The Robert E. Lee Memorial Church in Lexington, Va., is the latest building/memorial/what-have-you to toss the infamous Confederate general back to the past where he belongs, voting to change its name after an intense two-year debate.
According to The Hill, the final decision came down to a narrow 7-5 victory Monday for the name changers, and the church, which Lee himself once attended, will once again be known by its former name, Grace Episcopal Church.
The subject was initially broached in 2015 after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C.
The discussion was a contentious one, the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, dividing congregants down the middle and causing a vestry member and the church’s treasurer to resign from their leadership positions in protest of the proposed change.
“It’s been a very divisive issue for two years,” the Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church’s rector, told the Times-Dispatch. “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,” vestry member Doug Cumming added. “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,” Cumming said.
According to the Times-Dispatch, a report was sent out by the church earlier this year, noting that those who wanted to keep the name wanted to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction to the present cultural environment” and to show that “Lee continues to be respected and honored by this congregation.”
Those who wanted to restore the church’s former name argued that “Lee’s name has become divisive in the church and in the larger society and has become a liability to the church’s reputation,” further insisting that “the name be welcoming to all and that it not limit [the church’s] ability to grow.”
The church is not the only one that has looked to change its perception to the public. Just last month, the Washington National Cathedral voted to remove stained glass windows that honored Lee and another Confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
“The chapter believes that 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,” the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s Bishop Marianne Edgar Budde, the National Cathedral’s chapter chairman John Donoghue, and National Cathedral dean Randy Hollerith wrote in a letter, The Hill notes. “Their association with racial oppression, human subjugation and white supremacy does not belong in the sacred fabric of this cathedral.”
The letter noted that the windows would be “deconsecrated, removed, conserved and stored” until the cathedral could “determine a more appropriate future for them.”