The Rev Robert Lee IV, a descendant of the controversial Confederate general of the same name, has resigned as the leader of his church after receiving a backlash for his condemnation of racism as 'America's original sin'.
Lee IV, 24, was the pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina before he resigned on Monday, according to New York Daily News. Members of his church had taken issue with Lee's speech at MTV's Music Video Awards, in which the pastor was outspoken in his condemnation of racism. Lee had introduced to the stage Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed as she protested against the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last month.
Lee said at the awards: 'My name is Robert Lee IV, I'm a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville. We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin.'
Lee wrote a statement, posted on the website of New York's Auburn Seminary, explaining his resignation: '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.'
The church subsequently prepared to vote on Lee's tenure as their leader, so he resigned, leaving his post just six months after taking it up in February. He described the church backlash as 'deeply hurtful'.
Robert Lee IV: "I call on all of us with privilege and power to confront racism and white supremacy head-on." (MTV) pic.twitter.com/xVy9iyoLeU— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 28, 2017
He said he had told his congregation: 'I regret that speaking out has caused concern and pain to my church. For this is I offer my heartfelt apology. I understand that my views could be considered to be controversial. I never sought this sort of attention. But, I do believe in God's role in calling out for positive social change for the good of all.
'We are all called by God to speak out against hate and evil in all its many forms. There are so many good things going on with this congregation and I do not want my fight to detract from the mission. If the recent media attention causes concern with my church, I reluctantly offer my resignation.'