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First president ends up on the ash heap of political correctness at Virginia Episcopal church

First president ends up on the ash heap of political correctness at Virginia Episcopal church
Christ Church finds George Washington's memorial plaque threatening

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
November 1, 2017

Another Episcopal church in Virginia has done it. Christ Church in Alexandria has decided that it is not expedient to display plaques commemorating long-dead parishioners, Robert E. Lee or even George Washington, both of whom were active contributing members of that congregation, albeit in different centuries. President Washington (1732-1799) lived in the 18th century and General Lee (1807-1870) lived during the 19th Century.

This is not the first time an Episcopal congregation has voted to remove references to an historic Episcopalian from their postmodern understanding of American history.

Robert E. Lee has taken the brunt of the Episcopal cleansing of conscience, starting with the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The Episcopal cathedral first removed small, all-too-familiar Confederate battle flags from its stained-glass window. Those flags, even a century and a half after the Civil War, have become the instantly recognizable icon of the Confederacy.

"There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation's most visible faith community," declared former National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall, as the small flags were removed from the massive eight-foot tall stained-glass windows last summer.

But deleting the southern flags was not enough. General Lee and fellow West Point graduate, Stonewall Jackson, eventually were also scrubbed from the cathedral's stained-glass windows. Lee, an Episcopalian, was depicted kneeling in prayer while reading the Bible and Jackson was standing with his hand raised in praise to God. Both men were devout Christians.

Jackson was baptized as an Episcopalian at St. John's Episcopal Church near Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. But he lived out his Christian faith as a passionate Presbyterian.

At one time, Lee was a vestryman at St. John's. So, his contribution to the now-closed Episcopal church, was commemorated by two plaques identifying a maple tree he planted while he was still a young U.S. Army officer, 20 years before the start of the Civil War.

However, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island became gun shy over the swirling controversy about Confederate monuments and quickly yanked the tree's identifying plaques.

"For us, it wasn't a decision that needed more than a minute of thought," explained Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano (VIII Long Island).

Lee's name was also removed from R.E. Memorial Episcopal Church in nearby Lexington, Virginia. Lee was the senior warden and deeply committed to the Lexington congregation, even going so far as to provide critical financial support to keep the congregation solvent during the lean, post-Civil War years.

So once again, an Episcopal church, has become so haunted by the "sins" of the past as to erase parts of its own history.

The overarching "sin" is having been a slave owner during a slice of American history where slavery was a part of the national fabric of the antebellum South.

Now, too, George Washington is deemed guilty of the same "sin." Initially he was a Colonial Virginia tobacco plantation owner who inherited slaves. Following his death his slaves were then set free through the terms of his will. It was also his desire to keep slaves together and not break up families, thus separating parents from their children or splitting up couples.

George Washington was born in Colonial Virginia and baptized on April 5,1732 as a member of the Church of England, which since 1619, was the established church in Virginia. His great-great grandfather, Lawrence Washington, was a Church of England vicar in Essex, England. Young George's childhood church was Pohick Church in Lorton, Virginia where his father, Augustine Washington, was a vestryman. Later, George, himself, was on the vestry at Pohick Church.

George Washington is known to have attended, been a member, paid for pews, or even was a vestryman of various Anglican, and later, Episcopal churches during his lifetime, including: Trinity Episcopal (Newport, Rhode Island); Bruton Parish (Colonial Williamsburg) while he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses; Truro Parish (Fairfax, Virginia); The Falls Church (Falls Church, Virginia); Pope's Creek Church (Westmoreland County, Virginia); Christ Church (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) while he was at the Constitutional Convention; St. Paul's Chapel (New York City) where he held his 1789 first inaugural prayer service and attended services there while New York served as the capital city for the infant United States from 1785-17890; and the Presbyterian Church in Morristown, New Jersey, where the Continental Army was encamped during the Revolutionary War.

The Presbyterian Church has permanently commemorated Washington's church attendance through a stained glass window showing him participating in an outdoor Communion Service, holding his tri-cornered hat in hand. The Presbyterians were forced outdoors for church services because their worship space had been turned into a Revolutionary War field hospital.

Washington was a communicant member of Anglican, then Episcopal church, but was an infrequent communicant, which was the custom of the time.

The Presbyterian window is not the only depiction of George Washington in stained glass. There is a stained-glass window in the Congressional Prayer Room in the US Capitol. There Washington, in his blue and gold Revolutionary War uniform, is seen kneeling in prayer with his hands folded and eyes closed reciting Ps. 16:1: "Preserve me, God. For in Thee do I put my trust."

Washington is also memorialized in stained glass in the 36 panels of the massive George Washington Window situated over the south wall entrance of the Washington Memorial (Episcopal) Chapel in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, which is named for him.

The Episcopal chapel also has a rosette window showing Washington, his bared head bowed in prayer and hands clutched to his chest while kneeling in the snow at Valley Forge, while his cloak swirls around his feet and the bare trees form a backdrop behind him. His sheathed sword is lying in the snow with his tri-cornered resting hat on top of it.

The future president was married to Martha Dandridge Custis, in 1759 at St. Peter's in New Kent, Virginia. The Anglican church was Martha's home church and the Virginia General Assembly has designated St. Peter's as "The First Church of the 1st First Lady."

