UU congregation in Texas firebombed

The Community Unitarian Universalist Church of Plano, Texas, posted the following statement on its Facebook page on July 23 (a similar statement appears on its website):

“Firebomb Attack on July 23, 2023 at Community Unitarian Universalist Church of Plano

“On Sunday, July 23, 2023, between 12:00 am and 12:30 am, a firebomb attack took place at Community Unitarian Universalist Church of Plano. An incendiary device with a chemical accelerant was thrown or placed at the front doors of the main church building. The fire and smoke caused the monitored fire alarm system for the building to go off, which notified church personnel. The City of Plano 911 system received a call from a passerby who saw the fire at the same time. City of Plano Firefighters arrived on the scene and were able to extinguish the fire. Because of the quick action of Plano’s First Responders, the damage to the church property was limited to the front doors, the materials directly outside the front doors, and the entrance foyer. There were no injuries. Plano Police and Fire Department personnel did a thorough collection of evidence of the crime scene. They also interviewed multiple church personnel who arrived on-site to assess the incident. 

“Church officials have been reviewing building security and working with the Plano Police Department since the intrusion of a hate group in the church building during and after Worship Service on Sunday, June 25. That group has posted video of their activities inside the church on various social media sites.

“The church community asks for your support and prayers at this time as we deal with the impact of this incident. Thank you and blessings.”

The “hate group” mentioned in the press release consisted of Bo Alford and Cassady Campbell, both right-wing YouTubers, and and unidentified person. On July 27, NBC News reported that the men were engaged in making a video for Alford’s YouTube channel:

“Alford’s video, titled ‘We acted LGBT at LGBT Church,’ [was] uploaded to YouTube on July 12. In the video, Alford, fellow YouTuber Cassady Campbell and another man film themselves visiting the Plano church. They ask the congregation about their beliefs while in their words, ‘pretending to be LGBTQ’ with the goal of ‘testing’ the church’s theology and exposing ‘false teachers.’ At the end of the video, which has been viewed more than 200,000 times, the men stand by the church sign and ask viewers to ‘pray for these people,’ calling the church ‘pagan and satanic.'”

On July 28, USA Today reported that Alford had removed the video from YouTube. The original NBC story had a statement from Alford saying in part, “First and foremost, my prayers go out to anyone effected [sic] by the fire. As to the accusations, My [sic] channel spreads the message of Jesus and his love for us. If you watch the video you will see the members of the church having nothing but nice things to say about us. She enjoyed our conversation and even ended it with a hug. The fact we are being labeled as a hate group and being tied to this fire in any way is appalling.” Well, actually what’s appalling is that this silly young man somehow justifies his lies about his sexual orientation, and his lies about why he visited the church, just because a kind woman gave him a hug. And now his foolish thoughtlessness will be perceived by many people as being representative of all Christians; his actions are part of the reason why so many people are leaving Christianity these days. (Please do us all a favor and don’t go search for his YouTube account; if he gets lots of views from this little escapade, it’ll make him want to do it again.)

Back to the Community UU Church of Plano. It looks like their building did not experience much in the way of physical damage, fortunately. And according to their Facebook page, they continue to hold worship services. All best wishes to them, and may they thrive and continue to provide an oasis of love in Plano.

LGBTQ+ and religion

Here are a few things I’ve come across recently on the topic of religion and LGBTQ+ issues:

1. A statement signed by some 300 prominent Muslim scholars and clerics titled “Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam” interprets the Quran as asserting that “God explicitly condemns sexual relations with the same sex”; and further, that “as a general rule, Islam strictly prohibits medical procedures intended to change the sex of healthy individuals, regardless of whether such procedures are termed gender ‘affirming’ or ‘confirming.'” While acknowledging that there are Muslims who interpret the Quran as fully supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, these Muslim scholars and clerics say that public schools should not force their Muslim children to hear any messages that support what they call “LGBTQ ideology.” These Muslim scholars and clerics join many conservative/evangelical Christians, many Orthodox Jews, and many other religious subgroups in saying that their religion does not affirm LGBTQ+ rights.

2. Three social science scholars realized that U.S. research on LGBTQ+ and religion tends to focus on the attitudes of non-LGBTQ+ people towards LGBTQ+ persons. But there isn’t much social science research on how LGBTQ+ persons themselves relate to religion. So last month, they did a survey of LGBTQ+ persons to ask them about their relation to religion. While they admit that their survey is not representative, the results are still of interest:

“Our findings suggest that the relationships LGBTQ+ people have with religion are more complicated than most media headlines portray. Many LGBTQ+ people are religious… 36% of participants report a religious affiliation; about the same percentage say they attend religious services at least once a year…. A full 80% of survey respondents were raised religious. Of those who no longer identify religiously, nearly 1 in 3 say they nonetheless continue to feel a connection to their religious heritage.”

Let’s hope this preliminary survey eventually leads to published research on this topic.

3. Sarah Imhoff, professor of religious studies at Indiana University, has written an essay for The Conversation titled “Nonbinary genders beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’ would have been no surprise to ancient rabbis.” She says in part:

“As a scholar of Judaism and gender, I find that people across the political spectrum often assume religion must be inherently conservative and unchanging when it comes to sex and gender. They imagine that religions have always embraced a world in which there are only men and women. But for Judaism – and for many other religious traditions, too – history shows that’s just not true.”

