Rev. Robert Lee IV Leaves Church After 'Hurtful' VMAs Backlash

Indirect descendant of General Robert E. Lee says he felt compelled to condemn white supremacy at awards show

Rev. Robert W. Lee IV says he stands by his decision to speak out at this year's MTV VMAs. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, an indirect descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, stepped down as the pastor of his North Carolina church, he said in a statement. 

The former pastor spoke about his ancestor's complicated idolatry before he introduced the mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer, at MTV's Video Music Awards last month. 

"I'm writing this statement to make sure that people are able to read in my own words what has happened to me over the last three weeks so that the events of my leaving Bethany United Church of Christ might be understood from my perspective," he said. He also clarified that he accepted MTV's offer to speak because he felt it was his "duty as a descendant to speak out against White Supremacy."

"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," he continued. "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," Lee wrote. "The church's reaction was deeply hurtful to me."

On Sunday, in response to both the outpouring of criticism and support following his VMAs appearance, Lee tweeted, "Someone just asked me was it worth it … Was it worth losing everything. Unequivocally yes."

Lee has previously warned his congregation against idolizing his ancestor in the past, according to CNN, he called on his fellow clergy members to say the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile from the pulpit in July 2016, and wrote a piece for The Washington Post that same month admitting to the shame he felt over his great-great-great-great uncle's legacy.