US & Canada

Rev Robert Lee quits church after denouncing racism

Lee with Susan Bro Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Lee had appeared on MTV with the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed last month

A descendant of Confederate general Robert E Lee has resigned from his church after his criticism of his infamous relative sparked an outcry.

Reverend Robert Lee IV, the general's distant nephew, appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards last week to call racism "America's original sin".

Statues to the general have become a flashpoint in the US racial equality debate, and several have been removed.

The 24-year-old pastor has apologised to his congregation.

"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," he said in the statement explaining his resignation.

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Media captionNew Orleans mayor on why Confederate monuments have to go

He added that he was sorry that his MTV appearance attracted unwanted attention to the small church, about 100 miles west of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Congregants of the Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem had been preparing to put his tenure to a vote, he explained.

Rev Lee is not the first member of the Lee family to condemn the symbol that their famous relative, who commanded the pro-slavery Confederate forces during the American Civil War, has become.

Advocates of white nationalism, including the KKK and neo-Nazi groups, have organised large-scale protests against plans to remove Gen Lee's statue.

During his appearance for MTV, Rev Lee said: "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."

He appeared on MTV with Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer - a protester who was killed in violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In explaining his decision to step down, Rev Lee added that the reaction from some congregants was "deeply hurtful", but wrote that he continued to "strongly support" the removal of monuments to his ancestor and other Confederates.

The recent graduate of Duke Divinity School was appointed church pastor in April, according to the church's website.

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