For two decades, George Washington attended Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Now, the episcopalian place of worship is saying it will take down plaques in honor of Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who also attended the church, because they make some “feel unsafe or unwelcome.”
“The Vestry has unanimously decided that the plaques create a distraction in our worship space and may create an obstacle to our identity as a welcoming church, and an impediment to our growth and to full community with our neighbors,” the church wrote in an Oct. 26 statement that was signed by 13 members of its governing council. “Accordingly, the plaques will be relocated no later than the summer of 2018.”
In its letter, Christ Church wrote that “some choose not to return” because of the twin plaques, which were constructed in 1870, just two months after the death of Lee.
The plaques, as reported by the Washington Times, are made of stone and emblazoned with the words “In memory of George Washington” and “In memory of Robert E. Lee” in gold letters. They are placed on both sides of the altar.
“We understand that both Washington and Lee lived in times much different than our own, and that each man, in addition to his public persona, was a complicated human being, and like all of us, a child of God,” the church wrote. “Today, the legacy of slavery and of the Confederacy is understood differently than it was in 1870. For some, Lee symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery.”
“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 Vestry believes that the memorial plaques to George Washington and Robert E. Lee should be considered together.”
According to The Washington Times, Washington bought pew No. 5 at Christ Church when its doors first opened in 1773 and would attend it frequently for another 20 years.
It’s still unknown what new home the plaques will have by next summer, the church wrote, but a committee will look at different options and make a recommendation in April.
Inspired by conversation on the topic, Christ Church also wrote that it plans to organize a group of parishioners that will play a role in “developing a narrative for Christ Church that spotlights many of the parishioners and experiences that give us our identity.”
“This decision is a beginning,” the church wrote, “not an end.”
In August, Baltimore quietly removed four Confederate statues in the middle of the night, according to The New York Times. That happened shortly after clashes between white supremacists and anti-racist protestors rocked the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, which decided to remove a statue of Lee.
And on the Tuesday following the tension in Charlottesville — which CNN reported left one dead and 19 more injured when a car hit a crowd of protestors — activists in Durham, North Carolina, tore down a Confederate statue there.
Shortly after the violence in Charlottesville, President Trump himself questioned where activists would draw the line.
“They were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Trump said, as reported by the Hill. “This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”