Open Letter to the UUA Board of Trustees

Continuing with the Fifth Principle Project’s sharing of the experiences of some attendees of the recent 2023 General Assembly, we now add another experience from a long-time UU leader, Mr. Stephen Myles. He shares his experience in a letter to the UUA Board of Trustees.

Letter from Stephen Myles: Including exchange with Board Members

 

June 29, 2023

Dear UUA Board of Trustees,

I have been a UU for over 46 years. I helped start a new UU congregation in Houston in the ‘90’s and I am writing to you today to tell you of the harm I felt watching the 2023 GA. I am one of the people Rev. Frederick-Grey referred to in her remarks:

“Even more dangerous during times of significant change, some people begin to cling to some fabricated imagination of a mythical past. We see this among white nationalists in our country. We also sometimes see it within ourselves.”

I am hurt deeply by being lumped into the same category as the white nationalists referred to and I am hurt by the inferences that I am participating in what was described as

“Small uncompromising groups that seek to undercut the democratic process by obstructing their congregations and the UUA from living into our values and commitments.”

My primary goal and the goal of those groups referred to was to encourage awareness and discussion in the general UU population since many ministers were not doing it and were in fact preventing awareness and discussion of opposing views. I find it rather disingenuous to imply we are the ones “undercutting the democratic process” when the UUA had only one candidate nominated for each open position on the Board of Trustees or the Nominating Committee (save for one petition candidate) and only one candidate for President. Democracy requires choice and choice requires having all the information.

I support UUA Leadership’s goal of making things more equitable for everyone in our religion, but it is coming across as “we know the right answer” instead of a true give-and-take inclusive discussion for moving forward. There is value in all points of view. The proposed new pluralism value says “we covenant to learn from one another in our search for truth and meaning.” That means people who might hold different views.

Given the magnitude of the proposed change, we have spent insufficient time in true grassroots development and debate. GA is not grass roots nor is it the place for substantive discussion. That should have been done in the congregations before GA22 and GA23 but Covid got in the way. The amount of time given to this issue at this year’s GA was way too little. The last major modification of the principles in 1985 took 7 years. This one will have taken four with two of them severely hampered by the covid pandemic.

I do not believe the ends justify the means and, in your zeal to deliver results, I cannot help but feel the UUA not living into the free and responsible search nor using the democratic process to change Article II.

There has been little to no opportunity to hear both pro and con opinions on the Article II Proposal. My congregation refused to provide any dissenting information to its members and I hear similar stories from many other congregations. Many amendment submissions mentioned not hearing about the proposal until too late in the process and suggesting starting over. What’s wrong with that? UU World ceased having letters to the editor section or publish anything criticizing or opposing UUA’s actions. And the recording of GA General Session IV where some dissent was expressed has not been made public, yet. That does not engender trust.

There was insufficient transparency in the working of the Article II Study Commission during the development of their proposal. No publishing of the results of the surveys taken during the spring of 2021 asking for feedback on the existing seven principles. No published accounting of the congregations that responded and no follow-up with those who did not. No indication that the principles would be replaced until 3 months before the deadline and right before the holidays.

For some reason that I fail to comprehend, congregants were not listed as stakeholders in the Article II Study Commission’s final report.

The process and the criteria used to reduce the 400-plus submitted amendments to the Article II Proposal to 15 for discussion and voting at GA were not transparent.

Despite the good work you have done, UU Membership is at an all-time low and will likely drop further, for who can take a religion that proposes to eliminate its core principles in one fell swoop seriously? Our principles are not a “fabricated imagination of a mythical past” and they are not a creed, but they are what we all have supposedly covenanted to affirm and promote.

I can only hope that the Board of Trustees, our new President, and the members of the Article II Study Commission are true to their word and make the next 12 months transparently open for discussion.

Thank you for listening,
Steve Myles

Exchanges with Charles DuMond, copied to the Board

July 2, 2023

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your message. I am not going to challenge your sense of feeling harmed. Those are your feelings.

