Robert E. Lee’s Confession

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My friend, the Rev. Dr. Leonard Sweet, wrote something worth sharing about Robert E. Lee. He relates a story I had not heard before, so I am passing it on to you.

–Rev. Jeff Gannon



 Robert E. Lee’s Confession

This article originally appeared in

Social media makes it easy for rhetorical displays of outrage. To be sure, bigotry and violence deserve our outrage, but require more than huffy-puffy outrage if we are to heal the disease and drain the poison. Our outrage must not just lead to outbursts but outcomes of holiness and healing. Here is one healing episode that revolves around the person whose statue was being removed by the city of Charlottesville, Va. Perhaps if the white-supremacists and Naci-sympathizers knew the real story of Robert E. Lee’s confession and contrition they would not have protested so vigorously but overturned the statue themselves.

Walking into the future, side by side

The story is told in Jay Winik’s 2003 book April 1865: The Month That Saved America, which is a gripping and galvanizing read. At the end of the book (pgs. 362-363), Winik tells the story the story of Lee’s attendance at worship several weeks after his surrender at Appomattox. Aged and bent over from four years of war, he attended worship at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, where he was a member. When the priest invited people to come to The Lord’s Table, a black man attired in a suit quickly came from the western gallery, where blacks were hidden. According to tradition whites came to the table first, then blacks.

When the black man arrived at the altar, no one knew what to do. The people were stunned. The pastor was stumped. Everyone froze. Within seconds, however, Robert E. Lee “arose, his gait erect, head up and eyes proud, and walked quietly up the aisle to the chancel rail . . With quiet dignity, he knelt to receive communion with the black man. . . . Watching Robert E. Lee, the other communicants followed his faith, going forward to the altar, and . . with a mixture of fear, hope and awkward expectation . . . walked into the future.”

It’s time to kneel at the altar, side by side, and to walk into the future together!

–Rev. Dr. Leonard Sweet
reprinted from


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