Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Independent Affiliate mystery deepens

Along with a couple of other leaders of the UUCF, I went to a networking discussion convened by Gini Courter, UUA Moderator, about the Independent Affiliate question. Also at the meeting were leaders of the UU Buddhist Fellowship, one or more the Humanist organization, a leader of CUUPS, a leader of UU for Jewish Awareness, some from the Psi Symposium and a leader of the newish Mystics group.

While the Board was not meeting to vote on most of our IA statuses, it was pretty clearly telegraphed that they would be denied. And it was made abundantly clear that the meeting did not have the purpose of discussing, defending, justifying, or explaining those pending decisions of the Board. In fact, Gini Courter made it clear that given the demands on her time at GA, just convening this meeting was a powerful act of generosity and graciousness.

I like Gini Courter and think that she is doing a good job. Sometimes doing so requires a significantly greater degree of intentionality than other times, but I do my best.

So, without that discussion, clues as to the actual real motivation behind the decision to cull the herd of IA's were not thick on the ground.

Gini's strong suggestion was that we in that room ought to join ourselves into an umbrella organization and apply as that body as an IA. (Various names for such a group have been suggested by wags and visionaries since: my suggestion was that it would be called, "the amalgamated organization of hyphenated, and therefore, not real, UU's" Excessively snarky, I suppose. Another person, much wiser, suggested calling ourselves "The Council of the Sources" which has some real merit.) Gini seemed to think that this organization of organizations could play a positive role in providing some of the content for lay theological education.

But why cull the herd of IA's if that is the goal? The UUA could fund and encourage IA's developing materials for lay theological education in the current situation if they want to.

Another point was made that many of the IA's do the same kind of work, and so could benefit from consolidation in that it would reduce duplication of effort. A parallel was drawn between the many IA's devoted to political or social causes, which could benefit from "making connections between contradictions" as we used to say, back in the day. But providing specifically Jewish, or Humanist, or Pagan or Christian content is not an interchangeable function, done by the interchangeable people.

And why does the Board care if IA's are duplicating efforts between themselves and not being maximally efficient with our resources? Don't they have enough to do managing the UUA itself?

These supposed benefits of consolidating the theologically based IA's into one body may or may not be true, but I think that it is clear that they are not the Board's underlying motive, which has still not been explained.

The UUCF will survive and thrive no matter what its official status is. I raise this issue, and raise it again and again, because of the lack of honesty and transparency that surrounds this issue. It is a mystery, and there should not be this kind of mystery at all.

4 comments:

Lance said...

Greetings,

This is one Pagan who agrees with you 100%. The lack of transparency on this issue is deeply troubling.

I hope the Board decides to share more of their thinking on the IA issue.

Jaume said...

I feel happy and encouraged by the direction that the UUA seems to be taking lately with this downsizing of independent affiliates, and particularly with those of confessional nature. UU is a non-creedal religious association, not an interfaith council or a collection of creedal organizations. I guess that creedal UUs would do well in finding ways to cooperate among themselves and find paths to unity above their confessionalism.

Joel Monka said...

Jaume, there is a big difference between a non-creedal organization, and an organization that does not permit personal credo. There seems to be a strong contingent within UU that feels that if you're going to believe in something, you don't belong in the UUA- I remember well being told by a fellow congregant who saw me silently saying grace over a meal that I would be happier in another denomination. I had always thought we were united by covenanted values and behaviors- if I share those, do my Pagan beliefs disqualify me? And if I'm permitted to stay despite being a thiest, am I not permitted to declare my personal credo? The dissafilitaion of the CUUPs and other theist groups seems like the UUA is adopting a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding personal faith!

Terry said...

UUA's Board has failed badly in this effort, regardless of their motives.

The fact that so many are second guessing as yet unexplained motives, and answers aren't yet forthcoming to questions which should have been very clear before such changes were ever implemented, shows a failure to use a responsible leadership process.

