Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

Church “Tethered to Supremacy Culture” Alleges Duke Divinity Professor

Paulina Song on August 11, 2021

“Everything is militarized, from police to surveillance to border patrol and beyond. The war machine is all around us,” warned Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, consulting professor at United Methodist Duke Divinity School and founder of the Activist Theology Project, an initiative which seeks to blend politics and faith and “bridge radical differences.”

The Boston University School of Theology, which’s also United Methodist, invited Henderson-Espinoza to speak for the Spring 2021 Lowell Lecture on April 21, a day after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd. Named one of the “10 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2018” by the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy institute, Henderson-Espinoza identifies as non-binary, trans, queer, and Latinx, and uses the pronouns “they/them.”

The topic of Henderson-Espinoza’s talk was “Composting Supremacy Culture: Stewarding Life-Affirming Systems in the Face of Today’s Norms.”

Henderson-Espinoza deliberately uses the term “composting,” a type of recycling that involves decomposing plants and food waste into organic matter to be used by other living things, as a metaphor for systemic change. According to Henderson-Espinoza, composting in an academic context “takes a holistic perspective and invites the whole of the system, whatever the system is, and doesn’t just dispose of the waste or the negative qualities, but uses all of what the system is comprised of and transforms it into something beneficial.”

The Duke Divinity School professor denounces academia and the “institutional church” as systems “tethered to supremacy culture” that need composting. Henderson-Espinoza defines supremacy as “the state or condition of being superior to all others in authority, power, or status.” Race, economics, and “the military war machine” make up the three pillars of supremacy culture.

Overcoming supremacy culture means “becoming imperceptible,” gaining “a sense of being free” and “not having to mask ourselves,” in relation to things like surveillance and racial profiling. Henderson-Espinoza takes this concept of imperceptibility from the work of Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze in their book Nomadology: The War Machine.

“Becoming imperceptible is the peak… of our search for liberation or being released from that which seems to be so good at dominating, confusing, and capturing our potential energy and capacities,” said the activist theologian. “We are all up against the militarized war machine.”

Henderson-Espinoza advocates for a “hard pivot” away from today’s systems rooted in “violence, supremacy, and accelerated harm,” and instead towards “life-affirming systems.”

Referencing a passage from Acts 2:44-45, which states that the believers had all things in common, Henderson-Espinoza questioned why Christians today do not do the same.

“We often hear things like holding all things in common as a model, proud to lean into a different system, and I want to suggest to us as Christians and as people of conscience, we might want to consider actually holding all things in common, not just as a useful metaphor, but our real pragmatic and ethical orientation that composts the bullshit we’re all facing and returns to some of the roots of our lineages.”

Henderson-Espinoza explained that many Christians in fact do not desire to hold all things in common, the reason being because “Whiteness and the culture of White supremacy breeds scarcity and breeds a kind of selfishness, and, you know, we actually don’t know how to share with one another, and we don’t know how to practice abundance.”

Henderson-Espinoza noted that a culture of “White supremacy and capitalism and violence” harms everyone, not just people of color. “White folks are also victims of White supremacy,” the professor insisted.

The violence embedded in Henderson-Espinoza’s idea of supremacy culture comes from an inability to properly relate to two things: power and freedom.

“As a result of not knowing how to be in relationship with those things, we don’t know how to be responsible agents in the world, which is why we get evangelical theology where a White man can have a bad day and go kill a handful of people,” Henderson-Espinoza asserted.

The scholar-activist called attention to the spiritual side of the war machine as well. “This is spiritual warfare. We have to be clear minded about this, and we have to have a discerning spirit to swim in these unclean waters. I don’t see a lot of people wanting to unbuckle their grasp on these systems which, by virtue then, our communities have no models to practice or to hold all things in common.”

Henderson-Espinoza stressed the importance of building models of life-affirming systems through stewarding ethical practices. “When we steward ethical practices, we are composting the bullshit otherwise known as supremacy culture.”

  1. Comment by Jeff on August 11, 2021 at 6:15 am

    Another floater in the Duke Div cesspool gets its fifteen minutes of fame. “Composting” indeed.

