“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.
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