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A Virginia church once led by Robert E. Lee votes to remove his name

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A Virginia church once led by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee voted this week to remove his name from church name. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A Virginia church, once led by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, voted this week to remove him from its name, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Leaders of R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington voted to change its name back to Grace Episcopal Church — the name it used before the Civil War.

The church’s history

According to the Times-Dispatch, Lee was elected to serve as senior warden of the Grace Episcopal Church after the Civil War. He held the position for five years until his death in 1870. Churchgoers credited him with “restoring stability” during a tumultuous time following the war. The church voted to change its name to R.E. Lee Memorial in 1903.

What was the debate?

The decision ends a two-year debate among the church’s congregants over whether the use of Lee’s name is appropriate for a Christian church since he fought to preserve the institution of slavery in the South.

The Rev. Tom Crittenden, the church’s rector, told the Times-Dispatch that the matter has been “divisive.”

“But Charlottesville seems to have moved us to this point,” Crittenden said, referring to a violent white nationalist protest last month that left one counterprotester dead. “Not that we have a different view of Lee historically in our church, but we have appreciation for our need to move on.”

The Times-Dispatch reported the narrow 7-5 vote led to the resignation of a vestry member and the church’s treasurer.

Doug Cumming, another vestry member, told the Times-Dispatch that “people have left the church” over the matter.

“People have felt exhausted by it. And many people have felt hurt,” he said. “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.”

Supporters of keeping Lee’s name in the church’s name wanted to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction to the present cultural environment,” according to the report. Some wanted to show that the Confederate general “continues to be respected and honored by this congregation.” They also argued Lee was a “multifaceted” man.

What's next?

Cumming said he’s hopeful both sides of the debate within the church can come together after the vote to return to the community’s original name.

“My ancestors were very proud, brave and articulate southerners, and like Robert E. Lee, I think they’d be very proud over what our church has done tonight,” he said.

(H/T: The Hill)

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