  2. Comment by Steve S. on August 11, 2021 at 6:46 am

    A couple of things…
    1- any academic that uses profanity to make their point should their degrees taken away. If they are not intelligent enough to use proper vocabulary, they are not intelligent enough to have their ideas listened to.

    2- Christians give more in charity than any other group, including governments, so I don’t understand this holding things in common.

    3- why is everything about race??

  3. Comment by Mike on August 11, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Her choice of words tells you all you need to know about her level of spirituality. My mother would have washed my mouth out with soap for using some of them.

    How does an unsaved heathen like her become known as a “consulting professor at United Methodist Duke Divinity School”? What does the term “United Methodist” stand for these days?

  4. Comment by But she supports the Democratic Party on August 11, 2021 at 9:17 am

    The interesting question to ask is ‘How are you going to change things?’ They will throw out all kinds of rhetoric, but the ultimate answer is going to be that they will use the power of government to enforce their view of the faith/world on others. Sadly, what she and others who are fellow travelers don’t understand is that they are only being used by the people who want to be real oppressors, to become the rulers.

    I wish she could be made mayor of a place like San Francisco or Chicago for a year, to see if she could actually affect some kind of positive change. My fear is that she would only make things much worse.

    If she ever sees her dreams fulfilled, she will discover she now lives in the North American version of Afghanistan, or maybe better put the government discussed in Revelation. Her statements are a tragedy.

  5. Comment by Steve on August 11, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Question: Will the GMC continue the relationship with the UMC’s seminaries? How many of the GBHEM “approved” seminaries employ professors that spew this stuff? If the GMC continues with that “approved” list, then how long until it schisms?

    Churches beware of who is appointed to lead you and where they got their theology!

  6. Comment by David S. on August 11, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    She and her kind in general are so inconsistent on their opinions regarding white people. First, white people are the oppressors of all mankind. Then, white people are victims in the perpetual victimhood of peoples, which is it? I would like to know.

  7. Comment by Tom on August 11, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    Steve has it exactly right. The Global Methodist Church should sever all affiliation with Duke and other seminaries that promote this sort of garbage.

    If need be, start your own. The PCUSA seminaries are all so bankrupt that many of us Presbyterians look to Reformed Theological Seminary for our pastors…and RTS now has more students than all PCUSA seminaries combined. You can do the same with the GMC.

  8. Comment by td on August 11, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    Wow. Our UMC really has decided that theology is about being provacative and not about being Christian. I understand having this person give a speech in the evening as part of a voluntary series of provacative speakers, but to have these ideas represent in any way, shape, or form the thoughts of christianity at a seminary is scandalous.

  9. Comment by Anthony on August 11, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    Just another example of what the psUMC will look like.

  10. Comment by Gary on August 11, 2021 at 8:47 pm

    This person is a pastor?

  11. Comment by Marc on August 12, 2021 at 12:06 pm


  12. Comment by Thomas F Neagle on August 12, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve also noticed the sheer banality and repetitiveness of these “woke” “theologians.” They all say exactly the same thing. It’s as if there’s some tape recorder that they all just parrot over and over and over again. I’ve yet to see any original idea or even any origial words from any of them.

  13. Comment by Skipper on August 12, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    Mark Fackler reminds us that immoral lifestyles have the power to destroy us physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. By living purely, we can avoid the shame, guilt, and all the other negative consequences that accompany an immoral lifestyle. How tragic this person is teaching at Duke Divinity School. Let us pray for her to see the truth, for her students, and this school.

  14. Comment by Bonnie on August 12, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    And this, my friends, is why the UM Church is losing members in droves….

  15. Comment by Brother Thom on August 13, 2021 at 9:19 am

    This nut job is absolutely indicative of the narrative and culture inside the UMC today. I have no ability to understand traditionalists’ tithing to a church that promotes such nonsense. It’s as if traditionalists are in a cult-like trance with a denomination rather than being focused on God.

    Stop supporting liberal-progressive ideology and withhold tithes and apportionments until the vote next year.

  16. Comment by Palamas on August 13, 2021 at 5:54 pm

    Well, isn’t that…boring and completely unoriginal. In fact, it sounds like she’s simply gotten her hands on the party platform of the CPUSA, and spouted it unreflectively.

