Choose one for UUA president:
Hallman | Morales

If I’ve got my facts right, it’s now too late to nominate another candidate for the presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Oh well. We must choose between the two candidates who have declared themselves: Laurel Hallman, the anointed candidate of the UUA power elite; and Peter Morales, the upstart candidate.

Honestly, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about either candidate. Both candidates are a little too committed to “The UUA Way” of doing religion. What is The UUA Way? The UUA Way is:

  • doing religion like it’s still 1986
  • being obsessed with John Carver’s “Policy Governance” (TM) model for administration
  • placing 1980s second-wave feminism at theological center
  • focussing attention on the wealthy White suburbs.

In addition, The UUA Way is dominated by these Baby Boomer behavior patterns:

  • expecting churches to provide goods and services to consumers
  • operating under the assumption that protest is the pinnacle of social justice work
  • always being far too self-absorbed.

I was hoping that a younger candidate (“young” by the standards of The UUA Way means someone under 50) would step forward at the last minute to challenge The UUA Way. Since that hasn’t happened, I’ve finally decided that I’m going to vote for Peter Morales.

I’m going to vote for Morales even though he says he supports John Carver’s Policy Governance (TM) model, a rigid and inflexible model that is poorly matched to membership organizations in which the members (not the Board) set ultimate policy — but at least he uses and seems to understand the phrase “modern management” as applied to non-profits, and that counts for a lot. I’m going to vote for him even though the theological vision he states in his platform is not particularly compelling, nor particularly deep — but at least as someone who spoke Spanish before he spoke English, he seems to have some understanding of theologies that might be congruent with a post-White-hegemony world, and he is willing to talk about reconciliation, and those things count for a lot. Most important to me, Morales seems to really understand that The UUA Way has to undergo rapid change to respond to the vast changes in surrounding society — I don’t think he would change The UUA Way as much as I’d hope to have it changed, but at least we’d see some change in the right direction.

Not that it matters how I vote, or whom I support, because the rumor mill tells me that Morales doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance. Hallman has the money and the influential people behind her, and even Gini Courter, the popular moderator of the UUA, has come out in support of Hallman. So maybe I should just forget the 2009 election.

But I will say this: If you’re a post-Baby-Boomer minister, with good administrative and fundraising skills, and a deep understanding of the societal changes that are rapidly rendering The UUA Way obsolete — I do hope you will start preparing now to run for the 2014 2013 UUA presidential election.

20 thoughts on “Choose one for UUA president:
Hallman | Morales

  1. will shetterly

    I suspect it’s not the UU way to say you’re considering a run yourself, but I hope you are. Or doing the networking to get a group together to choose a candidate.

    I dunno how much overlap your principles actually have with Rod Richards’, our minister in Sierra Vista who I haven’t seen in way too long, but he’s a great guy, and if you two haven’t met, you should.

  2. StevenR

    Sometimes it’s good that the UU elections aren’t democratic – at least we know that whoever wins the UUA Presidential race, that they don’t really represnt UUs.

  3. Jeff Wilson

    Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen my former minister, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, in the position. I didn’t always agree with her, but I did deeply trust her, and she would’ve brought a lot to the table that from out here in the cheap seats it doesn’t seem like Hallman or Morales do. But, she died.

    There are a lot of UU ministers whom I like and respect, but no one really rises immediately to mind as a particularly good candidate for Chief Executive Officer of the UUA, including among the Gen X crowd.

  4. Dan

    Will @ 1 — I’m flattered that you’d suggest it, but there is simply no way that I’d run for UUA president. I have neither the patience, the personality, nor the appropriate skill set for that job.

    StevenR @ 2 — In my cynical middle-age (distinguished from my cynical youth only by the fact that I’m older now), I doubt that there are very many elections in this world that are truly democratic. Money and access to power still trump everything else.

    Jeff @ 3 — You’re right, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley would have been excellent; it is sad that she died. I can think of two other people whom I hope might consider a run for the UUA presidency: Rev. Forest Gilmore, currently at Princeton, N.J.; and Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, Fourth Universalist in New York City. Give me a few hours, and I’ll think of a few more.

  5. Jeff Wilson

    I don’t know Rev. Gilmore, I’ll have to keep an eye out for him now. I do know Rosemary, she came out of our church and is now head of the one where I used to work. She is a very good suggestion.

