“The Gadfly Papers”

The controversy around the Rev. Todd Eklof, the minister of the host church for the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (UUA GA; #uuaga), is one I never thought I would see.

It hinges on his book The Gadfly Papers, which he was distributing for free at the GA. He and his books were removed following a Right Relations process. I’m still waiting for a formal report-out from the General Assembly.

Generally, the claims (I’ve seen no specific examples) are that his ideas and even the titles of his essays are so hurtful as to be intolerable. That’s something I never expected to see among Unitarian Universalists, but here we are. One such denunciation is from DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries) and another is from an ad-hoc group of white ministers, which I have seen but do not have a public link. (I’ll add it if and when it becomes available.) I have also seen individual statements from ministers on Facebook.

These claims map to the claims of harm attributed to the UUMA proposal response I co-wrote and signed. I am, so I hear, “being watched.” Again, is this Unitarian Universalism?

So I’m doing the most UU thing — or at least the most sensible — I can think of: read the book. You can order a copy here. I don’t promise to like it and will give my unvarnished review when I’m done, or perhaps after finishing each of the three essays depending on how it reads. I will look for what might be causing grief among its denouncers.

Update: I have found another denunciation, from the People of Color and Indigenous UUMA Chapter. It cites references to Christina Rivera in particular, and calls on the UUMA to enforce its guidelines, presumably disciplinary action against Todd Eklof.

 

Measure passed

Just to close the loop. The measure passed with the friendly amendment and now goes to the UUMA membership for a year of study.  I’ll keep the documents up for the record, since I’ve heard some rather outrageous interpretations of them and of the motives of those who signed.

I still stand by them, but the moment has passed, so moving on….

Prayers for GA

Let’s take a moment a pray for safe travels for those heading to Spokane for Ministry Days and General Assembly, for productive meetings and good-spirited companionship.

Proposed amendment to the UUMA Guidelines Proposal

June 14. Update. A revised proposed amendment has been accepted as a friendly amendment.

The Rev. Sarah Stewart has written a proposed amendment to the UUMA guidelines proposal. I hope this helps shape the discussion in conjuction with A UUMA Guidelines Proposal Response which I posted earlier. Further, she is in conversation with UUMA leaders about the best way to bring it forward.

Reprinted with permission.


June 14.

The following, prepared in conjunction with UUMA leadership and particularly UUMA president Cheryl M. Walker, will be entered as a friendly amendment.

Be it resolved that the membership of the UUMA shall study the proposed changes to the UUMA Guidelines published on May 1, 2019;

Be it further resolved that the following process shall be observed for the study period:

The UUMA board shall ensure that study materials are available to chapters in time for their fall 2019 meetings;

Study of the above proposal undertaken by chapters will be eligible for continuing education units;

The UUMA board and staff shall encourage robust discussion, including assent and dissent, over the course of the study period;

All comments and revisions shall be recorded and disclosed to UUMA members in an open and transparent way;

Edits and revisions to the current text shall be sent by chapters, individuals or groups of colleagues to the UUMA board by a deadline they shall establish in the spring of 2020;

And be it finally resolved that if these edits and revisions result in amendments which are substantially different from the above proposal, all such proposed amendments shall be enumerated and considered at the Annual Meeting of the UUMA in 2020, which shall choose a final draft a further year of study.

The former version follows:

Proposed amendment to the Code of Conduct revisions

UUMA Annual meeting
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Brought by Sarah Stewart

Whereas the current Code of Conduct of the UUMA does not recognize differences of identity and social location among ministers, and whereas UU ministers have engaged in conduct unbecoming of a minister which our current guidelines have not been adequate to address,

Be it resolved that the membership of the UUMA shall study the proposed changes to the UUMA Code of Conduct published on May 1, 2019;

Be it further resolved that the following process shall be observed for the study period:

    • The UUMA executive committee shall ensure that study materials are available to chapters no later than September 15, 2019. Study undertaken by chapters will be eligible for continuing education units;
    • Edits and revisions to the current text shall be sent by chapters or individuals to the UUMA exec no later than March 15, 2020;
    • Alternative proposals to the current text shall be signed by no fewer than 100 UUMA members and submitted to the UUMA exec no later than March 15, 2020;
    • The various options which emerge from this process shall be published to UUMA members by April 15, 2020 for a straw vote at Ministry Days 2020. The UUMA exec may combine very similar proposals into one for the purposes of this vote;
    • If no substantial revisions or alternative proposals have been received, a final vote on the above changes to the Code of Conduct shall be in order at Ministry Days 2020;
    • If there is more than one proposal, a vote shall be held among them at Ministry Days 2020, to choose a final draft for a year of study.

