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The Buried Narrative in the Sources Statement

In the 20th Century, the Liberal Protestant denominations of Unitarianism and Universalism were challenged from within by a Religious humanist movement which questioned the existence of the God of the Bible and the continued use of liturgies that directed worship to that Deity. The Humanist movement reflected the theological and philosophical trends in the intellectual culture of the times.

The Humanist challenge to traditional Unitarianism and Universalism took on a geographical and historical character. The Humanist congregations tend toward the West (meaning West of the Hudson River) while the Liberal Protestants were stronger among the older and more established churches of New England, many of which pre-dated the Unitarian controversy of the early 19th century.

The conflict, which became known as the humanist-theist conflict, was sharp and protracted. Congregations split, members left, ministers lost their careers, stained glass windows were removed or covered up, hymns re-writte…

More on the Sources

The main problem I see with the Sources is that they hide the theological dispute that has shaped contemporary Unitarian Universalism: the Humanist rebellion against liberal Protestantism, a historic event that happened throughout most of the 20th century.

As is true with all historic events, that Humanist Rebellion against Liberal Protestantism has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is a story. It is, to a large extent, our story.

By simply listing brief summations of Humanism and Theism as differing options on a menu of theological perspectives, the Sources statement don't explain how their clash threatened to split liberal religion, and how that clash was defused and partially resolved.

I won't retell the whole story of the conflict, but will remind everyone that it was not a silly conflict. It was a serious dispute over the nature of reality that would define the teachings and liturgy of our religious communities. A lot was at stake: churches gained and lost members, mi…

The Sources of our Living Tradition: A Critique

The Six Sources portion of our bylaws needs to be examined again. I think the Sources statement are a mess, more confusing and confused than wrong.

First of all, they are ahistorical. They do not describe the actual historical process of our formation. You would think that a "sources" statement would describe an intellectual history. There is a when and a where and a who behind each of these sources, which is not explained.

For example, our historical origin is in Protestant Christianity. Indeed, many of our churches were actual Protestant Christian churches for long periods of their history. It is also true that for many current Unitarian Universalists, their personal religious history begins in Christianity. Unitarian Universalism sprouted from a specific branch on the Christian family tree and our sources statement should be able to explain that.

One of our most important sources is the humanist movement of the 20th Century. The Sources statement bows to it in the Source …

The 8th Principle

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An Eighth Principle has been proposed.

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

The Eighth Principle brings to the level of our Principles the commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism that we first declared in a Resolution of Immediate Witness in 1994, and further as a Business Resolution in 1997.

The Principles are the statement of our common theology, which, by our many previous commitments, is necessarily a public theology. (As soon as the UU's began to say "Deeds, not Creeds" to describe our theological approach, we withdrew, as a body, from a common approach to the categories of traditional systematic theology.) Unitarian Universalist hold many diverse theological perspectives…

Recovenanting Task Force Report

People have asked where they could get a copy of the ReCovenanting Task Force Report. Until it is published in the proceedings of the GA, enjoy this copy of it in draft form. The actual delivery may have been slightly different.

Report of Re-Covenanting Task Force Delivered by Rev. Susan Ritchie, accompanied by Kathy Burek, Rev. David Miller and myself. General Assembly, New Orleans June 22, 2017
On October 15, 2015, Moderator Jim Key called for the Board to consider ‘how we might imagine moving from the notion of membership to covenant’.  
And, 
let’s imagine, rather than signing the book, people entered and were welcomed into a covenant that could be renewed periodically. Imagine if congregations entered and were welcomed into covenant with the larger association that would be renewed periodically. Perhaps this is an approach that would energize our movement….”
Jim Key proposed a Task Force, to be led by Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie to take up this initiative. We are that Task Force, and we a…

An Endorsement

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Water, as you know, freezes at 32F degrees. 
But if you look at a cup of water which measures 36F, it is liquid. 
At 35F, it is still liquid. 
At 34F, it is still liquid, and if you want an ice cube, you are getting impatient about now, wondering why nothing is happening. 
At 33F, you think there must be something wrong somewhere. It’s getting colder, nothing is changing, it seems. 
But, at 32F, there is rapid and dramatic change. Liquid becomes a solid. The water has been transformed. A long series of incremental, quantitative changes has brought about a qualitative transformation. 
Change is gradual and continuous, but often imperceptible. However, long periods of small changes finally culminate in a transformative moment, when something long submerged reveals itself, in what seems like a wink of an eye.  It feels like Unitarian Universalism is in the midst of one of the transformative moments of its history. 
Unitarian Universalism has always been a combination of competing impulses and as…

The mystery of Dating the posts

I have been asked to clarify the dates on which I posted my posts of appreciation of the UUA Presidential Candidates.

I published the first four posts -- the Big Picture post, and the three appreciations on 5/21. I published the endorsement on 5/30.

Upon the request of Susan Frederick Gray, I made two corrections to the appreciation of her: the first to clarify that she did not start running for the President of the UUA in 2012, but started thinking about running in 2012. The second was to clarify that her parents did not actually divorce in her younger years, but have stayed together after a difficult renegotiation of their marriage.

