Christ Church Episcopal in Alexandria, Virginia is removing two plaques from their sanctuary and apparently relocating them to another location that is to be determined. Leaders at Christ Church defended their “unanimous decision” by explaining that the plaques “make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome.” This decision by one of the most historic churches in the Washington, DC area comes in the context of a nationwide furor over statues and memorials to dead white Americans, primarily Confederate generals or leaders. But the acrimonious debate, as predicted by President Donald Trump, has now encompassed Founding Fathers and even Revolutionary War soldiers. It isn’t just Robert E. Lee who is having his plaque removed; it’s George Washington too.
There is only one valid argument which could be made to relocate a plaque to George Washington. That argument would apply to any plaque to any human being. It would be if a local congregation decided, on principle, that a church auditorium or sanctuary should not honor any individual with any plaque whatsoever – that no individual should be formally recognized in any way other than Jesus Christ Himself. That would be a policy I could respect. Unfortunately, that’s not the basis of Christ Church’s decision. Though the leaders acknowledge their “sanctuary is a worship space, not a museum,” they say this not in the context of putting all focus on Christ, but rather to complain “there is no appropriate way to inform visitors about the history of the plaques or to provide additional context except for the in-person tours provided by our docents.” They’ve made it very clear that the reason for removing the plaques isn’t to emphasize more worship of God, but rather to make visitors feel more “safe” and “welcome.”
I can respect objections to the plaque to Robert E. Lee. A plaque to the memory of a man who took up arms to effectively undermine the Union and advance slavery warrants context at the very least. I’m aware that Lee made some disapproving comments about slavery leading up to the Civil War, and publicly applauded its demise at the end of the Civil War. I’m also aware that he lent his good name to the cause of reconciliation after laying down his sword. There are many things to admire about General Lee, but there are also some things which should give us serious pause. At a time when the United States needed his statesmanlike leadership to help preserve the Union and end slavery, he chose to fight for the wrong side – a side that Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said rested upon “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” In so doing, Lee aligned with white supremacy, with slavery, and with disunion. And he contributed to the deaths of over 600,000 Americans.
If Christ Church wishes to remove or to appropriately contextualize Lee’s plaque, I can respect that, even though I cringe when I hear a word like “unsafe” so casually thrown about. It’s understandable that a few people might interpret a plaque to Robert E. Lee as reflective of the current congregation’s possible endorsement of the Confederate cause (or perhaps at least the South’s segregationist cause). For those who take it that way, I can understand some of them feeling unwelcome…that is, at least, until they pay attention to what’s actually being said at Christ Church and maybe take the time to ask a couple questions. But unsafe? For anyone to attend Christ Church Episcopal today and to pay any attention whatsoever to the people, the music, what’s said from the pulpit, etc. and then come away thinking it’s a hotbed of white nationalism or KKK activism is frankly ludicrous.
In fact, you don’t even have to go there. You just have to look at their website. Their stated mission, right on their site, declares: “Christ Church embodies God’s unbounded love by embracing, liberating, and empowering people, whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith.” On another page, they proclaim “We want to get to know you…We have room for you.”
How anyone can walk away from Christ Church today and feel “unwelcome” or “unsafe” defies logic and reason.
But, frankly, THAT is the problem I have with all this. We’ve moved away from reason and logic. As a society, we’re now firmly in the camp of Feelings. If someone feels unwelcome, then that is what matters. If someone feels unsafe, then we must do everything possible to address those feelings.
Feelings. Feelings. Feelings.
And it’s getting completely out of control.
When it comes to statues, memorials, and plaques, a huge portion of the American public have completely lost their minds. Vandals and mobs have desecrated statues to not only Confederates and Christopher Columbus (another hated figure), but also Teddy Roosevelt, a Revolutionary War soldier, and a Civil War Peace Monument – let that sink in, a peace monument! Protesters have taken aim at Mount Rushmore (yes, Mount Rushmore) as well as statues to our Founders – including Jefferson’s statue at the University of Virginia (the, um, university he started!). There seems to be no end to this madness. And now that madness has come to Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Whatever may be among its faults (and all churches have faults, because all churches are made up of people), I seriously doubt than an unwelcome spirit is among the faults of Christ Church Episcopal. Abandonment of traditional biblical orthodoxy? Perhaps. In fact, one wonders if George Washington – a man who by all accounts agreed with the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer – would be in doctrinal alignment with today’s teachings of Christ Church Episcopal. That would make for an interesting conversation. But it’s absurd to say that Christ Church Episcopal is unwelcoming or makes people feel unsafe – and that’s with the plaques where they are.
Christ Church leaders suggest that people have not returned because of the plaques. Is that the standard by which a church is to make decisions? People have not returned to the church I’m honored to pastor for several reasons. Should we adjust our teachings, our doctrines, even our decor, because some people are uncomfortable?
What kind of society have we become that we now bend over backwards – even sometimes changing who we are as individuals – in order to avoid offending others or making others feel uncomfortable?
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being polite. I’m all for being considerate. I’m all for being sensitive. And I certainly am not endorsing the practice of being intentionally obnoxious. And…I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will… I’m 100% in favor of racial justice and reconciliation. We should love each other, be considerate of one another, and be kind to one another. But at the same time, we as Americans today (and frankly as westerners today) need to take a big fat CHILL PILL!
Things are getting utterly ridiculous and out of hand.
Just because someone is offended doesn’t mean they are right. Just because someone is uncomfortable doesn’t mean everyone else should change or alter what they are doing in order to make that person comfy.
What we as a society need to do is start teaching and cultivating – at all levels and in all arenas – emotional strength and critical thinking. We need to encourage people to be stronger, not weaker. We need to strengthen individuals, not weaken society.
If Christ Church were remodeling its sanctuary with an eye toward enhancing worship, and as part of that decision was removing all plaques or memorials to all individuals but Christ, then I could get behind what they are doing. But to remove a plaque to the father our country and a key founder of their church just because a few people FEEL uncomfortable strikes me as a cowardly surrender to political correctness.
And if we, as a society, continue on this path marked Political Correctness, it will be to our ruin and our Founders’ shame.