General Robert E. Lee

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Another look at the soul of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the times in which he lived

Debates about Confederate monuments remain in the news and there is little sign that this story is going away anytime soon.

In fact, it could broaden. For example, there are now questions here in New York City (where I am teaching right now) about the majestic tomb of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, because of anti-Semitism. As president, Grant repented of his actions. Meanwhile, defenders of Gen. Robert E. Lee insist that he repented of his sins against the Union and took strong stands for reconciliation.

This brings we to the think piece for this weekend, which probes deeper into discussions among Episcopalians about Lee and his faith. Earlier this week I praised a Washington Post report that paid careful attention to voices on both sides of that debate in Lexington, Va., where a parish is named in Lee's honor, on the edge of the campus of Washington and Lee University.

That headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?" A key paragraph:

Church debates about the name have focused on the fact that Lee chose after the war ended not to continue -- as some Southerners wanted -- an insurgency, and instead to move on, “to try and rebuild and reconcile and repair damage he had no small part in creating,” said David Cox, a historian of Lee, a former rector and current member of the parish.

An independent journal for Episcopalians, The Living Church, took the discussion of some of these issues further with an interview with Father Cox. The byline on "Drowned Out by Outrage" will be familiar to longtime GetReligion readers, since Doug LeBlanc was the co-founder of this weblog nearly 14 years ago.

So who is Cox? He is the author of "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee," which was published in April by Eerdmans. Here is a passage that sets the tone:

When members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville in a torchlit parade and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Cox said, “that had nothing to do with Lee.”

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Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Yes, we saw the story about ESPN and sports announcer Robert Lee, who was switched off the upcoming broadcast of a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee.

I would assume that "Robert Lee" is not all that unusual a name for an Asian man. But, hey, we are talking about Virginia and that's almost the same name as He Who Must Not Be Named.

So I thought this story was from The Onion and said so on Twitter. I was not joking. It has now been confirmed -- by The New York Times and the rest of the journalistic universe. For the life of me, I cannot think of a religion angle to that story. But it's so RIGHT NOW.

In case you haven't noticed, things are a bit tense right now when it comes to statues, Civil War history, white supremacy and other topics that some people believe are linked and others do not. There are religion angles in there and many are painful.

(Quick statement: I'm in favor of saving Confederate statues in cemeteries, battlegrounds, museums, academic facilities [linked to the study of Civil War history] and similar sites. I favor taking statues down in civic squares, once government officials have legally chosen to do so. But I'm with Peggy Noonan. It's usually better to build new statues, rather than destroy old ones. Raise statues to praise those who created a better union.)

But here is some good news. If you want to read a news story that wades into a Gen. Robert E. Lee controversy and listens -- hard -- to voices on both sides, then check out The Washington Post religion-desk feature with this headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?"

This story, by religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein, struck home for me because I spoke at Washington and Lee University last spring, doing a seminar on the challenges and rewards of Godbeat work. I had a long talk with a journalism professor (and ethics specialist) about the ongoing debates about this church and, of course, about challenges to the name of the university.

Here is the essential question stated, carefully, in the feature lede:

Could “R.E. Lee Memorial Church” commemorate the postwar fence-mender who had led their church and city out of destitution? Or could it only conjure the wicked institution of slavery for which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought?

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Confederate flags and stained glass: Why can't journalists run more than one point of view?

Confederate flags and stained glass: Why can't journalists run more than one point of view?

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:

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