I received both of these requests before I made my endorsement of her, but made the corrections after her. Blogger persisted in listing the posts in reverse chronological order.

I have now learned how to keep my endorsement at the top of my blog by saying it was published in the future.






The Election of the UUA President -- Appreciating Susan Frederick Gray

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An Appreciation of Susan Frederick-Gray


Susan Frederick Gray started to think about running for President of the UUA after the Justice GA in 2012, because of her experience in planning that event.
She was at that the Minister of First Church in Phoenix and active in immigration issues prior to the passage of SB1070, Arizona's notorious "show me your papers" bill. She was active in the first wave of Unitarian Universalist denominational intervention in that struggle.

Participation in the Immigrant struggle meant Susan's worked with local groups and leaders from Arizona's immigrant communities. It also meant negotiating the various viewpoints of stakeholders in the UUA. Yet Justice GA was seen by all as a success. Her run for the President of the UUA is based on the authority of that experience.

Susan grew up in the Kirkwood, MO church were the Rev. John Robinson was her minister. That congregation was a source of peace and support during her parents' painful f…

The election of the UUA President -- The Big Picture

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I have been observing the UUA Presidential Election since it began.


In the beginning, I committed early to the candidacy of Sue Phillips, the New England Regional Lead. I had worked with Sue while I was on the Clara Barton District Board, and had come to appreciate her inspiring and enthusiastic presence, and her perspectives. 


But her candidacy ended before it could really get off the ground. It was too complicated to be both a Regional Lead on the UUA staff and a candidate at the same time, and she withdrew. 


I chose then to stay neutral in the race, to watch and observe, and to engage the remaining candidates in some interviews for this blog. To that end, I had two interviews each with the three candidates, interviewed each for the VUU, the Church of the Larger Fellowship sponsored video series. I also moderated a candidate forum for the New England Regional Ministers' Retreat, watched a live forum at the New England Regional Assembly and also watched, on video, the candidate foru…

The Election of the UUA President: Appreciating Jeanne Pupke

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An Appreciation of Jeanne Pupke

Jeanne Pupke comes to the campaign for the UUA President as an experienced and seasoned veteran of the UUA’s governance. She has served on the UUA’s Board of Trustees and been chair of the Board’s Finance Committee.

She has also served as the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia. In addition, she brings a wealth of other experience to her candidacy. She was a member of a Roman Catholic religious order, and then a business consultant, before she entered the Unitarian Universalist ministry. Jeanne is “savvy” and speaks with the authority of experience. Above all, I appreciate her experience and the tough mind it has given her.

When Jeanne is asked about the sources of her commitment to social justice, she answers first about the televised image of children beset by dogs in the Birmingham struggle in 1962. (I think that this is common of people of a certain age; those images are vivid in my mind, too.) The second …

The Election of the UUA President: Appreciating Alison Miller

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An Appreciation of Alison Miller 

Alison Miller is the Senior Minister of the UU Fellowship in Morristown, New Jersey. She is the only candidate chosen by the Presidential Search Committee who is still in the race. (For those of you who weren't paying attention many months ago, the other chosen candidate, Sue Phillips, withdrew her candidacy. Susan Frederick Gray was then urged to run, as she had been the third choice of the Search Committee. Jeanne Pupke is running through a nominating petition process.)

Alison Miller (like Susan Frederick Gray) is a child of Unitarian Universalism, having grown up in All Souls’ Church in New York City. 

She started working for Unitarian Universalism as a part-time sexton in her church as a youth, and she has worked for nearly three decades in a wide variety of projects and ministries as a lay and ordained leader.

She brings an astonishing breadth of experience to the campaign, having been involved with almost every sort of ministry that UU’s have b…

A UU General Conference

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The Board Task Force on Re-Covenanting has recommended that a General Conference be held sometime before the Fall of 2018. The recommendation is still just a sketch and not a detailed plan.

I am on that Task Force, but do not speak for it. These are ideas still in development.

I think that there are three concepts that are at the heart of the General Conference Proposal.

1. Mission Alignment.

The General Conference is not about governance; it is about mission alignment. (Rev. Ritchie brought the concept of mission alignment into our discussions. She was inspired by example of the American Baptists who see their discernment work as sitting around 'the mission table'.)

Every entity within Unitarian Universalism has a few purposes and a mission. I am not talking about mission as their idealistic aspirations, but the practical work that they do. The typical congregation has these missions: to conduct a weekly worship service, to teach UUism to their children and youth, to form and sust…

Calling for a UU General Conference (LINKS FIXED)

I have been serving on a UUA Board "Task Force on Re-Imagining Covenant."  For over a year, we have meeting to imagine a Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations defined by mutual commitment to shared values and each other. We have been looking for an alternative to present non-profit service provider/client relationship between congregations and the UUA. We have been looking for alternatives to the membership model of participation and toward a model of shared mission.

As we thought this over, it became clear to us that UU's needed to have a different kind of discussion and in a different kind of setting. Our report became a call for a forgotten kind of gathering: a General Conference.

