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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