Wait, what?!

A new study from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) looks into religious affiliations of QAnon devotees. QAnon devotees believe that governments, media outlets, and world finances are in the control of pedophiles who worship Satan. They also believe that there’s some kind of big convulsion coming that will get rid of all the powerful elites, allowing the world’s true leaders (like Donald Trump) to return to their rightful positions of power. And QAnon devotees believe that real American patriots are gonna have to get their guns and use violence to save America.

41 million Americans believe in QAnon — roughly 16% of the population. We usually think of QAnon devotees as white Protestant evangelicals. But you can find QAnon devotees in many different religious groups. For example, 17% of all QAnon believers are “Nones,” religiously unaffiliated Americans.

PRRI also looked at specific religious groups to determine what percentage of each religious group were QAnon devotees. So while 17% of QAnon devotees are Nones, only 11% of Nones are QAnon devotees. Hispanic Protestants had the highest percentage of QAnon devotees, at 27%. Interestingly, 17% of all Buddhists are QAnon devotees, whereas only 14% of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestant Christians were QAnon devotees. And 7% of Unitarian Universalists are QAnon devotees.

Wait, what?!

7% of us are QAnon devotees. So if there are roughly 200,000 Unitarian Universalists, that means there are 14,000 Unitarian Universalists who are QAnon devotees. Well, I guess we can take comfort that there’s only one group — Jews — with a smaller percentage of QAnon devotees (5%).

But still….

Not OK

Someone pointed out to me that Star Island has posted an interesting job opening. Star Island, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a retreat center off the coast of New Hampshire that was founded by Unitarians and liberal Congregationalists, and remains affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the UUA.

The position, titled “Island Minister/Beloved Community Project Manager,” will “work to further Star Island Corporation’s Beloved Community Project — a diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative that is a core strategic priority of the Star Island Corporation (SIC).” This is a laudable goal, and it’s simply amazing that a nonprofit would hire a full-time year-round staffer to oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion.

There’s just one problem. The job posting does not list the salary range. Instead, applicants are told to submit their “salary requirements.”

I call bullshit.

The reason I call bullshit — and the reason that I use such a strong word to describe their action — is that refusal to include a salary range in a job posting is in itself a discriminatory act. In fact, in some jurisdictions, it is now illegal to post a job with no salary range: BBC news recently reported that Colorado now requires all job posting to include the hourly wage or the salary range. Similarly, SHRM recently reported that New York City will require all job posting in the city to include salary ranges. Why? Manhattan Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal says, “Failure to include a salary range would be considered a discriminatory practice.” That’s right, a discriminatory practice.

BBC has also reported: “Research shows that the pay gap, which is well documented, partly stems from the ‘ask gap’: the difference in salary expectations between groups, which undercuts women and minorities in particular. Closing this gendered and racialised ‘ask gap’ can pay major dividends for careers, reducing long-term salary inequality.”

Star Island is engaging in a discriminatory hiring practice — a practice that’s illegal in Colorado and New York City — in order to hire a staffer who will oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion. Oh, the irony. If you’re someone who has connections to Star Island (especially if you make donations to them), please contact their board and CEO and call them out on this racist, sexist practice.

We also need to call out all the UU congregations that post jobs with no salary range. Some day if I ever have time, I’m going to go through the job postings on the UUA “Jobs Board” and the LREDA employment postings and make a list of all the congregations that post jobs with no salary range — a sort of “Hall of Shame,” showing which congregations have racist, sexist hiring practices.

This is an equity issue that’s easy to fix. Let’s fix it.

Transparency, part three

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is making a big step towards transparency. According to an email I just received, the MFC will publish a list of all ministers who have been removed from fellowship:

“In the past, the UUA relied on the UU World Magazine’s Milestones section as the most transparent way to list ministers removed from Fellowship. The UU World is only published twice a year at this time, and it is impractical to search the archives of the magazine for this information. Therefore, the UUA will soon publish a compiled list on its website.”

This email was signed by the two co-chairs of the MFC, Rev. Jackie Clement and Rev. Dr. Rebekah Savage. Given how understaffed the UUA is these days, no doubt it will take a little time for the list to actually make it up on the UUA website. Nevertheless, this decision is a big step towards transparency.

The email, by the way, goes on to give a primer in congregational polity: “only congregations have the right to ordain ministers, and thus the MFC does not have the power to remove ordination, or even to force a minister to resign from a position if a congregation does not vote removal or termination.” In other words, if someone’s congregation wants to keep a minister who has been removed from fellowship by the MFC, they have every right to do so — but now it’ll be harder to hide the fact that their minister has violated the ethical standards of the UUA.

Transparency

The Rabbinical Assembly, which credentials rabbis in the Conservative movement, has begun posting a publicly available list of “Rabbis Expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly.” Included on the list are all eight rabbis expelled since 2004, along with an apologetic note reading, “Please note the RA began posting this information in 2021 and this list does not reflect decisions prior to 2004.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was equally transparent about ministers who have been expelled from fellowship? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the web page of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and click on a link that would lead to a list of all the Unitarian Universalist ministers from 2004 on who have been expelled or suspended from fellowship with the UUA?