Washington was also a member and vestryman of Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia. His 1799 funeral was held at that church, but now more than 200 years later, the Vestry has taken umbrage to his -- and Robert E. Lee's -- church membership due to historical ties to slavery.

Although Washington died before Lee was born, there is a distant relationship through marriage. Lee's wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, is the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, who was the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, when she married George Washington.

The Church of England was the established church in Colonial Virginia. Initially, Truro Parish encompassed all of Fairfax County, which was created out of the Hamilton Parish in 1732 -- the year George Washington was born. Then in 1764, the parish divided and Cameron Parish was formed. And another division occurred in 1764 creating Fairfax Parish. In 1773, Christ Church in Alexandria became a chapel of ease to The Falls Church, both of which were a part of the overarching Fairfax Parish.

It was in 1853 at Christ Church, that Robert E. Lee was confirmed by Bishop John Johns (IV Virginia). That event is marked by a small silver plaque on the chancel rail.

However, Christ Church has determined that two matching memorial gold-lettered marble plaques on either side of the altar must come down to avoid any offense to the modern Episcopalian. The plaques simply read: "In Memory of Robert Edward Lee," and "In memory of George Washington."

Christ Church is also peppered with other small markers showing Washington's and Lee's involvement with the historic congregation.

Christ Church is just one congregation in Alexandria. The Diocese of Virginia lists 23 active congregations within Alexandria, a city of 155,000 souls. Alexandria's Episcopal congregations are: Christ Church, Emmanuel, Grace, St. Clements, Meade Memorial (Black), St. Paul's, Immanuel, Cristo Rey (Hispanic), St. John's, Trinity, Resurrection, Church of The Spirit, Olivet, All Saints-Sharon Chapel, San Marcos (Hispanic); St. Mark's, Iglesias de Dios (Hispanic), Jesus Love (Korean), St. Paul's, St. George, San Jose (Hispanic), St. Luke's, and St. James.

Christ Church's Senior Warden Emily Bryan emphasizes in a statement posed on the church's website: " It is important to clarify that the only markers the vestry considered are the marble memorial plaques on the front of the sanctuary. The Washington box pew will remain, the Washington pew marker will remain, the plaque memorializing Washington's funeral by the entry to the sanctuary will remain, the Lee plaque on the communion rail and Lee pew marker, strangers' pew marker, and the three silver plaques from Roosevelt and Churchill's visit to our campus during WWII will also remain exactly as they are today. Additionally, the artifacts on display in the church Library and the history display highlighting both men outside the gift shop will remain intact."

"We are the church of George Washington, of Robert E. Lee, but most importantly, we are the church of Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Dr. Noelle York-Simmons, Christ Church's female rector. "After much discussion within our church family, we have determined that two marble plaques honoring Washington and Lee that currently hang on the wall in the front of our church are best showcased in a prominent campus location outside the church itself ... As much as we honor the contributions of these two men to our parish and our country, many find those markers on either side of our altar to be a distraction from what we are here in church to do -- and that is to worship God."

Even the three bishops of Virginia have weighed in on the plaque controversy.

"Placing the plaques in their wider historical context, which cannot be done appropriately in the worship space itself, will seek to honor further the legacy of both Washington and Lee in the life of the congregation," jointly wrote Shannon Johnston (XIII Virginia); Susan Goff (Bishop Suffragan); and Ted Gulick (Assistant Bishop). "In accordance with the polity of The Episcopal Church, we honor the validity of the Vestry's unanimous decision to relocate the plaques from worship space to another prominent place on the historic church grounds. Our primary concern is that our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ will remain undistracted."

It didn't take long after the news broke about Christ Church's demotion of a Founding Father for media to respond.

Some headlines read: "Episcopal church vote to remove George Washington memorial is just outward sign of a politicized church" (Press Grab) ... "George Washington's church will remove his memorial as it makes some feel 'unsafe'" (The Tacoma News Tribune) ... "George Washington Taken from the Heights" (The American Thinker) ... "All are welcome -- no exceptions! That is, except two dead white guys" (The Spectator) ... "George Washington's Church Says Plaque Honoring First President Must Come Down" (FOX News) ... "An historic church will remove plaques honoring George Washington and Robert E. Lee, but it shouldn't" (Washington Post) ... "Out with George Washington, in with 'Mother' god" (World Net Daily) ... Is a Virginia Church Ripping Out an 'Offensive' George Washington Plaque? (Snopes) ... "George Washington's church to tear down memorial honoring first president" (Washington Times) ... "George Washington's church to remove plaque honouring first US president as monuments row takes twist" The London Telegraph) ... "Christ Church Removes Plaque To Its Former Patron, George Washington, Because It Created An 'Unsafe Or Unwelcome' Space" (Jonathan Turley Blog) ... "Historic Virginia church to remove plaque honoring former congregant -- George Washington" (Hot Air) ... "Historic Virginia Church Removes Plaques to George Washington, Robert E. Lee --To Be 'Welcoming'" (Breitbart) ... "Removing George Washington" (Juicy Ecumenism) ... Cultural Terrorism Comes To Christ Church in Alexandria (The Republican Standard) ...

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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