Correction: When this Discussion was initially posted on March 16, 2023, the sponsor of the business resolution “Complete Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry and Subsequent Reparations” was incorrectly noted as the UUA Board of Trustees. A user comment on March 19 provided a correction. This business resolution was sponsored by a group called “Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Divestment.” We regret our error
A New Question: Another user noted the website for this group/resolution was https://UUdivestment.com. It appears the website was launched in January 2023.
Does this group have any official relationship with the UUA? If not, why has it been allowed to refer to itself as a Unitarian Universalist organization and use UU in its website URL?
In January 2022, the UUA Executive Director issued a cease-and-desist letter to a small startup Austin, TX fellowship called the Seven Principles Fellowship. The fellowship’s URL was UU7PF.org. That letter demanded that the Fellowship “immediately cease and desist” from referring to themselves as “Unitarian Universalists.” The cease-and-desist letter also objected to the use of UU in the fellowship’s domain name. The letter concluded with a broad prohibition on the use of the term “Unitarian Universalist” implying any formal relationship with Unitarian Universalism or the UUA.
Can someone provide more clarity?
At the upcoming 2023 General Assembly, delegates will have an opportunity to vote on a UUA Board of Trustees’ business resolution that creates a Reparations Task Force. The official name of the business resolution is “Complete Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry and Subsequent Reparations.”
The general outline of the proposal is to divest the UU Common Endowment Fund (UUCEF) of investments in the fossil fuel industry and distribute the sales proceeds of this divestment as reparations to various groups. The groups slated to receive reparations include Indigenous Tribes, identified as the “ancestral and continued stewards of this land,” and the descendants of enslaved Black and Brown people who “were forced to create the physical wealth of the so-called United States of America.”
It is doubtful that any UU would shed a tear if Marathon Oil or Chevron had fewer investment dollars from our endowment fund. The business resolution details the investments to be sold, making $13M to $15M available for reparations.
The discussion on reparations is not so clear. One social media commentator noted, “My husband, who is black, says that ‘This is what White people do. When they feel guilty, they throw money at Black people to assuage their feelings of guilt.’” Another shared, “This resolution pairs the virtue of divesting from fossil fuels with the virtue of voting for reparations using other people’s monies. This is having your cake, ice cream, whipped cream, and cherry too without calories (i.e., no personal consequences). Painless double virtue.”
This painless double virtue is not a new concept. In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump waxed on about the elegance of OPM. “I love using Other People’s Money.”
There is also the sticky wicket of how some indigenous peoples exploited others. The Muskogee Creek Native Americans of the Southeast, for one prominent example, exploited Black and Brown slaves to create wealth for themselves. Real life is far more complicated than performance virtue signaling.
However, let’s unpack this UUA Board of Trustees’ sponsored business resolution through another lens. Should our energy focus on the most oppressed or most in need?
Consider a simple example.
During the last presidential administration, the world was well aware that children at our southern border were being forcibly separated from their parents. A most-in-need focused denomination would have, without hesitation, rented tractor trailers, filled them with blankets, water, phone cards, and other comforting necessities, wrapped the trailers in yellow, emblazed with the words “Unitarian Universalism, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
That effort, reflecting our Seven Principles, would have made a difference. All UUs would have been proud that our moral authority was applied to protest and rectify an appalling human condition. Yet, our UU leadership, too preoccupied with dismantling white supremacy culture, did nothing.
The focus of this year’s business resolution, emphasizing the most oppressed, has done little work to identify the recipients of reparation payments. The business resolution vaguely defines recipients as people who “have survived the ongoing violence of racist-capitalist systems which sought to actively destroy them.” It then punts to the yet-to-be-formed Reparations Task Group to work out the details. One would think that a multi-million dollar expenditure would merit a carefully considered plan.
It is unclear if this class of people is in immediate peril. Nor does the business proposal do anything to address the root cause of the original source of harm, the racist-capitalist system. Most everyone else engaged in the discussion about reparations talk in terms of creating enduring institutions that can make a real difference in the lives of our national victims. Why not the UUA? This lack of forethought exposes the UUA to a common reparations criticism that once reparations are paid, the problem of racism is solved—nothing more to see here.
However, the lens of the most oppressed does not suffer such drawbacks. If we (UUs) are genuinely committed to helping people whose lives have been destroyed by forces outside their control, many people are awaiting help.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 140,000 children were made orphans by COVID-19. These children are invisible to our UUA leadership.
