An Open Letter to White Liberal Progressive Clergy

ben-white-292680

An Open Letter to White Liberal Progressive Clergy
Written by Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza with Nanci Armstrong-Temple, activist & social permaculturalist

Dear White Christian Clergyperson and White Churchgoer who want to respond to White Supremacist Rallies,

The 2016 election unmasked a profound reality for many of you, and you seem to see more clearly the ways that the logic of white supremacy was unleashed.  For many of us, people who have been born of the bodies who are marked with varying color, we have been living with this terror, and we recognize that we are living in the tyranny of the now where white nationalists are emboldened to live out an ideology of hate.  For many of you, you feel called, even convicted, to respond to the surge in open, angry, anxious, and visible hate.

As someone who is called to follow the ways of Jesus, I am compelled to do this work.  In this call, I recognize Jesus as a revolutionary and name this work as building critical social practices that help build communities of people who are able to stand against Babylon.  When I do the work of a revolutionary, it is embedded in this call to not rise above the fray but to live out the ways of Jesus in deep and abiding ways.  In many ways, this is living into an incarnational theology.  I am saying that Jesus was a revolutionary.  

As someone who has been on the ground for the past fifteen years fighting for LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, and now devoted to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, I want to urge you to think about the following question.

Are you called to be a charlatan or a revolutionary?

What I saw when I was on the ground in Charlottesville, VA was a group of white clergy and other white liberal progressives who were certainly opposed to the gathering of white nationalists, and harnessed their response as one of antagonism. This righteous anger is to be encouraged.  When it is done without sufficient planning, and with the absence of acknowledging the level of efficient organizing with which white nationalist groups are displaying, it ends up not only potentially placing people in danger, but it also omits the labor that is required to organize white progressive Christians into a cohesive body.  In the world of organizing, this is reactionary.   

The white liberal progressive community of churchgoers and clergy people are not organized in strategic ways.  Although the infrastructure that is needed to respond to the growing number of white nationalist gatherings exists already in church communities, it is not being harnessed in strategic means that exemplify the ways of Jesus.  Furthermore, white liberal clergy people and churchgoers often don’t embody an analysis of what effective organizing can look like when it is applied in this way.  

What white liberal progressives are doing is reacting to this emboldened ideology of hate and doing so in ways that are unsafe, taking unnecessary risks, especially for people of color, and in turn mimicking the behavior of organized protestors.  In many respects, when gathered white clergy position themselves in opposition to nationalists they do so by responding to supremacist logic with supremacist logic.  

So, I ask, are you called to be a charlatan or a revolutionary?

The work of a revolutionary is tactical; it is also strategic.  Revolution takes time, and these white nationalists / neo nazi groups have taken the time to strategize themselves and infiltrate politics, policies, and municipalities on every level.  In many respects, these groups have out-organized the white liberal progressive churchgoer and clergyperson, forcing your hand to react with little time and little to no effective use of your existing infrastructure.  White supremacy is forcing you into being a mercenary, waiting your turn to be slaughtered by the violence they are using to dominate this country.  

What is your calling?  From where does your conviction emerge?

Again, the ways of Jesus are revolutionary, and time and time again, Jesus outfoxed the empire in strategic and tactical ways.  It was not until he was in the garden that he let himself be found.  If you are compelled to participate in the work of dismantling ideologies of hate and indifference, this work demands attention to tactics and strategies that are rooted in the politics of radical difference. It requires bridge building, not balkanizing one rally as if it stands on its own.  The reason these rallies are happening is because neo-nazi groups have infiltrated every level of government, including shifting our understanding of the police, which is ever more militarized and remains antagonistic toward people of color, other marginalized groups, and anyone who dares to defy the empire.   

White liberal progressives are only now able to acknowledge (though not without complications) that Christianity has succumbed to theologies and ethics of white supremacy. Your desire to live out your charity is not the same as being in solidarity with those who are most impacted by the logic of white supremacy.  Neo Nazis now utilize Christianity as a weapon, harming everyone who comes into contact with their social practices.  The reality that these neo nazi groups have harnessed such power is in part due to the protestant reality of always reacting against ideology and not being able to name for ourselves who we are and be well-organized.  

Now is your time.  You feel a call to react; you are convicted by the presence of what many of you call evil.  

And, so, I ask, again:  are you called to be a charlatan or a revolutionary?

