The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has announced it will remove stained glass windows from its sanctuary that memorialize Confederate generals, saying the images are “inconsistent” with their spiritual mission and a “barrier” to the work of racial justice.
The push to remove the windows began more than two years ago, following the racially charged church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine worshippers dead at the hands of white supremacist Dylann Roof. Rev. Gary Hall, then dean of the Cathedral, called for the removal of windows honoring Civil War soldiers including Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, which were installed in 1953. The Cathedral, which is operated by the Episcopal Church, hosted a series of “conversations” about the windows, and moved quickly to remove images of the Confederate flag in 2016.
“…these windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation.”
The final vote on the depictions of Southern generals, however, did not occur until this Tuesday, when it was decided they would be taken down.
“After considerable prayer and deliberation, the Cathedral Chapter voted Tuesday to immediately remove the windows,” a statement from the cathedral read in part. “The Chapter believes that these windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation. Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”
The decision comes weeks after the tragic violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists marched on the town in part to protest the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. The ensuing clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters resulted in a number of hospitalizations and the murder of a 32-year-old woman allegedly by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of people.
Signatories of the Cathedral’s announcement—which included the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the current dean of the Cathedral, and the chair of the Cathedral Chapter—said the tragedy was fresh on their minds.
“The recent violence in Charlottesville brought urgency to our discernment process,” they wrote. “We find ourselves compelled by the witness of others, moved by the presence of God in our midst and convicted that the Holy Spirit is pointing us toward the answer. The continued presence of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate in our nation cannot be ignored – nor will they be solved simply by removing these windows or other monuments. The racial wounds that we have seen across our nation compel us to renew our commitment to building God’s Beloved Community.”
The move is part of a surge of faith-based activism designed to condemn racism, both in its modern form and in objects many view as totems to America’s racist past. Several clergy members stared down white nationalists in Charlottesville, for instance, and hundreds of faith leaders have signed onto a statement this week condemning white supremacy.
The Cathedral, along with its parent denomination the Episcopal Church, is often outspoken in its support for progressive causes. It opened its sanctuary to same-sex weddings years before the denomination officially sanctioned the practice, and positioned itself as a leader in the faith-based push to end gun violence.
Yet the Cathedral has at times irked progressives who accuse it of being either too conservative or too wedded to power. In 2017, leaders of the historic church faced sharp criticism for participating in President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Cathedral not only held its customary interfaith prayer service—something they do for all presidents—but also offered up their choir for inaugural festivities, and agreed to the administration’s request that no one preach during services attended by Trump.