Category Archives: UUA politics

How to follow GA

UU World magazine will be doing online coverage of the 2010 General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association on their General Assembly blog. Yesterday’s post provides convenient links to video streaming.

So far, I am not clear which bloggers will be blogging GA — if you know of someone blogging GA, please leave a link in the comments. With luck, bloggers will tag their GA posts — as a suggestion, the tag “uuaga10” would be consistent with past GA blogging tags.

Update: Bloggers who tag with “uuaga10” will be aggregated on the UUpdates Web site at the following URL:

Chris Walton points out the Twitter users are using the hashtag “#uuaga” and you can follow those tweets at the following URL:

Kinsi is blogging frequently at Spirituality and Sunflowers, and his well-written personal coverage helps round out the reporting at UU World.

Excellent suggestions

“Safety Net,” a ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, Tennessee, has made excellent suggestions for changes to the professional guidelines of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). Of particular note is a suggested revision to a clause of the guidelines that asks ministers to “strictly respect confidences given me by colleagues and expect them to keep mine.” This clause is legally and morally indefensible, for it means that if another minister came to me and told me “in confidence” that s/he had engaged in sexual behavior with a legal minor, I would violate the UUMA guidelines when I reported him/her to legal authorities. To state the obvious: in California, I am a mandated reporter and would be legally required to report any suspected child abuse, whether or not I was prohibited from doing so by UUMA guidelines — more importantly, as a human being, I am morally required to report any suspected child abuse, again regardless of UUMA guidelines.

This and the other revisions proposed by Safety Net are excellent. The UUMA should adopt them as soon as possible. You can read the full text of the revisions here, and an explanatory open letter to the UUMA here.

Phoenix: “another option”

Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), has proposed another option for the 2012 General Assembly (GA) of the Association. As various organizations organize to boycott Arizona over the enactment of SB 1070, delegates to this year’s General Assembly will be voting on whether to move the 2012 GA away from Phoenix in order to participate in the boycott. Morales has been in communication with Puente and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), two organizations that organized the protests in Arizona over Memorial Day weekend, and “we have received an invitation from Puente and NDLON to partner with them and to make our General Assembly in 2012 something far more than a normal GA.” Pablo Alvarado, director of NDLON, and Salvador Reza of Puente, sent a letter to Morales which said in part:

There will still be much to witness about in 2012. While SB1070 may be overturned by then, we anticipate that there will still be a terrible situation to deal with here in Arizona. The Ethnic Studies legislation that was recently passed needs to be overturned and there is currently proposed legislation that would mandate that children born in the U.S. of undocumented parents not be accepted as citizens. Meanwhile Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others will continue to deputize volunteers eager to enforce immigration law and terrorize our community. We need the faith community here to stand in solidarity with our movement and to galvanize others to condemn this growing human rights crisis and create a climate that welcomes and supports migratory families.

We ask that your 2012 General Assembly here in Phoenix be a convergence in cooperation with us and that together we design the best ways that UUs can witness, learn from, take action, and serve the movement here….

I have to say, I think this is an invitation we should accept. Not that you should listen to my opinion, which is fairly useless. Instead, you can read Morales’s complete statement here.

The view of a fiscal conservative

What are the fiscal implications for moving the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) from Phoenix, in response to a call for a boycott of the state of Arizona in response to SB1070, the law that allows harassment of anyone who’s not white state and local police to demand proof of citizenship status? If General Assembly is moved from Phoenix, the current contract calls for cancelation fees which have been variously reported at $600,000 to $650,000. In addition to paying those fees, a new location for General Assembly will likely result in higher cost because we are not planning far enough in advance. Let’s lay out some possible ways to come up with this money, from a fiscal conservative’s point of view.

