Online petition regarding clergy sexual misconduct

The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville’s “Safety Net” has started an online petition at, asking that all candidates for the UUA Board and for Moderator to open up a conversation about clergy sexual misconduct in U.S. Unitarian Universalist congregations:

We, the undersigned, are asking the candidates for UUA Moderator and Board of Trustees to publicly indicate their willingness to start a new national conversation on clergy misconduct in the UUA, and to ensure that survivors of misconduct have a real voice in that conversation. We ask them to commit to using the powers of the Board to take ownership of the recommendations of the Safe Congregation Panel, to update them as needed, and to hold the staff accountable for implementing them fully. And we ask them to investigate the accountability relationship between the Board and Ministerial Fellowship Committee, with an eye toward balancing the need to protect institutional interests with a pastoral responsibility to care for victims of misconduct.

I signed it. You bet I did. They provide a space for comments when you “sign,” and here’s what I wrote: “As someone who has served as both parish minister and religious educator in congregations suffering from past clergy sexual misconduct, I have seen the effects such misconduct has on both adults and legal minors. I have also seen first hand a high level of denial about the seriousness of clergy sexual misconduct on the part of UUA leaders. It’s way past time the UUA addressed this more fully.”

Mind you, I have my doubts whether such petitions effect much change. I also have grave doubts about whether the culture at the UUA, or in many local congregations, is going to change; Unitarian Universalists have a tendency to want to solve other people’s problems before trying to address their own problems; we’re great at sending money overseas or working on immigration problems here in the U.S., but we’ve been very unwilling to tackle problems that occur in our own homes and hearts, problems like domestic violence, racism, classism, the overconsumption that goes with upper middle class lifestyles, and so on.

But in spite of my doubts, I signed the petition. It’s easy for me to sign this petition; I’m a minister, I have a vested interest in cleaning up my profession. Now it would be nice if lots of respectable laypeople, good solid institutionalists — people who are pillars of our local congregations, people of impeccable morals — it would be good if many such people also signed the petition.

Another view of the “nones”

Recently, those who study the contemporary U.S. religious landscape have been focusing on the rise of the “nones,” those who check off “none” when asked their religious affiliation on surveys. Many commentators are predicting a gradual decline in religious affiliation in the U.S. In a recent article on the Alban Institute Web site, Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby points out that the rise of the “nones” in Canada began long before it did in the United States, and has not resulted in secularization:

“In Canada, the reality of religious polarization is a far cry from what was anticipated by theories of linear secularization. It is literally A New Day for religion, where market demand remains high, precisely at a time when growing numbers are rejecting religion. Changing demographics and varied market performances are contributing to a restructuring of players. But the inclinations to embrace religion and reject religion co-exist, with the balance always in dynamic flux. Such religious polarization, as I’ve been emphasizing, is found everywhere — even now, as the Pew Forum data remind us, in the United States.”

The Alban Institute article, “Welcome to Religio8us Polarization,” is available here. This article is adapted from Bibby’s book-length study, A New Day: The Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada, available as a free download from Project Canada.

Religious revival?

Back in February, I read a short news item in Christian Century titled “Gallup chief sees signs of religious revival.” Reporter Daniel Burke of Religion News Service interviewed Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup Poll. Newport challenges several things pundits have been taking for granted about the religious landscape in the U.S.:

The rise of the “nones”: According to Newport, we should be cautious about how we interpret the rise of the “nones,” those who report no religious affiliation. “When Gallup asked the question about religious identity back in the 1950s, almost zero would say they have ‘none’,” Newport says in the interview. “People would say ‘Baptist’ or ‘Catholic’ even if they were not particularly religious.” Newport sees a change in how people “express their religiosity,” not necessarily a decline in religion. Or maybe people are just being more honest than in the past.

Demographic trends may point to an increase in religious identity: Based on demographic trends, Newport sees a possibility for an increase in religious identity in the U.S. “If you look at age, the baby boomers are approaching 65-85 years of age, which we’ve seen as the most religious group for decades,” Newport says, which means that large numbers of Boomers could find religion as they age. Secondly, the Hispanic population is increasing, and Hispanics “tend to be more religious.” Thirdly, “religion has been correlated to health,” and people might start seeking out religion to increase their well-being. Finally, more religious states are seeing in-migrations from other parts of the country, and people are more likely to participate in religion in states where more people around them participate in religion.

