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Complicating the Great Reformation: Dialectical Theology (Part 11 of many)

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There was a Great Reformation of Unitarian Universalism beginning in the early 1970's. In my previous post, I ascribed this to the empowerment of women as both professional religious leaders and in lay leadership in congregations. I think that my view would be widely supported.

I want to complicate the question from three directions.

One is to ask about the relationship between that development and the Black Empowerment Controversy that preceded it in time.

Looking back to this history through the lens of intersectionality, we should not so easily separate the black rebellion against white racism in the UUA from the women's rebellion against patriarchy in the UUA. These may look like two different movements but they were struggling against a single entity, a white supremacist patriarchy, the generations of white men who owned and controlled the institutions of liberal religion.  Who were the black women in those struggles and how did they see the UUA at the time? How would our…

The Great Reformation (Dialectical Theology, Part 10 of many)

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Women. Women remade Unitarian Universalism from the early 70's on. That process is still going on.
I can't recount that history; I just want to more accurately frame it. The transformation has been so big, so comprehensive, that it is hard to see. Like the weather and climate: people see the blizzards, the drought and the storms, but can't see the magnitude of the ongoing change.

Women were marginalized in Unitarian Universalism before the 70's. They contributed most of the volunteer labor that sustained the congregations, and all the denominational structures. UUism was no different, in that regard, from most religious denominations. But women were not the ministers, and not at the highest level of denominational leadership. But in process that took decades, women rose to leadership. Not just in the professional ministry, but in lay leadership of local congregations.

Unitarian Universalist theology, liturgy and hymnody were radically changed:
Whereas the main themes of …

The DNA always carries on (Dialectical Theology, Part 9 of Many)

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If you have not yet read Mark Morrison-Reed’s history of the Black Empowerment Controversy, do so as soon as possible.

Is there any period of time when the interplay of historical developments outside of Unitarian Universalism and its own history were more clear?

The rise of the Black Power movement was a mortal danger to the Unitarian Universalism that was formed in 1961. Racial Liberalism (integrationist, color-blind, universalist) was at the center of its public ministry, and its public ministry was at the heart of its mission. Public ministry had to be because the new denomination had punted on theology and liturgy because of the unresolved conflict between humanists and theists.


Reading Morrison-Reed, what struck me was the good faith effort that the UUA made to respond to the demands of the Black Affairs Council. But it could not let go of its racial liberalism, as evidenced by its unwillingness to stop funding of Black and White Action (BAWA). And that was the breaking po…

Reflection on Merger (Dialectical Theology Part 8 of many)

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I wonder if the UUA's stuckness on race isn't built into our DNA, established at the time of merger. As I have mentioned before, our formation came in a particular time of history (1961) and at a particular time in the development of liberal religion. 

Religious liberals were polarized between theists and humanists, and as a consequence turned toward public ministry as a way to unify.

At that point in time, the early 1960's, Racial Liberalism was the prevailing social vision. (Racial Liberalism can be defined as Integration and the minimization of racial difference. Color-blindness as a goal.)

In the absence of deeper theological unity, Racial Liberalism became the practical embodiment of Universalism, what we understood ourselves to be. Not just what we believed, but what we were.

You can see it in the shocked white response to the formation of black-only UU organizations in the late 1960's.  Race-based caucusing was seen to a violation of something fundamental about…

What's In Our DNA (Dialectical Theology, part 7 of many)

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The institutional DNA of the Unitarian Universalist Association was established at the time of merger. (I am talking about the UUA, not individual congregations, or this larger thing of the "liberal religious tradition in the USA")

I see three governing assumptions that come down from the time of merger.

(1) We are going to be bigger. The merger generation assumed that we were poised to become the religious movement that captured the emerging new consensus: progressive, modernist, liberal, cosmopolitan, tolerant. Millions of people were coming our way; our work was to make them room.

The problem with the assumption that we are the verge of growth is that it has created a recurring frustration, a nagging "what is wrong with us?" bouncing around in our collective heads.

(2) The merger generation thought that public ministry was our most important work. The President would be our public spokesperson, and their ideal ministry setting was the steps of the Capitol.

The …