Baptized in Tear Gas

From White Moderate to Abolitionist

Baptized in Tear Gas

From White Moderate to Abolitionist

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For years Elle Dowd considered herself an advocate for justice, but her well-meaning support always took a back burner to what Martin Luther King Jr. called the tension-free, ordered "negative peace" of white moderates. Then Michael Brown, a Black man, was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent Uprising changed everything.

In Baptized in Tear Gas, minister and activist Elle Dowd tells the gripping story of her transformation into an Assata Shakur-reading, courthouse-occupying abolitionist with an arrest record, hungry for the revolution. Thanks to deep relationships with people in Ferguson and St. Louis, and to experiencing a fraction of the system for herself--including the fear of rubber bullets, the shock of sound cannons, and running from tear gas--Dowd fully committed to the work of anti-racism and abolition. Now she wants to help other white allies do the same.

Like in baptism, this transformation requires parts of us to die: our lack of power analysis, our commitment to white niceness, our tone policing, our respectability politics--all of those impulses we have been socialized by since birth must die so that something new can be resurrected in our lives and in the world. The uprising in Ferguson changed Dowd, and through it, God made her into something new.

Now it's our turn.


"Elle Dowd is the only white writer I have ever encountered in this weird space of progressive Christianity talking to her cousins about their sin of racism who isn't making a dime from her book--100 percent of every dime she makes off this book goes back to the community she learned from. That's the best--but far from the only--reason to listen to her or buy this book."

Lenny Duncan, author of United States of Grace and Dear Church

"Baptized in Tear Gas is a powerful and honest reflection rooted in equipping others with the skills and tools to engage in transformative change."

DeRay Mckesson, civil rights activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero

"In Elle Dowd's transformative memoir, we see that the grueling fight to uproot white supremacy--christened and propagated by no less than our own church fathers--is indeed holy work. Dowd is baptized in tear gas, purified by truth, and willing to wake us up from our sleep."

Brenda Marie Davies, creator of God Is Grey and author of On Her Knees: Memoir of a Prayerful Jezebel

"White people explaining abolition to other white people is part of the work. I'm thankful to have this book as a part of my arsenal that I can recommend to other white folks working through issues of police and prison abolition."

Emily Joy Allison, author of #ChurchToo: How Purity Culture Upholds Abuse and How to FindHealing

"In the ever-sharpening glare of white supremacy, Dowd casts a vision for a transformed people and church, showing by example how we can move past Dr. King's 'white moderate into a faithful body willing to confront our own complicity and challenge the lies of American racism."

Emmy Kegler, author of All Who Are Weary and One Coin Found

"Elle Dowd writes with a sober clarity about the demon of white supremacy in a way few white people have. Baptized in Tear Gas is a primer for those of us who are white and seek a better world."

Jason Chesnut, co-founder of The Slate Project and filmmaker with ANKOSfilms

"In 2014 I watched as the Ferguson Uprising unfolded on my phone screen through Elle's Facebook posts. Her ability to communicate what was happening, both through her posts and through this book, helped me shift from denial and fragility to action."

Dani Bruflodt, creator of The Daily Page Planner

"While many books convict and educate white Christians about white supremacy, racial capitalism, and anti-Black racism, Baptized in Tear Gas compels and equips you to do something about these matters."

The Rev. Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, California

"This book is a much-needed addition to the antiracist conversation, one that moves white folks beyond basics to a passionate belief in abolition and liberation. Elle Dowd is the real deal."

Father Shannon TL Kearns and Brian G. Murphy, co-founders of

"If you are a white person of faith wrestling with the state-sanctioned violence you witness in the streets of America, this book is a must-read. Dowd's stories and theological insights will steel our resolve for the next time we demand justice and are met with tear gas, white supremacist hatred, and our own insecurities."

Nathan Roberts, pastor and community organizer in Minneapolis, editor of The Salt Collective magazine, and author of two books

"The opposite of protest tourism, Baptized in Tear Gas powerfully excavates the chamber of the human heart where joy, hope, and faith collide with fear, propelling a young minister out into the streets to learn anew what the gospel demands."

Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman, author of Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know about Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity

"I celebrate Rev. Elle Dowd's Baptized in Tear Gas for its daring audacity to confront the insidious white moderatism among folk who've been the ultimate provocateurs of oppression since 1619. Submerge yourself in the divine waters of these pages, repentant and reignited to enter(as Jesus did after his baptism) the wilderness of authentic, anti-capitalistic justice activism."

Danielle J. Buhuro, author of Spiritual Care in an Age of #BlackLivesMatter: Examining theSpiritual and Prophetic Needs of African Americans in a Violent America

"If you're a white Christian and you find yourself on the sidelines quietly lamenting another story of racist violence, go read Baptized in Tear Gas. It'll get you off the bench. There's an abolitionist inside you. Dowd will help you find them."

Peter Jarrett-Schell, head pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church, Washington, DC


"Captivating. This book inspires readers to join her in the harrowing and holy work of traveling along the road away from White modera­tion and toward abolition."
Christian Century

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Chapter 1: Pulling Back the Veil
Chapter 2: Releasing Control
Chapter 3: Tension
Chapter 4: The Stakes
Chapter 5: Endurance as Resistance
Chapter 6: Community Care as Resistance
Chapter 7: Joy as Resistance
Chapter 8: The Cost
Chapter 9: Transformation

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506470429
  • eBook ISBN 9781506470436
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 158
  • Publication Date August 10, 2021