Friday, April 28, 2017

A UU General Conference

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 sustain a committed community through social activities and mutual support, and to engage with their wider community for love and justice through some specific projects and ministries. Forget the high-flown language--this is what they do, and where they spend their resources of time, energy, and money.

Unitarian Universalism has a mission in the world. Perhaps the document that most explains it is the Board's Ends Statement. Perhaps the Seven Principles? Perhaps it is not yet articulated concisely; it does not have to be. It is probably a waste of energy to try to get agreement on the exact language to express it.

Mission Alignment is the work of entities who share an overlapping mission to discern that mission, to bring focus to that work, to align that work with others. It is not making governance decisions, which is legislating what others have to do. It is discerning with others what ought to be done, and then each entity changing what they do to more closely work others.

A General Conference would need to be focussed on one big question to be effective. The Task Force asks for a conference to explore "what the UUA is called to be and to do in today’s world."

2. Spectrum of Practice

UU's do the work of Unitarian Universalism in many different organizational forms: congregations, covenanted communities, "independent affliliated organizations," identity-based groups, professional groups, community ministers embedded in non-UU organizations, camps and conferences, and more. There is a spectrum of UU practice, and entities all along that spectrum should be participating in a General Conference. Governance tackles the question of how all these diverse forms of organizations are represented and integrated into one organization. A Mission oriented conference skips over that question and asks what can each of these entities contribute in our mutual discernment. 

3. Network of Covenants

The goal of a General Conference is not the adoption of one big covenant, but deeper discussion and discernment about a crucial issue. The output should be the creation of hundreds of covenants between UU entities to work together in a mutually accountable agreements. The possibilities are endless, and hold the potentiality of bringing more UU entities into right relationship. 




The Board Task on Re-Covenanting is Rev. Susan Ritchie, Kathy Burek, Rev. David Miller and myself.  They are brilliant and creative.  This post speaks for me, and no one else. 


Thursday, April 27, 2017

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 anyone can see it. It has sets forward our proposal, and our rationale for it. It also provides an historical overview of how we are presently structured as an Association.

Here it is

Recommendation: From Board Task Force on Re-Imagining Covenant.

The task force members who submitted this report are:

Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, Chair
Kathy Burek
Rev. David Miller
Rev. Tom Schade

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

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 hiring religious leaders for the UU movement, white is better!

This whole train of assumptions and conclusions are based on the idea that liberal religion and Unitarian Universalism are culturally appropriate to white people, but not so to people of color. It's white supremacy, friends.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

More Interviews with UUA Presidential Candidates

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 checked out during the campaign.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

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 Robinson.

What we see is two things in contradiction. One is this sin, which has now been revealed. The other is what we have seen all along: an extraordinary ministry of service and generosity.

What is the relationship between the two?

One possibility is that a malignant sociopath created a whole facade of faithful, loving service as a elaborate ruse, to hide behind, while he sought to gratify his abusive desires.  A demon in disguise. But I have to say in my 25 years of interacting with Ron, I never saw something that seemed insincere, self-serving, manipulative, or otherwise bullshit.

Another possibility is that his secret orientation toward abusive desire was a source of shame, and out of that shame, a whole counter-life was lived, to compensate for the shame, to prove to himself that he still had worth.  A self-destructive "sainthood," because its purpose was really to destroy a part of the self that is a source of shame.

The second possibility seems kinder, but is terrifying upon reflection. It means that we ought to suspect the hidden motivations of those who seem the most heroic, and the more heroic, or self-denying, the more we should be suspicious. There are people who are too good to be true. In retrospect, should I not have seen that in Ron?