I will disagree with many of your other claims.

When the proposal from the Article II Study Commission was presented to the Board, we created a process where people could offer amendment ideas. This is in addition to all the work the commission did to solicit responses from Unitarian Universalists during the process of creating their proposal. Almost 500 ideas were submitted.

Those ideas became a little less than 100 proposed amendments. The Board did not do that selection. Delegates self-identified in workshops sponsored by the Board. We created opportunities for people to submit amendments.

For both the amendment ideas and the submitted amendments, we created a forum space, discuss.uua.org, where people could discuss those ideas and amendments. Again, the Board facilitated discussion for delegates and others. The forum was open to all people.

We did not have the ability to have unlimited discussion time during the general assembly for the proposed amendments or the full proposal, but we did allocate a lot of time for that process. In fact, because we did not have any amendments to discuss on the business resolution, we reallocated that time for more discussion of proposed amendments. There were extensive discussions, both pro and con, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of GA, about the Article II proposal and possible amendments. Those who were unable to speak were encouraged to share their ideas at discuss.uua.org. People did not have to vote in the moment. After each session, they had a ballot, which was open until 10 pm ET, each night, to vote. So, delegates could confer with one another, with congregants, etc., before making a decision.

The process of deciding the 15 priority amendments was described during the general session. It followed the process defined in the bylaws. The Co-Moderators consulted with the Article II Study Commission, legal counsel, the parliamentarian, and other members of the UUA Board. We read all the comments on discuss.uua.org for both the amendment ideas and the amendment proposals. We selected some that seemed additive to the work of the commission and some that were in disagreement with the commission. We knew people wanted to discuss and vote on the current principles and sources, so those were included.

Your feelings are your feelings. The process, however, was designed to be inclusive and offer lots of opportunities for people to be heard.

In faith,

Charles

As you can see he focuses entirely on the process immediately before GA. Sure they followed the process and made it open for comments, but it was too constrained and too late.

I responded back:

July 2, 2023

Charles,

Thank you for your response. I really appreciate your taking the time to write it and I understand what you are saying. I agree that you did all you could within the confines of a General Assembly and I cannot necessarily disagree with your not having followed the bylaws. My problem stems from way before this GA in the process used in the creation of the Article II Proposal. The resulting proposal presented in October 2022 was too far removed from ordinary UU expectations to be fairly discussed with bylaw amendment processes at a venue like a general assembly.

Well, what’s done is done and we are now in the 12-month period for discussion. You and the Board have a great opportunity in front of you to truly “be inclusive and offer lots of opportunity for people to be heard”. You can institute several actions that would go a long way to preventing the schism that is developing between those who want to retain the principles and those who do not and thus stave off the membership decline that will surely continue if UUs feel this proposal was not openly and democratically developed:

1. Return to publishing “Letters to the Editor” in UU World. Let dissident voices be heard.
2. Publish articles in either UU World or on the UUA Website displaying the questions asked in the 2021 survey sent out by the Article II Study Commission and the tabulated responses by demographic to give UUs an understanding of the basis behind the need to eliminate the principles and sources.
3. Publish in either UU World or on the UUA Website the response rate to the surveys by congregation – what percent of congregations responded to the survey request?
4. Set up several ZOOM meetings open to all UUs where a panel of pro and con speakers can debate the proposal.
5. Work with those updating the UUA ByLaws to stipulate that for any open position a minimum of two candidates is required
6. Ask Susan Frederick-Grey to issue an apology for her words quoted in my original note.

I offer these suggestions to you in hopes for a productive Board term and a fruitful Article II discussion.

Thanks for listening,
Steve Myles

He was pissed that I had the audacity to issue “demands” to the Board. I never used that word. Here was his response inviting me to come in from a place of curiosity.

July 2, 2023

Dear Steve,

I am going to invite you to come into this process from a place of curiosity, rather than sending me a list of demands.

