To provide context – here’s is the link to article that precipitated my response:
Many black churches have survived and served our communities despite the obstacles that have been hurled at us. We continue to preach, teach, make disciples, and demonstrate God’s grace in practical ways. We don’t have trumpets blaring. We don’t do media blitzes. We don’t often wear matching t-shirts. We don’t have elaborate programs and huge budgets… but, what we do have is a history that teaches us that when we share our ‘little’, it can become ‘more than enough.’ We have subsisted on scraps that we turn artfully into soul-food. We have endured under circumstances (evil economic policies, destructive legislation, racism and discrimination in all of its machinations, the unequal application of justice, etc.) that were created to destroy us. We are poor but indeed we are rich…
So then, it is with particular consternation that we receive your remarks and those of Chris Hodges of the Church of the Highlands. The remarks made this week reflect what we perceive to be a lack of effort in attempting to really understanding the people and the places in the 99 neighborhoods that are Birmingham that you seek to transform. Your remarks demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the black community and a mischaracterization of the black church that relied more on stereotypes than truth and experience with real people. Your remarks also seem to reflect a gross miscalculation of resource. It appears that your assessment of resources is defined by dollars and cents rather than people and their voices – the wisdom of their experiences. The campaign promise of ‘people first’ seems to be ‘people with money first.’
While understanding the zeal of the new administration to appear strong against crime and violence in the most vulnerable communities that we serve, we would suggest that our Mayor realize that our communities did not get this way accidentally. Economic segregation, over-criminalization of black people, white-flight, real-estate red-lining, failing schools – we could certainly go on – these are the methodologies employed whereby black communities and black families have been systematically crippled and destroyed. The myth of black-on-black crime is a diversion. The crime in our communities is not so much an indicator of the immorality of black people, inasmuch as it is a byproduct of poverty and proximity – a poverty rooted in an old system that specialized in the exploitation and commoditization of our bodies. Violent crimes, and other self-destructive behaviors, are rooted in self-hatred and perpetuated by the gross miseducation of a people. The old ways are not gone. They are subtler which makes them more dangerous. This old system, disrobed of old robes and sheets, has the vestiges of his poisonous message still pervading the halls of our governments, our schools, and our sacred spaces! Mr. Mayor, you are a problem solver. Let’s deal with the source and not simple the symptom!
Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges) – we suggest that you review our history. Your present mindset seems to overlook how white communities, and yes the white church, have been complicit in creating the circumstances that the black community and the black church have been forced to deal with. Again, whether through bad legislation and public policy, apathy, ignorance, or bad theology – the same folks so moved to “save and clean-up” our communities are culpable for these conditions! The same folks so moved to ‘save and clean-up’ our communities are often found voting in ways that belie their good intentions. The superficial charity applied to our communities, though well-intended, is a salve that anesthetizes but does nothing to dislodge and eradicate the cancerous root that will eventually destroy us all. This poisonous charity does more to assuage the unnamed undefined guilt of the one who extends it, than it benefits its recipients. It is the proverbial bandage over a gaping bullet wound! Beyond this, the combined clumsiness and arrogance of these efforts make it even harder for the long established black churches in these areas to make progress.
We are laboring faithfully with limited resources – most of us do not have the money that these large white churches have. We have the passion, the understanding, and the access – but we cannot compete with the shiny beads and free-stuff – the bribery that gives some access to our neighborhoods! Consequentially, we are left having to defend ourselves against false accusations of ignorance, ineptitude, and insensitivity to the needs of those in our own communities! We are assailed by insults rooted in stereotypes and false narratives coming from people who’ve never been to our churches and never put a dime in a collection plate. “What are you doing; what have you done, what have you given away in the community?’
Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges), these heavy-handed, misguided efforts along with your careless words have turned what should have been compliment into competition. Please hear me, what is written here – is not divisive or negative. We are simply compelled to tell the truth. We are hopeful as this is necessary step in any efforts toward real progress.
Mayor Woodfin (Pastor Hodges), I’m sure you already know this. Before there can be unity, there must be a process of reconciliation. Reconciliation is impossible without truth-telling. And this truth-telling must be fueled by a genuine love for the other. So while you may perceive these words as harsh and overly critical, understand that they are spoken out of love. The tension we are now encountering can, if managed properly, become the friction that enables motion. This conflict is necessary and should be embraced as constructive. We must not turn from it in embrace of some uneasy peace that is no peace at all. This process, though slower and more deliberate than what you may have envisioned for your first one hundred days, will lead to lasting and meaningful change across our city!
