Confederate Culture Wars at the National Cathedral: Chris Mackowski

WindowJacksonRiverIn 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.”

27 Responses to Confederate Culture Wars at the National Cathedral: Chris Mackowski

  1. As I see it, the Rev. basically had three options.

    #1 Self-rigtheously pat himself on the back for the courageous moral stand of altering a window (which features an ANV flag so tiny most visitors never notice it)

    #2 Meekly cave in to all the book-burners and monument smashers on a mission to airbrush history, and just change the window quietly

    #3 Honor the Church’s commitment to the UDC while also furthering a worthy discussion about Christianity’s complex role in American history (in fact, Christianity was a central player in the CW. The Gospel pulsates through the entire story, on both sides).

    Oh, doesn’t #1 just sound so much easier? And more fun!

  2. I’m proud of Rev. Hall’s principled stand. Regardless of what may and has come from those in support of the windows, he has acknowledged that the men depicted in them are not worthy of honoring in one of the nation’s great monuments. That’s the heart of the matter. The efforts here to condemn Rev. Hall for ‘going back on his word’ are quite frankly childish and a transparent attempt to sidestep the issue at hand.

    1. It’s easy to take a “principled stand” once you already have someone’s check in your pocket. Call it “principled” if you’d like, but when someone takes someone else’s money and then jips them out of what they paid for, I call it fraud. It’s hardly childish to expect integrity, especially from a house of worship. There’s no sidestepping anything here: “respect” is the issue at hand, and that goes ALL the way around.

      1. See, now you’re just throwing a tantrum and cloaking in euphemisms like “respect” and “fraud”. The bottom line is that these stained glass windows do not belong in the National Cathedral. This is not an issue of defrauding an organization out of money. As you yourself noted, the UDC paid for the windows. Just the windows. It was a donation of sorts, but not an endowment or long-term trust. The windows have stood for 62 years. It is time for them to come down. And yet, even though Rev. Hall has also stated that the future of the windows after their removal has yet to be discussed, you seem rather eager to cry foul and whine about some mythical fraud.

    2. Perhaps it does seem like a tantrum to someone who’s in denial, but the bottom line is that Rev. Hall’s decision is a breach of faith, and no self-righteous indignation–or name calling on your part–can disguise it.

  3. The college I attended (Lafayette) apparently had no problem about tearing down buildings (one in 1962/63) erected as a gift. Nor did it have a problem in tearing down a class gift. When faced with the necessity of building a new library, the administration tore down the old one. I was told of a plaque in one dorm in honor of an African American janitor: “For Billy – he may have been black but he was whitest man we knew.” And I need not repeat the same kind of tear downs at the University of Chicago and Harvard University. Time rolls on, and Pluto is demoted.

    1. Sorry, the administration did not tear down the old library. It converted it to use for the geology dept. The stained glass windows, tho, are now inaccessible.

  4. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” or perhaps in this case, break the first glass pane. Christians, including Lee and Jackson, aren’t perfect, merely forgiven our sins. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”- Romans 3:23 Not some of us, or many of us, but all of us. Lee and Jackson were men of their time period, neither Gods nor devils, merely men trying to follow the divine as best they could. We should honor them for their devout faith, while taking the lesson that even good people of conscience can be fundamentally wrong about a moral concept.

      1. Or adjusted for inflation? It goes back to what I have said about those who very vocally criticize ANY display of the CBF outside of a museum and “proper contextualization” but will write for magazines which run ads from companies like the Bradford Exchange for items plastered with images of the CBF. Those ads help fund the magazine and pay those same writers saying the items being sold are “offensive, inappropriate, etc, etc, etc.”

        So here’s my conclusion: It’s “morally wrong” to display Confederate imagery motivated by pride in your Confederate ancestry/heritage, but it’s perfectly fine to display that imagery if you’re getting paid for it – or receiving donations.

        Where I come from, we call that hypocrisy.

    1. We’re not just talking about replacing THEIR window, though; we’re talking about replacing A window, which the Cathedral will have to do once it takes out the UDC’s window. So, not only should the Cathedral return the UDC’s gift, they should do it adjusted for inflation. While I would still be disappointed by the windows’ removal, this would at least treat the donors fairly.

      Personally, I love the windows and think they’re beautiful and thought-provoking, and they’re a wonderful part of the Cathedral’s eclectic personality, which I admire and appreciate. It is a neat place.