The UUMA exec shall provide a process for the 2020-21 year of study. A final vote to adopt or not adopt the final draft changes shall be in order at Ministry Days 2021;

And be it further resolved that while major revisions to the Code of Conduct are under consideration for the study period of one or two years, the UUMA shall not recommend any changes on the connection between fellowship and membership in the UUMA.

What I’m doing this Memorial Day weekend (not writing about the UUMA)

I’m going to spend the long weekend not writing about the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

After all,

I won’t be writing about the following, which is in no way exhaustive:

  • Proposals that confuse and conflate congregational and ministerial interests;
  • Plans that will embolden cranks to make specious or ideologically-driven charges against ministers (and sucking away energy to find genuine misconductors);
  • How this will cause ministers to self-censor, withdraw from public life, grow suspicious and adopt other damaging habits;
  • How UUMA membership should not obligatory, and if it produced something of greater value, it wouldn’t have to lock ministers into it;
  • Or how “hard cases make bad law.”

I will write about the UUMA and the UUA proposals next week, and in weeks to come. Unless other ministers speak my mind before me, in which case I’ll link from here.

What I pledged at my ordination

Twenty years ago this September, Canon Universalist Church, Canon, Georgia ordained me to the Ministry of the Gospel. That day I made this pledge:

Friends: With a deep sense of responsibility, trusting not in my own strength, but in the grace and power of God, I take up the ministry to which you ordain me. I do pledge myself, so far as in me lies, to maintain the freedom of this pulpit; to speak the truth in love, both publicly and privately, without fear of persons; diligently to fulfill the several offices of worship, instruction and administration, according to the customs of this congregation and fellowship; and in all things so to live as to promote piety and righteousness, peace and love among this people and with all humanity.

I’ve thought quite a bit about that pledge and my responsibilities, not the least of which to our religious traditions and the ministerial college. A vague comment, I admit, but one that will be more clear in the next couple of weeks as start working some things out in public.

UUA membership updates

The April UUA Board meeting packet was published today and the changes in congregational status report was longer than usual. Apart from name changes and two congregations becoming “covenanted communities” (it’s never been clear what that means) there’s this news:

NEW CONGREGATION:

Tapestry UU (Cong ID #7817), Houston, TX, … Separated from 1stUU Church of Houston multisite and became an independent congregation.

DISSOLVED CONGREGATIONS:

Original Blessings, Brooklyn, NY dissolved 3/17/2019.
All Souls UU Community, WA dissolved 9/10/2018.

It’s more accurate to say that the Tapestry Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston has re-asserted its independence by recently  coming out of a federation, even if we usually think of federations as being across denominations; after all, according to its own site, it was

originally founded in 1995 as Northwest Community Unitarian Universalist Church (NWCUUC). In December 2011, the Church merged with First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston (First UU), and its name was changed to the Copperfield Campus, and later the Tapestry Campus, of First UU.

As for those congregations that disbanded — I don’t have the heart to say dissolved, as if they were dropped in a vat of acid — let’s pause to note what’s gone.

I wrote about Original Blessing (not Blessings) just before it joined the UUA five years ago, and without belaboring the point, it’s disturbing to see one of the very few new congregations to organize in recent years disband. Their charming website is gone but — if you go to Archive.org — is not forgotten.

Founded in 1999, the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Community was until recently one of two Unitarian Universalist churches in Olympia, Washington (or in the nearby suburb of Lacey), and by far the smaller of the two. In 2009, for instance, it reported 24 members. Here’s an archive of their site from 2013; by 2014, the site’s domain had become a site for unrelated advertising.

Best wishes to all involved in what the future holds.

