Concerns About the Draft of Article II in UUA Bylaws

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.

Big Picture

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.

Implementing Accountability

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.

Love

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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Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
14 days ago

It’s still a matter of authority to give orders, contrasted with obligation to obey orders. Individuals have authority over their own time and money. Individual congregations have option to stay or leave any association. My personal opinion is that the UUA is already extinct, just going through the motions of dying. But we can hope, and work, for revival of the Unitarianism of half a century ago — unconnected to the UUA’s current obsession with defining Right as anything-that-makes-me-feel-good-about-myself-no-matter-how-absurd-it-may-be.

David Willkomm
David Willkomm
14 days ago

Mr. Ing, I also share your concerns about the Art. 2 rewrites shift to potentially more authoritative nature. Especially proposing a creedal test by which we will be judged. I plan to run a test on the original & rewrite doctrines by showing each to my non UU 35 yo. daughter, when she visits this month, & ask her which version she would chose for her & her 2 young sons.

Margot Haynes
Margot Haynes
14 days ago

I am concerned why Justice is defined only in terms of racial justice and not socio-economic justice.

Pat
Pat
12 days ago
Reply to  Margot Haynes

There is little to no attention to our climate disaster. No one will have racial justice if the world burns.

Ralph
Ralph
14 days ago

I will try and spend more time with tthe report to be abel to enage more fully but as always everything sited so far just reeks of that same unreflective elitism and utter refusal to acknowlefge the may UUS who are whiite and lacking their provilegde and auhority and respources. So tiered of having liberal white guilt aswaged at the sake of real change in this country. But The UUS who are in on it all seem so drink on thgeir own conections to political movers and shakers they just can’t even see what is so obvious to the rest… Read more »

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
14 days ago
Reply to  Ralph

Your comment exemplifies elitism in that it suggests that there is just one way to seek justice and you see more clearly than the rest of us. If the Article II revisions pass, many will no longer see UU as a religion. An authoritarian UU social justice focus is not a religion.

Peter Aitken
Peter Aitken
13 days ago
Reply to  Ralph

I have no comment on your ideas, but I do wish people would proofread their posts before submitting. So many spelling and other errors make it a lot harder to folllow what you are trying to say.

Steve Myles
Steve Myles
14 days ago

The biggest tip off to the superficiality of the Article II Study Commission’s proposal is their willingness to throw out 60 years of evolution and change embodied in our Principles while claiming they hold “evolution” as a value.

Emile
Emile
14 days ago

Generosity. We cultivate a spirit of gratitude and hope. We covenant to freely share our faith, presence, and resources. Compassionate generosity connects us one to another in relationships of mutuality. Thanks you for this article, I agree with many of the sentiments, especially regarding meaning of words. The above is from the proposed revision. It utterly lacks in understanding of the word “Generosity”. Gratitude and hope do not relate to generosity. It sounds like under this proposal the only generosity (that we share) is that we agree to proselytize and share out religion. . . . and as an afterthought… Read more »

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
14 days ago
Reply to  Emile

The article II committees simply took UU buzz word, tacked them to wall, threw darts and came up with meaningless word salad. The committees fail to understand that if words mean different things to different people, you do not effectively communicate. I fear ambiguity should be one of the new UU values.

Stephen Polmar
Stephen Polmar
14 days ago

I would like to thank Ken Ing for his excellent analysis of the multiple implications of the proposed Article II Revision. I would certainly agree with his intentionally provocative statement that the Article II Revision changes our Liberal Religion into an Activist Collective. However, I would not label it as a Social Justice Activist Collective, because it totally ignores many aspects of Social Justice that we as Unitarians or UUs concern ourselves with. I believe the Revision is laser focused on a particular interpretation of anti-racism, not the broad sweep of Social Justice. The anti-racism that the Article II Revision… Read more »

Mark Gallagher
Mark Gallagher
14 days ago

Terrific essay, Ken! For 30+ years UU has been edging away from being a Liberal Religion toward being a Social Reform Movement. Now it is, as you say, moving to decisively frame itself as an Activist Collective — specifically centered on CRT-based ‘anti-racism.’ (And I would say, anti-liberal.) Particular thanks for your treatment of Accountability and Love in the dismantlers’ schema — spot on.

