National Cathedral faces calls to remove windows with Confederate generals

Washington National Cathedral held a discussion on its windows honoring Confederate generals on Oct. 26, 2016. Speakers, from left to right, are Civil War scholar John Coski, the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas of the cathedral, Rex Ellis of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and moderator Ray Suarez. Photo courtesy of Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral held a discussion on its windows honoring Confederate generals on Oct. 26, 2016. Speakers, from left to right, are Civil War scholar John Coski, the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas of the cathedral, Rex Ellis of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and moderator Ray Suarez. Photo courtesy of Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral held a discussion on its windows honoring Confederate generals on Oct. 26, 2016. Speakers, left to right, are Civil War scholar John Coski, the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas of the cathedral, Rex Ellis of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and moderator Ray Suarez. Photo courtesy of Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

WASHINGTON (RNS) After quietly removing panes bearing the Confederate flag from its stained-glass windows, leaders of the Washington National Cathedral are now wondering what to do about remaining images of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“How can you justify having those windows in a house of God?” challenged Riley Temple, a former board member of the Washington National Cathedral’s foundation.

Temple was one of several audience members who spoke on Wednesday (Oct. 26) during a series of discussions the cathedral is holding on racial justice. Also present was a scholar of Civil War history and an expert from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The stained-glass window debate comes at a time of soul-searching in America over the legacy of slavery and renewed calls to purge public places of the Confederate flag that is for many a symbol of oppression.

Andrew Goldkuhle of Goldkuhle Studios in Hanover, Va., inspects and replaces stained glass images of the Confederate battle flag at Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Danielle Thomas / Washington National Cathedral

Andrew Goldkuhle of Goldkuhle Studios in Hanover, Va., inspects and replaces stained-glass images of the Confederate battle flag at Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Danielle Thomas / Washington National Cathedral

The windows honoring the Confederate generals were added in 1953 with the support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that sought to honor the memory of veterans who fought for the South.

Under the Robert E. Lee window there is language etched in stone that calls him “a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach.” And under Jackson, it says he “walked humbly before his Creator whose word was his guide.”

Cathy Ball, who attends another Episcopal church in Washington, said the windows should stay.

“Our history in the United States, in America, is a history of oppression through the very beginning, the oppression of native peoples, the oppression of enslaved peoples, the oppression of immigrants,” she said.

“If we erase every trace of that terrible history, what would we have left?”

RELATED: Confederate flag images quietly removed from National Cathedral

The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian at the cathedral, said she hopes the leaders will avoid the “easy route” of a take-them-down or leave-them-up decision.

“I really want to do the hard work of becoming a different kind of community, and pointing a way to how we can become that,” said Douglas, also a religion professor at Goucher College.

Nadine Wedderburn, an associate professor at Empire State College in Schenectady, N.Y., who has studied forgiveness and race relations, said discussions like the cathedral’s can be beneficial.

“People can get to air their view, share their different side of the story, as it were, and begin to get at the heart of what separates and divides us,” she said. “That is one step further towards the progress of healing and reconciliation.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • “How can you justify having those windows in a house of God?”

    I’d say how can you justify having any warrior portrayed, including the Union ones, but w/e.

  • You make this all sound like a bad thing.

    “I will not be reconstructed, nor will the southern people will be forgotten. Damn these liberals and damn these who wish to destroy southern heritage.”

    Southern heritage and southern people has a nasty habit of only really referring to one demographic of people from the region. 🙂

  • Well here we go again with the sissy liberals with their panty’s in a bunch over their itsy bitsy feeling getting hurt….booo….hooo….hooo.

  • You are illiterate. It’s not the liberals whose feelings are hurt here. Its the redneck neo confederate types bemoaning the loss of your their “southern heritage”.

  • I sometimes wonder about Southern pride — what the Southerly prideful choose to honor. There are many things to appreciate about the South. My favorites are its ancient and beautiful wildlife, its awe-inspiring NASA facilities, its incomparable music, and its unforgettable food. When it comes to reasons for regional reverence, Southerners couldn’t have picked a better place to live.

    So why champion a spiritually unworthy past decision to honor an unconscionable chapter of history, a rebellion perpetrated in defense of the indefensible “institution” of slavery, an unholy war over inhuman dehumanization that was lost through what believers might righteously call the merciful grace of God?

    Images of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — on a church window? How about images of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, or any number of other truly honorable and righteous heroes of the American South?

