A church in Boise, Idaho, has decided to remove a stained glass window portraying Confederate general Robert E. Lee, which has been in its sanctuary for the past 60 years. Cathedral of the Rockies’ decision comes amid renewed calls for Confederate memorials throughout the U.S. to be torn down, moved, or replaced.
“We believe this section of our window to be inconsistent with our current mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” said Cathedral of the Rockies in a statement. “Further, such display is a barrier to our important work resisting evil, injustice, and oppression. Symbols of white supremacy do not belong in our sacred space.”
Cathedral of the Rockies: It’s an Obstacle to Worship
The local United Methodist church was founded in 1872, but the depiction of Lee has only been in the sanctuary since 1960. Then-pastor Rev. Herbert E. Richards said in a letter, “We have included also a patriotic theme in one lancet which includes George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee. We have a strong southern influence here in Boise.”
“Clearly, white southerners,” said the church’s current senior pastor, Rev. Duane Anders, to the Idaho Statesman. Anders told UM News, “It really was an attempt to say, ‘This is Christian unity.’ Now, it was totally blind to the systemic racism of the 1950s and ‘60s that was putting up Confederate monuments.”
Cathedral of the Rockies first began debating what to do about the window in 2015 when white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black parionishers at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. At that time, said the Boise church, “we began a process to engage this community in deep questions of racial justice and God’s call to us in the 21st century, acknowledging our own sin with a stained glass window panel in the right transept of the Cathedral.”
Then in 2017, after a white supremacist demonstration turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, a parishioner emailed the church expressing concern about the stained glass window. At that time, Cathedral of the Rockies considered putting up a plaque in the church “acknowledging the harm the image had caused,” but ended up not moving forward with the idea. Other people over the years have asked the church to take action on the window, including Philip Thompson, the executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum.
With the recent riots and protests against racism throughout the U.S., the church once more considered putting up a plaque. But after hearing from people in the church and the community, leaders decided to remove the depiction of Lee entirely, a process that could cost thousands of dollars. “The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor brought long-overdue urgency to our discernment process,” said the church. “We recognize this section of our window is more than a benign historical marker. For many of God’s children, it is an obstacle to worship in a sacred space; for some, this and other Confederate memorials serve as lampposts along a path that leads back to racial subjugation and oppression.”
Cathedral of the Rockies is considering donating Lee’s image to the Idaho Black History Museum and is planning to replace the Civil War general with a “yet to be determined person of color.”
The church acknowledged that some people will disagree with the decision and that others have been hurt by the fact leaders have taken so long to remove the window. Said Anders, “The challenge for some people in Boise is that [it] won’t be enough, and for some people that will be a bridge too far. To both those groups we want to say: This is the work of repentance; It starts where it can. This is where we start.”
Other Church Leaders Support Removal of Confederate Memorials
Leaders at Cathedral of the Rockies are not the only ones in the U.S. working toward the removal of Confederate memorials in their cities. In Cornelius, North Carolina, pastors of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church are formally requesting that a 110-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier (portrayed with a Confederate flag) be removed from the church’s front lawn. The property the monument sits on is not owned by the church, but by a private association.
The current pastor of Emanuel AME Church recently joined other activists calling for a statue of former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun to be removed from a park in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Calhoun was a staunch supporter of slavery.
Rev. Nelson Rivers with the National Action Network said the statue “represents Dylann Roof to us” and that “The time has come to not just acknowledge your racist, evil, wicked past. The time has come to take down the monuments that honor the evil that was done in the name of Charleston, in the name of South Carolina.”
City officials announced Wednesday they would comply and remove the statue in defiance of state law.