  17. Comment by Kent B. on August 13, 2021 at 6:53 pm

    Sad. Very sad. And quite a distortion of scripture.

  18. Comment by Search4Truth on August 13, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    The sixth last word in the article says it all.

  19. Comment by Rebecca L. on August 13, 2021 at 10:31 pm

    Crazy is the new normal.

  20. Comment by Wayne on August 13, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Her language is not acceptable for a seminary professor, let alone any professing Christian. Let’s face it – the UMC is a hot mess now. I left the UMC three years ago and haven’t looked back. I only wish I did it sooner.

  21. Comment by Paul Zesewitz on August 14, 2021 at 1:39 am

    This seminary might better just go ahead and change their name to Woke Theological Seminary, having the likes of folks like her in a teaching position. Good grief.

  22. Comment by Donald on August 14, 2021 at 6:44 am

    So when is she (?) going to resign her faculty position and give all of her savings to the “poor, the oppressed and the marginalized?”

  23. Comment by Jim Lavender on August 14, 2021 at 7:42 am

    No one like this is capable of being a pastor. WHY is she lecturing future pastors?

  24. Comment by Bill on August 14, 2021 at 9:57 am

    How does a Christian leader ever choose to allow someone like this to rise to a power position of to have a platform from which to spout HER drivel? The Bible tells us that teachers will be held to a special account, and woe to them if they lead little ones astray. Pray that the Lord will work on her and all who support her nonsense.

  25. Comment by Ray on August 14, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Really? This is very similar to what a hippie would say in the 60’s when he’s ‘one toke over the line’.

  26. Comment by Mike Pinner on August 14, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    This excuse for an academic, much less “theologian” is a disgrace to the Duke Divinity School I graduated from in 1980. This pathetic loser could not pass a class taught by Thomas A. Langford, Dwight Moody Smith, W.D. Davies, or any of the other masterful academics I studied under at Duke. When I think about the fact that this wretched wannabe walks in the same classrooms as those mentioned above, it offends me to the core! Whomever hired her should be dismissed the same day they dismiss this woke pretender!

  27. Comment by Timothy on August 15, 2021 at 1:05 am

    The finger ‘tats’ on that person’s hand are interesting. A clue about that person’s other obsessions, perhaps? We’ve declined to the level that we need seasoned ‘street life’ translators to conduct interviews about the applicants’ tatoos and their meaning.

  28. Comment by chas c. on August 15, 2021 at 2:09 am

    What a total windbag

  29. Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary (ret. UM clergy) on August 15, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza credentials are quite suitable for a consulting professorship at BU School of Theology.

    In 1971, I attended another reputable UM Seminary (that will go unnamed) only to find myself in a class entitled “Church & Society” where we were shown a short phonographic video featuring graphic acts of homosexuality between (apparently) consenting males. It was positioned as a means to become more familiar with varying aspects of ‘society’.

    An older student, retired from a local media career, went apoplectic and informed the ‘administration’ of the event. No one was fired.

    Dr. Robyn offers nothing new. Just more Bovine Feces.

  30. Comment by Sam Dubberly on August 16, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Henderson- Espinoza’s theology is riddled with hate speak. She has obviously never heard of John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules: Do No Harm, Do Good & Stay In Love with God. Duke, please fire her, now.

  31. Comment by Mary Lou Longworth on August 17, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    Reconciliation is experienced by all people at the foot of the cross and in our new identity in Christ.

    And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” John 12:32

    And [He designed] to reconcile to God both [Jew and Gentile, united] in a single body by means of His cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end.
    Ephesians 2:16

    ‘life-affirming systems through stewarding ethical practices’ somehow lacks a spiritual understanding of what is needed for humanity to thrive.
    Nothing Born-Again happening here folks, . . . move along.

  32. Comment by Rev. DeWayne A. Duncan on August 26, 2021 at 7:50 am

    One of the primary issues to our seminary issues is, who hires the people that believe hiring people like this is beneficial to training leadership. Where are the seminaries’ donors in all this?

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