Another call for Unitarian Universalists to stop fighting for consistent racial justice

Read this blog entry published by Mel Pine and written by Rev. Richard Trudeau:

https://trulyopenmindsandhearts.blog/2020/06/24/uus-in-the-pews-please-help/

Here are excerpts from it in red and my responses in blue.

I am writing this for lay members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. I believe there is a crisis in the national UU movement, and I believe that laypeople are in the best position to help resolve it. The rub is, very few laypeople are aware of the crisis…

Why would you assume that? Many reports about what has been happening over the past few years have been published online and in print, by bloggers like myself, on Facebook, and even in the UU World magazine itself.

What integrity in leadership looks like

An Open Letter to the New President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Stop whining about “censorship”!

A debate in the UU subreddit over the 2017 hiring controversy.

I’m a UU minister. I first learned about the UU movement in 1960, as a teenager unhappy with my Catholic upbringing; I decided then that if I ever returned to church, it would be to a UU church. In the early 1980s, I started attending a UU congregation, which I then joined. I was granted UUA ministerial fellowship in 1994 and was ordained in 1995. I served two UU churches, 1992-2012. I am now semi-retired, preaching a total of about twenty times a year at a dozen or so UU churches in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

So he is someone who has credibility because of his long association with UUism. Granted.

The crisis I see is that a majority of our UU national leaders have become committed to a particular ideology that threatens two aspects of UUism: our commitment to social justice, and our values of reason and free expression.

These leaders — at the Unitarian Universalist Association, in our two seminaries, and in the UU Ministers’ Association — have become so committed and intransigent that I have started to think of the ideology that has captivated them as a mental virus with which they have become infected. By this analogy I do not mean to imply that they are mentally ill, of course, but only that they seem stuck in a rut (think Communism, 1917-1989). Victims of this mental virus can be recognized by their calls to “dismantle our white supremacy culture.”

I would think that efforts to dismantle white supremacy culture IS promoting social justice. And people have used their own reason and free expression to call for it. Freedom can’t be one sided.

I said this mental virus threatens the UU commitment to social justice. I was present at a ministers’ meeting ten years ago at which someone who had just ended a term on the UUA Board reported that there was then a consensus on the board that the UUA racial-justice strategy — at the time called “Journey Toward Wholeness,” and underway for thirteen years — had accomplished disappointingly little. What the UU leaders of today are doing is to double down on this same strategy.

While the name “Journey Toward Wholeness” has been retired, and the rallying-cry has changed from calling on whites to “confess our complicity in institutional racism” to calling on all to “dismantle our white supremacy culture,” the underlying strategy has not changed.

The racial-justice strategy our leaders are pursuing is a strategy that doesn’t work to make Black lives, or any other lives, better.

I think his claim is false. Read this:

https://www.uuworld.org/articles/new-uua-hiring-practices

New hiring practices help UUA live into its values

Careful attention to hiring practices has diversified the staff of the Unitarian Universalist Association and deepened its commitment to antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism.

The UUA Leadership Council is 42 percent people of color in January 2020.

Last October, at a symposium on Black theology sponsored by Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Carey McDonald, executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, shared exciting news with the Rev. William G. Sinkford: In just over two years, the UUA had more than doubled the number of people of color in top leadership roles, meeting an ambitious diversity goal Sinkford set for the UUA during his ten-week interim co-presidency in the spring of 2017.

Sinkford, the first African American elected as UUA president, had led the association from 2001 to 2009. In his final full year as president, the UUA’s Leadership Council—its senior staff, including the president—was 14 percent people of color; the staff as a whole was just under 14 percent people of color. Eight years later, during the final year of the presidency of Sinkford’s successor, the Rev. Peter Morales, the first Hispanic president of the UUA, people of color made up 20 percent of all employees, but the number of people of color on the Leadership Council had not changed. For an association with a stated commitment to antiracism and multiculturalism, the numbers of people of color, especially in top leadership positions, frustrated and angered some UUs. Critics said the UUA was routinely favoring white ministers when hiring for senior positions, and a denominational crisis over hiring practices erupted in March 2017, three months before the end of Morales’s second term. Morales and two other top officials resigned in April 2017.

Instituting a shared model of leadership it had not used before, the UUA Board of Trustees named three people of color as interim co-presidents—Sinkford, the Rev. Sofía Betancourt, and Dr. Leon Spencer—until a new president could be elected in June 2017. The board also established a Commission on Institutional Change to assess institutional and structural racism in the UUA. The co-presidents announced a hiring freeze until new policies could be set and added two people of color to the Leadership Council: Jessica York, the interim director of Ministries and Faith Development, and Carey McDonald, the UUA’s Outreach director.

Soon the co-presidents announced new hiring goals: at least 40 percent of people in managerial and decision-making positions on the UUA staff should be people of color and/or indigenous people, they said, and, overall, the UUA staff should be 30 percent people of color/indigenous people. While no UUA employees were to be terminated to meet the goals, the policy was to guide all new hires.

