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Washington National Cathedral dean calls to remove Confederate-commemorating stained glass

Washington National Cathedral dean calls to remove Confederate-commemorating stained glass

The Very Reverend Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, has announced that the cathedral will be removing two stained glass windows, installed in 1953, that honor Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and include the Confederate flag:

“The Cathedral installed these windows, in part, because its leadership at the time hoped they would foster reconciliation between parts of the nation that had been divided by the Civil War. Because this Cathedral is the ‘national’ cathedral, it sought to depict America’s history in a way that promoted healing and reconciliation.

“It is time to take those windows out. Here, in 2015, we know that celebrating the lives of these two men, and the flag under which they fought, promotes neither healing nor reconciliation, especially for our African-American sisters and brothers.

“While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent. There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community. We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought and died.

“In the aftermath of a year of racial tensions and violence—from killings of unarmed black men by police to the shootings of nine members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston—the Confederate battle flag has emerged as the primary symbol of a culture of white supremacy that we and all Americans of good will must repudiate.

“That’s why I’m calling on the Cathedral’s governing bodies to remove these windows, and to initiate a process by which we may discern what kind of contemporary stained glass windows could adequately represent the history of race, slavery, and division in America.

National Public Radio’s Scott Simon interviewed Hall on Weekend Edition Saturday. From that report:

In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln noted that both the North and the South “read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other …”

“How do you explain that Confederates, as Lincoln suggested, prayed to the same God as Lincoln, as Harriet Tubman, as Sojourner Truth?” Simon asks Hall.

“I think this is an important moment for church leaders, including myself, to stop, you know, giving God the credit or the blame for everything,” Hall responds in part.

“In other words … a lot of stuff is done in God’s name; I think we need to be a little bit clearer about what’s our own will and what’s God’s will and be a little bit more willing to suspend our judgment about what God is really doing until we’ve had a chance for that judgment to play out.”

The dean’s entire statement can be read here.

Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett



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Paul Powers

Dean Hall addressed the idea of just excising the Confederate battle flag in his June 28, 2015 sermon:

“Second, the windows themselves. Some have suggested that we merely excise the flag images from the windows and leave the rest of them intact. But if you go look at them after the service, and I encourage you to do so—they’re on the south side of the nave, just this side of President Wilson’s tomb—you’ll see that the flags are only part of the problem. The Lee-Jackson bay was installed in 1953 after a long campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy both to fund and approve them. The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a group mainly concerned with fostering respect for southern heritage. But in proposing these windows they went beyond heritage and created a memorial that puts a decidedly saintly spin on two leaders of the Confederate Army. The inscriptions portray them as exemplary Christian gentlemen. But the windows contain no reference to the sin of slavery which both men fought—and one died—to uphold.”

I’m not sure whether I agree with him, but it’s a good argument.

John Merchant

Perhaps it’s time for Episcopal churches to remove all secular flags from their buildings. With the often divisive consequences of our country’s celebration of civil religion, the popular yet erroneous protestations that the USA is a Christian nation, and with the judicial affirmations of the validity of the presumption of the separation of church and state, every flag is a distraction from the sacred mission of churches and may cause confusion as to precisely where the church extends its allegiance. There should be no question that the sole symbol to which the Church
pledges its allegiance is the cross upon which the Redeemer of the world was crucified.

Philip Snyder

Even our Church flag is a combination of Secular flags. The red cross on the white field is the flag of England. The blue field in the upper left is from the USA’s blue field in it’s flag. The 9 crosslets (signifying the 9 original dioceses) harken to the 13 stars for each of the 13 colonies and the crosses are in an “X” shape because of the Cross of St. Andrew’s – from Scotland. So our Church flag has elements of the nations of England, USA, and Scotland in it. Perhaps we should do away with all flags.

Or, we could recognize the role that the secular world has had on our Church (for good and for ill) and acknowledge that we (as Christians) do believe that we are one nation under God (even if no church or religion dictates what God says to the Country our our politicians) and that we hope and pray that our leaders will see themselves as men and women under God’s authority rather than their own.

Ann Fontaine

We have no flags in our church- they engender division. I am sorry the General Convention started hanging flags.

Rev Dr. Ellen M Barrett

Jackson was indeed baptized an Episcopalian but being a Presbyterian was much more in keeping with his character–he would not have been out of place in the New Model Army in the English Civil War. Lee was also a leader in the parish church in Lexington, Virginia where I was confirmed, and died as the result of a chill contracted on a cold and rainy night riding from my great-grandparents’ house to attend a vestry meeting. He had a great grace about him. An example would be his acknowledgement of Ely Parker at Appomattox: ‘It is good to have a real American here.’ For those of you who don’t know, Parker was a Native American (and his reply was ‘We are all Americans here.)

Fred Loving

This is so sad. It was the faith of Robert E. Lee that first brought me to the Eplscopal Church.

Scott Wesley

I trust Dean Hall wanted to promote discussion as much as remove windows – so I think he is succeeding well. I have to say, after reading this discussion, that I would prefer the windows come out. They are not particularly ancient. They may have had a purpose of promoting healing, but they don’t seem to have succeeded in that. While arguments can be made two men are being remembered as engineers, it neglects the fact that they fought against the US government – which is generally known as treason. Remembering them first and foremost as engineers is a bit like trying to remember Hitler as a poet… The stained glass and statues and such in our places of worship are surely to be used as teachable items. Many people depicted are marvelously complicated – great good mingled with great evil. But in the case of these two, that they were upstanding “churchmen” and may have committed small acts of human kindness does not seem to stack up very high to the downside of leading an uprising against the government for the purpose of maintaining slavery.

John McClanahan

“They are not particularly ancient.”

Neither is the Cathedral (more specifically the Cathedral Church of St. Peter & St. Paul).

We need to dial back our zeal to try and remove every possible minor vestige of uncomfortable history, particularly those small bits which are explanatory in context.

If you haven’t heard as yet, there is a movement to ban the use of the “Fleur de Lis” (a long-acknowledged symbol for the Virgin Mary) because runaway slaves in French Louisiana were branded with a “Fleur de Lis” as punishment for attempted escape.

As to the swastika, it comes in both a right-facing, and left-facing version. It also makes a difference if the swastika is “standing” or “running, i.e. at an angle”. The swastika on the flag of the Third Reich is a “running”, right-facing swastika. The “standing”, left-facing swastika is often used as a Bhuddist symbol on grave-stones.

The a running, right-facing swastika, with curved arms, was adopted as the symbol of the Finnish military @1919, and is still used.

Let us remember that the admonition against “false idols” in the Ten Commandments translates as both “worship” and “fear”.

I don’t get bent about the so-called “ISIS flag” which is simply the Islamic confession of faith written on a black cloth. An inscription of which, you’ll usually see inscribed on a brass plaque in many Muslim homes and businesses.

I don’t reject the symbol of the Cross of the Crucifixion, even as it has been co-opted by the KKK.

We have so many real problems to deal with. And this agita over the Confederate symbols isn’t one of them.

David Allen

Remembering them first and foremost as engineers is a bit like trying to remember Hitler as a poet…

That is a gross exaggeration and truly unneeded. Had he not committed suicide, Hitler would have been tried and executed for war crimes. Robert E Lee became the president of a university after the Civil War and died a man mourned and respected by both folks in the North and the South.

Bro David

David Allen

We don’t often see the fulfillment of Godwin’s Law at the Episcopal Cafe.

Bro David

Scott Wesley

You are or course quite right – In hindsight my statement is quite over the top an needlessly inflammatory.

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