If not these children, then why not consider a multi-million dollar contribution to the International Rescue Committee? Either by natural disasters in Turkey and northern Syria or due to a devastating war of aggression in Ukraine, our endowment money could make a real difference. Millions of men, women, and children need a warm place to sleep, food to eat, water to drink, or simply a sign that someone cares and a hope that tomorrow will be better.
What’s the response from our UU leadership? Crickets.
Nor did reinvestment in green, clean, renewable energy companies make the cut.
The UUA reparation plan may have admirable elements, but there are people with immediate and identifiable needs. Why has the UUA opted to leave them out in the cold?
Is Divestiture the Right Thing
Is divesture the only form of protest for the UU Common Endowment Fund?
Delegates at the 2016 General Assembly faced a similar vote. At that General Assembly, UUs for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME) had called for a vote for the UU Common Endowment Fund to divest from five corporations. The UUJME charged that the products of those corporations were used to violate Palestinian human rights.
The UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) (yes, there is such a committee) deflected the explicit call for divestiture. The SRI committee indicated they preferred focusing on “human rights in general, not just Israel/Palestine.” The Committee would address investments in objectionable companies through a “new screening process.” The proposed divestiture plan failed to achieve the required two-thirds vote and failed.
Despite implementing a “new screening process” seven years ago, we are now told that the UUA investment portfolio is larded with so many “objectionable” investments that divestment is the only solution.
It would be a good business practice to pause any divestiture activities until a top-to-bottom, and transparent accounting of the investment activities of the UU Common Endowment Fund is conducted by an outside 3rd party.
The Big Picture Question
There is also the big picture question. Is the current UUA Board of Trustees in compliance with the purpose of the Unitarian Universalist Association? “The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”
The upcoming General Assembly is the culmination of years of disregard for the Association’s established governing rules. A commission that has exceeded its bylaws allotted term of service will present a radical change to Article II, there will be no competitive election for a new UUA president, and a proposal for a multi-million dollar distribution of endowment funds is offered without serious debate demanded by such a proposal.
We recommend that General Assembly delegates vote not only to defeat these proposals but demand a denomination-wide dialogue on the future direction of UUism.
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I guess I have some questions: (1) This appears to be a proposal that would donate about 6% of an endowment fund, which holds investments that are I think MOSTLY from congregations, to organizations identified by some task force. (If you go to the UUCEF website, their current market value is $246 million, so $15 million in donations would be about 6 percent). Is this legally permissible for the UUA to mandate? Can congregations say: “No, you cannot take 6% of our funds for this purpose.” ? (2) In principle, one cannot disagree with a proposal to either: (1) alter… Read more »
I’m gonna bet the money goes to their friends/fellow travelers. The reek of nepotism at the UUA and UUMA stinks so bad you can smell it in Hawaii. (And if you’re white, your opinions don’t count, so don’t bother asking for discussion.. discussion is white supremacy in action.)
Well said! I’m in Honolulu and I can say it reeks alarmingly.
I like Tims question regarding is it “… legally permissible for the UUA to mandate?”
Feels like it could be a proposal, a suggestion, an invitation, etc…
But, a “mandate”? I question that.
For congregations not in favor of this proposal it might be a wise precaution to take all unrestricted funds out of the UUCEF until after the vote, with a letter of explanation. That would get the attention of the UUA Board. They wouldn’t like a “run on the bank.”
Tim they cannot legally distribute any money belonging to the congregations or any from donor restricted funds. Can only come from unrestricted funds. No way to tell from the online reports how much that is. I have emailed the Treasurer of UUCEF asking how much of the endowment is unrestricted but after several days no answer. If no answer soon will approach UUA officials for assistance in getting an answer.
It’s as though the UUA is hell bent on dismantling liberalism as a whole, thus liberal charitable contributions to any other liberal cause besides the one that best serve the present internal bureaucratic interest (including that of the consultants) and we have to ask ourselves what interests benefit from this massive change in direction? Seems like at least on an aggregate level to be a great big wet sloppy kiss to the right! Moreover one could argue that it benefits outside (international) interests who’d like to see the American Democracy “experiment” fail (ie: authoritative anti-democratic interests). In my opinion, it… Read more »
“. . . and work to decentralize the UUA in favor of non-creed, non-dogma and of course, congregational autonomy which has been the one thing that actually has united UU’s thus far.”
Scott, I think you have the formula that will bring UUs back together again.
ARAOMC is the dogma now, and it’s been approved by large majorities of UUs at GA. Yes, critical social justice requires dismantling the liberal order. There’s no going back for UUism.