Religion News Service, where I learned about this story, interviewed the head of the Rabbinical Assembly, and he told why they adopted this new policy:

“‘An important part of preserving the safety of anyone who comes into a religious institution is trust in the integrity of their clergy,’ said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm. ‘When we have rabbis who fail to meet our ethical standards and have been expelled or suspended, it’s important to be transparent about that.'”

If we Unitarian Universalists want to preserve safety and maintain trust in our institutions, we should follow the Rabbinical Assembly’s lead. But our denominational leadership — including the UUA Board, UUA staff, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee — haven’t been willing to provide this level of transparency.

(Footnote for goyim: “Conservative” in this context doesn’t mean what most Unitarian Universalists mean when they say “conservative.” The Conservatives ordain both women and LGBT people as rabbis, use critical-scientific methods, and are open to a variety of opinions on religious matters. And when it comes to this new policy of transparency around clergy misconduct, Conservative Jews may be said to be far more progressive than Unitarian Universalists.)

Another kind of misconduct

I recently received one of those emails from Sarah Lammert, the Executive Director of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), saying that a minister has been removed from fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). This email, sent to “Congregational Board Leaders and UU Religious Professionals,” informed us that Scott McNeill “was removed from UUA Fellowship by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee on April 11, 2021 for misconduct involving bullying/abusive behavior in the workplace.”

I can’t remember hearing about any other minister removed from fellowship for bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. I’m not able to confirm that, because apparently the MFC doesn’t maintain a comprehensive, publicly available list of who’s been removed from fellowship. But in combing through old email, here’s what I came up with:

In 2020, the MFC removed Todd Eklof from fellowship “based on the Rev. Dr. Eklof’s refusal to engage with the fellowship review process.” In 2019, Jason Shelton resigned from fellowship “due to self-reported [sexual] misconduct” (and the MFC infamously sent out Shelton’s self-excusing explanation of his resignation). In 2018, David Morris was put “on a three-year probation” due to “a complaint of child abuse.” In 2017, Ron Robinson was suspended from fellowship following his arrest on child pornography charges, with the proviso that if he were found guilty, he would be removed from fellowship (I have no email stating he was removed from fellowship, though I found news stories stating that he pleaded guilty).

Prior to 2017, the MFC sent out these notifications via U.S. Postal Service. Thinking back, I don’t remember any other removal from fellowship due to bullying and abusive behavior in the workplace. Based on my research into UU history, I’m pretty sure workplace bullying by ministers is nothing new, but in the absence of a comprehensive listing of ministers removed from fellowship I can’t be sure how many ministers were actually removed from fellowship by the MFC for bullying and abusive behavior.

So the question for me remains: Is it a new development for the MFC to discipline a minister for bullying and abusive behavior?

In a subsequent post, I’ll write about what bullying and abusive behavior by ministers looks like.

Update, 25 Feb. 2022: All of a sudden I’m getting comments on this post, from people who obviously did not read the post. It looks like I have to explain to careless readers what this post is about…. This was the first time I remembered hearing about the MFC removing someone from membership for bullying. That is all this post is about. This post is not about whether the MFC make the correct judgements in any of these cases, and if you want to argue about that you’re going to have to go somewhere else because I’m closing comments. Why am I closing comments? Simple. I don’t allow off-topic comments.

Making organized religion look bad

Warren Throckmorton has been watching prominent evangelical Christian pastors and leaders during this election cycle, documenting how these “court evangelicals” support Donald Trump. Two days ago, Throckmorton wrote a blog post asking, “Trump’s Denial of Election Reality: Will Court Evangelicals Play Along?”

The answer, of course, is “yes.” Many prominent white evangelical pastors continue to support Trump, and are now issuing statements accusing Joe Biden of stealing the election.

While these pastors doubtless think they are doing the Lord’s work, sadly what they are really doing is undermining organized religion. The many American citizens who are not white evangelicals are going to watch this kind of behavior — tweets that undermine democratic process, statements that deny reality — and begin to wonder about Christian churches. And by extension, wonder about the purpose of all organized religion — read the comments, and you’ll find someone calling for an end to tax-exempt status for religious organizations.

I’m a bit resentful because even though I’m about as far from these white evangelical pastors as you can possibly be (OK, I am white, too, but there aren’t many other similarities), as a minister I’m going to experience an erosion of trust because of the way they come across as hypocritical (Christians implicitly inciting violence), violating the separation of church and state, and out of touch with reality.

Sadly, these “court evangelicals” will not drive away the white evangelicals who fill their churches — but they will reduce the overall number of people who are willing to have anything to do with organized religion. So I predict an upwards tick in the “nones,” those with no religious affiliation, following this election.

Equally sadly, I’m increasingly convinced that what these “court evangelicals” do is really politics, not religion. So they’re destroying organized religion, but not actually doing religion themselves.

“Religious people tend to look like pretty good neighbors”

Several sociologists have found a characteristic that seems to predict with some accuracy who will flout social distancing restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Christian nationalists.