  • The issue here, imo, is whether honoring – that’s what it is – traitorous generals is appropriate, especially in a church. We can’t and shouldn’t eradicate references to the Civil War but should we honor them? A different issue and a dangerous one is the effort to eradicate references to racism and racists in our history. That is nonsense. Besides slavery, racism was the way of life throughout our nation. Jefferson and Lincoln both felt blacks were an inferior race. This was a common viewpoint. Andrew Jackson was no worse than our other presidents. You can’t eradicate racism from our nation. It’s embedded in our constitution – the Three Fifths Compromise. The Progressive/Regressives are working to that end.

  • Isn’t it wonderful the Christians freed the slaves here and in England? And who are you to judge another culture with your own questionable standards? Fact is it was resolved and you and other foolish liberals had nothing to do with it. Get over yourself.

  • Let me repeat myself the Christians freed the slaves and fools like you had nothing to do with it. So who are you and where do you get the authority to judge another culture with your questionable standards?

  • You said nothing of the sort the first time around.

    If you are going to have Christians take credit for freeing slaves you have to give them credit for enslaving people in the first place. Fools like you like to lie about history to make themselves feel better. Do you want your posterior kissed for being Christian? Tough luck.

    “So who are you and where do you get the authority to judge another culture with your questionable standards?”

    Another culture? They were Americans. Same culture. Different time.

  • A symbol currently associated with white supremacy? Nah, nobody is going to get offended over that. No sirree Bob. Nobody whatsoever.

  • “. . . Christians freed the slaves . . .”

    This is one of the best examples of how sleazy Christians eventually take all the credit for specific human advancements after becoming entrenched in society and viewed as overwhelmingly positive. And they do this while deflecting any responsibility for actions that become viewed as overwhelmingly horrific, such as the Holocaust.

    I will not live to see it, but sleazy Christians will eventually take credit for leading the way toward ending society’s bigotry against, and persecution of, gay people.

  • Wow I couldn’t have won a bet on how you an atheist would react to the truth… homimem……paint me surprised you fool atheists are so predictable.

  • So you want to argue about nonsense do you? Please be my guest and prove me wrong if you can but we both know you’re incapable of dealing in actual truth eh?

  • BTW in order for someone like you to become a “sleazy” Christian you’d have to drag yourself up out of the sewer. I don’t hate homosexuals but I do hate being forced to except a known dangerous and destructive behavior you chose.

  • In a dramatic and celebrated act of conscience, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when it barred the world-renowned singer Marian Anderson, an African American, from performing at its Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Following this well-publicized controversy, the federal government invited Anderson to sing at a public recital on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, some 75,000 people came to hear the free recital. The incident put both the artist and the issue of racial discrimination in the national spotlight.
    That’s all I have to say about that.

  • Southern churches supported slavery with few exceptions. Slavery is approved by god in both the OT and the NT. The overwhelming view of nearly all Americans (christians) was that blacks were racially inferior to whites – a view supported by the assertion that the cursed grandson of Noah became black.

  • So you’re going to paint all Christians with a broad brush because the southern baptists used the bible to justify a sin? The fact is most slaves were indentured servants and the rest were pagans taken in war. So do you believe that God allowed were chattel as was in the rest of the world?

  • You don’t hate homosexuals, you just hate people who are sexually oriented towards the same gender. [facepalms]

    You are still a sleaze who is trying to put a Fundamentalist Christian tramp stamp on society as if it means people have to treat you special for being a Christian. You are special. But only in a short bus sort of way.

    You aren’t like the abolitionists. Given your pervasive bigotry, you have more in common with the belief of their opponents. So buzz off. You don’t get to take credit for them personally or on behalf of the same group which includes slavers as well.

  • I am the former rector/pastor of a very special Roman Catholic small cathedral/basilica and was very honored to be invited by the then Dean of the National Cathedral, Nathan Baxter, to address a national gathering of rectors of Episcopal Cathedrals. This invitation was, I think, reciprocity for we had invited Dean Baxter to give the inaugural Ann Stolberg lecture on The role of Cathedrals in the 21st Century.” He presented a very insightful and exciting lecture and he was the first in ecumenical annual series…. to be followed by the Roman Catholic Rectors in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and San Antonio alternating with the rectors Episcopal cathedrals: Grace Cathedral (San Francisco), St,. John the Devine and also the Rector of the Russia Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan,. It was a wonderful series. And there are hard copies of the early lectures available at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, KY;… “Origins” published the lecture from San Antonio and the later ones were published on line..
    To the point (I just wanted to establish my bona fides) :
    I think the idea of deleting the Confederate Generals from the windows of the National Cathedral is a travesty: it erases important history (most of all, what are percieved now as the sins of the church). Leave them there for everyone to see so that we can understand so much more clearly their own struggle of conscince and conflicted loyalties, how racism was, is and remains institutionalized How it was not only the slave owners who were involved but the racism continued in the church itself well into the next two centuries and was expressed by the central powers-that-be in the church at its most significant shrines.

