In 1953, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy finally had the money to install stained glass windows of Lee and Jackson at the National Cathedral, the cathedral was delighted to take their money.
The cathedral had always been a long-term work in progress—83 years from groundbreaking by Teddy Roosevelt to the “final” cornerstone laid by Bush I. Even now, finishing work continues.
The construction of the cathedral was plagued with starts and stops, and funding and national events warmed and cooled the project on and off again, over and over. You can see it in the very architecture, which morphs from front of the church to the back as architectural tastes and methods came in and out of fashion.
When the UDC offered up $110,000 for the Lee-Jackson windows, the donation came as a welcome cash infusion. The dean of the church at the time, Francis Sayre, a well-respected Civil Rights activist, saw no hypocrisy in accepting the donation, which “sought to depict America’s history in a way that promoted healing and reconciliation.”
Lee and Jackson were both well known for their deep Christian faith, which seems to make their presence in the church all the more appropriate. In an especially deep bit of irony, Jackson supported slavery only because he believed it was God’s will and that it was not up to man to interfere with that.
Now, the dean of the National Cathedral has called for the removal of the two Lee-Jackson stained glass window. “While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall dean of Washington National Cathedral, “the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent . . . We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought and died.”
There are many rich conversations those stained glass windows could spark if the cathedral were truly concerned about the legacy of slavery and were truly interested in promoting understanding.
It seems convenient now, in the name of moral outrage, to get indignant and self-righteous, which is exactly the tone Hall, has taken. It seems convenient now, in the name of moral outrage, for the cathedral to forget about the deal it made once upon a time with the UDC and its many donors.
Yet the cathedral’s decision to break its trust with donors is, likewise, deeply troubling and morally problematic.
Why should any donor ever offer money to the cathedral now knowing that, at some future time when it’s convenient, the cathedral could welch out of the deal?
Those who work in the fund-raising industry understand acutely the notion of stewardship and the duty they have as stewards. Donors give money to organizations with the understanding that those organizations will serve as good stewards of those donations. It explicitly and implicitly requires trust. In fact, some organizations even have “Trust” right in their name.
The many donors who contributed to the UDC’s efforts put their trust in the cathedral. The UDC put its trust in the cathedral, too.
And now the cathedral intends to go back on its word. That would be, in my opinion, an irreparable breach of trust.
This is not a matter of honoring dead Confederates or the slave-supported Confederacy. This is a matter of honoring your word.
The cathedral accepted the UDC’s donation when it was convenient for the cathedral. Now the legacy of that donation has become inconvenient, perhaps even a bit uncomfortable. Would it not be better to seek a way to put that legacy in its proper historical context with information and interpretation?
Instead, the cathedral seeks to turn its back on its duty as good stewards.
Rather than purging Lee, perhaps the cathedral could learn a lesson from him. “Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language,” Lee said. “You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.”