Our task force presented our report to the UUA at the most recent Board meeting. Of course, in the aftermath of the resignation of one President and the appointment of three co-Presidents, our report did not receive much attention.

I am publishing our report here, so that anyon…

White Supremacy in Liberal Religion, particularly Unitarian Universalism

I posted this elsewhere; 


To break down white supremacy in the UU hiring context, it is an unspoken (but indefensible) assumption that because UUism is "predominantly white", UU religious leaders who are white will be more effective leaders, a better fit, more likely to be team players with the rest of the leadership and less likely to run into problems with our mostly white congregants and congregational leaders. 

It is also an assumption that investment in creating congregations of color is very risky and most likely to fail. 

It is also a white supremacist assumption that most people of color are not interested in a religion like ours, therefore UU religious professionals of color are doomed to failure -- unable to minister to people of color outside our congregations and less likely than their white colleagues to minister effectively to the white people in our congregations/communities. 

These assumptions lead inevitably to the unspoken conclusion that when it comes to hirin…

More Interviews with UUA Presidential Candidates

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The UUA Presidential Campaign is heating up.

Over the last few weeks, I have interviewed each of the candidates about their thinking about the role of the UUA President in the widespread resistance to the Trump administration. I asked similar questions to all three candidates so you can compare their answers and approaches.

You might especially interested in the last question I asked each candidate about where their motivation to struggle for social justice comes from in the personal history. Each answered in a different way.

Here are the interviews:

Jeanne Pupke:




Alison Miller



Susan Frederick-Gray 
















Note: I started this interview process before the announcement of the decision to hire Andy Burnette as the Lead of the Southern Region. In order to keep the interviews on the same topics, I did not ask about that decision and all that has followed in its wake. I am sure that the candidates views on the whole question of the white supremacy active in the UUA's hiring practices will be …

Sin, Shame, and Compensatory Goodness

Like so many, I am struggling with the news of Ron Robinson's arrest for possession of child pornography. He has been a friend of mine since I was in seminary. I suggest you read Tony Lorenzen's account of his influence on a group of us. I considered him a modern hero of Unitarian Universalism, someone whose vision of ministry was a prophetic challenge to the rest of us. If you are not familiar with Ron's ministry, read this 2010 article in the UUWorld.

I do not know what happened in Ron's life to give rise to such unhealthy and dangerous desires. We don't even know how much his desires were acted upon. But there it still is, the presence of such an orientation to abusive desire, an orientation toward sin, in one I thought an exemplary human being.

We are told that such an orientation toward abuse, such sin, does not spontaneously arise, but often has roots in the person's experience. The abuser was once the abused.

But none of us now know that about Ron Robins…

Simple Messaging for Trump Supporters

Forget converting them !

The goal is to neutralize them by diminishing their enthusiasm.

Many people liked Trump because he was (1) wealthy (2) a success at business and therefore (3) beyond corruption because of his wealth and thus (4) free to speak the truth as he saw it.

But none of those are actually true:

He is not as wealthy as he claimed, but deep in debt, much of it to foreign banks and shadowy Russian businesses.

His reputation as business leader depends on overspending on his projects and then going into bankruptcy. Businesses can advantageously go bankrupt. The US government cannot. His particular business skills are irrelevant to the job of being President.

His debt and obvious cash flow problems are forcing him into corruption. He is selling the Presidency for quick profits. A truly wealthy person would divest and liquidate his holdings, content to live the rest of their life on the profits accumulated over the years. But Trump's refusal to divest means that he needs …

10 Actions for Avoiding Protest Burn-Out

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With all the Executive Orders fling fast and furious, there's a lot for progressives to respond to right
now, and one of the things I've been worried about is protest burn-out. After having a webpage with an article on protest burn-out crash on me ten times as I tried to load it yesterday, I decided to write my own. So here's some things you can do.

1. Know your energy style. 
 Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do large crowded protests energize you or deplete you? Do you like sitting down and composing letters to representatives and the press, or do you dread them?  There is a lot of work to be done, and we need people doing a wide variety of things.  So focus on the kind of activities that energize you, and don't beat yourself up for not doing everything.

2. Follow your expertise.
Do you have a lot of experience in an area that might be helpful?  How can you use that strength?  One great example is how lawyers responded to the immigration issue this week by …

The Nation versus the State

The current American State was created by the Constitution, a document written in 1787 and adopted by the thirteen states in 1789. By that act, the first post-revolutionary state, the government created by the Articles of Confederation was overthrown. The Constitution established the second post-revolutionary state. You could call the second American Republic.

The authors of the Constitution conceived of the American nation as an ordered society in which white men of property were supreme, and others were subordinate to them, not because the government said so, but because it was the natural order of things. White supremacy was reality, according to them.

Their view was that the nation (the people as a whole) was naturally dominated by white men of property and so the state that they created to govern that white supremacist nation was structured to preserve white rule. The new government was studded with anti-democratic barriers to thwart reform from below. The founders created the st…