Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

National Cathedral to keep Confederate stained glass

Bishop and chapter reverse former dean’s decision, and will remove only Confederate battle flags

Dear Friends of Washington National Cathedral,
For the past six months, a Windows Task Force appointed by the Cathedral Chapter has been examining a range of issues relating to stained glass windows in the Cathedral that pay tribute to Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
Specifically, the Task Force sought to examine more closely the origins of the Lee–Jackson windows, the impact of racist symbols in 21st century America, and our role as stewards of the Cathedral’s mission and custodians of its history. Washington National Cathedral’s mission is to serve as a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for our nation. We bear a particular responsibility to ensure that all of God’s people feel welcomed in this sacred space. The Cathedral’s history also reflects our nation’s difficult struggle with the legacy of slavery. We are not unique in this struggle. We are one of many institutions—universities, local governments and churches—confronting complicity with racism, past and present.
After detailed research, careful deliberation, and prayerful discernment, the five–member Task Force submitted its report and recommendations to the Chapter. Following lengthy and substantive conversation, the Chapter unanimously accepted the report and adopted its recommendations as its roadmap going forward. We’d like to share highlights with you:
  • The Task Force unanimously concluded that the windows can serve as a catalyst for the difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race that we need to have on the road to racial justice. In addition, they also serve as a visual reminder that Lee and Jackson fought to preserve a way of life that kept African Americans enslaved. Keeping the windows in place, for now, provides us a chance to tell more truthful and additional stories of the lives oppressed by the institution of slavery in the nation and in the church.
  • Over the next two years the Cathedral will dedicate significant liturgical, artistic and programmatic resources to engage issues of race and the legacy of slavery that the windows represent. Our first program will be a panel on July 17, moderated by our Canon Theologian, the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, in conjunction with the 2016 March on Washington Film Festival, entitled “What The White Church Must Do,” focused on the white church’s responsibility on racism and racial justice.
  • The Cathedral will conduct an audit of its current art and iconography to discern stories that are or are not being told relating to America’s and the Church’s racial legacy. As part of that process, we will learn from institutions that have undertaken this work and encourage others to engage their own racial histories.
After considering the Task Force report, the Chapter came to a consensus that the Confederate battle flag—whatever its history—has become, for many Americans, an image of hatred and racial supremacy. As such, it represents values in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ and the Cathedral’s mission. Thus the Chapter directed that the two depictions of the Confederate battle flag be immediately removed from the windows; the flags will be replaced by plain glass. We are now determining the timeline and cost for the removal, which will be paid for by private donors.
No final decision on the future of the Lee–Jackson windows will be made until the conclusion of this deliberative process. Yet, as the Task Force points out, “Whatever the Chapter’s ultimate decision, the windows will not live in the Cathedral in the same way they have in the past.”
Canon Douglas, an expert on race and the Church and a member of the Windows Task Force, put it this way: “The Lee–Jackson windows call the question of race and the legacy of slavery. Instead of turning away from that question, the Cathedral has decided to lean into it. Instead of simply taking the windows down and going on with business as usual, the Cathedral recognizes that, for now, they provide an opportunity for us to begin to write a new narrative on race and racial justice at the Cathedral and perhaps for our nation.”
It is our prayer that the next two years be spent in honest and prayerful conversation with people on both sides of this question. In this work, we seek to reclaim the mantle of Bishop John Walker, who spoke so eloquently and forcefully from this Cathedral on the sin of racism. Our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, has challenged this church to lead the way on racial reconciliation, and we eagerly join him in that work through this process.
We recognize that the Task Force’s recommendations and the Chapter’s decision to remove the Confederate flag imagery will disappoint some who love and value the National Cathedral. We have heard from those who feel strongly that the windows should stay intact as uncomfortable reminders of our shared history, others who believe that the windows should be removed entirely, and some who feel that the windows are appropriate monuments to admirable American leaders. We recognize that our decisions will not satisfy all of these voices. Yet we sincerely hope that all will join with us in honest, courageous engagement with our collective history and present experience of race relations in America that was recommended by the Task Force and adopted by the Chapter.
On behalf of the Chapter, we thank the Task Force and the Cathedral staff for their good and courageous efforts. We believe that God is calling us, as a people, to do the work of racial justice and reconciliation. As leaders of Washington National Cathedral, we join with others of our city, the Episcopal Church, and the nation to answer that call.
Bishop Budde
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop of Washington and Interim Dean
David Kautter
David J. Kautter
Chair, Cathedral Chapter
John Donoghue
John Donoghue
Incoming Chair, Cathedral Chapter

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