A North Carolina pastor and descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been removed from his position at the head of Winston-Salem’s Bethany United Church of Christ after appearing on MTV’s Video Music Awards to condemn his ancestor.
Pastor Lee says that, while his speech to the VMAs crowd was intended to be unifying in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, some members of his congregation objected to his comments supporting Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March as examples of groups fighting for “racial justice,” and didn’t like that Lee was bringing a media circus to the small, 100-person church.
He officially resigned after the congregation said they would take a vote on his tenure, and church leaders “made it clear that I was no longer welcome there,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“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,” Lee said in a statement released to media in the wake of his resignation. He went on to reference the “uncomfortable media attention” and “differing views” within his congregation as reasons for his departure.
Lee refused to give any more details than that, though he did issue an official apology to his flock before leaving. He did not elaborate on his comments to the MTV audience, but does say he still supports removing monuments to the Confederacy, including statues of his great-great-great-uncle.
Oddly enough, Lee has refused to do further interviews, because, “I don’t want this to be about me,” he says, even though the MTV appearance was most certainly about him. It’s fairly clear that MTV wouldn’t have allowed him to speak – or, for that matter, introduce an entire segment on racial justice – had Lee not been related to the man whose statue was at the center of Charlotteville violence.
Messages of justice, togetherness, and unity aren’t typically controversial (though, of course, supporting the Women’s March as an arbiter of justice – when it’s helmed by openly anti-Semitic Linda Sarsour, is rather ironic) but ploys at notoriety don’t usually sit well with churchgoers who just want to be left out of national politics.