Years ago, I used to be a tour guide at the Washington Cathedral. We were called “cathedral aides” back in the mid-1970s and we wore purple gowns in the winter with cute purple berets. In the summer, we retained the berets, but wore summer garb with some purple in it. It was always a challenge to find the right color blouse I could wear with my outfit, but I loved memorizing the facts about all the gargoyles, chapels and the amazing stained glass the illuminated the place.
Some of those windows depicted scenes from U.S. history. What drew the most eyes was the blue, green, orange, red and white Space Window showing the universe with a tiny piece of moon rock embedded therein.
Meanwhile, my personal favorites were the brilliant-hewed windows by Rowan LeCompte who designed some 40 of the cathedral’s 200+ windows.
However, let it be noted that LeCompte did not design two windows that were in the news yesterday. I’ll begin with an account by the Washington Post:
Washington National Cathedral, one of the country’s most visible houses of worship, announced Wednesday that it would remove Confederate battle flags that are part of two large stained-glass windows honoring Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Cathedral leaders said they would leave up the rest of the windows — for now — and use them as a centerpiece for a national conversation about racism in the white church.
The announcement comes a year after the cathedral’s then-dean, the Rev. Gary Hall, said the 8-by-4-foot windows have no place in the soaring church as the country faces intense racial tensions and violence, even though they were intended as a healing gesture when they were installed…
Next comes a quote about the windows being installed in 1953. Then there is this very significant information, if one is looking at this story from a journalistic point of view. Please read carefully:
There were differences of opinion in the past year among the cathedral’s leadership about how to move forward.
A task force created to look into the windows discussed various topics, including whether removing something controversial from a historical piece of art was productive. Members also discussed whether it made sense to remove the flag pieces from larger windows that honor the generals. On Friday the cathedral’s governing body, called the Chapter, decided to remove the flag sections.
The cathedral’s leadership is figuring out the timeline and cost for the removal of the flags, the cathedral said in a statement Wednesday. That will be paid for by private donors.
There are differences of opinion on this issue?
The short article concluded with a quote from the cathedral’s canon theologian, agreeing with the Chapter’s decision. I saw the story soon after it went up, and the comments were flying fast. Needless to say, there was a much greater range of opinion in the comments than there was in the story.
The dean’s statements had been reported on a year ago by RNS, which mentioned the name of the artist: One Wilbur Herbert Burnham of Boston. USA Today ran a similar story back then, pointing out the decision came on the heels of the killings of nine black church members by a white man at Emanuel United Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C. Other outlets also covered this, so the cathedral’s decision was not unexpected.
Which is why I wondered why, now that this same story has hit the news a year later, there was no opposing point of view presented in the reporting. Stop and think about that. Surely the Stained Glass Association of America has an opinion about people dismantling the artwork done by member artists.
Plenty of folks in the comment section asked if a new iconoclasm was coming into American culture, where the non-politically-correct symbols would continue to be erased from all public art. I learned that one of the windows sporting the flag was in honor of military engineers (Robert E. Lee worked with the Army Corps of Engineers for 26 years), not of the Confederacy.
Surely someone could have been found to at least question the cathedral’s decision.
But none of the MSM outlets I found gave ear to another point of view. It’s the whole “Kellerism” doctrine again: the attitude that certain moral and cultural questions –- ranging from global warming, to gender identity issues, to abortion and race relations -- have already been decided and thus the other point of view is not worth representation.
There’s also the question why the cathedral, which tmatt reported quite recently is dealing with loss of dollars and demographics, wants to dismantle two of its stained-glass windows atop everything else. And who are these private donors who will pay for the erasure of the Confederate flag?
Come to think of it, how does one remove several panels from a stained-glass window without damaging the whole?
Now, I realize that reporters were trying to get the story out within hours of the cathedral’s announcement, but since they’d reported on the cathedral’s intent to change the windows a year ago, surely they could have dug up more background in the interim.
Plus why not give an opposing point of view? Why not cover the actual debate?
Surely Burnham's descendants, assuming the artist has died, have something to say about editing this work of art. Burnham's Boston studios produced 17 windows for the cathedral, so there must be a grandson or granddaughter willing to comment. It took me only a few seconds to find the link to his studio on Google. Surely, media can do just as much, if not more, in lending some balance to this one-sided story.