Part of having integrity is knowing when you have failed at something, realizing you need to step aside for the good of the people you claim to serve, and move on. Today, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association is doing just that.
Letter from UUA President Peter Morales to the UUA Board of Trustees, March 30, 2017
UUA Board of Trustees
You are all aware of the ongoing controversy regarding the UUA’s hiring practices and lack of diversity in our senior leadership. Unfortunately, a note I sent to UUA staff a few days ago made matters worse. In my hasty effort I created more hurt for those already hurting. I failed to lead appropriately. I reacted when I should have listened. I am deeply sorry.
I have clearly lost the trust of many people and my comments have become a focal point in the ongoing discussion. It is clear to me that I am not the right person to lead our Association as we work together to create the processes and structures that will address our shortcomings and build the diverse staff we all want. We need space for healing and listening.
It is time for me to step aside. I am resigning the office of UUA president effective April 1. It has been an honor to serve as president. I am grateful for your dedicated and diligent service to our faith. May you have wisdom, vision, and courage in the days ahead.
My fervent prayer is that by stepping aside I help create a space for moving forward together in love and respect. It is time for us to come together, to listen deeply to one another, to reaffirm our commitment to our ideals.
It should be noted that the vast majority of the UUA’s membership have always been white, so one may expect that nearly all the leaders of it would also be white too. But the UUA leaders also wanted to attract more non-whites to its membership and how can they do that if there are no people of color in leadership positions for others to see? Thus the controversy. The assumption by Morales and others that some people were making a big deal out of a trivial matter was absolutely the wrong attitude to have about it.
Letter from the UUA Leadership Council
March 30, 2017
Dear Unitarian Universalists,
We write this having learned from our President, the Rev. Peter Morales, his intention to resign from his leadership position in our faith. We honor him for his service to our Unitarian Universalist movement. We hope that his difficult decision will open a new way for the work of racial justice in our own house.
We want to apologize for the way our leadership at the UUA has fallen far short in building the diverse Associational office that the core values of our faith demand. In addition, we understand that our responses and silence in response to recent public statements have layered harm upon harm.
We take very seriously the question of how our policies, practices, leadership and culture systematically center and advantage white people within Unitarian Universalism. We acknowledge that it is past time for us to examine more deeply than we ever have the patterns of institutional racism that are embedded in our practices of leadership, including hiring.
It has been humbling, devastatingly sad, and inspiring to read so many courageous calls to a deeper justice, to more courage, more faithfulness from us, especially from Unitarian Universalists of Color who have helped us hold a mirror to our own institution. We recommit ourselves and our service to this call.
In the next week, we will begin putting together a plan for how we will engage in an immediate internal review of how our institution advantages white leaders, and Unitarian Universalists. This will include a review of hiring and promotion procedures and goals, the involvement of outside expertise, working together with the UUA Board, and engaging in critical self-examination about how all of our programs and initiatives advance our commitment to anti-racism and inclusivity.
We will be examining our own hearts, listening humbly, and partnering with other leaders in our faith to find our way forward.
We are grateful for your faithful, angry, disappointed, loving expressions of your hopes for our faith. This, all of it, is what will carry us to a new way.
Yours in service,
Rev. Harlan Limpert
Chief Operating Officer
Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer
Rev. Mary Katherine Morn
Director of Stewardship and Development
Director of Beacon Press
Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness
Rev. Scott Tayler
Director for Congregational Life
Director of Communications
Rev. Sarah Lammert
Director of Ministries and Faith Development
Director of Human Resources
Director of Information Technology Services
They could have kept this whole mess swept under the rug, but that would not have solved the problem. And it would have made things even worse when the truth finally came out, as it nearly always does in such cases.
The next UUA Presidential election is in three months, so the timing of this resignation seems to indicate Rev. Morales (himself a Hispanic) wanted to push this issue of hiring more people of color to the UUA leadership positions to the very center of the next General Assembly, when the election takes place.
Ironically racial biases are a problem even at the grassroots level of Unitarian Universalism:
Since 1960, when the Rev. Dr. John B. Wolf became its minister, All Souls has been on the frontlines of racial justice. In the ’60s and ’70s, Wolf led Tulsa’s progressive clergy in the fight for civil rights, and in the process, he lost congregants. “We had five millionaires when I arrived, this being an oil town, and I got rid of four of them that I know of!” says Wolf, now 91, with a raucous laugh.
On this November evening, Wolf, now minister emeritus, is sitting in the All Souls library with Lavanhar and two other All Souls ministers, the Rev. Gerald Davis and Bishop Carlton Pearson. Wolf tried to integrate the church in the ’60s but was able to attract no more than two dozen black members, mostly people new to Tulsa. In 2008, however, Pearson—a black prodigy of Oral Roberts—boosted All Souls’s black membership dramatically.
After Pearson was declared a heretic by his fellow Pentecostals for preaching universal salvation in the megachurch he led, he accepted Lavanhar’s invitation to lead worship at All Souls. He and approximately 200 of his parishioners started worshiping at All Souls in 2008, and today, about 4 percent of the church’s 2,023 members are black.
Lavanhar was a leader in the call for reparations to survivors of the race riot, after a state commission made that recommendation in 2001. (The effort died after enormous political opposition.) After Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2012, Lavanhar wore a hoodie while preaching a sermon about “the new Jim Crow.” Lavanhar was the only white person invited to meet with a group of black ministers following the Good Friday shootings later that year.
But when Pearson and his parishioners—most of them black—started worshiping at All Souls and the church began offering a second service with a worship style rooted in black church traditions, a number of white members threatened to quit or withheld donations. To Lavanhar’s surprise, it wasn’t the church’s Republican members who complained about the changes; the members who left were Democrats. Lavanhar asked Wolf what he made of it.
During his ministry, Wolf found that Republicans typically stuck with him even when they strongly disagreed with his preaching on social or political issues. Republicans were there for religious freedom—and All Souls was the only church in town offering it—so they weren’t thrown off by things they didn’t necessarily support. But Democrats often have a much narrower tolerance for things they disagree with, Wolf said, such as the kind of cultural changes that Pearson and his parishioners brought—or even the idea that Republicans can be UUs, Lavanhar says. (He estimates that 15 percent of the church’s members are Republicans; 75 percent are Democrats.) (Emphasis mine – Dale Husband)
We really cannot have that kind of cultural and political arrogance among UUs! To prove ourselves really committed to racial justice, we MUST attract and retain more people of color, period. Keep in mind, BTW, that prior to the 1970s, most Democrats in the south were racist, while most Republicans were not. Today, it is the other way around. Democrats need to clean up their act even more, as do Republicans who sold out their party. And if UUs can get past this latest struggle, they can show all of America the way to solve some of our racial problems.