Cincinnati cathedral drafts plan to study removing memorials to Confederate figures

By David Paulsen
Posted Sep 14, 2017
Cincinnati Lee

Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, is depicted as receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade in this stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal cathedral in Cincinnati plans to launch a discernment process as it considers removing memorials to Confederate figures after the dean called for their removal in a sermon last month.

Christ Church Cathedral’s vestry, which discussed Dean Gail Greenwell’s request at its Sept. 13 meeting, agreed to study the memorials’ historical significance, engage in conversations with parishioners on the issue and consider ways of memorializing abolitionists and heroes of racial justice.

“The vestry believes that a proper response requires an active period of discernment,” Senior Warden Don Land and Junior Warden Julie Kline said in a statement dated Sept. 14. The statement did not provide a timeline for the discernment process.

The latest development comes a month after a white supremacist rally on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent and deadly, fueling a national conversation about the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in public spaces, including Episcopal institutions.

Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups chose to rally in Charlottesville to oppose the city’s plan to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee. The Confederate general also is depicted in a stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral, a fact that Greenwell highlighted in her Aug. 20 sermon.

“The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral,” Greenwell said.

The cathedral’s stained-glass window, a gift from a Lee descendant, shows Lee receiving a blessing from Virginia Bishop William Meade. Greenwell also pointed to the cathedral’s plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, who was consecrated in 1838 in Cincinnati and served as the missionary bishop of the Southwest.

Polk plaque

This plaque honoring Leonidas Polk, an Episcopal bishop and Confederate general, is displayed in Christ Church Cathedral. Photo: Sarah Hartwig/Christ Church Cathedral

Polk, one of the founders of Sewanee: The University of the South, was bishop of Louisiana when he served as a Confederate general. He was known to wear his Episcopal vestments over his military uniform, “a thoroughly offensive merge of his professed faith and his fervor to see the institution of slavery endure,” Greenwell said.

She called for the vestry to re-examine the two memorials in the cathedral with the hope they will be removed.

“We need to be very careful, very thoughtful about what we choose to revere on a plaque or put on a pedestal,” she said in her sermon.

The vestry responded this week with its three-part plan. For the first part, it “will host an educational event to explore the contextual historical significance of these memorials and discern their impact on present day members of the Cathedral Community,” the wardens’ statement said.

That will be followed by conversations within the congregation, which should offer “the input necessary to make final determinations.”

The third step comes in response to Greenwell’s additional challenge to the cathedral to replace the Confederate symbols with tributes to those who fought for racial justice, with special consideration for Cincinnati’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad helping slaves find freedom in the North.

Washington National Cathedral announced last week it was removing two stained-glass windows featuring Lee and fellow Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, installed in 1953.

That decision abruptly ended the Washington cathedral’s own lengthy process of discernment, which began in the aftermath of the June 2015 massacre of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Gunman Dylann Roof had shown a fondness for the Confederate flag.

“These windows are not only inconsistent with our current mission to serve as a house of prayer for all people, but also a barrier to our important work on racial justice and racial reconciliation,” Episcopal leaders in Washington said in a written statement. “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this Cathedral.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at


Comments (12)

  1. The Rev. Suzanne Johnston says:

    We cannot learn from history unless we accept it, recognize its catalysts, learn from it and move on in more positive ways. My hope is that, when we set our eyes upon something which we (now) recognize as unacceptable, we can discuss the problems with it openly and promise to do better. If we ‘bury’ it or hide it, we stand to repeat it. It is in the open discussion of the problem which is where the healing takes place, not in its obliteration from our consciousness. Forgiveness happens only after we have recognized and openly acknowledge our errors. We have so much rich history to learn from – good and bad. To suppress either one is censorship and propaganda-izing of our culture’s history.

