What exvangelicals do instead of church

Exvangelicals are forming “spiritual collectives” — which have superficial resemblance to Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations, because they’re LGBTQ+ friendly, open to non-Christian sources of wisdom, and don’t have doctrines or dogmas.

There are also big differences. Exvangelical spiritual collectives have a different worship style. Their preachers are more likely to do their preaching (which they may call teaching) wearing a dark polo shirt and khakis — while most UU ministers wear stoles and robes while preaching. Exvangelical spiritual collectives are still evolving rapidly. They describe themselves as “experimental” — while I don’t hear many UU congregations talking about being experimental. Exvangelical worship services remain close to their evangelical roots. Their liturgies and governance still look like low-church evanglicalism— while most UU liturgies and governance practices are much closer to mainline Protestantism. As for age demographics, there are a lot more young adults in photos of these exvangelical groups.

In spite of the obvious differences, I’d love to sit down with people from these spiritual collectives and learn more about them. How are we UUs different from them? How are we the same?

Documents relating to the Ute Indians and the Unitarians

Recently, people in the United States have been taking the month of September to reflect on the wrongs perpetrated against the indigenous peoples by the U.S. government and citizens.

(And yes, the perpetrators of wrongs against Native Americans were nearly all White, which means that Ron DeSantis doesn’t want this material taught in the Florida public schools because it might make some White kids feel ashamed of their race. More than 20 other U.S. states have laws similar to Ron DeSantis’s law in Florida, which means that this blog post is officially and legally banned in schools in more than one third of the U.S. But I digress….)

After the Civil War, various religious groups were assigned to Native American groups. The Christian religion, especially Protestant Christianity, was considered a “civilizing force,” a means by which White settlers could maintain control over Native peoples by forcibly integrating them into White culture. The Unitarians were still considered Christians in the 1870s (we got kicked out of the Christian club after 1900), and as a small denomination we were assigned “the Utes of Colorado,” a group of Native nations then living in Colorado, later forcibly removed to Utah. The Unitarians considered this “mission work,” a way of spreading the Unitarian religion through good works among non-White (and therefore less “civilized”) persons; and they classed it with the Unitarian mission in Kolkata, India, and the mission work done among African Americans in the Deep South.

Apparently, the Unitarians were fairly ineffective at this mission work. Given the history of Unitarianism, I suspect our ineffectiveness was due to our usual lack of organization and unwillingness to provide adequate funding. We established a school for Ute children, which is not listed in the first volume of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, so perhaps it was not a boarding school. Nevertheless, given what we know now about how White-run boarding schools did so much damage to Native children, it seems important that we learn more about how this school operated.

(All this makes me think: The Universalists can be thankful that we were so small and disorganized and heretical during the 1870s and 1880s that the U.S. government never assigned them a group of Native peoples.)

In any case, I’ve collected some documents from the 1870s and 1880s pertaining to the Unitarian mission among the Ute peoples. They make for some pretty uncomfortable reading. Even though the Unitarian Universalist Association formally apologized to the Utes back in 2009, we still have a lot to do to reflect on how the Unitarian religion was used as a tool of colonization.

Scroll down for the documents….

Cover page of the report of the Fifth Meeting of the Unitarians.National Conference
Continue reading “Documents relating to the Ute Indians and the Unitarians”

“How sport became the new religion”

“The Conversation” website has an excellent piece titled “How Sport Became the New Religion,” by Hugh McLeod, professor emeritus at the Univ. of Birmingham (U.K.). McLeod traces the history of the rise of sport, and the concurrent decline of religion, over the past two centuries. From his perspective as a U.K. historian, he identifies several key moments:

1850s: sport was of central importance in the U.K.’s elite private high schools; these elite high schools were training grounds for Anglican clergy, and one third of the top cricketers and footballers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities went on to become clergy

1880s: “Muscular Christianity” movement begins to develop, with clergy advocates emphasizing spirt, mind, and body

1920s and 30s: a large percentage of club teams in hockey and rounders (women), and cricket and football (men) were church-based clubs

1960: the Football Association (soccer to us Yanks) lifted its ban on Sunday games

1960s: emergence of a trend of scattering a deceased person’s ashes on the field of their favorite sports team

1990s: “sports chaplaincy” movement becomes a standard position in many U.K. sports teams, esp. football (soccer) and rugby

2000s: “Game Plan,” a U.K. government initiative to “reduce crime and enhance social inclusion,” claims that participation in sports can reduce social ills — i.e., society is now looking to sport rather than to organized religion to reduce social ills

2017: in spite of sports scandals, 71% of Britons believe “sport is a force for the good”

Today: McLeod writes that “religion has been crowded out by sport in general society, it remains a conspicuous part of elite sport – with a number of studies around the world finding that athletes tend to be more religious than non-athletes.”