Mainline Protestants are unlikely to grow: From a pollster’s point of view, Unitarian Universalists look pretty much like mainline Protestants, so we should be concerned when Newport says that mainline Protestants are unlikely to grow. How do religions grow? Newport says it’s simple: “For any group to grow, you have to have more people coming in than going out.” He outlines three ways religions can grow:

(a) Immigration: We’re seeing lots of Hispanics immigrating into the U.S., so it’s likely that Catholicism (and maybe Pentecostalism) will grow — but, says Newport, “there is no massive in-migration of Protestants,” and certainly no massive in-migration of Unitarian Universalists.

(b) High birth rates: Mormons are doing well because Mormonism encourages big families. Mainline Protestants tend to have lower than average birth rates. And I’d be willing to be that Unitarian Universalists have a birth rate that’s less than the replacement rate.

(c) Evangelize effectively: Mainline Protestants are doing a lousy job of evangelizing. Unitarian Universalists probably do a better job of evangelizing than most mainline Protestant churches — good enough that we make up for our low birth rates and lack of immigrants. But that doesn’t mean we’re good enough at evangelizing to grow.

So there you have it — the rate of religious identification may increase in the coming decade. However, the only way we Unitarian Universalists can take advantage of that possible increase is to evangelize more effectively.

Clergy action at Occupy Oakland

Tomorrow, clergy can participate in the “General Strike and Day of Action in Support of Occupy Oakland” which is planned for tomorrow. Below is the relevant information, which I’m passing along from Rev. Jeremy Nickels, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Fremont, California. Here’s Jeremy’s note, slightly edited:

1. There will be a tent called the “Sacred Space Tent” that will be the clearinghouse and meeting place for clergy-related information and events. The tent will be interfaith, and non-faith welcoming. It will have a very high flag or other identifying markings. It will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. by a clergyperson of some faith tradition. If you are interested in helping staff this group, show up early to sign up for a time slot.

2. All clergy should gather at the “Sacred Space Tent” a half hour before the three march times (9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 PM) so that we can all march together and multiply the effect of our presence. Those meet-up times at the tent are: 8:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 4:30 p.m. These are very important meet-up times and should be spread as widely as possible through all of your networks.

3. There will be trainings going on all day Tuesday, November 1, for anyone (clergyperson, layperson, etc.) who wishes to learn more about non-violence and how to embody the principles of Gandhi and King in the actions that we will be participating in on Wednesday.

4. Finally, we ask that you not only come on Wednesday, November 2, but that you bring as many people with you as you can, spread this information through all your networks and contacts!

Pallas just posted to the local minister’s email list telling us about At first glance, looks like an antiwar demonstration that will take place in Washington, D.C., beginning on October 6. But unlike conventional demonstrations, they are modeling themselves after the protests of the Arab Spring. Here’s the pledge that they ask participants to sign:

I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day or the days immediately following, for as long as I can, with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine by occupying Freedom Plaza to demand that America’s resources be invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation…. [caps in original]

The focus of this demonstration will be civil disobedience. And it sounds like anyone who goes may risk arrest, based on what they say on in their FAQ:

There are important roles for those who choose not to risk arrest such as jail support, observation and other responsibilities during the occupation such as food, medical care and cleanup. That said, there are no guarantees because we cannot at this time predict the response by the DC police. Our experience in the past is that they give warnings prior to making arrests so that those who choose to do so may leave the action.

Speaking as a peacenik, I’m a little skeptical of this demonstration. Although the pledge quoted above seems to focus on an antiwar message, no Quaker or Brethren groups have yet signed on as sponsors; if this were a peace demonstration I’d expect to see at least one Quaker meeting as a sponsor. And when you read deeper in the Web site, this demonstration is not really an antiwar demonstration; peace is merely one of a list of fifteen issues. And this does not look like a broad-based coalition, but rather the usual narrow coalition of the usual leftist groups; as a leftist myself I can tell you that we are a vanishingly small segment of the U.S. population, so I’d expect a tiny turnout.

If you know more about, I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you’re a peacenik, or have a religious perspective on this.

More atheist clergy…

…but not in U.S. Unitarian Universalist congregations. It turns out there are a fair number of atheist clergy in the Netherlands — like Rev. Klaas Hendrikse:

Mr Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.

His book Believing in a Non-Existent God led to calls from more traditionalist Christians for him to be removed. However, a special church meeting decided his views were too widely shared among church thinkers for him to be singled out.

A study by the Free University of Amsterdam found that one-in-six clergy in the PKN [Protestant Church in the Netherlands] and six other smaller denominations was either agnostic or atheist.

