Not necessarily, I don’t think.


David Allen

I had ancestors and relatives that fought on both sides, and I’m proud to say it.

As someone from another nation, that is a very strange thing of which to be proud. You are proud that you have relatives who fought and died in support of the institution of slavery. Are you likewise proud of your relatives who survived the war and went on to promote and participate in discrimination and segregation?

Bro David

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