Obviously, the U.S. would have a somewhat different timeline. But the end result is much the same: participation in organized religion continues to decline, while participation in sports — both as a player and/or a fan — remains robust.

So don’t believe people who claim that religion is dying out in the U.S. Maybe Christianity is in decline, and probably other organized religions as well. But participation in sports is not in decline, and in fact it has taken over the role that religion used to play in the U.S.

What the Southern Baptist vote means

A few days ago, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to expel some local churches that had women as pastors. They kicked Rick Warren’s huge Saddleback Church, and they also kicked out a small church where as woman has been serving as pastor for three decades. If they’re suddenly kicking out a church where there’s been a woman as pastor for three decades, that makes it clear that this is not a situation where suddenly women are becoming Southern Baptist pastors. It’s the denomination that has changed its opinion.

Rabbi Jeffery Salkin, who writes an opinion column for Religion News Service, makes this observation:

“This is a war the right wing is waging: roll back women’s rights…. If you are looking for the symptoms of incipient fascism in this country, pay attention to the signs: the growth of antisemitism, a parallel growth of misogyny and a powerful growth of anti-LGBTQ hatred.” Salkin adds that this new rise of fascism doesn’t look like 1920s Germany so much as it looks like 1950s United States of America.. That was the decade, according to Salkin, of “women who did not work outside the home … queer folks in the closet … an America where Blacks were still in the back of the bus and where Jews and other ethnic and religious outsiders faced serious restrictions.”

I’m inclined to agree with him. The fascism of Trump, DeSantis, and others should not be compared to Nazi Germany. They are not trying to impose a new type of fascism on the U.S. Instead, they want to go back to a time when conservative White men were firmly in control of U.S. society. We don’t like to think of the 1950s as a time of fascism, but it was — not Nazi Germany fascism, but a distinctly American kind of fascism. Nor was it only Blacks, LGBTQ+ people, and women who were targets of this uniquely American fascism — Joe McCarthy’s House UnAmerican Affairs Committee also targeted White men whose politics happened to be anywhere to the left of the John Birch Society, destroying their careers and sometimes sending them to jail.

And this week’s Southern Baptist vote shows just one of the ways conservative White men (and the women who submit to love them) are trying to make 1950s U.S. fascism return. Get those doggone women out of the pulpit before they mention that Phoebe, a woman, was one of the leaders of the early Christian church — i.e., get rid of the women before they reveal that 1950s U.S. fascism was not rooted in Christianity at all, but instead springs entirely from the fevered imaginations of conservative White men who want to retain their ill-gotten power.

Conservatism

“All academic thinking, whether right, left, or middle, is conservative in the extreme…. Nobody wants to hear what he [sic] hasn’t heard before.” — Hannah Arendt, in a letter to the philosopher Richard J. Bernstein, quoted in Jordi Graupera, “A Philosophy Professor’s Final Class,” New Yorker magazine, January 3, 2023.

What Hannah Arendt says applies in large part to religion as well. Religion tends to conservatism for the same reason academia tends to conservatism: people would prefer not to hear something they haven’t heard before.

However, organized religion is somewhat less conservative than individualized religion. In other words, someone who is “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) is likely to be more conservative than someone who is part of a religious community.

This is analogous to the tendency of an autodidact to be more conservative than an academic working in academia. When an autodidact has to listen to a challenge to their hard-won, often tenuous knowledge, it can feel like an assault on their very self-hood. When a tenured faculty member has to listen to a challenge to their hard-won knowledge, at least they’re getting paid for it.

So here’s the question. In a time when organized religion is in decline here in the US, should those of us in organized religion give in to the tendency to extreme conservatism? Or should we try to be a little more open?

Richard J. Bernstein had a strong opinion about this question. Jordi Graupera paraphrases Bernstein’s response: “We must all fight off this tendency to conformity, [Bernstein] said. Even intelligent people learn to go along with what is conventional, he explained, and they reject good philosophy.”

The UUA really needs to do this

Within the past couple of hours, Religion News Service has posted an article titled “Reform movement publishes extensive report on sexual misconduct in its youth programs.” The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) commissioned an outside law firm to investigate sexual misconduct in their movement’s youth programs and summer camps over the past half century. Then URJ published the report in its entirety, with no redactions whatsoever, on their website.