Catherine Trestrail
Catherine Trestrail
14 days ago

There are many individuals within UU congregations across the country, or those who have left them, that feel without a church “home” because of the UUA’s attack on classic liberalism. Some have joined us (UU Spokane) in membership and services they attend online. Of course the easiest path for many of these folks is to vote with their feet and simply quit UU altogether. But we UU-type thinkers don’t easily give up the meaning and truth we have found in the classical liberalism our church has traditionally treated as a basis of our religion, including reason and tolerance. If we… Read more »

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
14 days ago

It is too late to use GA as a last hope. Those who support a diversity of beliefs and approaches to liberal religion are effectively silenced. Run don’t walk away and hold off on any financial support to UUA or any of the other UU groups who have instigated this coup.

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
13 days ago

Whether or not Article II passes won’t really matter. The UUA and affiliated groups are already acting as if AII has passed. There is little reason to be they will change their thinking.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
13 days ago
Reply to  Mark Perloe

Your persistent cynicism about our chances is noted. It may be that our chances are slim, but that has nothing to do with the value of our efforts. It’s still worth defending the faith.

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
13 days ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Frank I agree. I don’t believe what is going on in any way, devalues our faith in our community of shared values. My cynicism focuses on those who have taken control away from individuals and their congregations. I’m hoping that a new start will allow us to focus on our values and principles and not on a quixotic battle.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
13 days ago
Reply to  Mark Perloe

I’m cynical about them too. My hope is in the rest of us.

Stephen Polmar
Stephen Polmar
13 days ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

For me the question is, ” what are the criteria for success or failure of the Fifth Principle Projects efforts?”. If the Article II Revision is rejected, is that “success” and we go on trying to
“reform” the UUA? Alternatively, if the Article II Revision is accepted, which fundamentally changes the nature of the denomination, do we call that “failure” and concede that our attempts to make progress with the UUA are futile? I believe we should be discussing such decision criteria or we shall continue with these Sisyphean efforts.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
13 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Polmar

When we started this effort, it was not powered by any illusions regarding who we are dealing with. It was powered by our faith in the Principles and confidence in the majority of UU’s. If that proves unfounded then so be it. But I think that among those who know of us, we have at least changed the nature of the conversation.

Barbara
Barbara
13 days ago

The proposed new Article has more verbiage but with less meaning than the Seven Principles and Living Tradition. It is just another example of UUA empty gestures towards an extremist idea of political correctness. The only possible benefit is that if the UUA dumps the Seven Principles and Living Tradition, does that mean that break-away congregations or those joining a schism can keep them?

Robert Lamb
Robert Lamb
12 days ago
Reply to  Barbara

I don’t think you have to break away to keep the seven principles. Nothing in the new “seven bubbles” directly contradicts the seven principles. I expect my church will simply adopt the seven principles as our own principles, while acknowledging that the UUA has switched to the seven values.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
12 days ago
Reply to  Robert Lamb

I beg to differ. That one could argue, as you have, that nothing in the bubbles directly contradicts the principles, fails to recognize that nothing in the bubbles obligates the UUA to govern democratically. Without that, there is nothing of an institutional nature to support the 1st, 2nd, 4rth, and the 6th principles. That will have no doubt have a direct impact on all congregations and members.

Peter Aitken
Peter Aitken
13 days ago

Mr. Ing’s essay clarifies and expresses many of the thoughts I (and my wife) have over this issue. In particular, changing the UUA from a supporter of independent liberal congregations into a top-down social justice racial justice organization. No thanks.