The true fiscal conservative looks at both sides of the ledger. Starting on the expense side, where could we cut costs to come up with part of this money? The most logical place to cut costs is in the budget for the 2012 General Assembly. If the 2012 General Assembly were to include only those business matters required by the bylaws, I believe the schedule could be reduced to a single day. By cutting out workshops, worship services, lectures, and the like, non-delegates would not attend, reducing the space needed for General Assembly. It would also make sense to hold the meeting within driving distance of Boston to allow UUA staff to cut travel costs, while needing no expenses for overnight lodging for staffers. Total cost for the new location would then be reduced substantially.

Aside from that, I would be extremely unwilling to cut costs out of other denominational programs. The past two fiscal years have seen layoffs and staff cuts. Departments have been cut (e.g., the Washington office for advocacy), or merged to save money (e.g., the office for identity-based ministries no longer has an independent existence). An unanticipated expense of $650,000 would likely result in additional layoffs of at least half a dozen more UUA staffers. And there is no fat left to cut from the UUA budget — we’d be cutting muscle and bone.

Now let’s turn to the revenue side. Paying for this boycott offers an opportunity for concerned Unitarian Universalists to live out their ethical values by increasing their financial giving above their current contributions to local congregation and the UUA Annual Fund. It makes sense to set up a fund, managed either by an independent 501(c)3 or by the UUA (although there are staff costs to managing an additional fund), where concerned individuals and congregations would have the opportunity to contribute to directly offset the cost of moving GA. Given that Unitarian Universalists have the second rate of giving to their religion, as a percentage of annual income (at 1.5% of annual income, second only to Catholics), there is plenty of room for Unitarian Universalists to raise their giving to the denomination.

I’d like to see the following challenge issued to Unitarian Universalists:– For Unitarian Universalists who currently give less than 5% of their annual income to their faith, I’d like to see them give an additional 1-2% of their income to the fund for moving General Assembly. Those who are currently giving 5-10% of their annual income to their faith could give an additional 0.5% of their income to this fund. Those who give on the basis of their total wealth rather than income (because their wealth is larger than income) could give an amount of between 10%-100% more than their current contribution to their faith, depending on how much or how little they’re currently giving. Obviously, one would start by looking for big donors; individual contributors take a lot of work. I will add that if such a fund is set up, I’m prepared to write a check for 0.5% of my annual income (since I currently give 5% of my income to my church). I will also add that such a fund drive might have larger positive implications, in the way that a capital campaign in a local congregation often winds up boosting regular giving.

From a fiscal conservative’s point of view, boycotts come with financial implications; they are not free. Think of the Montgomery bus boycott, which required working people to deal with a much more difficult commute; their lost time was worth a great deal to them. Think also of the time when some Unitarian Universalist congregations pulled their assets out of companies doing business in South Africa, and then had to deal with decreased investment income, which they made up through cutting expenses and trying to increase donations (and, I might add, fiscal conservatives were some of the heros and heroines of that movement, since they were the ones who figured out how to make that boycott happen through cutting expenses and increasing donations).

The above discussion purposefully avoids the question of whether the boycott of Arizona is the right thing to do. But the larger question of whether or not the boycott of Arizona is the right thing to do cannot avoid the question of how to deal with the financial implications of that boycott; those who object to the boycott will most certainly raise that point. Personally, I know I have very little patience with those on either side of the issue who aren’t looking realistically at the financial implications; in order to win the votes of people like me, the fiscal implications must be addressed (N.B.: I’m not going to General Assembly this year, so my opinion is essentially meaningless).

Presumably, those who advocate the boycott are already considering this point as they plan their strategy for the inevitable floor fight at the 2010 General Assembly. If I were advocating for the boycott at the 2010 General Assembly, I would already be working on fundraising, knowing that if I could make an opening statement saying that I had raised, say, $100,000 towards the added expense, I’d probably win.

Mr. Crankypants on General Assembly in Arizona

Mr. Crankypants has been watching with interest and amusement as some Unitarian Universalists demand that the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Assocaition be moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to — somewhere else. Because, you see, those who are politically naive believe that if the Unitarian Universalists don’t meet in Phoenix in June of 2012, Arizona politicians will actually notice their absence.