Mayor Woodfin, listen to your electorate. Listen to the activists and community leaders that campaigned hard and bet on your potential to be a transformational and progressive leader. Revisit the promises you made during your campaign. It is still early and it is entirely possible that you can have an amazing impact on this city. You may well live up to the lofty standards expressed in your campaign – and for the good of the city, we certainly hope you do!
So, with sincerity, I ask you again. Mayor Woodfin, can we talk?
This letter is actually a continuation of a post that I made on social media (that text is below) at the beginning of this week. Shared publicly, as that post made its rounds, it received tremendous feedback and was shared broadly. In an attempt to elaborate on some of these thoughts and initiate some contact with the Mayor, I have tried to further distill my thoughts and encourage a constructive discourse… If it seems redundant – I apologize in advance.
Warning – long post – but please read!!
I’ve been pastoring in a poor community in Birmingham for 17 years… We are not ignorant… We DO the work of the ministry in North Avondale… We serve the children and families in Tom Brown Village… We survived when our sanctuary burned… It would’ve been easier to leave the community- but we chose to stay – we were compelled to be salt and light! We’ve ducked bullets and stretched our resources to the hilt… when we grow it strains us, because we serve people with real needs… we don’t have wealth to insulate us against human brokenness and pernicious suffering… I work every day so as not to tax the church… As long as I’ve been called – I’ve worked, served the church, and pursued religious training- largely at my own expense and that of my family! I’ve cobbled together resources depending on the grace of God and the generosity of other Christians in this city and across the country who possessed a genuine desire to walk with us… I haven’t purchased air time, blown trumpets, or hung billboards- but I am here, we are here, and we’ve been here, and we are not alone…
That is why the language used in the recent articles that flood my timeline is so hurtful… that is why it is even more painful when I hear my own folks berate our church and other churches in similar situations… to belittle our efforts… while withholding any personal investments of time, talent, or resources in our communities…
Do you know how difficult it is to get young black professionals to invest and attend the churches that big mama raised them and their parents in? Demanding so much, holding such high expectations, while offering so little… Makes sense why these other ‘High’ places are so attractive… I digress…
To all those who’ve passed judgment and leveled indictments, highlighted the failures of the ‘black’ church- take care as to how you use your broad brushes… take care… we are not ignorant and we are not a monolith…
To those who scoff at the drugs and violence that infest our communities- these are mere symptoms of a broader evil that has deep roots in far ‘nicer’ places than our run down communities… learn your history… while you rage against the symptom – you would do well to deal with the source…
I know I’m rambling now, but I beg your pardon… my cup runs over…
Assimilation is not integration… black businesses failed because of integration… our neighbors were robbed of an economy… drugs and guns filled the gap – crime is the construct of an absent economy…And now (and again) the black church is in the crosshairs of a host of well-meaning, paternalistic, Bible-quoting gentrifiers with dreams of taming the savages and healing our dark lands… oh wait, I’ve heard this story before… we know how this ends…
I’ve been watching this for years now and I guess it is come to a head – these folks know my name… we’ve chatted over sandwiches…
Mayor Woodfin – can we talk?
16 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Mayor Randall Woodfin”
Thank you for what you have expressed in this blog post. I agree and stand with you.
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This matter is too important to ignore and I applaud you as you raise your voice to open blinded eyes for our community.
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Great letter , Adam
I have seen and heard of you and your church works and y’all do a great job in the community, no boasting or bragging necessary, no commercials or radio ads necessary. Keep up the good work!
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WE(Black Church Collectively) MUST DO MORE!
Does the unlimited God I serve only operate(Bless) on the other side of town?
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You cannot put God in a box. His love is immeasurable. I mean reallllllly reallllllly the kingdom (the community of God is colorless—- right?) The homeless who travel in front of my door come in all colors, and they beg of help from people of all colors. I have witnessed people of all colors feed and reject them. Don’t judge a man (be it Woodfin or Chris) until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Loving you through this. ❤️
I judged no one – I asked for a conversation which I believe is important for anyone attempting to establish meaningful relationships. Up to now this conversation had not occurred… As to your sentiments- I do appreciate them but God did not create us colorless… We are rich and diverse and we should celebrate and appreciate this diversity not simply tolerate it! It hinders our ability to listen, learn from, and really love each other… God’s love is boundless and we should seek to broaden ourselves with mutual understanding that is an authentic expression of this love… God bless you! 🙏🏾♥️
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But, your entire letter was premised on what you perceive as a “white church” coming into a “black community.” Yes, God made us multi-colored, unique and beautiful …. we draw the lines, not God. Essentially, I meant that the gift of Jesus is colorless. We shouldn’t care who gives it. Much ❤️ Brother.