“Samuel Perry (associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma) and his colleagues, such as Andrew Whitehead of Indiana University and Joshua Grubbs of Bowling Green State University, argue in a series of new papers that Christian nationalism is either the single best predictor or a top predictor of whether a person will flout social distancing recommendations, be skeptical of science, find nothing racist about calling COVID-19 the ‘China virus’ or argue that lockdown orders threaten the economy and liberty — all while de-prioritizing the threat to the vulnerable.” — as reported by Religion News Service.

At the same time, the ideology of Christian nationalism apparently has only a weak connection to the Christian religion:

“In fact, religious devotion of any kind often had the opposite effect to Christian nationalism, and was the leading predictor of whether someone would take precautionary measures. ‘We found religious people were more likely to wash their hands, to use hand sanitizer and to avoid touching their face — all the things that were recommended,’ [Perry] said. ‘We find religious people are more likely to say, “If we have the decision between individual liberty and protecting the vulnerable, we’re going to protect the vulnerable”.’…He added: ‘In other words, (religious people) tend to look like pretty good neighbors.'”

Perry explains the trend as an “emerging crisis of authority.” Not surprisingly, Christian nationalists believe in conspiracy theories and distrust both scientists and the media. Christian nationalists feel that their country is being taken away from them; not surprising, then, that they are more likely to trust people like Donald Trump, who they think is going to save their country for them.

I wonder if the rise of Christian nationalism correlates in any way to the rise of the “Nones,” people who have no affiliation to organized religion. I’ve often thought that what really underlies the rise of the “Nones” is a rise of hyper-individualism and a distrust of authority; the Christian nationalists would certainly match that description. And we know from surveys that most of the “Nones” believe in God; might some of the “Nones” in fact be Christian nationalists? But this is entirely speculation on my part.

Remember that neither Trump nor most Christian nationalists actually belong to a church: they are too individualistic to want to submit to the demands that organized religion makes.

Whereas those of us who do participate in organized religion tend to make “pretty good neighbors.”

Elizabeth Fisher has died

Elizabeth Fisher, a stalwart of the UU Women and Religion movement, and author of the influential Rise Up and Call Her Name curriculum, has died. I learned about her death from David Pollard, who saw it announced on the UU Women and Religion Web site.

Rise Up and Call Her Name expanded the exploration of the feminine divine that had been begun in an earlier curriculum, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Rise Up expanded on Cakes by going well beyond the geographical regions that Cakes focused on, Europe and the Middle East; Rise Up included images of feminine divinity from a broad range of cultures, including many non-white cultures. Fisher also published The Circle Model of Shared Leadership, a book which offers group facilitation tools for shared leadership.

I mostly know about Fisher because of Rise Up and Call Her Name, which has had a significant impact on Unitarian Univeralism. I hope someone, somewhere, posts a broader appreciation of her life and work.

Religious attendance may be down, but income is up

Over the past decade, our congregation has seen flat attendance, slowly declining membership — but a modest increase in income when corrected for inflation. Turns out we’re not alone:

“A new nationally representative study from the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds that revenue is not necessarily declining along with attendance….

“‘We’re not hiding the fact that there are many congregations experiencing decline, or that it’s a major success to be simply maintaining,’ said David P. King, director of the Lake Institute and a co-director of the study. ‘But despite a narrative of decline for religiosity in America, there’s a wide diversity of what’s happening. A decline in participation does not necessarily equate with (a decline) in finances.’ Or as the study succinctly states: ‘Among congregations that are declining in attendance, there is not necessarily an automatic corresponding decline in revenue.’ “

Article.
National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices study.

Generation gap in organized religion

A Pew Research report released today aggregates yearly political surveys in which people reported religious affiliation, and finds that self-declared Christians are declining in the U.S. at a “striking” rate. According to an article on Religion News Service, attendance at weekly religious services is also way down, as Americans who attend services once a month are now in the minority:

“‘It’s quite shocking,’ said Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary. ‘This rapid shift is about generational replacement. The most religious folks are the ones who are dying and the least religious folks are the ones coming in.'”

I guess I’m not shocked, nor even mildly astonished: those of us who are involved in organized religion have been watching this trend for some time.

But I am interested in why self-reported religious participation is in decline in the U.S. The article offers several reasons:

“Thumma pointed to a number of cultural reasons that may be speeding up the generational shift, including [1] less social pressure to go to church; [2] the clergy sexual abuse scandal, especially in the Catholic Church; and [3] shifting attitudes toward sexuality and gender that clash with traditional Christian teachings. Greg Smith [associate director of research at Pew] said [4] a dissatisfaction with conservative political ties to evangelical Christianity may also be fueling the growth of the nones. [numbers are editorial]

To these reasons, I would add: [5] the decline in face-to-face community (the “bowling alone” phenomenon documented by Robert Putman and others); [6] stiffening competition for people’s leisure time including the increased availability of customized leisure-time activities; [7] the “post-church” movement within Christianity; [8] an increase in multicultural encounters that leave people doubting their own religious traditions; and [9] changing conceptions of what constitutes spirituality (sometimes reduced to secularization, though there’s more going on than absence of Christianity).