Washington and Lee University

Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Washington Post pays attention, as Episcopalians ponder the life and faith of Robert E. Lee

Yes, we saw the story about ESPN and sports announcer Robert Lee, who was switched off the upcoming broadcast of a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee.

I would assume that "Robert Lee" is not all that unusual a name for an Asian man. But, hey, we are talking about Virginia and that's almost the same name as He Who Must Not Be Named.

So I thought this story was from The Onion and said so on Twitter. I was not joking. It has now been confirmed -- by The New York Times and the rest of the journalistic universe. For the life of me, I cannot think of a religion angle to that story. But it's so RIGHT NOW.

In case you haven't noticed, things are a bit tense right now when it comes to statues, Civil War history, white supremacy and other topics that some people believe are linked and others do not. There are religion angles in there and many are painful.

(Quick statement: I'm in favor of saving Confederate statues in cemeteries, battlegrounds, museums, academic facilities [linked to the study of Civil War history] and similar sites. I favor taking statues down in civic squares, once government officials have legally chosen to do so. But I'm with Peggy Noonan. It's usually better to build new statues, rather than destroy old ones. Raise statues to praise those who created a better union.)

But here is some good news. If you want to read a news story that wades into a Gen. Robert E. Lee controversy and listens -- hard -- to voices on both sides, then check out The Washington Post religion-desk feature with this headline: "This is the church where Robert E. Lee declared himself a sinner. Should it keep his name?"

This story, by religion-beat veteran Michelle Boorstein, struck home for me because I spoke at Washington and Lee University last spring, doing a seminar on the challenges and rewards of Godbeat work. I had a long talk with a journalism professor (and ethics specialist) about the ongoing debates about this church and, of course, about challenges to the name of the university.

Here is the essential question stated, carefully, in the feature lede:

Could “R.E. Lee Memorial Church” commemorate the postwar fence-mender who had led their church and city out of destitution? Or could it only conjure the wicked institution of slavery for which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought?

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