Weeks after Charlottesville and a national uproar over the legacy of Confederate war memorials, a descendant of Civil War general Robert E. Lee has been forced to resign from his position as pastor of a North Carolina Church.
The great-great-great-great-grand-nephew of the Confederacy’s best-known officer had appeared to make a speech an introduction at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards.
Wearing the typical black-and-white dress of the clergy, Robert Lee IV cut a sharp contrast against the glitz and glamor around him.
Lee’s purpose, wading amongst celebrity artists and actors, was to recognize the loss of an ordinary woman, Susan Bro.
Bro’s daughter, Heather Heyer, was a victim of a domestic terror attack in Charlottesville. She was killed after a white supremacist affiliated with the alt-right rammed a sports car into a crowd of counter protesters.
Nineteen were injured – some critically – and Heyer was killed.
The white supremacists had chosen to organize around a statute of Lee IV’s ancestor in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park; the gathering and subsequent attack fed into an already-raging debate on what place, if any, monuments to the Confederacy should have in the modern United States.
“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,” he said. “We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out again racism, America’s original sin.
“Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head on.
“We can 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,” said Lee IV.
Yesterday, on Monday, Robert E. Lee’s distant descendant announced he was resigning from his position as pastor of a church in Winston-Salem, NC, after some of his congregants began complaining.
“A faction of church members were concerned about my speech and that I lifted up the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March, and Heather Heyer as examples of racial justice work,” he wrote online, saying he found the church’s reaction “deeply hurtful.”
Lee IV, according to the Washington Post, didn’t quote any particular congregant or give exact examples of whatever sorts of comments or criticism had been hurled his way.
Some users of Twitter and other social media websites used their platforms to rail against Lee IV or support him.
“I wish I could say it was easy to speak up and speak out in God’s name,” he wrote in a column. “But it wasn’t.”