    2. “Censorship is the child of Fear and the Father of Ignorance”- Laurie Anderson
      Those “peaceful” ISIS members also dislike historic monuments and take joy in destroying them. The Very Reverend is a very small minded man who will be forgotten by history 15 minutes after he has reached room temperature. But like it or not, men like Lee and Jackson will be remembered for their dedication, skill, and principled lives.

      We live in an era where some of us view ourselves as Americans first and members of the World second. Others view themselves as Americans second and members of the World first. Understand the difference? Should those that view themselves as Americans first be considered traitors for not being open minded?

      Back then, people viewed themselves as members of their state first and as Americans second. Hence they chose to side with their states first. So perhaps we should view the men and their actions in the perspective of the culture in which they lived. And while I believe slavery was always wrong, it is an interesting fact that some of Jackson’s slaves asked him to purchase them. Which leaves me perplexed and also aware that I really don’t know what went on back then, as it was a different time. But does anyone think if Jackson or Lee had our knowledge today, that they would be “slave holders”? Just something for those that think like the Very Reverend clown thinks, to think about.

      “Albert had requested that Jackson purchase him and was hired out at a local hotel, Rockbridge Alum Springs, and Virginia Military Institute as a waiter. Amy, who served as a cook, had requested that Jackson purchase her at a public auction. After his marriage to Mary Anna, the couple received Hetty, Mary Anna’s former nursemaid, and Hetty’s two teenage sons Cyrus and George, from Mary Anna’s father as a wedding gift. Jackson purchased the sixth slave, a small child named Emma, as a gift for his wife. Mary Anna. And may have also brought two or three more slaves to the marriage who were sold and never lived in the Washington Street house.”

  5. From the press release: “It is time to take those windows out. Here, in 2015, we know that celebrating the lives of these two men, and the flag under which they fought, promotes neither healing nor reconciliation, especially for our African-American sisters and brothers.

    “While the impetus behind the windows’ installation was a good and noble one at the time, the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent.”

    The Washington National Cathedral is not a museum with the mission of preserving a certain era; it’s a functioning church, and in my opinion the Reverend’s remarks are more relevant than your tantrum and implication of cynicism backed by no evidence.

    1. Hardly a tantrum. Just logic and a sense of honor–which is easy to see for people not looking through a cloud of self-righteousness.

      The cathedral is, indeed, a functioning church–built on the goodwill of tens of thousands of donors over decades. The church would not exist without their financial support. It is unethical to put their money in your pocket and then break faith with them.

      I agree that “the Cathedral has changed, and so has the America it seeks to represent.” That’s why it’s important for the Cathedral to explain its history in context. That then holds faith with the original doors and with modern audiences.

      1. I think your cynicism is duly justified. The timing of the Very Reverend is suspect, at best. If the window is “tainted”, then certainly the funds that encouraged it are as well. The Very Reverend needs to be consistent and return the tainted money – with interest.

    2. First I’ve heard of this particular controversy. Part of living on the west coast, I guess.
      Question – is the presence of the windows really “celebrating the lives of these two men”? It seems to me “celebrating” is quite a stretch.

  6. So when are they planning to disinter Woodrow and Mrs. Wilson?

    His racism was much more personal, much more vicious, and was going on much later than his fellow Virginians Jackson and Lee. And his racist agenda in the White House encouraged the KKK and the torrent of violence against African Americans all over the country.,

    Is it not a source of shame for the Rev. to host this person’s final resting place

  7. I visited the cathedral in May and studied the windows in question. There were also other areas of the cathedral that commemorated Confederate heroes. Surely the arguments for removal and retention were the same then as now (it did not cross my mind that the windows should be removed). That is what bothers me: did it take the murder of nine people for someone to rethink this, and then to do so as they did?

  8. Lest we should forget….US Congress in 1958 or 1959 recognized Confederate AMERICAN soldiers as US Veterans. So when you slam one veteran you slam thenm all!

  9. This kind of reminds me of the removal of the Robert E. Lee plaques from the Texas State Supreme Court building lobby back during W’s governorship, despite the fact that the building was put up in the 60s (I think- maybe 70s or 80s) with the residuals of the confederate pension fund. The plaques did have an ANV flag and the quote “my Texans always move them”. First they put some columns in front to hide them, then they took them down altogether. Guess if you’ve spent the money, and that electorate is dead, and you’re going to run for prez, it’s allowable.

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