Full story on the BBC Web site: “Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world.”


Time to panic

According to a story released today on the UU World Web site, total membership in Unitarian Universalist congregations dropped again this year, from 164,196 members to 162,796 members. If I did my math right, this represents a drop of about 1.58%. (The story incorrectly states that these represent the numbers of adults, but some congregation allow legal minors to become full members; therefore, it is more accurate to simply say the number of members has dropped.)

Since U.S. population is growing at about 1% a year, that means Unitarian Universalism is shrinking even faster considered as a percentage of the total population. But there’s an even bigger reason to worry about the decline, because as UU World reports:

Registration in religious education programs fell for the fourth consecutive year. It dropped 2.1 percent to 54,671.

Religious education programs has been perhaps our most effective entry point for adults in their late 20s through early 40s — they bring their kids to Sunday school, then sometimes stick around after their kids grow up. Dropping religious education enrollments indicate that we are going to see dropping numbers of adults in the 25-45 age range.

If you’re not panicking yet, UU World also reports that:

Average Sunday attendance showed a decline for the first year, falling by 1,539 people. That’s a decline of 1.5 percent to 100,693 people.

A drop in Sunday attendance often precedes a decline in membership, since usually someone stops attending services months or even years before ending formal membership affiliation. The drop in attendance prompts me to predict that membership will continue to decline next year.

Why are we declining? I’d love to hear your comments first. I’ll summarize some of my thoughts on the matter tomorrow.

The rapture and Aegle marmelos

I don’t usually bother linking to my sermons, but yesterday’s sermon just happened to serve as a commentary on the misfired Rapture of Saturday. Here’s the link. As you will find out if you read the sermon, the end of the world actually begins, not with earthquakes in New Zealand, but with the fruit of Aegle marmelos.

A comparison to the way Isaac Newton handled a similar situation is perhaps inevitable in our culture.

Not raptured

It’s easy to make jokes about the end of the earth that didn’t come yesterday at 5:59 p.m., as predicted by Harold Camping. There were so many things wrong about Camping’s prediction — the convoluted interpretation of the King James Bible, Camping’s past track record with false warnings of doomsday, the inability to see how culturally conditioned such predictions are, the notion that only one person would have access to such a prediction, etc. — that it’s really tempting to mock him. I did it myself, multiple times, this morning at church.

But it’s not really funnyr. Lots of people believed Camping, and some gave away everything they had thinking they wouldn’t need earthly possessions after yesterday. And everyone I know is capable of fooling themselves, and it’s a rare person who doesn’t delude themselves about something in their life; it’s better not to mock others about something for which we ourselves can be mocked. Finally, Camping’s well-publicized failure has brought out the anti-religion fundamentalists who are now gleefully declaring that because Camping was wrong all religion must be bunk.

I found one of the nicest responses to Camping’s message buried deep in story on the National Public Radio Web site:

…people from more than one religion — and even a few atheists — admitted to being a bit introspective about the world on this particular weekend.

That was true for Maddie Calhoon, a Unitarian Universalist from St. Paul, Minn., who was at a gathering Saturday night that guests renamed a “rapture party.”

“We said, ‘We’re just glad we’re all together.’ And it was a joke,” said Calhoon, 24. “But of course it made me think about things, and about how I don’t reflect often about what I’d do if my time was coming to an end.”

Nice response to this craziness: go hang out with some friends and reflect on what’s most important in life.


I got on a BART train today at about two in the afternoon. An ad next to the door of the train proclaimed:

Judgment Day
May 12, 2011

At six o’clock, the predicted time when Judgment Day was going to come (725,000 days after Jesus was executed, or something like that), I was sitting eating dinner with some friends. “We’re still here,” someone said.

I just went to check the Web site of Family Radio — that’s the Web site controlled by Harold Camping, the guy who’s been predicting the end of the world. Their Web site is still up and running, and it still says:

Judgment Day
May 21, 2011
00 days left

And their radio station is still broadcasting (they stream it live on the Web site if you want to check it out) — and the announcer just said that he’ll back back again tomorrow.

I guess that means the Rapture is off. So what happened? Was it supposed to be 7,250,000 days, not 725,000 days? Does God count in hexadecimal? Or maybe God prefers prime numbers (this is a prime number year after all) so it’s going to be the next largest prime, 725,009?

I’m sure they’ll come up with some reason or another why the Rapture didn’t come today. And I would love to hear your speculations on where they did their math wrong.