A plaque honoring America's first president at the church he attended for more than two decades — Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia — is being removed after complaints.
Plaques honoring George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee are being removed because they apparently make church visitors feel unwelcome and are too controversial, according to the church's leaders. Currently, plaques are placed where the two historic men most often sat in the church's sanctuary.
"The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques," the church leaders said.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” Christ Church lives into this call, feeding the hungry with our Lazarus ministry, welcoming the stranger in our refugee ministry, and inviting all to worship with us. The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.
Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of, “All are welcome — no exceptions.”
At first, the church considered only removing Lee's plaque because of his association with the confederacy, but ultimately decided on both plaques. The statement acknowledged some "friction" behind the debate about the plaques, but the decision to remove and relocate them was unanimous.
What else went into the decision?
The leaders emphasized the fact that their church was a sanctuary for Christians, not a museum, which makes it difficult to explain why there are plaques honoring Lee and Washington.
"Because the sanctuary is a worship space, not a museum, there is no appropriate way to inform visitors about the history of the plaques or to provide additional context except for the in-person tours provided by our docents," the leaders said.
"The [church leaders have] 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," they added.
The plaques are scheduled to come down no later than next summer, the statement said.
Washington began attending the church in 1773, while Lee began attending when he was just three years old, according to the Washington Times. The plaques were erected in 1870, just two months after Lee's death.