A descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee has stepped down as pastor of a North Carolina church after negative reactions to his comments supporting racial justice during an MTV awards show.
The general's distant nephew, the Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, issued a statement this week saying he resigned from Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem after the congregation decided to put his tenure to a vote.
According to him some church members were uncomfortable with his remarks praising the Black Lives Matter movement during the Aug. 27 MTV Video Music Awards. He was introducing the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed protesting against a demonstration by white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKK members who rallied around a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lee also used the televised remarks to lament that his ancestor has become a symbol of racism. "We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate," he said. "As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin."
Later Lee issued an apology to church members for causing them pain with his remarks on MTV and tweeted that he had to resign.
"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," his resignation statement said. "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 he continues to "strongly support" the removal of monuments to his ancestor and other Confederates. When someone asked him was it worth it, Lee answered: “Someone just asked me was it worth it... Was it worth losing everything. Unequivocally yes.”
He had warned against idolizing his ancestor on numerous occasions before his VMA speech. In July 2016 - ahead of a sermon in Raleigh, in which he challenged his fellow clergy to join him in saying the names Alton Sterling and Philando Castile from the pulpit. "I can't erase the history of my family's past, but I can say this: If you don't use the power you've been given for the good of this world, then you are part of the problem like the Lee family was long ago," he said.