At the BLUU symposium in Saint Paul, McDonald told Sinkford that today, through focused and concerted effort to transform UUA culture, the Leadership Council is 42 percent people of color, and the overall staff numbers have risen to 30 percent people of color.

“My response,” says Sinkford, “was to be both impressed and delighted.” Moreover, Sinkford encouraged McDonald to make sure the story got told: in less than three years, the UUA had moved from a particularly low point to a place of celebration—albeit qualified by a clear recognition that there is much work to be done.

So it appears the latest efforts have been more successful than those of the past because clear difference in policies and practices were made. So what’s the problem now?

The reason I lean toward the analogy of a mental virus infecting the majority of our national leaders is that I have no doubt that they are well-intentioned, and for the most part capable, people, yet their behavior is to me incomprehensible. I can only understand it if I imagine them as victims. Just as a physical virus, like the one causing COVID-19, exploits laudable human traits to gain entrance to our bodies — like our human desire to be physically close to one another — the mental virus of which I speak seems to have gained entrance to our leaders’ minds by exploiting their laudable qualities of empathy and passion for social justice. But the result is that their judgment seems to me impaired; they are no longer thinking clearly.

So just because you do not understand the motivations behind the people you disagree with, you claim they are somehow diseased! That’s no way to have a fair dialogue on the matter, but then again if you wanted that, you would not be publishing your insults in Mel Pine’s blog, right? He quit the UUA, so most UUs wouldn’t even notice his works now. It’s now an anti-UUA echo chamber.

I said that the mental virus also threatens the UU values of reason and free expression. This is clear from the treatment accorded over the last year to Rev. Todd Eklof of our Spokane, WA congregation. Rev. Eklof wrote a book, The Gadfly Papers, that expressed concern about the crisis in UUism to which I have been referring. Since the book’s appearance, the UU Ministers’ Association has publicly censured him and then expelled him; he has been fired by a UU seminary as a supervisor of ministerial interns; and he has been removed from UUA fellowship by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee. These organizations have claimed procedural irregularities as the reasons for their actions, but upon close inspection I don’t find that any of their explanations hold water. And as a result of the example that has been made of this one minister, UU ministers across the land are intimidated.

Eklof wasn’t punished merely for writing a dissenting book. That was absolutely his right. However:

Reopening Old Wounds Among Unitarian Universalists

With the election of a new President of the UUA at the 2017 General Assembly (GA), it seemed like we could start to move forward to heal the racial divisions. But then came the GA of June 2019, which was held at Spokane, Washington. Imagine the shock among the attendees when the minister of the UU church at that city, Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof,  backstabbed the rest of them with a book he had written and was trying to distribute at the GA without prior notice. This book, titled The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister, attacked all the efforts to solve the racial problems, angering many non-white UUs. When the UUA leadership tried to talk to Eklof about what he was doing, he refused to meet with them, putting them in the awkward position of expelling him from the GA itself! (Emphasis mine)

The betrayal was felt so strongly because Eklof’s congregation was supposed to be HOSTING the General Assembly, which was expected to continue dealing in unity with racial issues. Eklof’s stunt would be like me as a known critic of the Baha’i Faith invited to a meeting of mostly Muslim people and after arriving instead of giving a speech criticizing that Faith, attempting to give attendees there copies of this:

Contradictions of orthodox Islam

No, I wouldn’t do that! That would only get my @$$ thrown out of there. You can’t force people to listen to a message they didn’t expect to hear and are not receptive to. Eklof should have known better!

I hate writing this essay. As a minister, my instinct is always to bring to the people in the pews a message that is positive. And what I have written today is hardly that.

Somehow, I doubt you hated writing that too much. I never hate writing anything I feel strongly about and think is important. And I write a LOT of negative stuff on my blog.

What I have said today is that UUism is under attack by those sworn to uphold it. They are destroying the commitment to reason and free speech that attracted so many of us in the first place. And they are wasting our energy on an approach to racial justice that doesn’t work.

How would you know it doesn’t work? Can we wait another decade or so and find out?

What can be done? You might think, “This should be brought up at General Assembly.” But General Assembly is not really democratic, according to the UUA Board’s Fifth Principle Task Force (2009), and the UUA has since become even less democratic because all UUA Board members are now elected at-large and do not represent local constituencies.

Well, a lot of UUs of color didn’t think the UUA was democratic enough because their views were not being heard. Now they are and….that bothers you. You know, if people who have been privileged are not feeling a little uncomfortable about social changes, then the changes are meaningless, merely window dressing without substance. 

What can be done? All I can suggest is that lay UUs look into these matters for themselves and, if they agree with me that the situation is alarming, express their unhappiness loudly to their congregational leaders, to their Regional staff, and to the UUA itself.

UUs in the pews, please help!

And what will you do if they don’t agree with you and even oppose outright your opinions as I do? Quit being a UU also?

What a waste of keyboard strokes! As a UU layperson myself, I feel profoundly insulted by Rev. Richard Trudeau’s diatribe!