by Ken Ing guest contributor
Ken Ing retired in 2019 after a career in Information Technology. He lives in the state of Washington. He is a frequent contributor to the local UU Fellowship’s adult learning program, creating 13 talks over the past 3 years, usually about history or politics.
Concerns About the Draft of Article II in UUA Bylaws
The draft language of a rewrite of Article II of the UUA Bylaws posted on the UUA website on October 22, 2022, shows me that UU members have a significant voting decision to make at General Assembly in 2023. Article II contains the Seven Principles and Six Sources, plus the Purposes, Inclusion, and Freedom of Belief sections.
I want to add my voice to those who are very concerned about this draft of Article II. The new language is very different fromthe current Article II language. I am worried that criticisms of this draft will pick out the low-hanging fruit (I don’t like the flowery language!), but they will miss the forest for the trees.
Many of the words added in this draft are ambiguous and might not mean what UUs think the words mean. Nor am I confident that a simple side-by-side “before” and “after” look at Article II will give UUs the information they need to make an informed voting decision.
What is the big picture here? What are the actual goals of this rewrite? I am going to say something bold to get everyone’s attention and also because I believe it. I am convinced that the goal of this rewrite, and other UUA Commissions active right now, is to transform Unitarian Universalism from a Liberal Religion into the equivalent of a Social Justice Activist Collective.
I think the strategy for accomplishing that transformation is a dramatic reversal of the allocation of power in UU.
When casting a vote in 2023 regarding the new Article II language, this is what you are deciding:
- Do you want to belong to a Liberal Religion where congregations decide their priorities?
- Or do you want to belong to a nationally orchestrated Social Justice Activist Organization?
The rewrite is that dramatic. These two visions of UU are mutually exclusive. Choose one or the other.
Activist organizations require that everybody have a laser focus on the same missions at the same time! The only way to dothat is to consolidate power into a central authority. That is what this Article II rewrite is doing.
Some UU members are opposed to this major change in the orientation of Unitarian Universalism. They feel there is a compelling need for a Liberal Religion in our society. They believe a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, as well as the right of conscience and democratic processes are indispensable for individual and societal health and growth.
Opponents of this proposed transformation are NOT dismissive of the need for anti-racism activism. But they think that the national UUA’s anti-racism approach, based on Critical Race Theory, is flawed. It is simply the wrong way to fight injustice.
Loss of Power by Individual UUs
Now let’s get back to the draft language in the Article II rewrite. How do I conclude that this draft serves the goal of changingUU into the equivalent of a Social Justice Activist Collective by inverting the existing power structure in Unitarian Universalism?
Right now, the power in UU is vested in Unitarian Universalist members within our congregations and fellowship. The mostnoticeable change in this draft is to strip out the liberal principles that protect the prerogatives and sovereignty of the individual.
- Principle #4: “A free and responsible search for truth and ” Gone.
- Principle #5: “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Gone
Furthermore, the Article II Study Commission proposes to append to the end of the current Freedom of Belief statement an extra concluding sentence that says, “In expressing our beliefs, we do so in the spirit of love, in waysthat further Beloved Community.” I think this is more than an exhortation to “be civil to each other.” I think this extra sentence is saying, “Do not conflate Freedom of Belief with Freedom of Expression or Free Speech.” I think suppression of dissent and intolerance of interpersonal disagreement should have MUCH higher bars to clear.
Loss of Power by Member Congregations
The next layer up in the current power hierarchy is the member congregations of the Association. The preamble to the new “Values and Covenants” section includes the sub-sentence “we covenant, congregation-to-congregation and through our association.”
The word “covenant” is one of those ambiguous words. When you understand what the national UUA leadership means by “covenant,” this sub-sentence clearly intends to preempt congregational autonomy and independence currently enshrined inArticle III of the Association’s bylaws that reads, “The Unitarian Universalist Association is a voluntary association of autonomous, self-governing member congregations, which have freely chosen to pursue common goals together.” I think this preemption is the most momentous change of all.
These changes implement a transfer of sovereignty and power from the UU congregations to the national UUA. My analogy isthat the national UUA would be the head of the body, congregations would be the arms and legs, and members would be thecompliant fingers and toes. Nor can we exclude from the conversation the full rewrite of the Association’s bylaws currently underway. Given the draft language of Article II, we should expect the centralization of authority to be seen even clearer.
What Should We Expect from Centralized Power
What is the national UUA going to do with that centralized power? This is an extremely important question. (No congregation of) No UU congregation should agree to give away their sovereignty and power without understanding how centralized power will be used.
Per the draft language of Article II, the only value that UU congregations will be explicitly accountable for is the value of Justice. This justice value in the proposed Article II is the 8th principle, phrased slightly differently. The intent of making only justice an accountable value is to single out anti-racism / anti-oppression as the highest priority with Unitarian Universalism. UU congregations and members will thus be officially accountable for Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression and Multi-Cultural(AR/AO/MC) missions.
You should be wondering what those AR/AO/MC missions might be. I think a review of the Action of Immediate Witness (AIWs) from the past six years at General Assembly gives you a good idea of what kinds of AR/AO/MC missions will be chosen in the future. Some of the AIWs approved in the recent past would have been controversial if they had been mandatory instead of voluntary. Some UU Members would not have been comfortable being obligated to actively support every action item in the AIWs, like calls to abolish the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) (2018 and 2020) or support defunding the police (2020 and 2021).