    Would you excise “Slaves be subect to your masters” or open up a whole new way to understand and study Scripture.

    SOMETIMES IT IS VERY GOOD TO ENSHRINE SINFULNESS SO THAT ALL CAN SEE IT (the Sistine chapel’s last judgement, as well as Rodin’s the Gates of Hell are just two examples which come immediately to mind if we are just thinking of visual arts,

    Why would you want to HIDE or DESTROY PROOF of the racism of the church(es) It would be like burning down all the extant slave cabins because they are disgusting. Clearly appropriate education can provide adequate context and even an enhance opportunity to deal with racism in the church.
    It is true that these windows honor traitors…… but why would we pretend that the churh did not honor them.

    by the way, other than Yorkminster’s north transept window, ours is the largest n this hemiphere.

    Fr, John Cahill, former rector/pastor Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, KY

  • Let the members, staff, and invited academicians determine the status of the windows. This is really much ado about nothing. Only a relative handful of citizens ever view these windows. While I admit that it strikes me as odd that soldiers of any sort would grace the panes of stained glass in any church, it is the judgement of those most closely associated with the church that matters, not the perpetually offended outliers. Had this story not come to the forefront, the bulk of Americans of any stripe and color would never have known and probably would not have cared, they are too busy just trying to get on with their lives.

  • Hope the next earthquake turns that Episcopagan sh*t box into complete rubble. The agnostic SJW’s currently occupying that building are desecrating it.

  • You just make it up as you go along don’t you…like a good little historical revisionist. The same kind of historical revisionist who takes glass windows out of churches.

  • lol! Episcopagans aren’t Christians. Just ask any of them and watch them pause and think about it before answering.

  • Jesus didn’t embrace that poor prostitutes’s vocation either! Let’s get rid of him too…no wait… the Episcopagans already have!

  • Huh? I’m a liberal and an atheist, and I not only respect religion, I’m grateful that my parents had their faith to carry them through a terrible final year.

    What I object to is when people of any spiritual or nonspiritual belief system trespass across other people’s personal boundaries to invade their personal lives, condemn their private activities, and profane their proprietary beliefs.

    It seems to me that far too many people want to manage other people’s lives instead of managing their own. Maybe it’s because managing one’s own life is far more difficult — and inescapably humbling.

  • No. I said most churches and christians. The most notable exceptions were the New England churches who were strongly abolitionists. If something is approved by god and jesus in the Bible how was it a “sin”? Are you saying god was wrong?

  • Eleanor Roosevelt’s action is not just relevant. It’s honorable. It’s an emphatic challenge to badmouthing bullies, past and present. And it shines a light directly where it’s needed: on the godless immorality of those who seek to subordinate strangers to their beliefs and their bidding.

  • You are wrong not GOD. I explained how slavery worked in the bible but the fact is slavery is no longer necessary seems to escape you but then again slavery and the sex slave business is booming and I guess you’re ok with that huh?

  • Just because you think a filthy, dangerous and destructive chosen behavior is right doesn’t make me wrong. BTW you accusing me of being a fundamentalist proves without a doubt you’re a blow hard.

    Lee and George Thomas both swore to the following oath.
    The oath he swore went like this: “I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”
    George Thomas upheld his oath, remaining loyal to the US at the cost of being ostracized by his family and friends. R. Lee violated the oath. Resigning from the Army did not cancel his oath. He was a traitor.
    If Robert E. Lee is to be considered a “hero”, they by the same logic so should John Wilkes Booth.

  • Anthony Johnson was a black slave holder. Black slaves were not forced out of their jungles by White men. Black slaves were sold by their own race. And Jews had a huge role in the slave trade. But only Whites hold the blame for slavery. Not only that, but ‘slavery’ was only one aspect of the Civil war. And if you study long enough, you will find it was only a small part.
    Everyone loves Abraham Lincoln, but it was Lincoln who wanted the freed slaves to go back to Africa. Let’s remove the Lincoln monument while we are at it if we are going to continue with this line of thought/action.

  • Just because you think a filthy, dangerous and destructive chosen behavior is right doesn’t make me wrong.
    Never truer spoken words! If you spend enough time on this site, certain commenters love to throw around words like ‘hate’ and ‘bigot’ because they assume they own the definitions. Slowly these words are being neutered.

  • Only certain commenters here are allowed to include links. Just like Nazi Germany all over again. lol.