I’m impressed that URJ has both commissioned this investigation, and that they’re being completely open and transparent about the results. Really impressed. Really, really impressed. Mind you, this investigation didn’t extend to individual congregations; that would have been a much more difficult task. Nevertheless, by commissioning this investigation, the URJ has set the standard for individual congregations.

It’s time for the Unitarian Universalist Association to commission a similar investigation into our denominational youth ministries. I was very active in denominational youth activities in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and I heard enough stories back then to make me think that an investigation would turn up more sexual misconduct than anyone would feel comfortable with.

If the UUA were to commission a law firm to carry out this kind of investigation, what should we look for? We should look for exactly what the URJ looked for: sexual misconduct by adults (anyone over age 18) against minors (anyone under age 18); sexual misconduct between minors; and sexual misconduct between adults at youth activities. As I look back 50 years to 1972, at a minimum the following programs should be investigated: “ConCon,” the former continental youth conference; district youth conferences; and any other programs or summer camps run by Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) or its successor Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU).

The UUA doesn’t have a great track record of investigating and publicly admitting the sexual misconduct that’s happened in our denomination. This is a grand opportunity for us to do the right thing. I hope our denominational leaders will follow the shining lead of the Reform Jews.

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1921-1925

Part Five of a history I’m writing, telling the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart Four

A Fresh Start, 1921-1925

In November, 1921, Elmo Arnold Robinson, known as “Robbie,” arrived at the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto with his wife Olga and sons Kelsey, who was 9 months old, and Arnold, almost 5 years old. Robbie, ordained as a Universalist minister, had lots of experience in small congregations, plus he had just finished a two-year stint as the Director of Religious Education at a church in southern California. Olga was also licensed as a Universalist minister, although her time was taken up with her small children. It’s hard to imagine that the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto could have found a better match for their needs.

Not much happened in Robinson’s first year, except that Sunday school enrollment dropped still further. Emma Rendtorff had been the superintendent of the Sunday school in the 1920-1921 school year, and Sunday school enrollment crept back up to 31 children, but that was Emma’s last year as superintendent; her daughter Gertrude entered Stanford University in the fall of 1921, so Emma was no longer quite so invested in the Sunday school. In 1921-1922, Elmo Robinson’s first year, the church went through three Sunday school superintendents: Jessie Morton, who was William H. Carruth’s mother-in-law; William Ewert, a student at Stanford University; and Frank Gonzales, another Stanford student who served the longest of the three. With all that turnover, it’s not surprising that enrollment in the Sunday school dropped to 20, probably the lowest enrollment since 1908.

But Elmo Robinson had already turned his thoughts to religious education. In the summer of 1922, his essay “The Place of the Child in the Religious Education Community” was published in the Pacific Unitarian. This essay outlined a progressive philosophy of religious education that was tied to social reform:

“Every religious community believes that the future can be made better than the present. Every church, while cherishing certain ideals and methods of the past, must fire its young people with a vision of the future which will encourage them to devise new ways and means to realize it. Do you want world peace? World justice? The cooperative commonwealth?… All these things can be accomplished only by admitting children and young people to the full fellowship of the religious community as friends….”

Presumably, this essay repeated what had already been going on in the Palo Alto church. Bertha Chapman Cady was one of the teachers in the Sunday school in 1921-1922, and she involved the children in helping to run the class; one of her daughters, for example, became the class secretary. Children were becoming fully involved into the religious community of the church. The lay leaders seem to have found his vision a compelling one. The next school year, 1922-1923, the charismatic William Carruth agreed to be the superintendent of the Sunday school, and enrollment immediately shot up to 33 children.

Continue reading “Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1921-1925”

Timeline of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto

The seventy-fifth anniversary of the organization of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto is in 2022. So I’ve been working on the history of the congregation, starting with a basic timeline.

Sources for this timeline: Rae Bell’s timeline for the 60th anniversary of the congregation; Annual Reports from 2009-2020; documents in the UUCPA archives; personal reminiscences; denominational sources.

Continue reading “Timeline of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto”

Transparency, part two

A follow up on yesterday’s post on transparency:

If we want to maintain trust in clergy, we have to be able to name names when clergy have been proven to engage in misconduct. By naming names, we demonstrate that we are willing to hold ministers accountable for their actions. If we don’t name names, if we keep secrets, then we cannot maintain trust.

