I’m doing something a little different for this installment of Ex-Evangelical Conversations. Instead of relating an interview in Q&A format, after a brief introduction, I am going to repost, with permission, a piece from my friend Tori Williams Douglass’s blog (the original, titled “The Day I Learned White Christians Hate Me,” is here). Tori is pictured above. I got to have a number of excellent in-person conversations with her during my recent trip to Portland. She is a fellow ex-Evangelical who grew up in a mostly white Evangelical milieu in the Pacific Northwest with a white mother and a black father. And Tori is someone I deeply respect for her generosity, sharp mind, compassion, and strong moral voice. In what follows below, it is her voice that you will be reading, without interventions from me. She is one of my favorite Twitter follows, and you can find her there at @ToriGlass.
Three years ago today, Michael Brown was slaughtered extrajudicially by a white police officer (whose name I am deliberately leaving out in order to keep the focus on the life of Brown). This killing, of course, sparked the Ferguson protests, which, along with Black Lives Matter, which came into being in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, has profoundly shaped American conversations around race.
We are, of course, facing intense racist backlash in the form of Trumpism, and that makes it all the more important to call loudly for an end to the police harassment and extrajudicial killings of African-Americans. On this anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. Tori does so in the following letter to white American Evangelical Christians, writing with moral clarity and what I would dare to call a prophetic voice. It is my hope that white Christians will listen to her and take her message to heart.
Before reposting Tori’s words, I want to say that going forward I will strive to make Ex-Evangelical Conversations as inclusive as possible, to have the series to speak to a variety of experiences of living and leaving Evangelicalism. Whiteness and white supremacism have profoundly shaped conservative Evangelical subculture, but white ex-Evangelicals like myself cannot unpack that racism and its significance without listening to the voices of those directly harmed by it. I am proud to amplify Tori’s voice today.
The Day I Learned White Christians Hate Me
Post by Tori Glass
Dear White American Evangelical Christians,
It’s taken me three years to write this. Oh how I wish you could understand how hard the last few years have been for me, and millions of others. I wish you had the ability to sit with racial discomfort without lashing out at me for more than 30 seconds. I need to tell you a story, but honestly, I don’t know if you have the strength to sit with it. I need to tell you how your racial hatred has driven me away from the God you claim is love.
A mere three years ago, in what seems like a past life, I was attending Mars Hill Church. I was unhappy there but we were leading a community group and bailing wasn’t really an option. Then some tremors started.
To be clear, these rumblings had always been there, but they got pushed to the side (or “under the bus”). This year they bubbled to the surface.
This was August of 2014. My oldest son was about to turn two I was on vacation with little cell service, texting friends every time we got to a town with the newest, ugliest updates. The church was imploding under the weight of a small minded man with a massive ego enriching himself off his flock.
Everyone in my particular faith circle (Reformed Evangelical Christians) was talking about the rumblings. Everyday evangelical Christians inside and outside my faith circle were logging on to Facebook to see their pastors post the latest gossip, respond to criticisms of Driscoll, vote to remove him leadership, or to defend his actions. By their tone, it seemed they all had an opinion that was desperately needed, completely unique, and God-breathed.
And then, like a silent tectonic slip a thousand miles beneath the surface, on August 9th, 2014, at 12:01 pm local time, Darren Wilson executed the alleged petty thief Michael Brown.
Water mysteriously began to pull away from the shore.
The tension — the ugly foundation splitting under the pressure — was rising to the surface at the speed of sound. An orphan tidal wave, the Japanese called it. It appeared from nowhere, was caused by nothing. We didn’t hear a thing. And it still devastated us.
I returned home from vacation with a little tan, a happy heart, and a hyperactive baby boy in my womb. After dinner, bath time, and snuggles with my two year old I sat down with my laptop to check social media.
In the least poetic terms I have available to me, what I saw changed me forever.
The city of Ferguson, Missouri was on fire. I withheld judgment. After all, I had been the victim of police abuse for no reason. And I had enough empathy to know that Black Americans were not just “carrying on about nothing,” as everyone on the political and cultural right likes to claim.
But then I saw the white Christian responses.
The pastors, the Christians, the evangelicals, the Republicans, and the associated gawkers, turned their godly terror, their white makes right holy war, their righteous indignation, from questioning a pastor’s behavior to questioning the value of allowing black people to exist in America.
