The descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee did the right thing.
Pastor Robert Lee IV took the stage at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards to share a simple message.
Lee, a descendent of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, was there to introduce Susan Bro, the mother of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer. On stage, he denounced the use of his ancestor as "an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate" and claimed it was his "moral duty to speak out against racism."
GIF from MTV/Twitter.
He gave a shout-out to the Black Lives Matter movement, to everybody who participated in the Women's March, and of course, to Heyer herself. It was a powerful, moving call to action for people to take a stand against hate.
“I call on all of us with privilege and power to confront racism and white supremacy head-on" - Robert Lee IV #VMAs https://t.co/ko4SM9VnaU— MTV (@MTV) 1503889557
Not everybody was a fan of Lee's speech, and in the span of just over a week, he was out as pastor at Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In a blog post on Auburn Seminary's website, Lee explained why he decided to resign his post in the church following his breakout appearance at the VMAs, noting that some congregants were uneasy with his vocal support of the Women's March, Black Lives Matter, and Heather Heyer; others were just as uncomfortable with the national attention they received.
Lee with Susan Bro during the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.
"The church’s reaction was deeply hurtful to me," he wrote, explaining that the church wanted to bring his tenure up for a vote after his appearance on MTV.
Instead, Lee resigned.
I had to resign my pastorate today. I hope you all will pray for me.— Rev. Rob Lee (@Rev. Rob Lee) 1504454289
Doing the right thing isn't always easy. Often, that's even more reason to do it.
"A theologian I admire speaks of costly grace and sometimes speaking up costs more than we could have imagined," Lee told Spectrum News Charlotte. "I love my church and will always have fond memories there for my first pastorate."
Someone just asked me was it worth it... Was it worth losing everything. Unequivocally yes.— Rev. Rob Lee (@Rev. Rob Lee) 1504463133
"I'd just like people to know that a small group of voices is no match to the unwavering movement of justice in this world," Lee says in an email, declining to comment on the specific circumstances behind his resignation.
"I do want the hate-filled rhetoric to end so that we might focus on real issues like DACA being rescinded and continuing to keep in the public conscious the issues of racial inequality and the monuments that support those systems."
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
It may have cost Lee his job, but using his voice to resist the continued oppression of others was the right thing to do. For that, Lee is an inspiration to anyone who feels too small to make a difference in the world.
We all have a voice — it's just a matter of how we decide to use it.