First, the Board did much more than “all you could do within the confines of a General Assembly.” We were creative and we developed new ways for Unitarian Universalists to engage with one another. And it worked. So many people spent time considering what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. It was a beautiful thing.

When you say, “The resulting proposal presented in October 2022 was too far removed from ordinary UU expectations …” I feel like you were surprised by the proposal. I don’t know what you mean by “ordinary UU expectations,” nor do I think that is important to define. Some people were surprised. And all people were given lots of opportunities to respond and suggest changes.

There are many venues for “dissident voices” to be heard. Again, I don’t know what you mean by “dissident voices,” nor do I think it is important to define. Some people have other ideas about what Article II should say and we have created lots of venues for them to be heard. And we will create appropriate venues for all voices to be heard again, once the Commission produces another version, taking into account all the amendments, and presenting it to the Board.

If you are interested in the data that may be held by the Article II Study Commission, I would invite you to approach them from a place of curiosity and ask them if they are able to share that information.

I am not sure about your 5th demand, regarding two candidates for any open position. It is unrelated to Article II. I don’t know if there is a lot of support for that. People can run by petition if they feel the Nominating Committee has not given them appropriate choices. It’s a lot of work to find volunteers and convince them to serve, only to say “sorry” when they are not elected. I think that requires a lot more discussion.

No, I won’t ask anyone to apologize to you. I won’t triangulate. It’s not my role.

In faith,

Charles

The projection being used here is gobsmacking. He is asking me to be curious but preventing me from being able to do so.

Dear Charles,

Once again, thank you for taking the time to respond to me. And thanks for the suggestions to come into the process from a place of curiosity. That is a great suggestion and one that applies to all of us.

In my management career, we often talked of “managing by walking around”. You learn a lot from speaking with people on their turf. Perhaps the Board could be more curious about how effective their communications and those of the Article II Study Commission have been. They might individually visit congregations other than their own and just talk with folks. Ask them if they participated in a survey regarding our principles. Ask them when they first learned that the principles were being proposed to be replaced. You might be surprised.

To say I was surprised by the proposal would be an understatement. I expected to see wording changes with the addition of an 8th Principle. The announcement that appeared in my congregation’s weekly email on October 30, 2022 told us that the Article II Study Commission had just released their preliminary proposal. It made no mention that the proposal planned to replace all 7 principles. Neither did the UUA Websites that provided the links to the ZOOM discussion meetings. I had to take the time to follow the links to read the actual document to realize the bombshell it was. Had an “executive summary headline” type announcement been provided, the response might have been entirely different. And coming out right before the Holidays left little time for group discussion. The end result was a document that presented new concepts and ideas that had not been thoroughly understood or discussed with the developers before it was to be brought to GA. The preliminary proposal should have been released at or right after GA22. Coming as late as it did was too much to handle in one chunk and leaves people feeling they are being railroaded.

So we are left with where do we go from here? I hope that the venues you create for all the voices to be heard again will be communicated with straightforward wording and evaluated from a place of curiosity in real time for effectiveness.

My suggestions are not demands. I would only hope the Board would consider them from a place of curiosity. They are intended to increase transparency.

As for having two candidates for any open position, it is entirely related to Article II because it cuts to the heart of what is or is not a democratic process. One candidate for one position is not a democratic election. The Nominating Committee has not done its job and the Board has not held them accountable. Sure, it’s a lot of work to find candidates, but that’s their job. And yes, it requires people willing to do the work and be adult enough to accept defeat if they lose and it requires more discussion to stimulate interest in being on the leadership committees in the first place. But it needs to be addressed quickly if you want to have people believe that the leadership of their religion is not a self-perpetuating group.

Thanks again,

Steve Myles

And here is his final response (again cc’d to the other Board Members). He’s got a whole different understanding of democracy than me. Wow. He says: “Elected in a democratic process regardless of the number of candidates”. He must be another one who believes like the UU Minister who said “facts can be interpreted in many ways depending on one’s social location and experiences.”

