National Cathedral Should Not Be Stained With Confederate Flag, Dean Says

National Cathedral Should Not Be Stained With Confederate Flag, Dean Says

10:30am Jun 27, 2015
A glass window at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., shows Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The dean of the cathedral has called for its removal.
A glass window at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., shows Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The dean of the cathedral has called for its removal.
Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images
  • A glass window at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., shows Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The dean of the cathedral has called for its removal.

    A glass window at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., shows Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The dean of the cathedral has called for its removal.

    Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

  • A stained glass window at Washington National Cathedral depicts Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

    A stained glass window at Washington National Cathedral depicts Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

    Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

The Confederate stars and bars have been taken down from flagpoles and store shelves all over the country this week. Calls for their removal follow the June 17 shooting of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

But the official flag of the Confederacy and two Confederate battle flags are still visible in stained glass windows of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. On Thursday, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, called on the church's governing body to remove those windows and commission replacements.

The flags appear in two windows that memorialize Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. They were installed in 1953, after a lobbying campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Hall tells NPR's Scott Simon. Inscriptions celebrate the men as "exemplary Christian people," Hall says.

Once an attempt at reconciliation, these images can no longer stand, he argues.

"I believe that the Charleston shootings have really been a kind of defining for America and for American institutions," Hall says, "and it seemed to me that we couldn't with credibility address the race agenda if we were going to keep the windows in there."

The cathedral "tells the story of America," he says, and as the country grapples with its history of slavery and racism, he hopes to have windows that "tell that story in all of its complicated fullness."

In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln noted that both the North and the South "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other ..."

"How do you explain that Confederates, as Lincoln suggested, prayed to the same God as Lincoln, as Harriet Tubman, as Sojourner Truth?" Simon asks Hall.

"I think this is an important moment for church leaders, including myself, to stop, you know, giving God the credit or the blame for everything," Hall responds in part.

"In other words ... a lot of stuff is done in God's name; I think we need to be a little bit clearer about what's our own will and what's God's will and be a little bit more willing to suspend our judgment about what God is really doing until we've had a chance for that judgment to play out."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Confederate stars and bars have been taken down from flagpoles and store shelves all over the country this week in the wake of the shooting that killed nine people in a Charleston church. But there are still Confederate flags visible in stained-glass windows of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which has been called the national house of prayer and held state funeral services for three U.S. presidents. The Very Rev. Gary Hall is dean of the National Cathedral. He joins us now from the studios of member station KUER in Salt Lake City. Rev. Hall, thanks so much for being back with us.

VERY REV. GARY HALL: You're welcome.

SIMON: Let me begin by asking how those windows wound up in the National Cathedral.

HALL: They were installed in 1953 after an extensive lobbying campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. One of them represents Robert E. Lee. The second represents Stonewall Jackson. And they have also extensive inscriptions underneath celebrating them essentially as exemplary Christian people.

SIMON: Well, and this week, you called for those windows to come out.

HALL: Yes, I did. I believe that the Charleston shootings have really been a kind of defining moment for America and for American institutions. And it seemed to me that we couldn't, with credibility, address the race agenda if we were going to keep the windows in there. So I've actually called on the governing body of the cathedral to remove the windows and to start a process by which we commission new windows that would not whitewash the past. I'm not trying to whitewash our history. I'm trying to celebrate our history. But since the cathedral tells the story of America, and just as America is trying to come to terms finally with the Civil War and slavery and racism and segregation, it seems to me that it's more appropriate for us to have windows that tell that story in all of its complicated fullness than just present a kind of public relations picture of a couple of Southern generals.

SIMON: Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were, I gather, men of quality who fought for a hideous cause. Lincoln said in the second inaugural address of the North and South both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes his aid against the other. How do you explain that in this day and age, how men of that quality could wind up on that side of history?

HALL: I think the question you raise is the same question that we raise about things like the Holocaust. The people in the German military establishment were largely either Lutherans or Roman Catholics, and yet they carried out horrible things as well. So that's why I think our faith traditions always live with this contradiction. So I'm not interested in stigmatizing Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson. But as long as those pictures are in our stained-glass, our ability to lead a real, deep reconciliation process is compromised.

SIMON: And how do you explain that Confederates, as Lincoln suggested, prayed to the same God as Lincoln, as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth?

HALL: It's a hard question and it's a mystery. Yes, I can say Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln both prayed to the same God. And I think over time, God's judgment has been that one was right and one was wrong. But in the midst of things, God's will is not always as clear as we would like it to be. And I think this is an important moment for church leaders, including myself, to stop, you know, giving God the credit or the blame for everything. In other words, we do - a lot of stuff is done in God's name. I think we need to be a little bit clearer about what's our own will and what's God's will and be a little bit more willing to suspend our judgment about what God is really doing until we've had a chance for that judgment to play out.

SIMON: The Very Rev. Gary Hall of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much for being with us again.

HALL: You're very welcome. It's always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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