No, Washington Doesn’t Belong At the Altar, But…

Let me start off by saying that when it comes to George Washington, I have a problem. I’m a big fan. It’s tough to put into words how big of a fan, actually. I dressed up like him in 5th grade on hero day. There’s video.

Right out of college, my bachelor pad was adorned with Washington busts and portraits. The first time my then-girlfriend/now-wife came to that apartment when we started dating, she walked in, looked around, and just said, “Oh, yeah, well you just don’t see that many 24 year old dudes with a shrine to George Washington at their place.” She was clearly impressed.

She was further delighted that our wedding gift from some dear friends of mine was a large, exquisite painting of Washington praying at Valley Forge.

And if you still question my fanaticism over our first president, behold my own bottle of George Washington aftershave:

All this to say that when it comes to appreciation and reverence for George Washington, I take a back seat to no one. And so everyone who knows me probably thought they could predict my reaction when I read that Christ Church in D.C., a house of worship that was partially founded by Washington, and his home church for over 20 years of his life, has decided to remove the memorials to both him and another of its famous past parishioners, Robert E. Lee.

But my initial reaction was not one of anger or even frustration. In fact, if I was being honest, I would have to admit that I think it’s the right decision – but I would hasten to add the very important caveat, that it’s being done for the wrong reasons. Here’s the part of this now overly controversial story that I’m talking about:

While acknowledging “friction” over the decision, the church’s leadership said the twin memorials, which are attached to the wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as “All are welcome — no exceptions.”

The truth is this: houses of worship are – or at least should be – about the weekly gathering place for believers in Christ to worship and commune with Him. They are places where He alone is exalted, He alone is honored, His death alone is memorialized, and His resurrection celebrated. The altar of any church is a place where the sinner goes to meet with his Maker, to seek repentance, forgiveness, guidance, and to empty himself of pride.

George Washington’s rightful place is on the same side of that altar as the rest of us. He was a sinner in need of a Savior just like you and me. And if Washington was as great of a man as what I know he was, he would unquestionably agree with that sentiment.

In their letter explaining the decision, the church made clear that they are not throwing the memorials into a storage closet, but are seeking to find a better location on their campus to place them in an historical context rather than in the middle of the sanctuary. As one who worships Jesus alone, I applaud that idea.

What is unfortunate is the apparent reality that what motivated this correct decision was not humble hearts seeking to glorify God and exalt Christ, but activist hearts seeking to appease the demands of political correctness:

“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.

For heaven’s sake. Notice then this isn’t a decision about Christians sending the very appropriate message: “we exalt no one but Christ in our sanctuary.” This is a decision about progressives sending the very “woke” message: “we exist to tickle the itching ears of pop culture.”

And therefore in my book, Christ Church gets every bit of the public scorn and disdain that they have brought on themselves. Whereas I would have gladly defended them – even against fellow conservative Christians, even as they remove a plaque to one of my favorite humans of all time – had they used this moment to more purely preach the Gospel of Jesus, their sickening appeal to the impure grievances of left-wing political culture as justification actually undermines their ability to do just that.

Christ Church can whimper out an “All are welcome” slogan, but no one in their right mind believes them. Those who don’t share their wokeness, who shake their heads while noting that they knew the left’s assault on monuments of American history would not end with Confederate soldiers, are anything but welcome at Christ Church.

This isn’t about Jesus. And for that reason alone, Christ Church has disgraced itself.

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Peter Heck

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