  2. I grew up in Cincinnati and was ordained in the Diocese of Soutrhern Ohio. I remember when the new Christ Church was built and I attended the ordination of Roger Blanchard as Bishop. Now, years later I support the efforts of a respectful conversation and hoped-for removal or Confederate stained glass, plaques, and other memorials from the Cathedral building. They should be stored in a museum setting where this era of our history can be studied and it legacy interpreted to foster racial reconciliation today.

    The Church is about restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP, p855). We need to live into this mission and work for equity and racial justice for all. Blessings on your journey.

  3. R H Lewis VTS1963 says:

    There was , as I recall , a painting of an Anglican pastor in the run-up to the Revolutionary War who
    was wearing military garb under his vestments Nothing new in that. That Polk and Lee and others were traitors to the United States seems regularly ignored. They led a military effort
    to create a new political entity which promulgated slavery and never planned to end it.
    Context may be important in some cases but let’s be clear as to what the purpose of the break-
    away group was.

  4. Donald Heacock says:

    The Dean is badly informed about Bishop Polk a former Air Force Chaplain. I regularly wore my uniform with a stole when I was doing anything in the field from.a funeral to Communion Service. I don’t know what the Bishop was doing but it Sounds like he was simply doing something similar. If that offends the Dean then she needs to oppose Chaplains in the Military. The Episcopal Church should not have a Bishop for the military. Really how can any Christian serve in the military? DO you see just how extreme her position is. She does not dislike Polk because he was a Confederate General. In the end she hates all military. Sadly she is hardly alone in the her extreme views. That is one reason why the membership of the.Church is falling like a stone

    1. Marceline Donaldson says:

      She is not alone in her views which you consider extreme. You have reinterpreted her views and comments so you can condemn her along with them. So sad. I was a member of Christ Church Cincinnati when it was not a cathedral church and when it would not allow the Bishop of Southern Ohio to treat it as such. It is with great hope that I have been following this discussion. I hope it ends with the removal of Confederate figures. The fact that many of them didn’t show up until the 1950’s says to me their role was to maintain the hope of returning to slavery or at least to maintain the fiction of “better than”. This is not the hope of eternal life – more like eternal death.

  5. Keith Gardner says:

    This bothers me as a Christian, a Marine, a Judge, an American. I’m positive there are in the Episcopal Church tens of thousands who feel that this cleansing of history is not just wrong but is a march of the lemmings headed over the cliff blindly and obediently. I was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a Confederate General, also a prewar Governor of that state. My Great Aunt was murdered by two of her slaves. The court sentenced the slave to hang. Governor Bragg sent a special train with a commutation. Because, of this rewriting of Civil War history we ignore all the good in a person and assume to know the true heart of that Veteran. Lemmings are going after Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln will be next, because he would have kept slavery in several states to end the war. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Christians forgive!

    1. R H Lewis VTS1963 says:

      we forgive as Christians but it requires repentance. There seems little evidence of that in
      retaining memorials which seem to celebrate the slave holders and protectors thereof

  6. J C Stromberger says:

    This entire monument removal business is nothing more than the frightened response of a polis afraid to stand against extreme entitlement. The Church certainly has a mission that is greater than enabling extremists in “making them pay”. Certainly we have better things to do. The Confederacy was founded on the rather childish presumption that men could enslave others simply because it suited their economic and social purposes to do so, and no law could stop them. There is no reason for the Church or society to enable the same sort of entitlement today.

  7. Doug Desper says:

    “The church itself has been complicit in enshrining systems and people who contributed to white supremacy, and they are here in the very corners of this cathedral…” Fair enough. Remove them. In that R.E. Lee objected to memorials to the Civil War the good dean has his bolster of approval. I wish that the personalities of the Civil War era could be appreciated for more than their uniforms and the response to a call to arms. These men were far more complex and deserve more consideration than what has become a cartoonish image of them.

    Notwithstanding, Dean Greenwell has fallen into the game du jour which is “Find the Racist”. We’ve been around the board so many times I can’t count. Apologizing today, lamenting tomorrow, detracting, extracting, protesting, marching, blaming ad nauseum.