  6. Chalicechick

    Smile. It’s interesting how we, I think, see many of the same things in the candidates and yet come to opposite ultimate conclusions.

    That’s politics. :)


  7. Obijuan

    If you’re a post-Baby-Boomer minister, with good administrative and fundraising skills, and a deep understanding of the societal changes that are rapidly rendering The UUA Way obsolete — I do hope you will start preparing now to run for the 2014 UUA presidential election.

    Two comments, one pedantic, one less so:

    (1) The next election will be in 2013

    (2) Why limit the pool to post-Boomers with a “Rev.” in front of their names. Article VIII Section 4 states simply, “Each officer of the Association shall be a member of a member congregation.” There’s nothing in the Bylaws which require the president to be an ordained minister, it’s just always worked out that way. Is this not a trend worth breaking, as well?

  8. Dan

    CC @ 6 — Do you ever wish one candidate was, umm, less Baby-Boomer?

    Obijuan @ 7 — You write: “2013” — corrected above, thanks.

    And of course there’s no requirement to have a “Rev.” for a candidate. However, there does seem to be a political reality that of the two top elected UUA officials, moderator and president, one shall be ordained and the other not. As a religious organization, I think it makes sense that at least one of those two officials should have theological training — it is useful training for the job, and very relevant to the organization. So no, that’s not a trend worth breaking.

  9. Anna Belle

    Great post. You speak for me, except in wanting a younger person. I don’t care what age. I just want someone who understands power dynamics and does not abuse them or let others under his/her watch abuse them. Rev. Fred Muir is my top choice, followed by Rev. Gail Seavey and Rev. Jason Shelton, who will all probably have my hide if they see this comment. Ah well. They, like you and most ministers I know who understand their power, do not have the stomach for the job.

  10. David A.

    UUs broke ground by electing Bill Sinkford eight years ago; UUs now have the ability to elect the first woman to the presidency of the UUA. What a watershed moment it will be, 145 years after Universalist Olympia Brown became the first female minister of a denomination.

    As a 16-year member of the First Church of Dallas (1stUDallas) and a former member of the church council, RE teacher, leader of Intereweave group, and numerous committee groups, I have had a first-hand look at how the Rev. Laurel Hallman has managed to grow a mid-sized church into one of the top five UU churches in the country.

    If growth in our churches is the deciding factor for delegates, then one only need look at 1stUDallas for answers. Laurel Hallman is consistently effective, working collaboratively to adjust priorities and channel the resources of a tight but growing budget into a more flexible operational, planning and control model. Membership at 1stUDallas has doubled, from 550 to more than 1100 active members and friends. And Laurel has done this in the middle of the bible belt, an impressive feat.

    If long-range visionary planning is the key, under Laurel’s leadership we have consistently set strategic goals as a congregation, for five years, ten years and longer, and have changed the focus of the church to accomplish them. Our most recent strategic plan, Chart & Compass 2010, transforms our church in five areas: Caring for one another, making a distinctive Contribution to the character of public life, Curriculum—educating ourselves and others; Communication—spreading the word; and Capacity—embracing change. Close to 500 families and individuals have pledged more than $6 million toward the Chart & Compass Capital Campaign, to support this vision.

    If knowledge about policy governance and knowing how to shepherd an institution to a new operational model is it, one need only look at the dramatically positive changes in our church governance. Our simplified process has allowed 1stUDallas to focus on larger issues, so that leaders can evaluate what steps are needed to help us realize our long-range vision. This all occurred when we moved to the Carver policy governance model. We no longer have overlap of functions, and there is a more accountability and clarity in the management of the organization. The board provided clarity as Laurel challenged the church to go beyond multiculturalism and diversity to counter racism. A cohesive message from the pulpit, along with active groups and effective programs have positioned the church to create lasting formative effects on the mind and character of our membership. Most important of all, our lay ministries are empowered and ever growing.

