George Washington's church: Plaque honoring him must go

Monday, October 30, 2017
Michael F. Haverluck (

church pewsLeaders from the very church where President George Washington worshipped announced that they will strip down a monument honoring the Founding Father because it is too offensive for congregants to bear.

Adding to the racial tensions of the social justice movement sweeping the country – demanding that Civil War memorials be destroyed or removed – Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, is taking down a plaque that marks the pew where the first president sat with his family – claiming that its worshippers would deem the memorial offensive or unacceptable.

Remembered as a slaveholder?

Church leaders contend that since Washington was a slaveholder, his memory has no place in their church.

“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome," they insisted, according to Fox News. "Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques. Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of 'all are welcome – no exceptions.’”

In the wake of the clash at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the church near the nation’s capital is taking the stance of zero tolerance against anything or anyone that had anything to do with slavery in the early years of the United States.

“This weekend, the church announced it was pulling down a memorial plaque to its onetime vestryman and the country’s first president, saying he and another famous parishioner, Robert E. Lee, have become so controversial that they are chasing away would-be parishioners,” The Washington Times announced. “While acknowledging ‘friction’ over the decision, the church’s leadership said both plaques, which are attached to the front wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as ‘All are welcome – no exceptions.’”

In defense of history

The controversial decision to remove the plaques was shared with congregants on Sunday, and an uproar over the matter soon ensued.

“The backlash was swift, with the church’s Facebook page turning into a battleground,” the Time’s Stephen Dinan informed. “Some supporters praised the church for a ‘courageous’ stand, while critics compared leaders at the Episcopal church leaders to the Taliban or the Islamic State.”

The debate has reportedly gone back-and-forth over the matter for some time, but Rev. Noelle York Simmons, who serves as the rector of the church, indicated in an email to the Times that there was a unanimous vote by the vestry to get rid of the memorial.

“The plaques will come down by next summer, when leadership determines another place for them,” Dinan pointed out. “For now, the Lee memorial, about the size of a grave marker, stands to the right of the altar, reading in gold lettering, ‘In Memory of Robert Edward Lee.’ The Washington plaque to the left says: ‘In memory of George Washington.’”

Presidential pressure

President Donald Trump has already made his stance clear on the issue of preserving the nation’s history.

“President Donald J. Trump has weighed in on the controversy surrounding statues to American leaders who owned slaves such as George Washington,” Townhall recounted. “Earlier this year, he warned removal of statues and other plaques honoring such figures would decimate American history.”

In fact, the president recently reemphasized his support for those running for office who make it a practice to preserve – and not destroy – America’s national heritage when he tweeted his support of the Republican candidate for Virginia’s next governor, Ed Gillespie.

“Ed Gillespie will turn the really bad Virginia economy #'s around, and fast,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “Strong on crime, he might even save our great statues/heritage!”

Holding onto the negative

Simmons issued a brief statement about the reasoning behind the church’s unanimous decision to oust the Washington and Lee monuments, and also described what would be done with them before they are removed.

“The new display location will be determined by a parish committee,” Simmons stated in an email she sent to the Times. “That location will provide a place for our parish to offer a fuller narrative of our rich history, including the influence of these two powerful men on our church and our country. We look forward to this opportunity to continue to learn more about our own history and find new ways to introduce it to the wider community.”

Even though Washington memorials have generally been left alone during the statue removal movement that has swept America, memorials commemorating Lee have not fared as well.

Despite Christ Church’s decision to remove the memorials, its leaders admitted that both Washington and Lee were important figureheads in American history.

“Christ Church, though, said the two men were inextricably linked in history and had to be considered together, since they were erected together and visually balance each other,” Dinan recounted.

Here’s what church leaders expressed to their congregants about the first and 16th presidents”

“[Washington was] the visionary who not only refused to be king, but also gave up power after eight years, and a symbol of our democracy,” the leaders told parishioners in a letter, according to the Times. “[The longtime parishioner Lee] symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery.”

The leaders ended with an attempt to justify their decision to remove the historic markers from the church pews.

“Today, our country is trying, once again, to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color,” the Christ Church leaders concluded their letter.

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