Every year on Aug. 18, Episcopalians are invited to pray a collect that honors theologian William Porcher DuBose for his God-given “gifts of grace to understand the Scriptures and to teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.”
A century after DuBose’s death in 1918, this seminary professor and dean is regarded as an Episcopal saint whose feast day is one of more than 150 such “lesser feasts” on the church’s official calendar. The short biography for DuBose in the church’s published volume of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” describes him as “among the most original and creative thinkers The Episcopal Church has ever produced.” The entry on DuBose also briefly mentions his service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
In the past year, however, researchers have highlighted other aspects of DuBose’s life that cast doubt on his fitness for a feast day. His family once owned hundreds of slaves, and long after slavery was abolished, DuBose offered unapologetic defenses of that system of racial oppression while espousing white supremacy in some of his writings, even praising the early Ku Klux Klan.
Those writings now form the backbone of a recommendation by the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, or SCLM, to remove DuBose’s feast day from the church calendar – a rare and likely unprecedented repudiation of a church-anointed saint. “As the church continues to strive against white supremacy and the sin of racism, we must not raise as examples of heroic service those who in their lives actively worked to devalue whole classes of human persons,” the SCLM said in its Blue Book report to General Convention, which meets next in July 2022.
The push to revoke DuBose’s feast day comes amid parallel moves by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where DuBose was appointed the second dean of the School of Theology in 1894. The seminary, after researching DuBose’s published and unpublished writings, announced this month that it was removing his name from its annual lecture series.
DuBose’s past statements on slavery and race “were incompatible with the kind of example and image that we wanted to hold up to be imitated,” the Very Rev. James Turrell, Sewanee’s seminary dean, told Episcopal News Service. Turrell, who also serves on the SCLM, sees DuBose’s feast day as similarly undeserved.
“Who we choose to memorialize in our calendar is a reflection both on the people that we are remembering but also a reflection on those doing the remembering,” Turrell said. “I think one of the things that we have been coming to grips with, both in the wider church but also here at Sewanee, is the unspoken assumptions that we once made that came out of a frankly structurally racist past.”
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SOURCE: Episcopal News Service, David Paulsen