Last week, Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV gave an impassioned speech at the MTV VMA's in which he voiced support for Black Lives Matter, the Women's March, Heather Heyer and racial equality.
Aligning with the politics of the evening, Lee's speech was particularly resonant given that the reverend is a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general and icon whose statue was the nominal focus of the deadly white-supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this summer.
Now, Lee has announced that he is stepping down from his pulpit at Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In a letter on the Auburn Seminary website Lee explained:
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. 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.
He said that the congregation planned to vote on his tenure, which prompted his "reluctant" resignation.
As Lee stated in the letter, the MTV speech was not the first time he took a stand against white supremacy or the legacy of his great-great-great-great uncle. Previously, he had spoken to the BBC, NPR and other media outlets about the removal of Confederate monument after the events in Charlottesville.
Lee closed his letter by reaffirming his commitment to "confronting white supremacy in all its forms." He continued:
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.