Inside the Cathedral of the Rockies, a controversial piece of art has hid in plain sight; but because of a relentless social media campaign, the church has answered a call to action from the community it serves.
“The church should be leading with these actions,” said Pastor Duane Anders. “In Greek, the word repent means 'to change the way you think.' We want to change the way we think about race, inclusion and complicity, and we want people to join us as we change the way we think.”
Anders and his flock are repenting a stained glass window in the church, in which figures from the Old and New Testament and various others from American history appear alongside Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Anders said that the church will replace Lee with a Black American for a more representational window.
Austin Foudy, who works as director of community outreach for Inclusive Idaho, has led a charge on social media, raising awareness of the presence of the Confederate general and explaining his feelings about it. He found the picture of the window through a friend on social media. In the wake of the Methodist church's promise to take decisive action, Foudy lauded its forthright response, but said still more work must be done.
“When your institution is anti-racist but you aren’t doing the work, it amounts to platitudes and virtue-signaling,” said Foudy. “The thing to remember about [racism] is that there’s no one switch to be flipped. So one stained glass window comes down today and then we attack racism tomorrow on another front.”
The stained window panes were commissioned in 1958 and finished in 1960, at roughly the time construction on the church was completed. Anders said church documents show the pastor who chose the figures represented in the windows, Dr. Herbert E. Richards, said it was a nod to all the southerners living in Boise, and that he considered it an inclusive representation at the time.
Richards' decision was motivated in part by a campaign on the part of post-Civil War white southerners and the Southern Historical Society to cast the South in a more positive light. According to The National Endowment For The Humanities, the SHS popularized the “Lost Cause Narrative,” which downplayed the role of slavery in southern states' decisions to secede from the Union, and promoted the ideas of the noble southern gentleman and states rights.
“When you live in and are part of a dominant society, we often aren’t aware of our own '-isms,'” said Anders. “A church group studied the window about a year ago and recommended drawing attention to it, confessing complicity, putting up a plaque and consider taking it down. And to be honest, we’ve been a little slow—and that’s the sin of privilege.”
The church scheduled maintenance for the window last year, and workers will service them at the end of June or early July. The congregation has decided that one of two things will happen to the Lee image: Either the church will remove the head and body of Lee and insert clear glass in its place, or Lee will be entirely replaced. Anders said the window will change at some point, regardless, whether it’s in a few weeks in the future or at a more opportune time, when the community has made a decision about the replacement.
However, Anders also said that he sees the urgency of action, with people calling on the church to make a decision that's in tandem with his congregation. With just a few weeks left before the scheduled window maintenance, people have made numerous suggestions for replacing Lee, including an image of Vashti Murphy McKenzie, who was the first Black woman to become a Methodist bishop.
Further, Anders said The Idaho Black History Museum has expressed interest in taking possession of the image of Lee, which it would use as a teaching device, a course of action that agrees with the church. Additionally, on June 12, the Cathedral of the Rockies installed a banner that reads “We Repent for our participation in white supremacy.”
“People can be present here [at the church], and during discussion we can often disagree, but we agree to not close our hearts and minds,” said Anders. “To those who think it’s not enough or too much, I would ask them to stay in the conversation.”