The Direction We Ought to Be Going

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a “UU leader”: a term that has come to mean not only minister and lay elected officers but just about any one who cares about congregations enough to open the church’s mail. Which is fine, I suppose, if almost self-selecting. And this is the reason I’m doing “UU leadership” business out in the open.

There’s a document floating out there, the January 2004 Social Witness Panel Report, and dubbed, “The Direction We’re Going” that you can download as a PDF file at

It calls for a reform of the process by which the UUA, in General Assembly, makes public social witness statements. This is an issue that has bothered me for years. A welcome dose of truth comes in the third paragraph:

We feel that the current process is not engaged in sufficiently by congregations, either qualitatively or quantitatively, and we have recommended changes accordingly.

Another year is proposed to be added to the process, move amendments and word-smithing to the “mini-assemblies” and “we’re considering a new kind of witness, called ‘Public Policy Statements’ . . . “to allow the staff of the Association, as well as UUs and the publical generally, to know our policies on a given issue” rather than reviewing the legislative backlog.

I welcome this document, and wish it were less apologetic in tone because that only emboldens those who would want it dead. After all, it isn’t radical, but rather the status quo is the problem.

Allowing a handful of members in a handful of congregations steer the public politio-social witness of the Association has long been a troubling and undemocratic feature of our national polity. I believe it pains us as being further to the left than we are, and, for those who care about such things (left, right, and center) makes Unitarian Universalism either more or less polically appealing. The upshot is that there is, and increasingly becomes, a de facto political test for assimilation into congregational life. I wouldn’t mind so much, except that such effort is made Association-wide to ensure that there is no theological test for assimilation into congregational life. So, not only is there a bias towards the left, but (and this is what really burns me) a bias towards public politics and away from the publically theological. Theology, it seems, is what consenting Unitarian Universalists do in the privacy of their own homes. What a shame and a waste!

Of course, I think that part of the problem (and heritage) of liberal religion is the paternalistic desire to tell other people what to do. So why don’t we first talk to, or at least among, ourselves. I see some of this in the desire to lengthen and interiorize the process, and I certainly welcome that. Shouldn’t we speak to our own faults, and our our means of reconciling them, before laying a paper seige on the Congress, the White House, or Wall Street?

The resolutions adopted by the first Universalist convention, in 1790, were not policy declarations but recommendations and leading suggestions for how Universalists should live their lives.

That might be asking too much, but that’s the kind of radical reform I’d like to see. Until then, I endorse the recommendations of the Social Witness Panel.

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