My favorite part of this essay is when Imhoff points to interpretations by ancient rabbis, found in the Jewish Midrash, where Genesis 1:27 is interpreted to mean that the first human created by God was both male and female — not exactly what we today would call transgender, but definitely a human who did not have binary gender.

Vesak in the White House

Many Buddhists recognize today as Vesak, a day which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. (This is a lunar holiday, so it doesn’t always fall on May 5.) And this will be the third year of a Vesak ceremony in the White House. (Nicely timed this year to lead off Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.)

It’s kind of amazing that there will be any recognition of a Buddhist holiday in the White House. No doubt the usual Christian nationalists and right wing Christian bigots will bemoan the celebration of a non-Christian religious holiday in the White House. No doubt the usual fundamentalist atheists will bemoan the celebration of any religious holiday in the White House. But I like the idea. Personally I don’t celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, or death, but I’m glad of this recognition of the cultural and religious diversity within the United States.

The year in review: Unitarian Universalism

These are a few of the things I’ve been watching in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) universe here in the United States:

Article II Study Commission

The commission charged with revising Article II of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) released draft wording of a revision. From the few reactions I’ve seen online or heard in person, I suspect most Unitarian Universalists (UUs) were expecting minor revisions to the existing wording. But the draft represents a major rewrite — mostly new wording, no more seven principles, no more six sources. Kudos to the Article II Study Commission for attempting a much-needed major rewrite.

The real question, however, is whether we can build consensus around this particular rewrite, or if this reqrite will evolve into something that we can build consensus around. Personally, I’m ready for the Purposes section of Article II to be rewritten, but I’m not excited by the new draft version. What will the lovers of the “seven principles” think of this major rewrite? Will they vote for it? And if there is consensus among the usual General Assembly attendees, a tiny percentage of all Unitarian Universalists in the U.S., will the new wording be widely accepted by the rank and file? I don’t think the answers to any of these questions are obvious.

UU blogs

There aren’t many UU bloggers left. Scott Wells has finally reduced his blogging to just a few times a year. Will Shetterly moved to SubStack, deleting his old blog. People like Patrick Murfin and Paul Wilczynski are still blogging regularly, but they rarely blog about Unitarian Universalism any more. And there are a few long-time UU bloggers barely hanging on to their blogs, like Peacebang — who used to be a blogging machine, but is now down to one or two posts a year — and Doug Muder, also down to a couple of posts a year.

Continue reading “The year in review: Unitarian Universalism”

“The quarrel is with the organized part…”

Religion New Service reports on religiosity trends in the US, as found in the 2021 General Social Survey (GSS). The GSS concluded that religious participation declined rapidly during the COVID pandemic. But Michael Hout, professor of sociology at New York University, and two colleagues raise questions about that conclusion. Participation in organized religion may have declined, but in their interpretation of the data, religiosity did not decline as much.

The article raises questions of survey methodology, which are fascinating in themselves. For example, in-person surveys and online surveys have different strengths, and produce different results. And people are less likely to want to participate in surveys these days, because social media allows a better outlet for people’s opinions.

As fascinating as the discussion of methodology was, I was more interested in a couple of Hout’s conclusions.

First, that the decline in participation in organized religion has come mostly among occasional attenders — what I call “CEO Christians” or “Christmas and Easter Only Christians.”

Second, according to Hout, “Atheism is not what’s happening. If we think of organized religion as a conjoined thing, the quarrel is with the organized part, not the religion.”

Both these conclusions sound correct to me. So I’d be interested in a survey that attempted to find out why people “quarrel with the organized part, not the religion.” Are people turned off because of abuse scandals? because organized religion doesn’t feel authentic any more? because of trends outlined by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone? because people have more choices with their leisure time? because of trends towards hyper-individualism? because religions are organizing in new ways (e.g., network Christianity) not found by surveys? because surveys have a biased understanding of “religiosity” that is not keeping up with the way people are living their religion?

2020 U.S. Religion Census nears completion

Religion News Service (RNS) reports on some preliminary conclusions from the the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. This decennial census has been carried out since the 1950s, by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

As expected, the number of “adherents” (persons affiliated with a local congregation) has declined since the last such census. But religious groups that have a lot fo immigrants are doing quite well.

For example, Roman Catholics have grown modestly, from 59 million adherents to 61 million adherents. But essentially all that growth comes from Hispanic immigrants. RNS reports: “‘If you took away the Hispanic population in the Catholic Church, it would look as bad as mainline denominations,’ said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research….”

A more striking example: American Muslims. RNS interviewed Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, about Muslims in the U.S. RNW summarizes Bagby’s thoughts as follows: “Muslims may be in a kind of golden age in the U.S. They are younger than the American population overall, and the Boomers among them are financially well off and able to contribute to the construction of new mosques.”

Also worth noting from the RNS report: They interviewed Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who said: “Denominational brands have weakened, and divisions have increased over issues such as female clergy or sexual orientation….” Unitarian Universalism may be somewhat insulated from these trends, since we generally agree with each other on female clergy and sexual orientation (we had those fights in the last century). But I suspect we are still affected by the weakening of denominational brands.

I’ll be watching the website for the 2020 census, to see when the full report is finally released.

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.


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.)