As someone who'd likely not be involved in UU-ism were it not for clear pagan support, plus hosting of SIG's within specific fellowships over many years, I view UUA itself as very broken if it tries to reject or create new artificial barriers as a common home to many different factions, perhaps setting limits only for those religious supremacists whose dogma is that none other can be valid. That calls for being inclusive of ideologies and practices other UU's disdain or find weird or simply don't understand, including at times poly's, BDSM'ers or naturists as religionists or as part of some pagan and other paths (but not mere recreation), and everyone else whose social justice qualifies for religious rights protections under 3rd Circuit prison vegan diet and EEOC/Supreme Court defined tests (cited in 29 CFR 1605.1). It also calls for being honest in evaluating doctrines of potential IA's, where some like CUUPS are poly-pantheistic such that it's dishonest to pretend UU pagans even share a singular theology, whereas some state Universalist convocations assert a specific monotheistic creed, adding one line after stating that as their central purpose which disclaims any obligation to be guided by that creed. If anything, the benefits of most UU's being intelligent and educated results in challenges when that's sometimes applied to treacherous dances around hypocrisy.

Making such distinctions accurately and honestly is not always simple or convenient, while doing so requires in effect telling some UU's with deeply held prejudices that it's their challenge to deal with whatever might be their own baggage (though providing education and skills development for such people is a broad and ongoing need for many UU's, because of our larger society). Bureaucratic inconvenience for leaders is not an acceptable justification for changes such as this, nor is positioning UU-ism to more easily market itself in a society with many common prejudices which conflict with the precarious relationships UU Principles obligate respecting side by side.

Based on census cited surveys, about 700,000 people actively identify with UU-ism, whereas only about 200,000 are official audited UU book signing members. That suggests far more people view UU-ism as a "safe haven" for sharing other primary religious identities, than personally view themselves first and foremost as UU's. That is exactly the reverse of many churches, which sign on people posthumously, or retain as if members persons never practicing that sect's path but signed on at birth. If speculation of extortion and bullying by a few large fellowships with leaders who disdain and demonize ethical and for many healthy path elements and practices of other UU's is accurate, it could be far healthier for UUA to let those fellowships unaffiliate themselves, than to send a de facto message to the majority of people practicing as UU's without signing the book that they're now officially declared second class UU's.

If we instead assume the UUA Board is acting on more positive vision for UUA's direction (though I suspect a mix of that, sloppy process, and some malicious elements all present), how might this have been better implemented?

It raises a red flag to me that a local smaller fellowship President attended GA, and came home with no concept that this IA change was an issue currently. In a "bottom up" organization, that suggests an arrogant top down control over intent by misguided leaders. Might we leave that for some organization with a UN seat, and history of operating armies and engaging in genocides antithetical to UU values, not to mention billions spent more recently covering for child molesters?

UUA could have released a draft policy rather than news of a secret interpretation based change. That could have allowed review and feedback from affected IA's and others considering becoming such, as to whether or how they might change to comply with new standards, decide not to do so, or request UUA reconsider some details. Then, after any further review, new policy could have been implemented with a phase in period and temporary grandfathering of existing IA's, so as to allow many volunteers to deal with changes proactively rather than by playing catch up after being cut off, before so much as knowing exactly why, or possibly in some cases based on questionable assumptions (eg, "single theology" for a family of many compatible theologies, some as different as Asatru, Strega, Santeria, Wicca, and Scientific Pantheism).

This is not just an issue of how IA's interact with UUA, or GA schedules which most UU's never attend. It sets a model for what "embrace diversity", or the precarious balance of being inclusive versus hypocritical censorship of controversial ideas and practices some dislike for marketing purposes, mean as reflected toward local fellowships. If the UUA vision is one of a pseudo-creedal mandate to place UU-identity ahead of inclusion of individual paths, or one of organizational management convenience ahead of the challenges of honoring UU Principles to embrace diversity, those choices could be just as problematic as if there is underlying malicious intent to cater to bullies or institutionalized hypocrisy that only faces of diversity found comfortable by leaders qualify as real UU-ism.