Of course he deserved it.
He was a thug.
I would have shot him too.
The wages of sin is death.
It was the conservative evangelical jihad against the evil of blackness — black people, poor people, black culture, black communities — in America. Literally ALL THEY KNEW ABOUT MICHAEL BROWN WAS HIS SKIN COLOR AND HIS ZIP CODE. And yet they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the country was better off without him.
The unmitigated flow of white racial terror in the form of verbal abuse from the hearts and minds of white Christians was staggering. The firehose of vitriol directly towards people who looked like me, with no regard for empathy, sympathy, understanding, coming directly from white congregations was like nothing I had ever seen before.
They will know we are evangelicals by our racial hatred.
Dear white evangelical Christians,
I sincerely believed you loved me because God loved me. Now I know for a fact that you do not.
I learned that night that white Christians do not love me. Oh, you claim you do. But I am a black woman in America. I am not stupid. I hear what you say. I see what you write. I observe how you behave. What you said and wrote and did in the wake of Ferguson, without a drop of empathy or compassion tells me everything I need to know about how you see me and how you value me. I know better how you feel about black Americans than you do. Your selective racial ignorance and racial “colorblindness” are nothing more than whitewashed self-deception.
How do you hate me? Let me count the ways.
I know you hate me when you jump to defend cops.
I know you hate me when you jump to defend roadside executions.
I know you hate me when you say, “He probably deserved it.”
I know you hate me when you call me a liar because my experiences are different than your own.
I know you hate me when you tell me I am exaggerating when I speak of racist encounters I have had.
I know you hate me when you have to send a white person to vouch for me before you’ll believe me.
I know you have chosen ignorance when you ask from your suburban sofas and rural pickup trucks, “Why would they destroy their own town?”
I know you hate me when you are more concerned with broken windows than black lives.
I know you hate me when you post blogs condemning black Americans’ behavior while failing to take into account anything but skin color and “culture”.
I know you hate me when you’re indifferent to my experiences.
I know you hate me when you assume my behavior coupled with my melanin count means I deserve to be shot over a broken tail light.
I know you hate me when you are indifferent to my increased health risks.
I know you hate me when you speak over me because your opinion is more valid than my experience.
I know you hate me when you scream at black mothers heading into abortion clinics but are silent about black mothers dying in childbirth.
I know you hate me when you devote time, money, and energy to shutting down Planned Parenthood but do absolutely nothing for underfunded schools.
I know you hate me when you try to keep me from voting.
I know you hate me when you tell me I’m too loud, angry, or black.
I know you hate me when when you claim you’re entirely innocent of your grandparents’ efforts to halt desegregation.
I know you don’t love me because you’re already writing a comment to tell me about how this doesn’t apply to you and #NotAllWhiteChristians
I am a black woman in America: your white Christian hatred is as plain as the day you donned white hoods.
I tell you the truth, Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.
Can I let you in on a little secret? However you feel about Michael Brown, alleged thief, alleged thug, alleged “Black Life Doesn’t Matter”, that’s how you feel about Jesus.
You see, Dear White Christian, your love for the Lord is permanently capped at the amount of love you have for the people in society who you like the very least.
For you, Dear White Christian? Your love for the Lord is capped at the amount of love you have for Michael Brown.
You can never love God more than you love your black brother or sister. It’s simply impossible. You can’t put two gallons of water in a one gallon bucket, and in the same way you can’t love God more than you love Michael Brown. It doesn’t work that way. The dimensions of your love for God are only as big as the dimensions of your love for Michael Brown. Alleged thief. Alleged thug. Alleged Black Life Doesn’t Matter.
When someone tells you you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.
Dear White evangelical Christians,
I see your sheer disdain for my existence as you force a smile across your face on Sunday morning. I am a constant reminder that that past is never fully in the past. The white-on-black wrongs of the past and the present must be corrected before America gets the right to move on. That the shame you claim you don’t feel because you’ve “never owned any slaves” is a rot in the gut of this nation that you refuse to remedy.
The hand cannot say to the foot, I don’t need you.
I hear you constantly telling me how I need to behave if I want to be allowed to exist. White mainline Christians mostly silent in the face of racism, much as you were when the police turned a blind eye to the weekly lynchings across this “great” country.