As a community of folks who believe in the transforming ways of Jesus, my urgent pleas are that, together, in deep community, we need to make specific decisions about strategy and tactics in relation to the strategy and tactics of white supremacists.  Additionally, white liberal progressive clergy people and churchgoers are each victims of the rightness of whiteness, and there needs to be a deep commitment to following the strategic leadership of Black and Brown leadership that have been responding to white supremacist logic that white liberal progressive Christians are only now beginning to understand.  Just as we make mistakes in our lives as Christians, we need to be less committed to perfectionism in our activism and more committed to being willing to make mistakes in order to learn how to be strategic in our response to ideologies of hate.  Showing up to fight white nationalism without critical tactics and strategies and without being rooted in a strategic awareness of what is happening is not only ineffective, but it is also detrimental to our long-term organizing against white supremacist fascism.  The fact that white liberal progressives tout ‘Love Trumps Hate’ must be acknowledged as racist, because it actively occludes the deep historical precedent of white supremacist organizing in a country that was born on the logic of white supremacy.

Revolution is born out of a deep conviction by harnessing our collective power through strategic efforts and tactical prowess.  Winning the battle against white supremacy is multi-fold.  We must defund the police, we must out-organize our opponents, and we must learn how to bridge across lines of radical difference and listen to the leadership of people of color, our elders, and healers who have a greater awareness of how to build a sustainable movement whose ultimate goal is collective liberation.

We must not fetishize violence; we must dismantle the very logic of dominance that forces our hand to perpetuate violence.  Nonviolent direct action is a way to stand up to the violence of white supremacy.  When we ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ it must be a real question, not one that is born out of empty discursive theologies that have no bearing on social practices that endeavor to shift the logic of dominance that undergirds empire.  We must not capitulate the militaristic and masculinist frameworks that will have many of you reacting to these emboldened social practices from neo-fascists and white supremacists.  We must take risks that are born out of deep practices of a strategic awareness of what it means to be a revolutionary.  We must take seriously the role of empire and the ways that empire reifies the conditions of possibility for white supremacy to even exist.  We must become movement strategists, harness the politics of Jesus, and stand against Babylon in every way, and we must do this though effective and sustainable organizing that decenters whiteness in critical ways.  

In this way, we will become revolutionaries and not charlatans.

Yours, for Justice and Nothing Less,

-Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

"It amusing to hear people talk about "what a God would/should do". There simply no ..."

An Open Letter to White Liberal ..."
"I can't speak for you, I can only speak for myself and say if I ..."

An Open Letter to White Liberal ..."
"I am for that, but it is small potatos."

An Open Letter to White Liberal ..."
"How about removing religions' tax exemption and parsonage allowances?If "progressives" truly want to renounce Caesar, ..."

An Open Letter to White Liberal ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bill731

    ‘ Liberal progressives ‘ posing as Christians are following another Jesus, preaching another gospel and under the influence of another spirit which is not of God. Jesus was not a ‘ social justice warrior ‘ or a ” revolutionary ” or a Marxist. He did not come to redistribute wealth. He came to die for the sins of the world, to reconcile men to God and to make atonement for our souls through His death on the cross so that we may be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life.

  • Yes! How?

  • Ruth Lenger

    Like RogueReverend’s comment, the article may be correct, but leaves us wondering ‘HOW”?

  • Rev. Patrick D. Price

    I agree completely. How do we organize or whom with? It is imperative to be as wise as serpents about the nature and functioning of power, particularly power over. I firmly believe that controling “dominance” misbegotten by fear is the great impulse behind all of the oppression we humans have inflicted and endured for thousands of years. The organization (concentration) of power (the ability to create and/or inhibit change) and its wise application (or restraint) is essential to have any effect on the status quo. Maintaining the status quo while seeking to overturn it, is like trying to change a tire while driving the same car. I believe it was Audrey Lourde who wrote to the effect that you “can’t tear down the master’s house using the master’s tools.” But it is hard for us who are dependent on institutions that maybe more woke but still part of the status quo, to find new ways to support our selves and our families that are offer resilience in the face of speaking truth to Babylon. How many of us have retirement plans based on the returns from the stock market? How many of our own radical and progressive elders would be wiped out with out this type of income? And yet, we have to find new ways to be in the world that not only allow us personal dignity, but transform the powers and principalities in to healthy parts of the Beloved Community. Please help me and others to know and do the best that we can. I do not expect anyone to say, “stand up and walk.” and to do so with my pallet under my arm,” but I would be of great help to know which way I should at least try to crawl. Thank you and blessings on you and all who serve the manifest spirit of the holy. Rev. Patrick Price, Plano TX

  • Rev. Patrick D. Price

    it is comforting to have all the answers. Peace.