Large list of non-contributing churches

I wasn’t going to write about the certification of UUA congregations because I didn’t think it would do any good. But one thing stuck out when I looked at the certification list — which closed on February 1 — so a few words.

I was struck by how many congregations gave no money to the UUA.

There are always some: very small or fragile ones, for instance, and I’ve noticed that Christian and Pagan congregations are over-represented. I read that as alienation, discontent with services provided or not provided and perhaps more. Non-contributing is one of the things that keeps you from having voting representation at General Assembly (big deal) so, the UUA isn’t truly being punitive for publishing this list. But I’m sure peer pressure plays into the calculus (good luck with that) — and besides, showing displeasure goes both ways.

What makes this year different is the number of non-fragile, non-tiny, middle-of-the-road congregations on the list. More than I’ve ever seen before. Not that the UUA has been the easiest to defend lately, at least on financial grounds. I can imagine the calculus of giving nothing to the UUA as opposed to planning for strategic spending or making up for losses. The UUA is a hard sell, especially as it becomes harder and harder to identify what one gets for the money. Who might be emboldened by that list, rather than embarrassed?

Many people I know have fallen for Marie Kondo’s method of de-cluttering, and her signal question, “Does it spark joy?” The list suggests that, for some at least, the UUA doesn’t.

New congregations to join the UUA?

I had been waiting for the UUA Board agenda and packet for their meetings that surround General Assembly; they published them last night.

Why? To see what great things the UUA is planning? No. Something simpler. Will there be a new member congregation celebrated at General Assembly? Not that many years ago, welcoming new congregations was quite the event. Pictures of smiling faces, maps pointing out the new starts and delegations on stage. Then fewer. Then one. Last year, none.

The last congregation to join the UUA was two years ago, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Benton County, Bentonville, Arkansas. Meanwhile a few others, all very small, have since disbanded or disaffiliated. I have my opinions why this is the case, and no, the covenanted communities aren’t a replacement, but I’m not keen on shouting into the wind.

Instead, I’ll say thank you to the people of the recently-disbanded Peter Cooper Fellowship, Memphis, Tennessee (as noted in the packet) and wish them well for whatever the future brings.

Thoughts about the UUA #8, Money

I’ll wrap up this series tighter than I like so I can move on.

I don’t like how the Unitarian Universalist Association spends money, and the common “that’s scarcity thinking” line reads as self-serving. I’ve been reading and thinking about the Effective Altruism movement, which advocates making change though the most effective and tested means. It’s not sentimental, nor should it be, if wasted time, money, patience and effort risks the lives of the world’s most poor. Even wasted on the merely good, when we can support the exceptionally good.

It’s as much an accident of the tax code as anything that lumps churches in with these charities, but since so much of American charitable giving goes into our churches and denominations, their work must be scrutinized. Not so far as saying no money for churches before the end of extreme global poverty, but that equation remains in the background. At least, is the money well spent? Does it set out to fulfill the church’s mission? How do you know? These are questions for each church, too, but the answers would be too variable to make judgments here. (I also avoid meddling in the internal matters of churches.)

The problem with the Unitarian Universalist Association is that so much of its work today is focused on itself. As if the UUA is its own problem — and cure. The old liberal slogans are gone, the ones that pressed us to “the vital issues of the day”; the ones about religious liberty, international peace, even spiritual growth. So much of the external good work would happen without us, if ever so slightly smaller. If you read the board of trustee’s minutes and packets, you end up feeling like the UUA is itself a special and profound seat of sin. Why, then, give it money?

But my beef is the services that are gone. It will be fascinating to see if the five regions can do what the many districts once did, or were supposed to have done. Church planting was relegated to the districts and the pipeline of new churches has dried up. There has been no new church join the UUA in two years despite it being one of the primary purposes (as in Principles and Purposes) of the UUA. (See below.) No extension ministry program. No new hymnal in horizon. No national youth and young adult program.

Lacking competition and having the donors, the UUA has lost its way as a service provider. Unless it finds its way back, it can do without our money. Money and effort that can be applied to find an alternative.

From the UUA Bylaws, Section C-2-2 “The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”