The point of centralizing power is to decide what missions have the highest priority and to obligate all UU congregations and members to give those missions their greatest focus. Then hold them accountable.
I believe that accountability is the most important piece to this whole puzzle. Last year I wrote a critique of the 8th principlethat pointed out that it was unclear to whom UU members and congregations would be accountable. I believe that what each of the ambiguous words really mean will be decided by those whom we are accountable to.
In the Accountability and Resource section of the Widening the Circle of Concern report published by the Committee on Institutional Change (COIC), on page 131 there as an unambiguous recommendation for who will “monitor accountability on work toward equity, inclusion, and diversity.” The report says the organization that will conduct this accountability monitoring will be composed of “representatives of groups of oppressed people.” The associated action item clarified that this accountability monitoring organization should “consist of one representative and one alternate from identity-based groups, including DRUUMM, BLUU, TRUUsT, and EqUUal Access”.
Those identity groups specifically recommended by the COIC report to monitor accountability are not subject to democraticcontrol by the UU denomination at large.
After the release of that report, the UUA Board quickly drafted a Responsive Resolution to commit to the COIC recommendation by creating an Accountability Commission. This was approved by delegates at General Assembly in 2020. The 2021 Statement of Conscience approved at General Assembly in 2021 also explicitly called on UU organizations and individuals to implement the recommendations in the Widening the Circle of Concern report.
The Accountability Design Team ultimately decided to create two Accountability Teams instead of one. This was approved by the Board of Trustees at their May 9, 2022 meeting. One Accountability Team will work in the background as the COIC report recommended, reviewing UU progress on achieving UU goals and consulting with the UUA Board on what issues need attention.
The Design Team concluded that a second Accountability Team was needed for real-time participation. The official charge to create the Accountability Teams says “Team members need to be included in generative conversations while decisions are being made, not called in to critique decisions after the fact. … to ensure that the team can impact the ongoing work of dismantling and transforming white supremacy culture in an intersectional way.”
At the time my analysis is being written, it is still unclear exactly who the UUA Board of Trustees is making their own accountability agreements with. Hopefully this will be crystal clear before congregations decide whether to commit to being accountable to the Association. I think being accountable to the Association is the intended meaning of “covenant” as used in the preamble to “Values and Covenant” in the Article II draft.
The word “love” is another ambiguous word. I am concerned that the frequent reference to “love” can be easily misunderstood or mis-used. Believe it or not, “love” in the Article II rewrite does not mean what most people think it means. The charge to the Article II Study Commission is very clear about what “love” is intended to mean.
Our commitment to personal, institutional and cultural change rooted in anti-oppression, anti-racism, andmulticulturalism values and practices is love in action, and should be centered in any revision of Article II.
So, love is “love in action.” Love is doing AR/AO/MC work. Love is following through on changing UU’s institutions and culture.All of these references to “love” are there to reinforce the intention that the re-phrased 8th principle in the definition of “Justice” is going to be the central focus of UU.
The rewritten draft Purposes of the Association ends with “We will transform the world by our liberating love.” I interpret “liberating love” as “love is dismantling White Supremacy Culture.”
Thoughts on Critical Race Theory
Let us be clear that the ideological engine behind the 8th principle and the UUA campaign to eliminate racism is Critical Race Theory (CRT). There is a body of scholarship that contends that using Critical Race Theory to fight racism is a terrible idea. CRT’s single focused solution to “dismantle racism and all forms of oppression” is to reject western Liberalism.
The Spring issue of UU World confirms that our UU leadership is indeed on a campaign to change Unitarian Universalism.
“. . . the Unitarian Universalist Association has focused on an unprecedented, widespread cultural transformation to eliminate systemic racism and white supremacy culture both within the association and within Unitarian Universalism.”
The mechanism employed by UU leadership to achieve this “unprecedented, widespread cultural transformation” is to use CRT and the COIC report. Both postulate that oppression is caused by the dominant culture’s ways of knowing things and doing things. The Critical Race Theory solution means rejecting the Enlightenment’s emphasis on logic, reason, evidence, due process, and other liberal practices.
Those liberal practices are what the UUA Board of Trustees sponsored COIC report means when it refers to White Supremacy Culture. Removing the prerogatives of individuals, by discarding the 4th and 5th Principles and restricting freedom of speech in the draft Article II language, is consistent with the goals of CRT.
The End Game
Dogmatism and top-down rule of this sort are incompatible with a Liberal Religion. When the Article II rewrite, the full Bylaws rewrite, and the Accountability Teams are all implemented, the power distribution in UU will have been completely reversed. The way I see it, the Accountability Teams that the UUA Board will be formally holding themselves accountable to will be the highest authority in UU. The identity groups that presumably will have that power are not subject to democratic control by the UU denomination at large. All the pieces of an “unprecedented, widespread cultural transformation” would then be in place to transform UU from a Liberal Religion to the equivalent of a Social Justice Activist Collective.
I believe there is a compelling need for a Liberal Religion in our society. The next seekers of truth and meaning and a right of conscience will be just as hungry to find a home as many current UUs were before they found UU. I feel UU members have a responsibility to be active stewards of the denomination. Maybe our friendships will survive these changes, but how are thenext wave of seekers going to find each other? This Article II Draft feels like it is pulling up the ladder behind us.
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