    If social action is where the decision point is, Laurel has provided the same leadership and guidance: whether it was publicly speaking at g/l/b/t events, challenging the Dallas City council to provide more police and working with the school board for improvements in our public schools, as a founding member with Ernesto Cortes of Dallas Area Interfaith (almost two decades ago), or as a strong member of the North Dallas Shared Ministries, which focuses on providing effective, appropriate, and efficient assistance to a large segment of Dallas’ poorest population. Her commitment to social causes has provided community change through Hearts and Hammers, Habitat for Humanity, For the Love of the Lake, voter registration, school books and supplies, mentoring, tutoring and a host of others in the four social action areas this church is fantastically active in: Peace, Democracy, Environment and Social Justice. To help bring awareness to the many lay-led programs in 1stUDallas, she established the dedication of 1st Sunday collection to benefit these causes, raising more than $175,000 so far.

    If wisdom built on years of experience leading organizations and institutions is key, one only need look at her resume to see that Laurel has a consistent and well-documented history of executive leadership in large and growing organizations. Her tenacity and her tenure of 30 years in ministry give her special insight.

    If religious education is the fulcrum, it’s important to know that Laurel came out of the teaching profession; her teaching experience helped her create Images for our Lives, a religious education program which is among the best in the UUA. 1stUDallas was instrumental in the dialogue and curriculum building process of “Our Whole Lives”; 1stUDallas also committed $150,000 to the creation of the forthcoming “Tapestry of Faith” curriculum. And Laurel created “Living By Heart” a program for spiritual deepening used at 1stUDallas and throughout the denomination. The proof of how well 1stUDallas handles RE is in our quadrupled retention and growth of youth within the RE programs, and our consistently popular and growing adult RE program in the last several years.

    Or perhaps it’s thinking outside the box, figuring out how to further our UU call to service in the community. As a result of the demands upon programs and facilities, we are in the midst of a $7 million dollar capital campaign to strengthen programming, outreach, and infrastructure. 1stUDallas is also creating the first Center for Policy Dialogue in the Southwest, focused on supporting open public dialogue on a variety of issues affecting our society, bringing differing groups together to work for positive solutions.

    Laurel Hallman is the leader who has the ability to both create this kind of vision and to communicate it in an inspiring way. People see her excellence; they connect with her and her vision emotionally, and are inspired to commit themselves to the shared goals she lifts up. Laurel sees and communicates the big picture and inspires others to work together to make it happen.

    Given the impressive results under her leadership at 1stUDallas, we should all look forward to the election of the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman.

  11. Dan

    David A. @ 10 — Wait, you’re a supporter of Laurel Hallman, right? Sigh. At the risk of getting involved in a protracted discussion about an election that I feel (at best) lukewarm about, here are a few responses:

    Laurel Hallman, first woman as UUA prez, Peter Morales, first Hispanic as UUA prez. From my point of view, the two arguments cancel each other out.

    Growth: Morales can make similar claims. Again, the arguments for each candidate cancel each other out.

    Policy governance: Obivously, you didn’t read my post carefully — I think Policy Governance (TM) (yes, it’s really trademarked) sucks. You can read my serious doubts about the relevancy of Policy Governance (TM) to the UUA here, in a comment on Philocrites’ blog.

    Social action: Morales makes similar claims. Seems to me the claims cancel yet again.

    As for the various qualifications in executive roles, Morales makes the same claims. Another cancel, from my point of view.

    Religious education: I don’t buy your claims here at all. I’m fellowshipped as a minister of religious education, and I gotta tell you “Images for Our Lives” did a couple of things right, but it is not a great curriculum. Not that Morales is any better. My feeling is both of them aren’t particularly strong on religious education.

    Thinking outside the box: You really didn’t read my post, did you? My whole point about this election is that both Morales and Hallman are Baby Boomers who think INSIDE the UUA box.

    I’m actually sad that you didn’t seriously engage my post, and instead plunked what seems to be boiler-plate pro-Hallman text in your comment. The really sad thing about this election is that there is very little serious engagement with some of the big issues that face us. And if you’re not clear on what I think the big issues are, please re-read the post.

    In fact, please re-read my post and this comment carefully before responding any further.

  12. Steve Caldwell


    I get the feeling that voting in the 2009 UUA Presidential Election will matter about as much as Stan’s vote for school mascot in the the South Park episode “Douche and Turd.”

    Of course, we’re not facing a choice between a “giant douche” and a “turd sandwich” like Stan did in South Park. In that sense, we’re much more fortunate than Stan.

    Both candidates are decent folks who are supported by decent folks (based on what I’ve seen in snail mail, Facebook, endorsements on candidate web sites, etc).

