Complicating the Great Reformation: Dialectical Theology (Part 11 of many)

There was a Great Reformation of Unitarian Universalism beginning in the early 1970's. In my previous post, I ascribed this to the empowerment of women as both professional religious leaders and in lay leadership in congregations. I think that my view would be widely supported.

I want to complicate the question from three directions.

One is to ask about the relationship between that development and the Black Empowerment Controversy that preceded it in time.

Looking back to this history through the lens of intersectionality, we should not so easily separate the black rebellion against white racism in the UUA from the women's rebellion against patriarchy in the UUA. These may look like two different movements but they were struggling against a single entity, a white supremacist patriarchy, the generations of white men who owned and controlled the institutions of liberal religion.  Who were the black women in those struggles and how did they see the UUA at the time? How would our history been different had their voices and perspectives been heard and seen?

The second is to ask about the content of the Women's Reformation in relationship to the process of suburbanization.

My perception is that the UUA underwent major theological and ecclesiological transformations during this period of time -- the 70's and into the 80's. The theological debate over the existence of God was shelved in favor of a pluralistic agnosticism on such core theological questions. Public Ministry was downplayed in favor of congregational ministry. Unitarian Universalism was less a public voice for liberalism and more a string of religious communities. Our attraction was less our message and more how we treated one another in our communities. Our liturgies reflected these new concerns.

The transformation created by women coincides with the changes brought by suburbanization: the turn from public ministry to congregational ministry (creating and sustaining small communities in the atomistic suburbs.)

One more complication: we have to look at the 70's and the 80's in terms of the overall political environment in the USA.

Richard Nixon's election in 1968 and re-election in 1972 are signs of a growing backlash against all of the radicalism of the late 1960's. By 1980, it was clear that conservatism was achieving political and cultural hegemony. Increasingly, Unitarian Universalists and other religious and political liberals felt under threat, and increasingly, the UU congregation was seen as a haven, a protected space.


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