Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee, has resigned from his church after receiving backlash for his speech at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards.
“My presence at the church as a descendant 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,” the pastor wrote on the Auburn Seminary‘s website on Monday, September 4.
“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,” Lee continued. “I want to stress that there were many in the congregation who supported my right to free speech, yet were uncomfortable with the attention the church was receiving. The church’s reaction was deeply hurtful to me.”
Lee claimed that members of his church, Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were planning to vote on his tenure before he resigned from his position. “I want it to be clear that I feel a deep love for this congregation, and gratitude that they were willing to hire me as my first church out of seminary,” he wrote. “I believe with all my heart that God did good work in my life there.”
The ordained minister concluded his post by calling on white Christians 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.”
Lee spoke out against his great-great-great-great-uncle at the VMAs on August 27 while standing alongside Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, as neo-Nazis and white supremacists participated in a violent rally just days earlier. “As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin,” Lee told the star-studded audience.
Lee had been the pastor of Bethany United since April, according to the church’s website.