Mr. Crankypants agrees that Arizona SB 1070 is a silly, stupid, racist law, enacted by political demagogues who are more interested in pandering to the baser side of the electorate than in actually providing humane and just leadership. But why on earth will those politicians, or any part of the electorate, pay the least bit attention to a small, little-known religious group which doesn’t show up in their state? And then there’s the media attention, or lack thereof:– of the following two scenarios, pick the one which you think could possibly wind up on television news shows in Phoenix: (1) Unitarian Universalists don’t show up; (2) Unitarian Universalists show up and participate in a well-organized and colorful demonstration in front of the Arizona capitol building.

Mr. Crankypants rests his case. However, given that the cancelation fees for moving General Assembly will amount to $650,000, given that other costs could mean that moving General Assembly in 2012 cost upwards of one million dollars, Mr. Crankypants makes the following offer:– if you still support moving General Assembly out of Phoenix, he will not mock you for your political naivete, provided you write a personal check for ten thousand dollars to the Unitarian Universalist Association to help pay for the move. (Strident and stubborn people should double that amount.)

Follow-up post on how to pay for moving General Assembly.

“No UU culture there is….”

In an article titled “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” published in the spring, 2010, issue of U[nitarian] U[niversalist] World magazine, Paul Rasor made this statement: “Unitarian Universalism has its own cultural tradition, one that is rooted in European-American cultural norms and ways of being in the world.” That simple statement has unleashed a torrent of verbiage, both in print and online. The summer, 2010, issue of UU World magazine offers seven different responses to the question, “What is UU culture?” and Unitarian Universalist bloggers have gone at great length trying to articulate what “UU culture” might be.

A closer reading of Paul’s article offers a pretty good definition of what he means by a Unitarian Universalist culture “that is rooted in European-American cultural norms.” More specifically, Paul mentions the norms of European-American modernism: “Unitarian Universalism has for the most part adopted the core values of modernity, including its emphasis on human reason, the autonomous authority of the individual, and the critical evaluation of all religious truth claims.” Paul goes on to make a modest-sounding but very radical statement: “We cannot reason our way into multiculturalism.” That means that the usual tools of reason — debate, argument, reasoned essays and articles, thoughtful conversation — won’t create multiculturalism. I would offer a corollary to Paul’s argument: if you want Unitarian Universalism to remain white and uni-cultural, stick to reasoned debate.

Following immediately upon Paul’s article in that same spring, 2010, issue of UU World, was Rosemary Bray McNatt’s article, titled “We Must Change.” She says it’s not just that “UU culture” encompasses more than race: “We… underestimate the reality of resistance [to multiculturalism] in our congregations, a resistance rooted not so much in racism as in matters of class and culture.” Those who are continuing the conversation in print and online have picked up on Rosemary McNatt’s article, and they keep trying to have reasonable discussion and debate about “UU culture” — does it include listening to National Public Radio stations, and not listening to hip hop? — and then try to reason how we might get change that culture.

Reasonable debate, however, turns out to be a fairly useless strategy. You can reason it out this way: Social systems can be modeled as multi-loop non-linear feedback systems, which means their behavior will be counter-intuitive. Therefore, if the majority of Unitarian Universalists stop talking about National Public Radio, and start listening to hip hop music, that only affects one feedback loop within the complex multi-loop system; the equilibrium of the overall system will not change. If we want to change and become multicultural, reason is the wrong tool for the job; reason is simply inadequate for developing a sufficiently accurate mental model that would adequately guide us into multiculturalism.

How then are we to change? It will be messy. A decade and a half of experience with congregational social systems has led me to believe that true change happens in one area when you are working on something that is only tangentially related. Want to grow your children’s program? Don’t bother with advertising aimed at new families, pour your energy into teacher training and youth ministries. Want to increase worship attendance 10% in a year? Ignore your membership committee, and instead teach your congregation how to sing lustily. Want to become multicultural? Don’t effusively welcome the people of color who actually do show up at your church, but instead claim your congregation’s identity as an introverted church (or your identity as an extroverted church, if that’s the case).

