An Episcopal church in Virginia that counted as members both our first president, George Washington, as well as Confederate General Robert E. Lee, will remove the historical plaques memorializing both figures in order to be more “welcoming.”
The vestry of Christ Church in Alexandria’s unanimous decision was announced in an October 26 letter to members first reported by the Republican Standard website. The letter informs churchgoers that the plaques are to be removed to prevent people feeling “unsafe” in the sanctuaary.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christ Church lives into this call, feeding the hungry with our Lazarus ministry, welcoming the stranger in our refugee ministry, and inviting all to worship with us. The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.
The letter, signed by 13 members of the governing council of the church, goes on to insist that the eras in which the two famed men lived are “much different than our own.” The letter continued:
We understand that both Washington and Lee lived in times much different than our own and that each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being, and like all of us, a child of God. Today, the legacy of slavery and of the Confederacy is understood differently than it was in 1870. For some, Lee symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery. Today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color.
“Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of ‘All are welcome — no exceptions,'” officials insisted about their whitewashing of church history. “Because the sanctuary is a worship space, not a museum, there is no appropriate way to inform visitors about the history of the plaques or to provide additional context except for the in-person tours provided by our docents.”
Church officials went on to explain that both plaques are being removed because the two occupy opposite areas of the sanctuary and would “unbalance” the aesthetic look of the church if only the Robert E. Lee plaque were to be removed.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.