Unitarian Universalist Theocracy

“The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason that a robber dislikes a sheriff . . .”

Robert Ingersoll, American lawyer and writer

From Used to be UU

Chapter 4, COIC: Scope and Implications

Administrative or Theological Center

Less obvious in a reading of the Widening the Circle of Concern is the intent by our Boston-based UU leadership to greatly expand its power and influence over the denomination. We can all agree that Boston is the administrative center of the denomination. The Association’s member congregations grant our UU leadership specific authority to carry out the primary mission of the Association which is to serve the needs of the member congregations. The COIC report makes clear the intent of our UU leadership to also assume the mantle of a theological center. The COIC report asserts that “Acknowledgement of anti-oppression work as a theological mandate is essential.”

The concept of an ecclesiastical power center that can issue theological mandates is disconcerting and incompatible with local congregational autonomy and congregational polity. To be clear, simply saying that one has a theological mandate does not necessarily make it so, no matter how poetically it may be stated. The report also states, “As a people of faith, our call to collective justice work, through accountable partnerships, is our salvific path.”

Unlike the clarity in the power granted to our UU leadership to conduct the business of the Association, there is no clarity or evidence that member congregations or UUs in general have conferred any ecclesiastical power on our UU leadership. When we permit UU leadership to self-authorize by claiming the power of a higher authority, no matter the merit of the goal, we establish a dangerous precedent in denominational governance.

The Coming of a Theological Center

The February 2022 UUA Board meeting minutes leave no doubt that our UU leadership is indeed moving forward with their plans to cast aside our current associational structure of autonomous, self-governing congregations toward one based on a theological mandate. The vehicle for this revamping of the organizational structure of the Association is a power the Board wants to confer onto itself to rewrite the Association’s bylaws.

There is no question that the Association’s bylaws that have been updated in a piecemeal fashion over 60 years renders them somewhat byzantine. Our leadership offers that their rewrite of the bylaws responds to this situation. However, equipped with their 2020 Widening the Circle of Concern report and the near universal disinterest of most UUs, our UU leadership is proceeding to fundamentally alter UUism.

Some of the values and goals guiding this rewrite of the Association’s bylaws include:

  • Reflect our theological commitment to liberation and inclusion.
  • Provide accountability to our long-standing anti-racist and anti-oppressive commitments.
  • Create flexibility, allowing for innovation and experimentation.
  • Provide clarity of role and authority among leaders and groups that support diverse leadership.

Existing but Fragile Guardrails

Thankfully there are still some existing guardrails that constrain the UUA Board from moving forward. The Board apparently plans to bring forward to the 2022 General Assembly a resolution or vote that will grant the Board the power to “conduct a thorough review and rewrite of the UUA Bylaws.”

It is important to recognize that our UUA leadership had options on the values and goals they could have used. Alternatively, the Board could have issued the following guidance.

  • Enshrine the unique character of Unitarian Universalism that values freedom of personal belief.
  • Recommit to the use of the democratic process in the governance of the Association.
  • Respect the diverse passions of UUs and provide the flexibility to pursue social, environmental, economic, and other efforts that affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
  • Encourage the growth of Unitarian Universalist communities based on our Seven Principles.
  • Affirm that UU leadership is accountable to its member congregations.

What Can You Do?

Have Accountable General Assembly Delegates

Determine if your General Assembly delegates vote as individuals (e.g., vote their conscience) or are accountable to the concerns of the congregation’s membership.

General Assembly, by definition, is an assembly of member congregations, not individuals. Each delegate should be accountable to the will of the congregation members.

Remember “Every Voice Deserves of Vote.” Your voice should be expressed through your General Assembly delegate.

Submit a Response to Article II Study Commission Survey

Submit  your thoughts to the Article II Study Commission by responding to its survey.  Take Survey. Survey closes April 30, 2022.

Parallel Article II Study Commission Survey

We also ask that you copy your Article II survey responses to a parallel survey.  This survey contains the same questions. By sharing your responses, people can see responses submitted to the Article II Study Commission by other concerned UUs.

Take Unofficial Parallel Survey.

See Parallel Survey Responses.

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Rebecca
Rebecca
7 months ago

It would be great if you would edit this post somewhat. I took the A2SC survey first, and then I saw the next paragraph with the suggestion about copying my answers into a parallel survey. Too late! It would have been good to have your suggestion come before the A2SC survey link.
Should I try to recreate my survey answers, even though they will not be exactly the same?

Rebecca
Rebecca
7 months ago

Also, the UUA never sent me a link to this survey. What can you tell us about how that survey was publicized?

Lee
Lee
6 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

We sent the link around at our congregation. We even had an event where people could discuss the questions as they filled out the survey. It went well; I recommend the approach.

Bennett Stark
Bennett Stark
7 months ago

what is the email of the online fellowship or congregation that Robert Ingersol represents?

Paul Avery
Paul Avery
7 months ago
Reply to  Bennett Stark

Robert Ingersoll (died in 1899) was known as the Great Agnostic. He gave many public lectures during his lifetime about agnosticism. I first heard of him in a wonderful book by Susan Jacoby, “Freethinkers: A history of American Secularism.” (2005).

I just discovered that she also published a book about Ingersoll in 2013: “The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought”.

Jack Reich
Jack Reich
5 months ago
Reply to  Bennett Stark

Robert Ingersoll lived in the 19th century.

Teresa Goodell
Teresa Goodell
6 months ago

Concerning that the words “our salvific path” were used. Are we pursuing eternal salvation now? Will we be expected to believe in heaven next?

Lee
Lee
6 months ago
Reply to  Teresa Goodell

> “As a people of faith, our call to collective justice work, through accountable partnerships, is our salvific path.”

This is saying that instead of being guided by belief in salvation (or heaven), many of us are guided by a “call to collective justice work.”

Dr Teresa Goodell
Dr Teresa Goodell
5 months ago
Reply to  Lee

Perhaps it should have been worded that way.

Lee
Lee
6 months ago

> The COIC report asserts that “Acknowledgement of anti-oppression work as a theological mandate is essential.” This is a passionate expression of belief, not the issuing of an actual mandate. As such, the question is not about who is asserting power over another; the question is whether the espoused goal also speaks to us. I consider anti-oppression work as a (to-be-clear: self-enforced) imperative, so that’s pretty much a 100% match for me. If you have different priorities that call to you then please keep up the good work towards achieving those goals. But please don’t shoot down people who, like… Read more »

Jack Reich
Jack Reich
5 months ago
Reply to  Lee

You can focus on whatever you like! But don’t think you get to tell me or others what we must do. “Acknowledgement of anti-oppression work as a theological mandate is essential.” No, it’s not. that’s somebody’s opinion. And they have absolutely no right to impose that on other UUs. That’s not how we roll. Part of the meaning of us calling UUism “a free faith” is that theological know-it-alls don’t get to enroll the rest of us willy-nilly in their grand plans for social reform. It may be worth remembering that the last time the Powers That Be attempted a… Read more »

Lee
Lee
6 months ago

> Alternatively, the Board could have issued the following guidance….

Several of those call to me, and I support your efforts to have them included too. How do we go about that?