What is ARAOMC?
Anti-Racism Anti-Oppression Multi-Cultural (ARAOMC)
I had to look it up too…
I’m generally in favor of divesting from companies that do things that go against our principles, where that can be determined. But the second part of this proposal is questionable. We shouldn’t just earmark that much money for some amorphous group of people to be determined in secret at a later date.
For an understanding of how ineffective divestment is, a GreenBiz article by Adam Aston, dated December 15th, and titled “Why divestment doesn’t work – and just won’t die” provides a good summary. Many people believe that divestment means you are “taking money away” from the companies you are divesting from. It does no such thing – all that it does is replace one owner of shares with another. The financial effect on the company is zero. I believe divestment actually has a net negative effect on the one doing the disinvesting, because: 1) by not investing agnostically, the chances are… Read more »
Thanks for your reflections on the UUA’s non-response to recent situations of real human need. We have also heard deafening silence or the sound of crickets from UUA leadership regarding the horrific attack on the author Salman Rushdie that took place last year. As you know, he was severely injured and has lost sight in one eye. His attacker was born long after the book was published but he was raised in a climate where it has become commonplace to claim that speech that offends us actually does us harm. Can the UUA be persuaded to “divest” from this notion, in which it seems to… Read more »
I meant to say that the attacker was born long after Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was published. Sorry for the lack of clarity!
Typical UU think from the heart – not the brain. The $15 million distribution would come from the UUA’s ownership shares in the UUCEF. It appears the UUA’s portion of the $200+ million fund is slightly less than half. So if the UUA decides to withdraw $15M and spend it on some sort of quilt reparation program, the remaining social justice programs at the UUA will have to be reduced. I am not so sure how much this will be appreciated by the relatively wealthy (oil rich) Oklahoman Indians. Of course an “equity” reparation distribution of the $15 million would… Read more »
The information posted here about this business resolution and subsequent comments indicate that the business resolution is sponsored by the UUA Board of Trustees. It is not a Board-sponsored business resolution. The resolution was sponsored by individuals who obtained the required petition signatures within congregations. It will be part of the discussion and amendment processes both before and during GA 2023.
This is an important clarification. Thank you for this information.
What group specifically is sponsoring this proposal? Obviously this didn’t happen randomly, but reflected some organized effort.
I did some googling, and it appears to be some group, UU Young Adults for Divestment. https://uudivestment.com/
It’s not clear who is in this group. You only need 250 signatures, apparently, although no more than 10 can be from a single congregation. So you would need a minimum of 25 congregations with signatures.
This is sponsored by the UUA but it’s not their resolution? Please clarify.
The business resolution was put forward by the UU Young Adult Disinvestment Caucus, following the Bylaws requirements for placing a business resolution on the General Assembly agenda.The required number and mix of signatures from members of congregations were obtained. There was no business resolution sponsorship by the UUA Board of Trustees or other part of the UUA.
Does the UUA Board have a position on this business resolution? If not, does it intend to take a position on this business resolution?
Since being submitted last month the business resolution has been under review, including with the Investment Committee, the Co-Financial Advisors, the Administration, and the submitters. The mini-assembly and amendment processes will happen later. No position has been taken on the resolution as submitted.
This Bill Young may be the UUA Board Secretary.
Correction: When this Discussion was initially posted on March 16, 2023, the sponsor of the business resolution “Complete Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry and Subsequent Reparations” was incorrectly noted as the UUA Board of Trustees. A user comment on March 19 provided a correction. This business resolution was sponsored by a group called “Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Divestment.” We regret our error A New Question: Another user noted the website for this group/resolution was https://UUdivestment.com. It appears the website was launched in January 2023. Does this group have any official relationship with the UUA? If not, why has it been allowed… Read more »
The domain name is owned by a “privacy service”, and the website itself is careful not to mention a single name or names associated with the organization.
One seriously has to wonder why the secrecy.
It sounds like there is a whole history here, which frankly would require more research that I have time for.
In particular, it sounds like this group, UU Young Adults for Divestment, might have some connection with the general UU Young Adult Caucus, and also has some significant disagreements with the UUA and UUA Board. They appear to believe that the UUA has not been responsive to the 2021 GA resolution that was passed that related to diverstment.
To put it another way: from the viewpoint of this group, the UUA Board is not necessarily on their side.
In other words, both the UU Young Adults for Divestment, and the Fifth Principle Project, appear to have concerns about whether the UUA is democratically responsive even though the Divestment group and 5PP tend to have different ideological perspectives.