A Culture of Complicity

Dear Unitarian Universalist Community,

Below you will find an excerpt of my response to the congregation I serve after this week’s events. It is my intention to tell some painful truths about having served TJMC-UU as Director of Administration and Finance as a woman of color. Those truths are not easy; they haven’t been easy to live and I’ve come to know that me soft pedaling them is my role in being complicit in the current culture at TJMC-UU. And I can’t continue serving in this manner. It is quite literally putting my safety (and that of my children) at risk. I’m no longer willing to compromise my spirit, my humanity and my ministry in this way. They have called me to co-lead this congregation and that is what I intend to do.

I can almost guarantee you won’t agree with everything I’ve written. That is to be expected. It is my hope that you can agree that it is my truth to tell and you will find a way to support that truth telling.

A Culture of Complicity

Like every other Monday morning since I started at TJMC- Unitarian Universalist in 2015, after our ministry team meeting I picked up my mail and sat at my desk to sort it. I came to “the note” towards the last.

the note
Received in my inbox at church 2/26/2018

As I read the note, my breath stopped…not like a metaphorical stop, it actually stopped. I couldn’t breathe and at the same time I wanted to vomit. I must have made some kind of sound because our Assistant Minister came out of her office and stood in my doorway and asked if I was alright. I could only hold my hand out in a stop motion so that she wouldn’t come near me, I couldn’t image anyone touching me in that moment.

When I finally took a breath it was to begin a keening cry of rage, anger, hate, hurt and sorrow. In my mind I was desperate to know where my children were and remembered they were at school.  I ran from the building to my car and drove away. Do you feel it? Do you feel my humanity being stripped away in one quick motion? Do you feel a mother’s terror at thinking this person who has hate in their heart for me knows my children?

This is not the first time a religious professional of color has come under attack, but this year has seen an unprecedented number of our ministries under extreme threat. In chat rooms, message boards, via text and direct messages we are hearing about colleagues of color who are facing a backlash to naming white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism.

And yes, in this particular case it was one individual who perpetrated this attack but let me be absolutely clear…our denomination, our congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists are responsible for these types of racist attacks. Let me say it again, if you are reading this you bear some measure of responsibility for this and the other attacks under which UU religious professionals of color find themselves. Because it is a denominational and congregational culture of white supremacy that made this person feel it was entirely appropriate to have these thoughts, had them affirmed and then acted out on them. Unitarian Universalist as it now exists is complicit in creating an atmosphere in which those thoughts and feelings thrive and are then born into action.

In the time I have served my call to ministry, I have experienced a myriad of ways the denomination has exerted its white supremacy culture. In my response to my congregation I gave specific examples of how that white supremacy took shape but none of those are unique to my ministry. They have occurred for decades and continue to crush the ministries of my colleagues of color all over our denomination. And so I urged our congregation not to focus, discuss, perseverate or try to form an opinion as to merits/demerits of each specific incident but rather look at how together they would contribute to a culture of complicity. How someone in the congregation being part of, or witnessing, these conversations would come to a place of comfort and affirmation in their racist thoughts. They would feel not only justified in thinking of me as “less than” but comfortable in expressing those thoughts in whatever way they thought appropriate. If you’d like the link to the document explaining these categories of White Supremacy Culture you can find it here.

I have appreciated your many notes, emails, calls and messages of support and encouragement. Many of you reached out to say how glad you are that I am here, that my family and I are in your thoughts and prayers. I really appreciate all of those expressions…AND I, WE people of color, need your BEHAVIOUR to change. Let me say it again, thoughts and prayers are lovely AND we need your BEHAVIOUR to change.

So here are some behaviors I identified for our congregation, what is needed at your congregation?

  • You will not undercut our ministry anymore. The time and effort we spend thinking about how you all are going to react to every level of decision making is exhausting and makes our entire congregation, and our ministry in particular, ineffective. We are going to assume that you are behind us…all the way…for EVERY decision we make. Because you called us …and we are going to take you at your word.
  • We are going to fully fund the budget. If you are here you are all in. You will take part in stewardship via a pledge of financial support and/or volunteer responsibility. No more using your pledge like a weapon or an assessment of staff’s performance. Because as long as we are looking inward at our perceived scarcity we are not looking outward at work that needs to be done in the world.
  • Be prepared to work directly supporting communities affected by mass incarceration and deportation. Why these communities? Because it’s what we said we’d do when we passed the Black Lives Matter public witness statement. Not just hang a banner but get into accountable relationship and act on that commitment.
  • Celebrate our ministry. Let us AND THE CONGREGATION know when our work touches you spiritually, makes a difference in your life, the life of the congregation, or the community.
  • Specific to your religious professional of color, this is LIBERATION THEOLOGY at work. Because of systemic racism and oppression, I start off from a place miles behind my colleagues. It will take your intentional amplification of my ministry just to bring me to the same starting point (equity) as my non-POC ministerial colleagues….and it always will. This is the work of dismantling white supremacy.

And if you see yourself any of the above and right now as you are reading this you are already forming defensive thoughts….you will STOP…stop right now. Stop being defensive and start being CURIOUS. Curious about what cultural assumptions ground that defensive posture and then question again…can you really effect any change in the world with just thoughts and prayers? Because our Unitarian Universalist theology gives a resounding “no” to that question and if you are not prepared to change your behavior then it is time to think about whether you are here as a Unitarian Universalist or as a social club member.

For the past 4 days as I walk by my office door, I have not been able to pull out my mail. My hand starts to shake and my breath becomes ragged. Every time I walk in my office I have to tear my eyes away from looking at my inbox. I don’t know what awaits me in there. I’ve taken to asking another staff member to go through it, to make sure it is ok for me to see. I have had to change my behavior based on hate brought to me by this congregation.

So I ask you again, as I have sacrificed my safety to be in community with you…what are you willing to sacrifice…what change are you willing to be in the world…what discomfort are you willing to bear…how will you change your BEHAVIOUR in order to work for our mutual liberation. Because anything less is keeping us in chains.

This is not the beginning and it is not an ending…we are in the middle and there is no way around but to go through.

YoUUrs in service,

Christina Rivera


A note from my husband Christopher Young:

To the coward who left this in Christina’s in box:

I pity you for the lack of courage it took to put a poorly written, anonymous, hate filled letter in my wife’s mail box at her office. You are clearly a coward for doing this over the weekend when no one could see you. You are clearly a coward for not signing your name. You are clearly a coward for not having the courage and decency to speak to her in person to air your grievances. My wife is no shrinking violet and probably would have handed your racist ass to you. I suspect you know that. I suspect you know your views are on the wrong side of history. If you are so sure you’re right, set up a meeting. Own your shit.

You are entitled to your opinion. What you are NOT entitled to is mentioning our children. EVER! Yes, you are right. They learn from me. They learn what an amazing woman their mother is, not that I really need to tell them that. And you better believe they learn from her. They learn about people like you. And if only you knew how much they love and respect her.

I’m sorry your world is closing in on you. I’m sorry you’re so miserable and full of hate. I’m sorry you’re such a coward. What I’m not sorry about is loving the smartest, strongest person I know. I’m not sorry that she is educating our children about the ugly realities that people of color in the U.S. face.
Your clock is ticking. Please do me a favor and just go away. Don’t threaten my wife with your anonymous bullshit, and don’t you ever dare mention our children again.






25 thoughts on “A Culture of Complicity

Add yours

  1. 😭 No!! Dammit. God dammit. %*+%#}}|\}^*!!!! How dare ANYONE be so ugly and bitter and sit lying and quiet in a church. We need to know each other. Heal each other wherever possible. And otherwise let people go. And dammit we need to take care of and support those who lead our fight to do right. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you’ve got a strong team of coaches, mentors & supporters to move forward from this. 🙏🏽✊🏽🙏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is the world as it is, and then there is the world that we are trying to create. For those at the forefront of this new-world creation, the task can be wounding, and discouraging. You deserve the support of all of us. God bless you, Sister. We all need to learn how to open our mouths in response to the moment.


  3. It was obviously an innapropriate note. Based on the views expressed and the typos, it would not be hard to figure out which individual wrote it, in a UU congregation.

    Because, UUs are usually too cowed to address the inappropriate side of the anti-racism efforts in UU churches, too educated to write a note that poorly, and too aware of the broader history of UU support for Rev Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Civil Rights movement and its progression to the civil rights for same sex marriage movement to come up with a note like this. This is obviously not a note that is representative of UUs.

    If anything, it could even be described as an outsider’s note. But, they have inside information. (I’d ask the janitor if they wrote it.) But, Christina uses the note to describe UUs in general and her supporters as the exception to the rule. That is a serious mistake.

    I believe that the “blow back” to the “white supremacy” concept is valid. Trying to equate it to this note is not valid.

    Let’s get rid of the entire dynamic that UUs are white supremacists and POC are fighting against it, if we want to move forward.

    The reality is that the entire culture is racist and that this is deeply rooted in the economics, education, housing, and labor issues in our world.

    UUs have failed to address this issue effectively, even after 20 years of ineffective, “damaging”, and chaotic anti-racism programming, pushed primarily by the misunderstanding of the UUA staff. I point to the relative success of the GBLT Welcoming Congregation efforts by the UUA staff for a comparison. (To show the failure of the anti-racism efforts.) Whatever we have been doing is not working (compared to GBLT welcoming efforts) and we need to address that.

    I cringe when I hear anyone in a position of authority use the phrase “dismantling racism” as a way of moving forward, because that is the phrase that the UUA staff pulled out when they wiped our continental youth and young adult organizations off the face of the map. YRUU was the tip of the sword for UU anti-racism efforts at the time.

    The note was a white supremacist note. The UUs in the churches are not white supremacists. Not understanding the difference is what guarantees the continued failure of any progress towards a being a less white, privileged religious organization.

    We need to put our focus on spiritual growth and become more truly inclusive organically, in our congregations.

    Putting POC ministers in blonde churches gets a lot of support at first, but that is like having Malcolm X be the minister. The minister does not support anything that the people of the church are about. Eventually, hurt, anger, and excommunication follow. This is our usual pattern.

    The anti-racism effort has, for 20 years, embraced “let’s all cry together now” behavior for the (mostly white) anti-racism activists, whenever they don’t get their way, that has not helped their cause. We are going to need a better plan than that.

    Three white anti-racism candidates for President were run against each other, by the UUA staff, for UUA President recently. The winner was the individual who best articulated the anti-racism programming effort to destroy the culture of INDIVIDUALISM, ANTI-AUTHORITARIANISM, and EXCEPTIONALISM in UU churches.

    They admit to being against individualism! That to me is fascism and has no place in our UU organization.

    I reject any expectation that UUs should embrace the concept of “white supremacy” as a way to move forward. It will ensure the continued failure of the anti-racism programming efforts by the UUA.

    What we need to do is get rid of the fascist UUA anti-racism programming, get rid of the anti-individualism efforts, and grow more diverse congregations in our churches organically.

    I would support cutting off all financial support for the UUA until they move away from their anti-individualism stance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m approving this comment because it serves as an example that this viewpoint is not an isolated incident, this person and their casual racism is in everyone’s congregation. “ask the janitor”…”blonde churches”…equating a culture of white supremacy with white supremacists, Jim I invite you to read my blog post again, you seem to have missed a lot. If upon re-reading you still don’t at least have some curiosity rather than absolute certainty that you know what is right, feel free to move on.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Jim Sechrest, I hold you in my heart. You are not getting it on so many levels, and that is a significant problem in so many Unitarian Universalist communities. I am in Richmond at the First Unitarian Universalist Church there, and we’ve been wrestling with these issues. Look for the Richmond Pledge to End Racism web site. Read the pledge. Think about what you can do to end racism in your community. I’ve used the Jubilee training weekend for 15 years and find it growthful and transforming. Outcomes are trainer dependent, but your name calling isn’t helpful. And support for churches’ and congregations’ use of ANY antiracism training model from the association has been absent or minimal. So we all have to find our own way through the valley of accountability. I appreciate your frank post as it highlights the complexities of the work that lies before us, and the need to recognize that we may need to leave some longstanding Unitarian Universalists who continue to actively resist antiracist transformation behind. Bless you, brother. I hope you find a way to get on board. ‘Cause the train is leaving the station, and your options are getting on board or getting out of the way.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You, Jim, are part of the problem. How dare you, a white man, once again school a person of color on what is racist and what is not, what is white supremacist culture and what is not. UU will never grow in an inclusive manner if white voice is all that’s ever heard.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. “I would support cutting off all financial support for the UUA until they move away from their anti-individualism stance.”

      I always thought all churches were anti-individualist by their very nature, so what are you even doing among UUs at all? I will be happy to see you leave, Jim Sechrest! We are and always have been a COMMUNITY. Who ever claimed otherwise?


    4. I don’t think you really understand the anti-racist/oppression training that has been going on. I really don’t think you understand the difference between being a white supremacists and a culture where the idea of white supremacy thrives. The fact is UU culture is one where white people thrive, where we have a natural leg up over our POC siblings. That doesn’t mean that I, as a white UU, believe that white people are better than POC. It means that the system benefits me and the things I was taught to emulate. I am lucky to have had many years of training to understand that there are many ways to lead, think, and be awesome.


  4. Wow, this is just without words. I am so sorry you are going through this because of our shitty, racist culture. Thank you for speaking out and doing the emotional labour of telling us how to fix what shouldn’t even need fixing. I’m hoping to join a new congregation soon and I’ll be bringing this with me. Thank you again I will be amplifying your words.


  5. It will indeed take all of us working together to exorcise the menace of racism that lives and thrives in this nation’s culture, insitutions and systems, and also to deepen our understanding of the insidiousness and violence of white power, privilege and supremacy and to change, just as Chris writes, our behavior so that we can be in Right Relations with each other as members of the Human Race.


  6. I am so, so sorry someone was this cruel, this insensitive, and this hateful. Thank you for expressing these painful truths about how far our faith has yet to go. Your congregation is so very lucky to have you as a minister. May they– and all of us– take these words to heart and work towards a culture of equity. I will carry them with me and pay more attention to what I can do to make my own church more inclusive and just.


  7. Dear Christina you are so brave to confront this sickness which spilled over onto you and your family. Mr. S. lost me when he described the racist hate note as “inappropriate”, so after I read your response I had to go back. He appears, however, to be a far more common example of opinions I saw and felt in other UU situations I was in, especially as a DRE. Now that I finally have a car I expect to attend a UU gathering here on the Big Island [no Sunday bus service] and I will keep your words in mind and heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It occurs to me that our responses to Christina Rivera’s trials resemble our responses to school shootings. Hopes and prayers for the victimized are important. But in school shootings, the perpetrator’s mental state is not the issue. The issue is guns. Here, the perpetrator’s mental state or attitude is not the issue. Racism and white supremacy rooted in our faith communities are the issues. We require some critical thinking and informed actions to uproot these values and norms (the ethos) that helped produce such a note.

    I am watching these cross tides play out in Charlottesville and in Washington, DC, and hope and pray that these communities find a way to a transformed presence in their communities and in our association.


  9. I grew up in a Unitarian home. My grandmother married in a Unitarian church in the 1960s. My family remains enmeshed in Unitarianism and follows the tenets of peace and brotherhood. What has been shared is disturbing to me on so many levels I don’t even know how to dissect it. Disgusting and disgraceful. I’m beyond angry.


  10. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Reading what you wrote made me feel YOUR inability to breathe. I belonged to a UU organization for years, but l had to leave. I’m an activist and Latina. I worked on regional anti-racist projects but it was tough. I plan to write you a real note to offer staying in contact, if you would be interested. I’ll send it in an envelope with a red/ yellow/ green flag, so you don’t have to be nervous about opening it. Meanwhile, i hope you can know that i, and many others are with you and will help you through.


  11. I am not in your congregation, but I do call UU my home. I am white, with a biracial child(who’s now in his late 20’s). I am white and I understand that because of the color of my skin, I get away with more(not as much as white males–who love to call me racist, but still) than you ever can, even when I’m wrong. Our congregation is overly majority white, but we still display a Black Lives Matter banner, we have a BLM committee, mostly as a white ally.
    I am so sorry this happened to you, I hope that the perp is found out (and I’m sure there are some that know who it is, STAND UP) .
    We had issues with the BLM banner, some were afraid that it would make us a target in our very white suburb of Chicago, but no, it’s fine.
    I’ve had issues with the congregation I’m in, more due to me being what would be considered a “blue collar worker” (and the congregation is in an area that really doesn’t cater to blue collar workers), I hope that the majority of you congregation will slap the silly racist idiot into line. What was said was deplorable, although I’d prolly blame the idiot-in-chief more than UU (although you do have good points).
    Be strong and know that you are loved.


  12. Thank you for all the work you do for our faith, and for all the times you’ve spoken out against the rancid white supremacist culture that we white UUs keep failing to face.

    I hope your family is recovering well after these assaults.


  13. When I told our Black Lives Matter Vigil participants last Thursday about your situation, we decided to write and sign a statement of support for you directed to the UUA Board with suggested actions to respond to this situation. Here is the text:

    We, the undersigned members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy (Philadelphia), wish to express our support for Christina Rivera, Secretary of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), who has just announced her resignation due to anonymous threats to her and her family related to her work for racial justice with the UUA Board. We accept our share of responsibility for the existence of white supremacy culture within the UUA and the USA, and commit to increasing our efforts to dismantle racism within our congregation, our community, the UUA, and the USA. We deplore the effect that this has had on Ms. Rivera and her family’s spiritual, psychological, and physical well-being. We support DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries) and its call for a Restorative Justice process between the UUA and Ms. Rivera to deal with the situation. We suggest that this could include (1) initiating a program analogous to The Welcoming Congregation (for LGBTQIA+ awareness and action) for racial justice and (2) strongly encouraging congregations to explore the Congregational Study/Action Issue for 2018-2022 on Undoing Intersectional White Supremacy, such as by discussing and considering adoption of The 8th Principle on dismantling systemic racism and other oppressions within ourselves and our institutions, and embodying that Principle in all we do.
    December 16, 2018.

    It is signed by 54 members and friends (we only have about 90 members, and an average attendance of about 50), and I have emailed a copy to Co-Moderator Elandria Williams, whom I know because of my work on the 8th Principle. I will send her the original as soon as I find out the best way to address the letter. If you send me an email, I can email a copy to you as well.

    Thank you for all of your good work, and keep us posted if there is any way we can be of help to you.

    Yours in justice,
    Bruce Pollack-Johnson, on behalf of the UU Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy (Philly)


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