Thursday's HOT MIC

Thursday's HOT MIC

Robert E. Lee's church drops name of Confederate general.

After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee moved to Lexington, Va. and joined Grace Episcopal Church. He was elected senior warden, serving five years until his death in 1870. He restored stability during a difficult time, and the vestry named the church after him in 1903.

On Monday, however, Robert E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church voted to change its name, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Leaders of R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington voted Monday evening to change the parish’s name to Grace Episcopal Church — what it was originally called when the Confederate general moved to town after the Civil War and joined the congregation.

The decision concludes a quiet, two-year debate among congregants over whether it’s appropriate for a Christian institution that aims to welcome all to carry a name that memorializes a man best known for fighting a war to preserve the institution of slavery.

“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” said the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church’s rector. “But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point. Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.” ...

“People have left the church,” said vestry member Doug Cumming after the body’s 7-5 vote, which followed a parish meeting where members on both sides of the issue spoke. “People have felt exhausted by it. And many people have felt hurt.

“He was the senior warden of our church, we’re proud of that, it’s part of our history, but we’re not going to put that on a sign out on the street because it’s misunderstood.”

As a member of The Falls Church Anglican (TFCA), which once owned a church building that George Washington helped construct, I keenly feel these issues of history. TFCA is still proud of its heritage, despite Washington's owning slaves. But then again, TFCA did not change its name to honor Washington.

Christian churches are called to worship Jesus Christ, and find their identity in Him, even if their heritage includes famous and historical people. Remembering Robert E. Lee is one thing, keeping statues of him is another, but renaming a church after him is something else. This going back to the original name is laudable, even though costly attempts to erase the Confederacy from the nation's memory are not.