We are just now coming out of this period. There is an awakening of the liberal spirit going on in the culture; the rapid turn on marriage equality is a sign of the times.
We have emerged from the wilderness with one question still stuck on our mind: what is wrong with us? What is wrong with us that we have not grown?
Get a group of UU's started on the question of "what is wrong with us?". There will be no shortages of suggestions. I have found it hard to get UU's to seriously discuss any question other than what is wrong with us.
We are ashamed of ourselves. That is hard to hear, I know. But think about it: what else can you say about someone who is obsessed with the question: what's wrong with me? Why can I not live up to my potential?
Our shame is so great that we split it into two different emotions. One is grandiosity. Officially, we believe that Unitarian Universalism is the bestest, coolest, most wonderful religion possible in the whole wide world. We are completely different from everybody else, what Peacebang calls our "terminal uniqueness". The Uncommon Denomination, etc. And our good news for the world is that everyone can join us. As wonderful as we are, we would welcome you, too. So one side of our coping strategy for our shame is adopt our potential as our reality.
The other piece of our coping strategy is project the shame onto some other group of UU's, whom we blame for what's wrong with us.
Maybe it's the old humanists who prevent us from expressing our spirituality. Maybe it's the traditionalists who make us look like mainline Protestants. Maybe it's political activists who make us look like the Chaplain corps of the Democratic Party. Some people make us look "fringy" and others make us look too "crunchy". It could be the music directors with their organ solos, or maybe it's all that "happy, clappy music." Some people are too individualistic and some are too consumeristic.
We would like to welcome all, but we would also like to get rid of some that we already have, or at least, minimize their influence.
The one thing that almost UU's agree upon is that there is a shadowy cabal of elite UU insiders, mostly in Boston, who run everything for their own benefit. It's so inconvenient that whenever you meet one of this insiders that they turn out to be a good person trying to do their best in a difficult situation.
I do not dismiss the issues of governance that been the topic of UU conversation ever since the contentious relationship between the Board and the Administration was made so obvious by the $500 hammer of the $100K consultancy approved at the last Board meeting. Denominations need to be governed well, with a Board and a staff working together, in proper role clarity, to achieve the envisioned work of the body.
But good governance will not save a religious movement that is obsessed with a bad question. And "What is Wrong with Us?' is the most awful question imaginable. A shame-obsessed denomination will inevitably turn its governance efforts into devising systems to keep the wrong people from doing stuff they shouldn't do.
My suspicion is that the work of devising good governance for the UUA is complicated by contrary views of who are the reformers and who are the insiders.
The question that ought to be foremost in our thinking is this: what can we do to nurture and develop open-hearted, reverent, fair-minded, self-possessed, generous and grateful people. How do we persuade people to place these values at the center of their lives? How do we encourage children and youth to live out these virtues? How do perform communal rituals that call people back to these virtues when they fail them? How do we make it possible for people to recommit themselves to a life of liberalism on a daily or weekly or monthly basis?
We are evangelists of the liberal spirit. Our mission is to change people by inspiring them to place the values of liberalism at the center of their lives. We are doing it now. Doing it better will result in growth soon enough. What matters more is our growth as a denomination past the shadowy shame habits we picked up in the wilderness.