  • Oh it’s coming Mary. Slave holders = Evil. Whites were slaveholders. White = Evil.
    Google White Genocide

  • After reading the comments I could not help but wonder what year is this, 1861 or 2016? It is clear that Appomattox did not end the second great American Civil War, the Insurrection against the Crown being the first. All the name calling and even legitimate debate will change nothing. If the Irish can still “fight” over the Protestant invasion of their country five centuries ago and the Greeks still observe a day of mourning on the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople we have’t even begun to settle this one.
    There is plenty of guilt and responsibility both historically and presently to go round.

  • Yes you made a typical stupid comment not knowing why I refuse to open Buggie Brains links. You ought to mind your own business knowing you are clueless and ignorant on why I don’t bother with Buggie Brains links.

  • Yes I realize that the homosexual/atheists think it’s ok to force their opinions and lack of morals through laws but let a Christian object to the obvious and they start throwing the bigot and hater around because they are actually the guilty ones. I get a good laugh when they prove they’re the bigots and haters when they attempt to limit our inalienable rights for just being Christians and no other reason.

  • I don’t think any military people belong in a church. Neither does any governmental flag. A church is not about government or nations or honoring any nation’s or movement’s or political cause’s history.

  • Isn’t it funny the the Africans sold their own people into slavery? But the real question is all these people that offend you did they start the slavery business or were the simply guilty of doing the same thing all the world practiced and in fact is still a lucrative business to this very day?

  • Do you mean guilty like King David, Adam and Eve, Cain, Lot’s daughters and a multitude of other people in the bible? Those without sin can cast the first stone eh?

  • Who care’s who started it? That’s not the point of the article, the conversation, or my post. Inhumanity is inhumanity, not a “sacred” legacy.

  • The only ones whining about slavery are those like you. The civil war wasn’t about slavery but in fact was about secession in which Lincoln used the slavery issue to break the law. Nobody here called slavery a “sacred” legacy but you liberals that need something they have no control over to start another war. Stop your incessant whining about the past and learn from it if you’re even capable.

  • The truth seems to have that effect on those with your liberal mentality. The fact is slavery ended long before you were born and here you are still whining about it. And then again those with your mentality claim to use reason and logic….. so when are you gong to start using them?

  • I’ve studied the bible extensively. I don’t know how you come to the conclusion I support slavery. It’s your god that allows it.

  • Apparently you haven’t studied it enough otherwise you’d know the slavery in the bible has nothing in common with slavery the south. Again you would also know that rape and murder in the bible demands the death penalty. However it’s your newly created secular society that allows the slavery and sex slave business to be profitable.

  • More clap trap to foster an agenda of propaganda to reinforce special interest groups that primarily seek CONTROL !

    Yeah, it’s the liberal/socialists again with another of their performances like that of the Rebel Flag collaboration of the disaffected.

    I wonder how many sleazy lawyers will fatten their wallets on this one.

  • YOU WROTE: “I’ve studied the bible extensively. I don’t know how you come to the conclusion I support slavery. It’s your god that allows it.”

    Firstly, I don’t put much credence on ““I’ve studied the bible extensively.” If you did, you would realize that your comment of “It’s your god that allows it [slavery]” is a distortion of the facts for your own personal agenda.

    First, we must recognize that the Bible does NOT say God supports slavery. In fact, the “slavery” described in the Old Testament was quite different from the kind of slavery we think of today – in which people are captured and sold as slaves.
    According to Old Testament law, anyone caught selling another person into slavery was to be executed:

    “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16)

    So, obviously, slavery during Old Testament times was not what we commonly recognize as slavery, such as that practiced in the 17th century Americas when Africans were captured and forcibly brought to work on plantations.

    In ancient Israel, people who could not provide for themselves or their families, sold them into slavery so they would not die of starvation or exposure. In this way, a person would receive food and housing in exchange for labor.

    Since many of the early Christians were slaves to Romans, they were encouraged to become free if possible, but not worry about it if not possible.

    Slaves were told to be obedient to their master and serve them sincerely, as if serving the Lord Himself. Paul instructed slaves to serve with honor, so that Christianity would not be looked down upon.

  • YOU WROTE: “… commenters love to throw around words like ‘hate’ and ‘bigot’ because they assume they own the definitions. Slowly these words are being neutered.”

    ~~~~~ A typical liberal/socialist attitude – we still have freedom of speech but only if we are being “politically correct”. Which equates to:
    We don’t burn books anymore, we just rewrite them, e.g.; let’s remove words like “hate” and “bigot” because they reflect badly on our liberal philosophies.