    Guess what? “Find the Racist” is easy when there are statues, plaques, and windows of the dead to play with. It’s harder when the game gets real.

    Every person reading this is exactly like Americans of the 1860s. Back then Northerners and Southerners all benefited from slavery and excused their blindness because to overturn slavery would be the ruination of homes, fortunes, and social stability. Not much has changed in 150 years. A single race of people was freed after the Civil War but we are now reliant on other races of people these days to undergird a stable and comfortable national life. Today, everyone from the good Dean down to the baby in the Nursery — and sadly, all of us — benefits from modern slavery. Many of our purchased goods are somehow touched by someone who is held against their will. These people create cheap objects like shoes, clothing, dried flowers, souvenirs, food, batteries, and more so we can enjoy a lifestyle that is affordable. China and the Pacific rim as well as Central America are the new Slave Quarters on our plantations. The “Quarters” aren’t out back anymore, but we still have them. These people who are living in servile misery are trapped. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic — all of us are the new masters.

    So, we have much in common with the statues, the windows, and the plaques that we’re piling up on the trash truck. People in the 1860s didn’t have an easy way to release each other from their ensnaring slave system short of personal ruination, and neither do we. (Robert E. Lee wanted an end to slavery but he didn’t see how national martial law was the solution, so he resisted it). The real question is “have we found the way out either?” No. But, junking the past sure helps us take our minds off of ourselves.

    Now, back to “Find the Racist”. How willing are the people of 2017 to end the servile misery that ensnares us? Anyone signing up for personal bankruptcy? Are you willing to pay double for most cheap products? How high are you willing to go to end today’s slavery? Are you really sure that your clothing, seafood, jewelry, and lithium batteries are 100% free from the touch of today’s enslaved? Are the people of China, the Dominican Republic, and the Pacific Islands so beneath us to not willingly ruin ourselves to change the system that entraps them? That’s what was being asked of those who lived in the 1860s. “Why did they not end it?!” Now, it’s our turn to answer up. In 100 years who will be called the racist? What will the people of 2117 do with the portraits of today’s Deans, Bishops, and notable laity who got along so well on the misery of others?

  8. Richmond Parker says:

    Robert E. Lee was a great American , a Virginian , a devout Episcopalian , a brilliant General and a fine Christian gentleman . He fought for the South because he opposed the invasion of his native State of Virginia , and could not bring himself to fight against his own people ( by staying in the Federal Army after being offered command by President Lincoln . ) He opposed secession , and believed in the gradual emancipation of slaves , especially after witnessing the great cruelty of some slave owners . He emancipated slaves belonging to his family . After the War , when he was attending Church , a Negro man entered , and knelt art the Communion rail . The other parishioners were aghast , and did not go forward until Lee himself went forward and knelt beside the Negro . Would to God that all the racists had followed his example ! I recently read a modern biography of Lee , and also a book containing some of his correspondence and reflections , in his own words . Respectfully Submitted , Richmond Parker ” Rich “

  9. ronald freeman says:

    I think you should remove your dean and not what is our history. our church is not in line with what is truth…..and people are leaving.stop IT.

  10. Terry Francis says:

    I go to Christ Church Cathedral. When I read in ENS that our dean proposed removing two Confederate memorials from one of the stained glass windows I decided to go there on a week day and take a look for myself. Frankly I had to look at all the windows twice before I located them. When I saw them I thought to myself is this what Rev Gail is having such a hissy fit over? Two small corners of one of the windows that most would not even notice. I can only speak for myself but as an african american I have no problem whatsoever with those images of Lee and Meade. Or to the Polk plaque. Frankly I don’t know why the vestry is even bothering with an “active period of discernment” since it appears everyone, or mostly everyone in the vestry have already made up their minds. I have a real problem with this out of sigh out of mind “solution” to things that offend people. No Rev Ames, these memorials, at least most of them, should not go to a museum. They should stay right where they are. You cannot send everything that offends you to museums!

Comments are closed.