What I Failed To See in My Church’s Confederate Stained Glass | Sojourners


The image shows a man replacing stained glass windows in the Washington National Cathedral, the new windows depict protest scenes.

Stained-glass fabricator Andrew Goldkuhle executes Kerry James Marshall's design in windows replacing a Confederate-themed display at the Washington National Cathedral. / Bill O'Leary / The Washington Post via Getty Images 

What I Failed To See in My Church’s Confederate Stained Glass

“The majority of white worshipers walked by those windows. But Black worshipers, they knew.”

THE FORMER WINDOWS depicted Robert E. Lee and Thomas Stonewall Jackson, Confederate generals who owned slaves, betrayed their country, and fought a war to create a new country intending to preserve and expand the enslavement of Black people across the Americas. Those windows were removed and are on loan to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They represented a discredited yet potent historical lie perpetuated for generations and with lasting impact known as the “Lost Cause.” In the years after the Civil War, when Black Americans and others rose up in self-determination, monuments and windows like ours were conceived, paid for, and installed all over the United States. They became, and remain, a rallying cause for white supremacist movements in our day — movements that are growing.

I daresay the majority of white worshipers and visitors walked by those windows, as I did, and we didn’t know it. But Black worshipers and visitors, they knew. You knew what we chose not to know — and tried not to know or tried to minimize until we couldn’t any longer. I played a part in all that, and I apologize. When I did know, I hesitated. The late Rev. Robert Hunter said to me, “Bishop, will you be a compass pointing the way or will you be a thermometer and act only when the heat rises?” I’m so grateful to all those who made decisions to replace — to take down — a part of our foundation that was at odds with everything this cathedral and the teachings of Jesus stand for. As we walk toward freedom, believe in Beloved Community, sing sacred words, just and true, may our lives and this place be the portals where the light comes in.

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Mariann Edgar Budde is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.