The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association hosts the Berry Street lecture, an annual lecture given by a respected minister. In 2016, Gail Seavey gave the Berry Street lecture, and she named names. She named Forrest Church as a minister who engaged in sexual misconduct. She called out Bill Schulz, who told her she was a “new Puritan” for speaking out against Church’s sexual misconduct. And she named David Maynard, who engaged in sexual misconduct over many years at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville.

You won’t find Gail Seavey’s Berry Street Lecture on the UUMA website, though. Nor will you find Deborah Pope-Lance’s Berry Street lecture on clergy misconduct. As I heard the story, the UUMA wouldn’t post the texts of those two lectures unless there were revisions made, and those two women refused to make revisions. Fortunately, you can read Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture on Deborah’s website.

It’s hard to name names. Clergy who have engaged in misconduct have been known to threaten lawsuits if someone named their name. Sure, they probably wouldn’t prevail in court, because if what you say is true then it’s not slander or libel — but the mere threat of a law suit is enough to silence someone like me. I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend me. In other words, someone like me can’t afford to name names of misconducting clergy, as long as they are still alive and able to sue me.

We need the kind of transparency that Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture provides. When a clergyperson has been proven to have committed misconduct, we need to be open about that fact. But when the UUMA refused to place Gail Seavey’s unrevised Berry Street Lecture on their website, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets. When the Unitarian Universalist Association refuses to post lists of clergy who have been disciplined for misconduct, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets.

Transparency equals trust. We need to build trust.

Update, Nov. 6, 2021: The Ministerial Fellowship Committee just announced they’ll post a list of misconducting clergy. Hooray!

Bad UU hiring practices

Over the past year, I’ve talked to quite a few UU professionals who are thinking about changing jobs. Mind you, this happens every year. If you have a professional job in a small nonprofit, the typical path for job advancement is to find a job at another, slightly larger, nonprofit. This is obviously true for part-time directors of religious education — the quickest path for a part-time professional to advance in their career is to find a similar position elsewhere that’s full-time. There’s also the classic career path for full-time senior ministers — stay in a small congregation for about seven years (until you get your first sabbatical), then move to a larger congregation that pays more.

The result of all this is a constant movement of professional employees — directors of religious education and parish ministers — among UU congregations. This kind of movement is actually a good thing, because it helps spread best practices and new ideas from one UU congregation to another. It also provides an obvious upward career path, which means we all can continue to attract the best talent into our congregations.

Problem is, there are too many UU congregations who do a lousy job of hiring new employees. I’m going to give three examples of lousy hiring practices by UU congregations. I’m going to change details to protect the innocent — and by “protect the innocent,” I don’t mean I’m going to protect the UU congregations who have lousy hiring practices — no, I mean I’m going to protect the UU professionals who provided some of these examples for me.

Requiring more than full-time work

Several months ago, a colleague showed me a job posting where a UU congregation in the northeastern U.S. posted a job that required eight hours a day, six days a week.

The first problem with this is that it’s stupid. Back in June, 2019, Shainaz Firfiray, Associate Professor of Organisation and Human Resource Management at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, England, wrote a piece for The Conversation titled “Long hours at the office could be killing you,” in which she cites growing evidence that a 35 hour work week is most efficient, whereas longer work weeks can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s even more true in the middle of the pandemic, where I’m seeing a huge increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among UU professionals.

I know we have congregational polity, so no one can stop your congregation from being stupid and demanding six day work weeks of your professionals. But if you do that, please do not complain to me or express surprise when your professionals grow stressed, anxious, and depressed — and then become less efficient and effectual — and even in the worst case scenario engage get driven into unethical or unprofessional behavior. Do not complain or express surprise, and also, please, accept full responsibility for being stupid.

The second problem with demanding a six day work week is that it’s unethical. Why? Well, first of all, if you claim to be paying a salary that conforms to UUA guidelines for this six-day-a-week job, you’re lying. The UUA guidelines are for full-time work, so if you’re demanding more than full-time hours, then you’re not paying the salary required by guidelines. I’ll walk you through this. Let’s take the example of a parish minister in a small congregation with fewer than 150 members in Geo Index 3. For full-time work, the UUA guidelines call for a range of $54,100 to $76,500. If you’re demanding a six-day work week, then on an hourly basis you should pay time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours. That gives a salary range of $70,330 to $99, 450. So if you advertise a salary range of $54,100 to $76,500, require a six-day workweek, and claim to be meeting UUA guidelines, you are in effect lying.

