North Carolina church reluctantly accepts pastor’s unexpected resignation
A rural North Carolina congregation has reluctantly voted to accept the resignation of its pastor, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee who unexpectedly left his position after speaking out against white supremacy during an appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards in late August.
Robert W. Lee IV said in a statement that he offered to step aside because of the attention his remarks against racism have focused on his church. According to the church council of Bethany United Church of Christ near Winston Salem, Lee’s resignation a few days after the program aired was a surprise.
“I was headed out of town when I received Pastor Lee’s email,” said governing council chair Jerry Clodfelter in a statement released Sept. 15, “so I respectfully declined his resignation and asked him if we could discuss his desire to resign when I returned. No one at Bethany was aware any problem existed, and we were unprepared for the media attention. To the knowledge of the governing council, no one at Bethany had an issue with Pastor Lee’s statements on television.”
Lee, 24, a recent graduate of Duke Divinity School and great nephew of the Confederate General, had been invited by MTV to introduce the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who died on August 12 from injuries sustained while counter-protesting the white nationalist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. According to the statement from the church, Lee’s leadership and preaching had been well-received. He accepted the part-time call to lead this small congregation in May, and was working on becoming credentialed in the United Church of Christ, with his congregation’s full spiritual and financial support.
“Bethany was so pleased to have found Pastor Lee,” said the Rev. Jerry Rhyne, Minister for Church Affairs in the Western NC Association of the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ in the Sept. 15 release. “Small churches like Bethany — churches that want to grow into a fresh future — can offer young ministers a wonderful opportunity to explore their vocation and spread their wings. We remain hopeful that Bethany will find the right woman or man to continue their legacy.”
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