Rev. Rob Lee tells ABC’s ‘The View’ that too many white churches aren’t doing Christianity right

The Rev. Robert Wright Lee, a descendant of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, presents the award for best fight against the system at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Inglewood, Calif.
The Rev. Robert Wright Lee, a descendant of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, presents the award for best fight against the system at the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Inglewood, Calif. Invision/AP

North Carolina’s Rev. Rob Lee IV, a relative of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, said on ABC’s “The View” Monday that white Christians need to find “a different way of doing church” that is more aligned with the teachings of Jesus.

It’s the latest high profile appearance for the 24-year-old Duke Divinity School graduate who has spoken with national media – and had a buzzworthy moment on MTV’s Video Music Awards – to distance himself from his relative’s legacy and to denounce racism.

But Monday, he appeared on “The View” to talk about his resignation as pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem. He left the church this month after some members of the congregation objected to his MTV appearance Aug. 27.

“I had to stand up and say, ‘This is what I believe in, and I’m going to stand by it,’” he said on “The View.”

At the nationally televised awards ceremony, Lee introduced Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer; Heyer was killed after a self-described neo-Nazi drove his car into a group of counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Va. The violence stemmed from a rally called by white supremacy groups who went to Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove a statue honoring Gen. Lee from one of its parks.

When Lee returned home from the broadcast in California, he found some of his church members calling for him to leave. Rather than have the church take a vote on his staying, Lee resigned.

Lee is a 2017 graduate of Duke Divinity School and was a pastoral intern at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh.

Lee is the fourth great nephew of the Confederate general. He told the cast of “The View,” which includes Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, that when he was a boy, he was proud of his family ties to the Confederacy and had a Confederate flag on his bedroom wall. But after going through confirmation at his church, he said he began to understand that it’s important to demonstrate respect for people of all races. He took the flag down.

After the violence in Charlottesville, Lee said he felt a familial – and pastoral – responsibility as a relative of the revered general, whose statue had become a flash point, to say the statue and others like it should be removed from their prominent perches. Most of the statues were placed by white civic groups during times when blacks were gaining political or social strength in the United States.

Gov. Roy Cooper has asked that three Confederate statutes on the N.C. Capitol grounds be relocated to Bentonville Battlefield in Johnston County.

At the VMAs, Lee called racism “America’s original sin,” and called on white people to confront racism. He cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women’s March in Washington in January as sources of inspiration.

Behar asked Lee about the circumstances with his departure from the Winston-Salem church, but Lee said he could only speak for himself.

“But I do know something that’s true about the church,” he said. “White Christianity is having trouble dealing with what’s going on in our nation today. We’re having trouble talking about these issues of race and reconciliation and reparation and redemption. We have trouble finding the vocabulary to talk about these issues.

“But I want it to be said of me that there was a Lee in history who stood up for something that was right, instead of a Gen. Lee who stood up for something that was wrong.”

Lee, in his clerical collar, received extended applause from the live studio audience.

He also mentioned comments by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, during an interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. Bannon told interviewer Charlie Rose that the Catholic Church only defends the DACA program — which offers protection to young illegal immigrants and which the Trump administration is dismantling — because, “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”

Bannon identifies as a Catholic.

Lee said he wants churches to do better, and to take a stand against racism.

“We have to treat people with respect and dignity, and if we can’t do that, we’re not being church at all,” he said.

“We have to shift the narrative, and say there is a different way of doing church that is not what we once thought it was,” he said. “Let’s get some church leaders in the news who are doing Christianity right.”

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin