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.
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,
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.