I’m afraid you misunderstand. My comments were not based on perception- but actual facts. I haven’t drawn any lines – these lines have existed for hundreds of years and cut right through the middle of our beloved church – I didn’t draw them – but we have to live with this unpleasant reality! I get it, the truth can be uncomfortable… unsettling even, but we cannot close our eyes and wish it away… We absolutely care who gives… because all money isn’t good money – ask our ancestors… My ‘entire’ letter was a request for a real conversation based in truth, not pollyanna dreams and rose colored glasses… We’ve got to talk about where we’ve been and how we got here before we can begin to discuss how we move forward in a positive way… Respect, my sister!
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Everyone wants to have a conversation. Some people are tired of talking and others tired of listening. I don’t think the mayor’s comments deserve such criticism (talk). This mayor seems to only be attempting to say let’s do more (which came with a plan). I have not heard any other conversations that actually came with a plan. The plan is inclusive, and comes with resources. What is the problem with a plan with resources that includes some control from the center (church)? His comments should not be considered dismissive. Charge the delivery (choice of words) to head and not heart. We should TRY to see this as an opportunity to do more. Together we can do more.
So you’re dismissing actually listening to the people in the areas he’s moving to affect… that is unwise and I suggest you read all the news surrounding the issue beyond the open letter… the problem was that it was not inclusive – other faith leaders were not given a seat at the table – hence the frustrations
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What color is the love of God? Should we refuse help that is offered in the name of Jesus? A cup of water in my name, isn’t that what Jesus said we should do? I don’t believe that Mayor Woodfin or Pastor Hodges were responsible for the plight of so many citizens of our fair city, so why would you feel they are somehow being high handed in their efforts to help lift up a downtrodden area in our community? Put the blame where it is deserved, but don’t try and hinder the efforts of the good Mayor and the leader of a church willing to go into one of our communities to try and alleviate the paralysis of poverty, drugs and criminal activity that has gone on for so many years. A new beginning has to start somewhere and sometime, isn’t this a good time and place for both?
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Ronny, brother, I appreciate your sentiments. Read again the letter. I pointed to bad public policy, bad legislation, and bad theology as the culprits in the current crises in our communities – we can talk about the demographic responsible for maintaining regressive policies at another time. But that being said, I did not speak in anyway of refusing help – I have great relationships with a broad array of churches and para-church organizations across our city. What I have taken specific issue with is how Pastor Hodges and Mayor Woodfin conspired to enter a community without engaging the people who are already there. It is paternalistic and condescending and it is more of the same mentality that helped to create the current environment. I am not speaking as a bystander – I have personal interactions with COTH as they entered North Avondale – I have my receipts, sir. We certainly can begin again, but we must consider the mistakes made in the past so we do not repeat them. That is why I raised my voice and spoke out. Hopeful that what I experienced in Avondale would not be repeated on the West side of Birmingham. I’ve reached out to our Mayor privately and was unable to gain audience. The open letter was an attempt to further the conversation – not derail it. You misread my intentions. You’d be happy to know, however, that we have gotten some traction and it looks like we will be having a conversation soon. Thanks for taking time to engage. We may not agree on the approach, but I do sense that we are on the same team. God bless you.
So both white flight AND white re-engagement are objectionable?
Whites clearly sinned for hundreds of years, in racism, Jim Crowe, Dred Scott, and a dozen other ways of NOT seeing the image of God fully in people of color. And Christ set a pattern or forgiveness. To find out if their repentance is real, you gotta talk to them (Highlands) not post open letters
Phil 1: 15 – 18
You didn’t read the contextual articles – I have talked with COTH staff – directly and was dismissed- I have my receipts, sir! Reading is fundamental – save your chastisements and scripture quoting…
Thank you for writing this. As a white person, I’m ashamed at the response that white people have had. I hope and pray that this post will open the minds and the hearts of those who’ve been ignorant. God bless you and your ministry!