Frank Talk

I have teed off on the Kum-Ba-Ya Campaign as part of a general atmosphere which discourages frank talk within the Association about the Association.

For example: I had a brief talk with Gini Courter in one of those GA parties about a history of competing theories about UUA governance. There's a "Weak President/Strong Board" approach and a "Strong President/Weak Board" approach.

Who knew?

Just as an exercise in beginning to map out the politics of the UUA, do the following:

1. Rank the following groups in terms of their political power in the UUAoC. The Board of Trustees, The Moderator, The UUA President, the Staff, The UUMA Exec, The Senior Ministers of the Largest Churches, the Ministers of Mid-size and Small Churches, The regular GA attendees, the body of ARAOM activists, the District Boards, The Large Donors.

2. What do you think each of the groups named above want for the UUA, beyond finding the unicorns of growth, abundance and relevance?

3. Who are you? What do you want?


  1. Where to the "old boys" fit in?

  2. Who are the "old boys"? Define them and rank them.

  3. "There's a "Weak President/Strong Board" approach and a "Strong President/Weak Board" approach."

    "Who knew?"

    Rev. Will Saunders? :-)

  4. I don't know. I've only heard reference to them. I assume they're scatter those institutions you list.

    My UU world is pretty narrow. My Church, my old Church, the UU Mag, and now blogs.

  5. scattered among those institions you list I mean...

  6. There are different "political powers": the power to shape programs and services; the power to set the agenda of the General Assembly; the power to shape new ministers; the power to fund new initiatives; the power to persuade (through speeches, books, and other media); etc. They overlap, but different groups exercise different powers, serve different constituencies, and hold different levers. I would find them hard to compare, unless I knew what kind of power most interests you.

    If "political power" is defined as the power to determine outcomes at the General Assembly (where our voting takes place), then I'd list the President, Moderator, the GA Planning Committee, the Commission on Social Witness, and certain staff groups as powerful. (I wouldn't presume to rank them.) But it isn't clear to me that the power of the General Assembly is the same thing as the power to shape local or denominational futures.

    In general, I'd say the more powerful groups shaping the direction of Unitarian Universalism are:

    • Large donors and the web of volunteers/trustees who focus on the vitality of major UU institutions (the UUA, the seminaries, largest churches, the UU Funding Panel, etc.). Consider the many ways that Denny Davidoff, to take one example, has helped shape everything from the UU Womens Federation and Church of the Larger Fellowship to Meadville Lombard, to say nothing of her time as Moderator or her current work in reconceptualizing the role of the General Assembly through the Fifth Principle Project. To be a player in this circle, you need connections and, usually, time and money.

    • The president, who can draw and focus attention in a way that no one else can, and who sets staff priorities.

    • The staff, who generate programs and offer services to congregations.

    • Ministers who have significant influence among their colleagues or through the media. Laurel Hallman, for example, seemed to have a great deal of influence among at least a certain segment of the UU clergy, but it was hard to see her influence extending much beyond that circle. Forrest Church, on the other hand, didn't seem to have much influence among his colleagues—but certainly has profoundly influenced how many UUs and others think about our religion because of his publishing and speaking roles.


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