Good intentions do not negate harm caused.
Evangelical Christians, I learned this lesson from you as you scorned the poor and castigated the single mother while Democrats were (sometimes) trying (and often failing) to help. Your intentions are meaningless because they don’t negate harm caused.
If I meant to back out of your driveway safely, and I accidentally ran over your child in the process, my intentions are meaningless in the face of your suffering.
Yet this callous indifference and outright disdain is how I see white Christians respond America’s racial history. I see you attempt this every day.
“I didn’t mean to run over you child, therefore the pain you feel is irrelevant.”
Dear White Christians,
That is not how this works. The fact that you don’t know this makes me think you’re not the ones who should be driving the conversation on this topic.
They will know we are evangelicals by our racial hatred. By indifference to suffering. By our refusal to examine systemic causes. By our fragility and constant projection.
You put your ignorance on full display with your insistence that your knowledge of race relations, most of which originates from movies, oral tradition, and talk radio, and none of which originates from actual experiences with black people in black spaces away from your airtight white bubble, is more valuable than people who have lived the very experiences you condemn.
I have more to say on this topic, but for now I will stop here. If what I said makes you uncomfortable, please sit with that discomfort for a while. Do some self-examination. Ask yourself how many people who are directly affected by your opinions about race and racism in the United States have ever invited you into their homes for dinner.
Dear Michael Brown,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we as a country are so invested in protecting the feelings and spaces of white people that we can’t even have a conversation on how to improve this country. I’m sorry that the American dream wasn’t designed for people who look like you. I’m sorry that this country says one thing and does the complete opposite to black people. This country doesn’t deserve to call itself the greatest when it treats you with disdain.
8 thoughts on “Ex-Evangelical Conversations: Tori Williams Douglass to White Christians on the Anniversary of Michael Brown’s Murder”
As an ex-evangelical and ex-LASD, it’s all true. Baptists (like me) and cops rely heavily on racial stereotypes to function. It was very disturbing to find these stereotypes were faulty. It’s kind of like being German. You can say you weren’t a Nazi, but you never really know where your ideas came from. Essays like this help clarify a lot.
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Thank you for your honesty and willingness to change. For us white people, facing our internalized racism can feel threatening, as we can get hung up on the question of whether we’re “bad people” or “good people” instead of the more salient question of what social forces are at play when it comes to systemic racism in America, how do I participate in systemic racism, and what can I do to work to change these things? Being willing to admit we’re complicit in it is a first key step, and one that a lot of white people won’t take due to fear. But it’s the only way forward.
Chris, would you mind if I post my reply to Tori here? The one on her blog is “awaiting moderation.” That means, to me, that she is either disgusted by my reply or afraid of it. And either I am stupid to not already know that she’s ONLY referring to white Evangelical Christians around where she lives or ALL white Christians, period. The first would require telepathic abilities and the second would require ignorance on a grand scale. I’d just like to see what people have to say about what I wrote. Maybe you could convince her to “allow” my comment. Either way…c’est la vie.
It’s honestly really shitty and entitled of you to come over to my blog and complain that Tori hadn’t let your apparently at the very least tone-deaf and insensitive comment through yet, so if you came here expecting sympathy for that, or for “not all white Christians” or “not all” arguments in general, you’re not going to find it. Majorities of all white Christians voted for Trump as far as that goes. It was less among white Catholics and mainline Protestants.
Tori informs me that she’s responded to all the comments on this blog post now. And she’s definitely not “afraid” of anything that people like you have to say. She’s one of the strongest people I know. And that would hold true even if she’d decided on a policy of barring certain kinds of comments.
This, on the other hand? Showing up here and appealing to another white guy with your white sense of entitlement to have a defensive comment posted quickly on black woman’s blog? That’s utterly weak.
Well, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it as I am entitled to mine. I admit my comment here had a bit too much haste. I was thoroughly tired and not thinking straight. I apologize. I have no sense of entitlement. I despise Trump. I’m for LGBT rights. I’m quite a liberal Christian. I do stand behind my comments of “not all white Christians” because it is the absolute truth. If Tori was specifically talking about the white Christians near where she lives, then I completely support her. However, if she is condemning all Christians on the basis of their skin color, then Tori would be just as racist as the white Evangelical Christians she ranted against. I will not back down on that comment.