The church forced him to resign for doing the right thing.
Robert Wright Lee IV is a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and up until this week, had been serving as a pastor at Bethany United Church of Christ in North Carolina.
Lee was forced to resign this week, not because he did something wrong, unlawful or morally reprehensible, but because he spoke out against racism and white supremacy.
As a descendant of the most famous leader of the Confederate cause, Lee felt compelled to speak up. He was invited to speak at the MTV Video Music Awards in August, and he believed his appearance and words could make a difference as white supremacists continue to terrorize the nation in the wake of the violence at Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in Heather Heyer being murdered.
“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,” Lee said during the awards show.
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. 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 in Charlottesville.”
Rather than support and praise their pastor for doing the morally right thing, a group within the church had a problem with Lee’s position. So they forced him out. And Lee wrote a letter about it.
“My presence at the church as a descendant 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,” Lee wrote. “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.”
One would think that the church would welcome the positive attention, but clearly, the congregation of Bethany United Church of Christ would rather not be seen as a good example of Christian values.
If anything, the media attention is going to get a lot worse and a lot more negative because of the way they responded to their pastor. The pastor of a church is the moral leadership of the congregation. Forcing a pastor out is a rejection of that moral leadership. By forcing Lee out, the church let racists and hate win.
Lee apologized to his congregation, but he should not have had to do so. He did nothing wrong. He is on the right side of history and demonstrated the kind of morality that all church leaders and parishioners should value.
His views are NOT controversial. The church’s decision to oust him certainly is, and by doing so, showed its true colors. And that color is lily white and no other.
But Lee refuses to give up fighting for what is right.
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.”
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