A post by my evil alter ego, Mr. Crankypants, has managed to annoy people. Here’s the situation: The
Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) correction, UUA staff has cut off funding for the Steering Committee for the continental Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). Mr. Crankypants tried to make the point that sometimes organizations have to cut back on programs that are no longer serving large numbers of stakeholders, and he drew an analogy between YRUU and General Assembly (GA), suggesting that maybe funding for GA could be cut as well. In one fell swoop, Mr. C. managed to annoy both the fans of GA, and the fans of YRUU.
But in his fiscally-conservative zeal for budget-cutting, Mr. C.’s post managed to ignore the deeper issues that came into play with the funding cut-off to YRUU. I’d like to list a few of the deeper issues that I see, to try to make it clear how the death-rattle of continental YRUU is merely one symptom of deeper problems among us. So here are just four of these deeper issues:
(1) Compared to mainline and evangelical churches, local Unitarian Universalist congregations have low aspirations in regard to allocating resources (financial, staff, and volunteer resources) to youth ministry. Evangelical and mainline churches aspire to having a youth minister, and often when a church is ready to hire a second minister that minister will have primary responsibility for youth ministries. Contras that with Unitarian Universalist congregations, where the norm is to aspire to a ten-hour-a-week “youth advisor,” and then when a church finally hires a second minister that minister is more likely to have primary responsibility for pastoral care for elders, than to have any responsibility for youth ministries.
(2) Compared to any other denomination in the United States, Unitarian Universalist gives less money to their churches, while at the same time we (on average) have higher incomes than most other denominations. This is appalling enough, but this low level of giving is typically coupled with a high level of self-interested entitlement — we want the local church and the denomination to provide high levels of funding to programs we value. This low level of giving, and this high level of self-interested entitlement means that groups that don’t have much money are most likely to find that ministries aimed at them will be cut first. Put this another way: The UUA Board of Trustees is always caught between a rock and a hard place — they face continual funding shortages, while at the same time they receive demands to provide services that directly benefit those who do give money — it’s no wonder they cut funding for YRUU, it’s just a wonder that our selfish denomination didn’t force them to do so much sooner.
(3) The general culture of Unitarian Universalism is to ignore youth and youth ministries. Compared to evangelical and mainline youth ministers, our paid youth advisors are poorly trained. Compared to evangelical and mainline ministers, most Unitarian Universalist ministers lack knowledge of, training in, and passion for youth ministries (I say this as a Unitarian Universalist minister who has spent some years observing his colleagues!). Lay people are just as bad: our local congregations usually consider youth ministries to be an add-on, not a central function of the church, and so budgets for youth ministries are non-existent, or are the first thing to go in budget crunches. Unitarian Universalists often have the self-fulfillingive attitude that “young people don’t want to come to church,” and so they behave in ways that tend to drive youth and young adults out of churches.
Did you know that the largest church in the United States, Willow Creek Church (ave. attendance 20,000 per week), began in 1975 as a youth ministry? Maybe we don’t like youth ministry because we’re afraid it will make us grow….
(4) In terms of theology, Unitarian Universalism is dominated by second-wave feminism (it is no accident that “Spirit of Life,” a second-wave-feminist anthem, is the most favorite hymn among us). Second-wave feminism did wonders for Unitarian Unviersalism in the 1970s and 1980s. But as we have learned from the critiques of womanist and third-wave feminists, second-wave feminism works best for well-to-do white folks who already have significant amounts of money, education, power — and second-wave feminism has been known to shut out people with less money, less education, less racial privilege, etc. I believe our over-reliance on second-wave feminist thinking has tended to seriously restrict access to power in our churches, allowing mostly white, upper-middle-class, middle-aged and older white folks to have power and influence.
Finally, I’d like to say that while it will be easy to keep on ranting and raving about the death of YRUU, I don’t think it will get us anywhere because it won’t address these deeper problems. Instead of ranting, I’d like to suggest that we all need to get active in the budget process of our local congregations and advocate for increased funding of youth ministries; we need to increase our own personal giving to our church to between 2% (for incomes under US$20,000) and 10% (for incomes over $150,000), or a quarter of your discretionary spending for high school and college students; we need to raise our expectations of how we will reach out to youth and young adults. Above all, we all need to do some serious theological work and reflection, because if we can’t articulate the religious reasons why we do youth work, we’re not going to get anywhere — oh, and by the way, if you try to use the “seven principles” to do your theological work for you, remember that they are a product of second-wave feminism, and thus the seven principles are part of the problem not part of the solution.
OK, I’ll stop ranting now — and go and write a check to my local congregation.