There’s another reason why this is unethical. It’s treating your professional employee like a wage slave. Actually, a congregation that demands a six day work week of its professionals is treating them worse than wage slaves. I spent twelve years punching a time clock, and when you punch a time clock your employer tends to be very respectful of your extra hours. But an unscrupulous employer will ask for more and more hours from a more-than-full-time salaried employee, because demanding more doesn’t cost them a cent.

Not publicly advertising the salary

Recently, BBC News reported on “Why companies don’t post salaries in job adverts.” UU congregations appear to be part of this world-wide trend. Over the past year, UU colleagues have pointed out to me several instances of UU congregations posting jobs that give no indication of what the salary is.

In addition, there now seems to be a trend of posting jobs with the vague claim that the congregation “pays UUA guidelines.” Except that when you get to the interview, it turns out that the salary that’s offered is the lowest possible salary the congregation can get away with. A year ago, I was shown one job posting for a religious educator that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines.” Now for religious educators, there are five different salary levels based on your level of experience and training. For example, the salary ranges for a full-time religious educator position in a mid-sized II (250-349 members) congregation in Geo Index 3 range from $55,100 to $65,200 for a Credentialed Masters Level religious educator, down to a range from $34,700 to $37,900 for an inexperienced, untrained Religious Education Coordinator. When my colleague got to the interview, this congregation that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines” for a Director of Religious Education was actually only offering $34,700, the lowest possible salary for a Religious Education Coordinator. That’s dishonest.

It’s not only dishonest, it’s stupid. As the BBC reports, “knowing the expected salary upfront lets a candidate understand whether a job will be financially viable for them.” So the hiring committee is actually wasting its own time reviewing applications and conducting interviews with people who are going to turn them down when they hear what the salary is. Furthermore, it’s also stupid because, according to the BBC, “organisations that are more transparent about their salaries can win over the best candidates and attract diverse applicants.” BBC quotes one expert as saying, “if the salary banding isn’t there, I think there can be a tendency for some of the better talent on the market to not apply.” In short, lack of salary transparency means you’ll attract a lower-quality and less diverse talent pool.

Finally, it’s not only dishonest and stupid, it’s also illegal in some states. As of 2019, Colorado requires employers to disclose pay ranges in all job listings. Similar legislation is pending in other states. The very title of the Colorado law makes it clear that this is a justice issue — “Equal Pay for Equal Work At” –and the law is designed to eliminate the gender pay gap, and all other pay disparities. So to avoid potential fines, and to hep further justice in the work world, you might as well get in the habit of posting the salary range in your job listings.

Cheating on benefits

Some UU congregations post jobs where they claim to compensate at UUA salary guidelines, but then they don’t offer the full benefits package called for under UUA guidelines. So technically, they’re not lying — the congregation is in fact paying the salary called for under UUA guidelines. But the total compensation package does not meet UUA guidelines. That’s dishonest. It’s the old bait-and-switch game.

Actually, sometimes it goes beyond dishonest into stupid. A colleague showed me one job posting where the congregation claimed to pay at UUA salary guidelines. Of course the actual salary wasn’t listed. But they did list the benefits. And the benefits package wasn’t even close to the UUA recommendations. I guess they assumed that applicants were going to be either desperate enough not to care, or ignorant enough not to look at the UUA guidelines. It’s stupid when you go out of your way to try and attract applicants who are desperate and/or ignorant. It’s also stupid to assume applicants are going to be desperate, when in actuality there’s a nationwide labor shortage.

Lessons to be learned

First lesson to be learned: There’s a labor shortage right now. If UU congregations want to attract the best candidates, especially if they want to attract more diverse candidates, they need to offer reasonable hours, they need to be transparent in their job postings, and they need to offer a decent benefits package.

Second lesson to be learned: If the congregation’s budget won’t pay for all the staff they want, trying to squeeze more work out of your staffers for less pay is not the way to go. You’ll get lower quality work, and pissed-off staffers. Either raise more money, or reduce your expectations of what you can get out of staff.

Third lesson to be learned: Financially, it’s gotten to be a harsh world for small nonprofits. We all know that staff cuts are going to be the norm for most congregations for the foreseeable future. We all know that the way to attract the best talent in this harsh world is to be fair and transparent. And I’m predicting that the congregations that attract the best talent, the most diverse talent, are going to be the congregations that survive — and even thrive — in the face of today’s harsh financial realities.