Not that it’s that simple: there is no step-by-step checklist that will lead to multiculturalism — that would be too reasonable to work. Throw out your checklists and your reasoned arguments. If I might quote Yoda: “No UU culture there is. Only people who are UU, there are. Hmmmmmm.”

Hmmmmm, indeed.

“Please come to Phoenix,” but we said, “No.”

The Unitarian Universalist Association Board, and many other Unitarian Universalists, want to move the 2012 General Assembly scheduled to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, in protest of the recent Arizona law that directs state and local officials to track down illegal immigrants. However, apparently Unitarian Universalist ministers in Arizona and Las Vegas voted unanimously to oppose this move. They would like us all to come to Arizona and engage in public demonstrations against the law instead. As an extra added incentive to listen to the Arizona ministers, I would point out that the cancelation fees alone would cost the UUA something like $650,000 (to say nothing of the added expense of finding another venue at this point).

Mr. Crankypants is peeved but not Rev.

Mr. Crankypants has been reading Unitarian Universalist blogs, and has been noticing how many bloggers misuse the honorific “reverend.”

The most common honorifics are used separately from each other. Thus we speak of “Dr. Smith,” or “Mr. Smith,” but after Mr. Smith becomes a doctor we do not speak of “Dr. Mr. Smith.” The honorific “Reverend,” however, like “Honorable,” belongs to a group of honorifics that most properly appear with other honorifics. Thus when Dr. Wang is ordained she becomes Rev. Dr. Lily Wang; when Mr. Jones is ordained he becomes Rev. Mr. Jenkin Lloyd Jones. We commonly understand that “Rev.”, like “Mr.”, is an abbreviation; completely spelled out, “Rev. Ms. Cuervo” abbreviates “the Reverend Ms Cuervo,” just as “Hon.” abbreviates “the Honorable.”

Note that the honorific “Reverend” is used only the first time a person is mentioned; thereafter that person is referred to as Mr., Ms., or Dr. Soandso. For clarity, it is best when the first mention of the clergyperson uses both “Rev.”, followed by Mr., Ms., Dr., etc., followed by the person’s first name and last name, i.e., “Rev. Mr. Supply Belcher”.1

Mr. Crankypants has observed many improper uses of the honorific “Reverend” in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere (and in the wider blogosphere, for that matter, an interesting case where Unitarian Universalist bloggers are no worse than other religious bloggers). Below are three hypothetical examples of ways the honorific “Reverend” is misused, along with Mr. Crankypants’s comments and corrections. Continue reading

Two hot stoves

Tomorrow at noon — that’s when congregations which choose to use the search process of the the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) can invite a minister to be the final candidate for an open ministry job. This is when we all gather ’round the old-fashioned hot stove, waiting to find out which club snapped up which ball player’s contr… — er — which congregation has snapped up which minister. Or as Hank Peirce puts it: “Who is being invited to be the candidate at what church? Where will those couple of big name ministers who have been sweet talking so many churches actually end up? Who will hire the young minister with little track record? What church is brave enough to call someone they need, and not just someone who makes them look good?”

You can gather round the hot stove in two places this year. Christine Robinson’s hot stove is on her blog. Hank Peirce’s hot stove is on its own Facebook page.

There are rules for decorum whilst sitting around the hot stoves. No fair using insider knowledge to announce a congregation’s candidate before the congregation has made its own official announcement. No bad-mouthing anyone, no ad hominem attacks. However, if a young freewheeling minister gets picked by a big corporate church that will require him/her to cut his/her hair, you may call out “Johnny Damon!” If a minister over 70 snags a plum congregation, you may call out “Phil Niekro!” or “Knuckleballer!” If you think a pick is going to result in a decades-long match with lots of home runs with no steroid use, you may call out “Hank Aaron!”