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charlottesville aftermath

Rev. Robert Lee IV leaves Winston-Salem congregation after MTV anti-racism speech backlash

On Sunday, Rev. Robert Lee IV told his congregation at Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that he was resigning, and he explained why in a statement on Monday. Lee, a fourth-great-nephew of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, had introduced Susan Bro, the mother of slain Charlottesville anti-racism protester Heather Heyer, at the MTV Video Music Awards a week ago. "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," Lee wrote. He continued:

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. 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. ... When the church wanted to vote on my tenure, I tendered my resignation. [Rob Lee IV]

In his MTV speech, Lee, 24, had denounced racism as "America's original sin" and said those opposed to white supremacy could find inspiration in "the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women's March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs."

Lee had been Bethany United Church of Christ's pastor for just six months, and he said his most important consideration was that the episode not turn into "a distraction from the sacred work of confronting white supremacy in all its forms." You can read his entire statement at Auburn Seminary.