    This has nothing to do with virtue and everything to do with liberals being permanently offended and triggered, just looking for something new to be offended and triggered about.

    It is nothing more than a sick game to liberals: lets see how far we can push everything towards total anarchy.

  • It’s all about your fear of the things that you are afraid to confront.

    “In time we hate that which we often fear.” ~ Shakespeare

  • Nearly all of those quoted in the article did NOT advocate removing the generals’ windows. Most of these comments encapsulate what the discussion at the Cathedral was really about:–national division, rancor, an inability to see/acknowledge points of view other than one’s own.

  • They tried to breakup what the Founders started. The reason for wanting to do so is irrelevant (though despicable).

  • And the southern slavers were forced at gunpoint to buy the slaves? You apologists crack me up. Slavery was not ‘a small part’. It was the primary reason for secession amongst the early rebellers.

  • Against slavery yet owned slaves, lol. Lee freed his slaves after the date he was supposed to by and also had them beaten. They were both traitors as they raised arms against the US.

  • Please, the early seceders made it very clear why they seceded: to perpetuate and expand slavery. They told us so.

  • Lol, don’t think so. Madison didn’t think so either. It is, after all, a ‘perpetual union’.

  • Madison scoffed at the idea of secession being legal. Seems he would know more than either of us. Slavery (its perpetuation and EXPANSION) were the slavers’ stated goals and are irrelevant, IMO, to the issue at hand. Those people betrayed their country. The why is unimportant.

  • Really? Instead of coming back with some facts you come with a personal attack. Typical of your ilk. Bob Lee was opposed to slavery yet allowed Jenkins’ cav to kidnap free blacks in PA and send them south. Actions speak louder than words. BTW, Lee’s family refuses to release his post-war correspondence. Why do you think that is? Could it paint a different picture of Bob Lee?

  • You’re not being a realist if you think that your initial post somehow absolves white slave owners of their role of slavery in the US.

  • Hey, if it’s a penny for your thoughts, but you put your two cents in, who’s making the penny?

  • Did you learn that at the last “The Problem of Whiteness” conference? is this Tim Wise is disguise?
    Ironic that this is a Religious/Christian site and “forgiveness” is tossed out the window.

  • I have no idea what you are referencing here, sorry. Forgiveness is one thing. Honoring those whose goal it was to breakup the US, explicitly to perpetuate and expand slavery (unlike the Founders), is another. Suggesting slavery was a small part of The Rebellion is absurd. It was an issue before the formation of the nation. But using the excuse that ‘it’s ok for me to do because they’re doing it’ is sad but convenient when one doesn’t want to take responsibility for their actions. Modern race issues have absolutely nothing to do with not wanting to honor those that betrayed the US.

  • I’m liberal, huh, lol. More name calling and mud slinging. You must be in middle or high school. I agree that America was responsible for slavery here in the States (you seemed happy to blame Africans earlier in the thread). Corwin would not have allowed for expansion into the territories, which was unacceptable to the southern slavers. If you read their reasons for declaration of secession, newspaper articles, etc. that would be clear to you. The issue isn’t slavery, it’s that they betrayed their country. The reason for secession is irrelevant. Go share that in home room or at recess. BTW, was Jesus not a liberal in his time?

  • The American Colonialist wrote a Constitution to secede from England and they had the might of arms to make right the secession . The Confederates wrote a Constitution to secede from the United States and they did not have the might of enough arms to fight for the right to succeed with the secession. Thus there is “The Lost Cause” of any Confederate “right”. Thus my ancestors came to know “Jubilee”

  • I appreciate your raising the question “is honoring–traitorous generals appropriate in a church” ?. I say no and I have campaigned that the Confederate Windows be Removed–But only Wirz–the German who commanded the Andersonville prison was executed–Lee–Jackson–Pope and 7000 Confederates –though they were pardoned; they were never labeled as “traitors”.If so–that would have been some mass executions–John Brown and his followers, Booth, Mary Surratt were the very few who were executed—If the Cathedral removed the windows of Lee and Jackson(the present Dean has family connections all the way back to Lee), the Cathedral then would be judging them to have been traitors. The U.S. Government did mot so condemn them and neither can the Cathedral–The Cathedral can only honor the heritage of their white privilege–so I now support the remaining of the Confederate Windows because they support the exceptionalism of the manifest destiny of….

  • Sounds like you have a conscious need for”another civil war with help from the tipping point of Texas’. You have a lot of racial unrest within you; hope you are careful as to your use of it

  • I do have valid assumptions of what you did not say,but left unsaid. Where you said ” I can stuff it where the sun don’t shine”. I must have touched you sorely that you do so, whine.