John Shea
John Shea
13 days ago

If your statement about “freedom of belief” that dictates that you must express your beliefs “in ways that further Beloved Community”, then you don’t have freedom of belief. Here’s my condensed summary of recent UU history: 2017: Peter Morales, the duly-elected President of UUA, is forced to resign because he didn’t agree that Christina Rivera’s non-hiring was evidence of White Supremacy Culture at UU. His ouster violates UU’s fifth principle. 2019: Todd Eklof writes a book critical of what happened in 2017, and is pilloried by UUA leadership and de-fellowshiped by the UUMA. His ouster violates UU’s fourth principle. 2022:… Read more »

Last edited 13 days ago by John Shea
Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
13 days ago
Reply to  John Shea

Well said. I have long been troubled to understand the meaning of the words “Beloved Community”. I’m not sure how the evidence you have put forth exemplifies or supports the aspiration of “Beloved Community”.

Jim
Jim
13 days ago

I think it is surprisingly honest for the UUA to make these changes; it has been clear to me that they abandoned their principles years ago.

Tim Bartik
12 days ago

I also commend Mr. Ing for his thorough analysis. I do think, however, that for a political campaign, it is better to focus on the specifics of what the Articles say rather than the whole story of how they might fit into other actions taken by the UUA. Althought the latter story is important, I think most UUs do not pay much attention to UUA actions. And people will disagree about how to interpret UUA actions and their intent, and no doubt there is diverse intent among different UUA folks. Therefore, I suggest that people focus any political campaign relative… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Tim Bartik
Steve Myles
Steve Myles
11 days ago
Reply to  Tim Bartik

Yes, Principles 4 and 5 are important, but so are the rest. The fact remains that the UUA and the Article II Study Commission have failed to convince the majority of ordinary UU’s of the need to throw out all our principles in one fell swoop. That’s because the majority of ordinary UU congregants have no idea that that is about to happen. I am convinced that the majority of ordinary UU congregants do not follow the workings of the UUA or belong to groups like FPP. This is allowing a small minority to exploit the weaknesses in the GA… Read more »

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
6 days ago
Reply to  Steve Myles

The statement asserted here by Steve Myles — “The fact remains that the UUA and the Article II Study Commission have failed to convince the majority of ordinary UU’s of the need to throw out all our principles in one fell swoop. That’s because the majority of ordinary UU congregants have no idea that that is about to happen. I am convinced that the majority of ordinary UU congregants do not follow the workings of the UUA or belong to groups like FPP. This is allowing a small minority to exploit the weaknesses in the GA…” — strikes me as… Read more »

Steve Myles
Steve Myles
3 days ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

Barbara, Thank you for your support.  I am convinced by what I have seen happen in my congregation that most UU’s do not pay any attention to what the UUA or UUMA are doing. They are happy to go along with whatever the minister/Board suggests to “get along”. The reaction I received by sending out an email telling everyone in my congregation that our principles were about to be thrown out, was dramatic. People were upset and I am sure the minister and Board were inundated with objections and calls for explanation. So, yes, send out emails. Tell folks the truth. Call for discussion.… Read more »

Robert Lamb
Robert Lamb
12 days ago

It is interesting to me to see the complaints that the Article changes UUism from a religion into a social activist collective. In the way most of the world sees things, they have done the opposite: they have focused on religion, theology and god language (specifically liberation theology) and left out secular humanism entirely. This Article appears to be based in a concept of divine inspiration.

Shaun Allen
Shaun Allen
5 days ago
Reply to  Robert Lamb

While I agree that the new Article II removes humanism references, it actually has less, not more, “God language” and spiritual language than the current Article II. Words like “God,” “transcending mystery,” and “prophetic” have been removed. The references to “spiritual” are fewer. The uses of the word “spirit” are now more secular. I will grant you that one such word makes a new appearance, “theology”; and the word “sacred” is used more often (3 times rather than once). 

The bigger picture is that the new Article II will discard much of the UU religious tradition, whether it be religious humanism, Christianity, or Judaism.    

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