Over 150 years ago, my family made a choice, one that defined a war, a nation and the realities we still face today. I’m a descendant of the Lees of Virginia. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is someone whose historical personhood I hear about every day, because I live with his name.
Growing up in the South, I was taught to be proud of Lee. To this day, when I mention the shame I feel, people are quick to call him a “good man” whose “actions were for states’ rights.” These veiled excuses for what happened don’t work and are trite.
I can’t do much about what that Robert Lee did in the 19th century. But this Robert Lee can do something different today. As a Christian pastor, on Sunday, this descendant of the Lees of Virginia will step into a pulpit in Raleigh, N.C., and say the names “Alton Sterling” and “Philando Castile.” Because enough is enough.
I’m tired of the careless conversations where racism rears its ugly head. I’m tired of the name Robert Lee equating only with someone who fought to divide the nation on the basis of race. Most importantly, I’m tired of young black men being gunned down by police.
I challenge other clergy to say the names “Alton Sterling” and “Philando Castile” in worship this weekend. When places of worship give voice to what has happened, we can begin the long road to healing, to change and to the fruition of God’s unfolding future.
I can’t erase the history of my family’s past, but I can say this: If you don’t use the power you’ve been given for the good of this world, then you are part of the problem like the Lee family was long ago. If you don’t stand up this weekend in your place of worship and commit yourself to the betterment of this nation and world, then you have more issues than where to go to lunch after service.
Now is the time to stand with the oppressed, to put our money where our mouths are and say, “Enough is enough.” By God, we’ve been given a voice, and it’s a grave mistake if we don’t use it.
Rob Lee is a pastoral intern at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C. He is the great-great-great-great-nephew of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee. His book “Stained Glass Millennials” will be published this fall.