  • Kate Johnson

    It seemed when Jesus was here, the only people he seemed to actively dislike were the religious leaders of the time that were very big on telling the people “the rules”, and keeping track of “who’s in and who’s out”. The truth is that sacrificial generosity is evidence of spiritual maturity. If you can turn your back on the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the sick, to protect your bloated consumer lifestyle, if you can sit in your comfortable home with no concern for your neighbors of color who are suffering oppression and do nothing, then your religion is as false as it is useless. Your “correct theology” is meaningless drivel unless it is paired with obedience. If you need a refresher on what that obedience looks like, consult Matthew 25:31-46 Talk is worthless without action. What does your walk with Jesus look like? Do you tithe? Do you do anything to help others? What are you doing now to help people of color suffering oppression? The poor?

  • Kate Johnson

    I agree. That was the big hole. Telling you to do something, with no suggestions of where to start.

  • “We must defund the police, we must out-organize our opponents, and we must learn how to bridge across lines of radical difference and listen to the leadership of people of color, our elders, and healers who have a greater awareness of how to build a sustainable movement whose ultimate goal is collective liberation.”

    In that I heard three things:

    • Defunding police (i.e. divesting from their continued and increasing militarization)
    • Organize (lots of material on this; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_organizing)
    • Listen to the leadership of POC (which requires *de-centering* white leadership)

    As I read it, those are all pretty clear actions to be taken. Everyone’s first step toward those actions is going to be different depending on your circumstances, but I think Dr. Robyn has laid out some clear directions to take.

  • CWO-4 M.McGrath, USN (Ret.)

    Yes, how easily we are blinded.

  • CWO-4 M.McGrath, USN (Ret.)

    Walk, tithe, helping others ( not all about color ) helping others I believe is helping others. The poor, the imprisoned, the widows, the orphans, loving your neighbor, giving your life if called or need arises—all what the scripture teaches, but where is “Go you into all of the World and preach and teach the Gospel, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ?
    That’s the wholistic Good News and that should prompt each of us then to display and activate good works.

  • Kate Johnson

    What do you do, specifically?

  • This article reminds me of those white Christians who’ve hijacked the religion in forgetting it is not just theirs…they did not come up with the idea and concept of Jesus, for he was a dark brown middle Easterner…

  • raven nevermore

    I’m not a white liberal. As I write this, nonetheless, I’m not too sure if you are worth responding to. While reading your article, I learned how you see the world. I kept thinking when I was a child I spoke as a child because I thought as a child. I think, you are smart, just enough, to ascertain what I’m not saying.

  • Hilary

    If your Jesus doesn’t care when men who already extremely wealthy, far beyond anything they could spend in their lifetime, work to make themselves even richer, while other people live in pain and die for no other reason than the lack of money for medicine, what’s the point? What good is following him if children drinking poisoned water isn’t something to address because to fix it would require redistributing wealth?

  • heathercariou

    When Rhode Island founder Roger Williams wrote the first treatise in history on the separation of Church and State (which was borrowed a century later by Thomas Jefferson), this is EXACTLY what he was thinking of: that Clergy should NOT identify as being of a particular POLITICAL persuasion, but only preach the Word of God; that faith and religion would be sullied by such political identification, and that Civic government would be warped by Religious affiliation and fervor. I am a person of deep faith, but I have to say, America would be much better off if Christianity wasn’t a political party.

  • heathercariou

    There is only one Jesus and one God. But there are as many ways to interpret, to believe, to understand and to affiliate as there are people. PS If Christ was willing to give His life in the name of Forgiveness, what’s YOUR problem with forgiving “Liberal Progressives?” Because Christ sure forgives you your ignorance in this matter.

  • heathercariou

    People who say things like “how easily we are blinded” are usually without IN-sight.

  • heathercariou

    You ought to know, as you seem to think you have them…

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    If, in fact, there are as many ways to understand and affiliate as there are people, then Jesus doesn’t seem to be, for you, the ONE PERSON around whom all our affections and affiliations are to be oriented, apparently, since his understanding should be all that matters to us, his followers. If everyone’s perspective is equally valid and a multiplicity of views is the determinative context in which everything is to be understood then cognitive chaos is our god, not Jesus and the One God.

  • Loki Sez

    A lot of scolding, not a lot of practical advice. How to out-organize the alt-right? How to train in Satyagraha? “…we need to make specific decisions about strategy and tactics in relation to the strategy and tactics of white supremacists.” What are those decisions? Who does the training, and what does it look like? Who analyzes the strategic methodology of White Supremacy in order to better organize ourselves? If we expect perfection we will be paralyzed. Complaining is not constructive – direct action in this case would be specific, detailed recommendations and suggested actions beyond “we must do better”.