    However, I do get the feeling that the decision about who will be the next UUA President was decided in a “smoke-filled back room” prior to the 2009 GA (even though the back room was probably a smoke-free room with fair trade coffee and hummus instead of tobacco smoke and booze).

  13. Martin Voelker

    I’m not so sure that you interpret Morales’ view about policy governance correctly. From what I read and heard him say he, too, finds it too rigid and demanding. He said (in the Ft. Lauderdale Candidate Forum) his congregation practices “policy governance light” because you can get 90% of the benefits by following the general principles without all that time consuming paperwork. Also: wasn’t PG decided as the model in 2006 for gradual implementation? If so, how could you expect any candidate to say: If elected I’ll ignore any orders from the board! That said, Laurel Hallman is truly in love with PG, reporting that she got to know Carver personally before his model became famous and because it worked very well for her own congregation’s affairs.
    Finally, the global ends drafts I read (coming out of years of meetings) from October 2008 are nothing to write home about. Did it really take that long to come up with a short mission phrase and a completely predictable laundry list of uncontroversial liberal goals?
    Here’s the phrase: “Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.” The person who sent me this added this comment: “So, you could not grow by so much as a single member in all of our Association and still meet this global ends statement’s intent?”
    And that is pretty similar to what Peter Morales asked at that Boston meeting in October. If you ask me, Peter gets it.

  14. Bill Baar

    The UUA Way has to undergo rapid change to respond to the vast changes in surrounding society — I don’t think he would change The UUA Way as much as I’d hope to have it changed, but at least we’d see some change in the right direction.

    Elaborate a bit on the societal changes and how UUA should change in accordance with them?

    I think your right. And I think the great threat for being so politcally involved is we get culturally bound, and oddly, institutions bound that way ossify and then get steam rolled and crunched by tomorrow’s politics.

    But your comment is deserving of a post on it’s own and that might spark a start for the change we need to avoid disappearing.

  15. Hank

    Amen Dan,
    I agree with everything you wrote. Your article could have been called what if they had an election and nobody came? Most UUs exhausted their election excitement on Obama and neither candidate has really turned it on.

    So glad to hear that there is finally some voices who are speaking up about Policy Governance, can’t we just act like churches?

    Thanks again

  16. Dan

    Steve @ 12 — Ooo, the UUA election as a South park episode — yeah, it does have that feel to it, doesn’t it?

    Martin @ 13 — Glad to hear that Morales is not a Policy Goveernance (TM) ideologue.

    As for that global ends draft that you quote from — Holy Crapola!! That is SO wrong!! It is gobbledygook!! It sounds like the mission statement for a New Age congregation, not a denominational headquarters!! It should read something like this: “The UUA helps create great congregations.” Period! End of sentence!!

    Bill @ 14 — Summary of societal changes that I believe the UUA is NOT responding to: generational differences (i.e., UUA privileges Baby Boomer attitudes); demographic shifts in the U.S. (e.g., growth in Hispanic population; changes in suburbs); innovations in non-profit administration (e.g., Policy Governance is outdated); innovations in theology (i.e., second-wave feminism is dead); emerging models in doing social justice work; etc. Yeah, some day I should do a series of posts on this topic….

    Hank @ 15 — You write: “can’t we just act like churches?”

    Yes! Perfect wording!

  17. Chalicechick

    (((Do you ever wish one candidate was, umm, less Baby-Boomer?)))

    One could wish that about both UUA president candidates.

    Morales ran off to Canada to dodge the draft in the Vietnam war. Hallman had her first child in 1970.

    Heck, Sinkford was born in 1946.

    I think we’re stuck with baby boomers running things for awhile.


  18. Dan

    Chalicechick @ 17: You write: “I think we’re stuck with baby boomers running things for awhile.”


  19. David Keppel

    Don’t make any assumption about who is going to win. This election is very like the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Laurel Hallman started with the inside track, but based on the reaction to their presentations, and on the slightly greater number of congregations nominating Peter Morales, I’d say the outcome is wide open.

    While you are enthusiastic about neither candidate, I respect and admire both — but I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Peter Morales. He understands that we have to be intentional about making the UUA more diverse. He’s outspoken on social justice. He is flexible about governance and rigorous about evaluation.

  20. Dan

    David @ 19 — You write: “He understands that we have to be intentional about making the UUA more diverse.” So far, Morales gets my vote because of exactly this point.

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