The descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Rev. Robert Lee IV, has left the Bethany United Church of Christ after receiving backlash for his denouncement of white supremacy at the MTV Video Music Awards last week.
On Monday, an open letter by Lee describing the events that unfolded after his speech was published on a website for the Auburn Seminary. In the piece, Lee wrote that some members of the church “were concerned” about his speech and that the attention it brought to the church wasn’t desired.
“My presence at the church as a descendent of Robert E. Lee and an outspoken opponent of white supremacy had already attracted attention, but with my appearance on MTV the media’s focus on my church reached an all time high,” he wrote. “A faction of church members were concerned about my speech and that I lifted up Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’ s March, and Heather Heyer as examples of racial justice work.”
He went on to say that “the church’s reaction was deeply hurtful” to him.
The 24-year-old pastor had served the North Carolina church for just six months and says he doesn’t want “this episode to be a distraction from the sacred work of confronting white supremacy in all its forms.”
Adding: “My calling and my vocation has led me to speak out against violence and oppression in any form, and I want to especially challenge white Christians in America to take seriously the deadly legacy of slavery in our country and commit ourselves to follow Jesus into a time of deep reflection, repentance and reconciliation.”
At the VMA’s, the fourth-great-nephew of Robert E. Lee introduced Susan Bro ― the mother of slain Charlottesville counter protester, Heather Heyer ― and said it was his “duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” and advocated for viewers to “confront racism and white supremacy head on.”
Since Lee cut ties with the church, he’s been vocal on social media, expressing thanks to supporters and sharing his thoughts on speaking out:
Lee ended his open letter by saying he is “looking forward with great hope to what God’s unfolding future and what God has in store for me and ask for all of your prayers and blessings for the future of my ministry.”
Following white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., Lee told HuffPost that he was deeply troubled by the actions taken in his family’s name and that statues honoring his great-great-great-great uncle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, ought to come down.
“It broke my heart to see a symbol of my family being used to allow such hate,” Lee told HuffPost. “All in the name of what my relative stood for.”
“These statues have morphed into a symbol of racism, a symbol of bigotry, a symbol of the alt-right, a symbol of white nationalist movements,” he said. “That is not okay and that can never be celebrated or honored in any way, whether you believe you should honor legacy or ancestors or not.”