  • Loki Sez

    So why did Jesus get executed by the state for preaching and living out the exact opposite values of that empire of power, might, occupation, militarization, and status?

  • Loki Sez

    And as I heard Angela Davis say on Friday night at Riverside Church in NYC – the concept of “allies” is the result and continuation of binary, slavery thinking. To believe that the racist military industrial capitalist patriarchy isn’t hurting all of us is naive. We are all in this together, and need to stop telling each other how to do revolution correctly.

  • John

    What? Jesus was executed because he offended and threatened the Jewish religious leaders at the time. Pontius Pilot executed Jesus to appease the Jewish leadership and stop a riot, not because he was some threat to Rome.

  • Guthrum

    “Black Lives Matter”- an extremist, Marxist group that uses tactics such as pushing a US senator around, grabbing microphones, grabbing reporter’s cameras, disrupting studies at a college, threatening students, blocking traffic. Certainly not a group that helps black people. Has BLM done anything about the violence in the inner cities?
    When BLM shows up, the trouble starts.

  • jamesparson

    How about we just end the war on drugs and see how far that gets us.
    Then expunge criminal records.
    Acknowledge that religion is damaging

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Why bother with churches, especially these groups? They’re shrinking away faster than the polar ice caps.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    There’s no point in asking about a god; why would an all-powerful being allow someone to be in pain in the first place?
    If god is so all-loving and all-powerful, why are there diseases in the first place?
    If he/she/it isn’t all-powerful, how is this being a god to begin with?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Suppose I’m an atheist? Why should I embrace any of your concerns in that case?
    And if you can make a good/logical case for embracing your concerns without using religion, why bother with religion?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Which is usually the way with fantasies; if you can’t compare and contrast actual facts, you’re not likely to get very far in determining what to do with the information.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    You’ve only just noticed that you’ve got no other way of making a living?
    What does that say about your useless degree, your useless religious institution, and your useless community?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    I thought that was Spartacus. Jesus isn’t mentioned once by contemporary Romans. Couldn’t have been a serious threat.
    And why only the Roman empire? Weren’t the Persians/Indians/Chinese just as oppressive?

  • Ivan T. Errible

    How about removing religions’ tax exemption and parsonage allowances?
    If “progressives” truly want to renounce Caesar, let them stop taking his money.

  • Mr. James Parson

    I am for that, but it is small potatos.

  • Kate Johnson

    I can’t speak for you, I can only speak for myself and say if I was an atheist, I absolutely wouldn’t embrace any of these concerns at all. I would live for myself, doing what I wanted, protecting my own happiness and welfare above all other concerns, and I certainly wouldn’t bother to try to overcome my own selfish nature at all. What’s the point? If there’s nothing else but this, then, based on my own experience of this world. there is rarely real justice, nice guys usually finish last and evil regularly triumphs over good. So seriously why bother? I have a very brief lifespan, that’s already full of pointless suffering, why not just indulge myself as much as possible, have the best time I can, (eat, drink and be merry) and when life no longer appeals, end it. I know I certainly would not waste my brief time existing, worrying about “social issues” or working at the domestic violence shelter, like I do now. I was actually born in an affluent family, so I could avoid even the observation of suffering, and why wouldn’t I? I definitely wouldn’t give away so much of my income to charity. I’d be more focused on making things the best for me that it can be, since life would then be brief and meaningless, living to please myself seems to be the most logical?. Of course I guess you could “fantasize” that life has some meaning, but since there’s actually no factual basis for that claim, how would that be different than religion?

  • Kate Johnson

    It amusing to hear people talk about “what a God would/should do”. There simply no possibility that any human could ever know what “all loving and all powerful” would even look like. We are about as far away from that as it is possible to be. We are also universally dumb and live for brief seconds, to be entirely forgotten within 3 generations. We aren’t capable of understanding anything above us, which would be obvious to those not choking on their own self congratulatory arrogance . Can an ant ever understand calculus? Humans aren’t even capable of determining what is good. We know what feels good, we know what looks good, but honestly I don’t think we know what IS good at all. As far as suffering goes, in my experience people who haven’t suffered are the most intolerable, arrogant and ignorant people walking the planet. Suffering actually makes us interesting and useful. Without it we are neither. That could imply some underlying purpose. JMO.