July 3, 2023

Dear Steve,

Thank you for another message and more suggestions.

Yes, the Board does visit congregations, depending on time and risk. Some of us have greater COVID risks than others. Some visit online because we are limited in our ability to travel. Personally, I visited congregations in the Washington, DC area, Portland, Oregon, and additional congregations here in the San Francisco Bay area. The Board also holds monthly open houses where people are invited to share different topics. Article II has been a topic at many of these open houses.

We are a very curious board, and we thank you for your suggestion. Also, like you, people often send us email with their views.

My experience with the development of and distribution of the proposal from the Article II Study Commission was that it was both transparent and timely. I hear that it was a surprise to you, and you have a number of suggestions about how you would have preferred to receive the information. In all my discussions, conversations, meetings and emails, you are the first person to suggest that you have been “railroaded.” Again, your feelings are yours. I will not tell you how you should feel. Thank you for sharing your suggestions.

There seems to be some confusion about the Nominating Committee. They do not report to the Board. They are accountable to the general assembly. If people are displeased with their approach to finding candidates, or the number of candidates nominated, then people can run for the nominating committee, as happened this year. Based on the results of that election, it appears the delegates are satisfied with the current approach.

Also, there seems to be confusion about the definition of democracy. Democracy does not mean that every election is a competitive election. It means that those who serve are elected in a democratic process, regardless of the number of candidates.

In faith,

Charles

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Azure
10 months ago

I applaud the effort to communicate with someone who is wearing blinders. The exchange of communication reveals the dilemma in Steve’s asking for adequate consideration. Each effort to communicate with the UUA is a seed planted and a task that I lost energy for, long ago in following this nightmare. I have friends in a thriving UU congregation across the country, one of many where there has been total disregard of the UUA’s unconscionable article II procedures. I’ve been horrified in witnessing the indifference, but recent history has opened a new thought: Within my work in anger resolution I’ve learned… Read more »

Maureen McConaghy
Maureen McConaghy
10 months ago

Here is the justification I have heard for the UUA not following a truly democratic process:   If we required that an equal amount of time be given to con speakers and pro speakers on an issue, that would give “a false equivalency to each side of the debate,” and doing so would likely result in upholding the status quo regardless of whether change would be a good thing [as decided by the Board or its committee]; if con speakers were to get equal time, people would likely vote against change “rather than risk uncertainty.” The former UUA practice of… Read more »

Terri
Terri
10 months ago

What pathetic, dystopian nonsense! Thanks for posting and revealing that. It will serve us in trying to reclaim the Unitarian Universalist church for the future!

Concerned UU
Concerned UU
10 months ago

Thanks for trying Steve. Based on what he’s written here, Charles DuMond seems like a very dishonest person. It’s a shame we’ve let someone like him to rise to such a level of authority.

I think of Muir’s terrible sermon on “The End of iChurch”, when he said UUs are too allergic to authority. Men like DuMond are the ones who justify that allergy.

John Eichtodt
John Eichtodt
10 months ago

Again and again, grateful thanks for those who are speaking out with courage, competence, and clarity.
This is our UU tradition, the heart of our UU mandate.
I fervently hope that our new leadership will bring real dialogue, and both the spirit and practice of our democratic process into full life again.

Thanks Steve for your excellent letter to the board who, in my opinion, should be seeking to protect and promote the spiritual welfare of all of its members and the UU community.

John Eichrodt
UU

Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
10 months ago

I feel sad that so many have staked out a place to watch on the deck of the Titanic rather than boarding the lifeboats and escaping a religion destined to end an unnecessary death.

Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Perloe

I had to step away 4 years ago and quit. My heat and brain were exploding with each interaction similar to what was shared here. It really hurt, but I am glad I didn’t stay. I couldn’t handle it.

Adrienne
Adrienne
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Johnson

Same here. I left and never looked back though I am intrigued by the “new” Unitarian organization being formed right now.

Chuck
Chuck
10 months ago

How exasperating it is to see how eloquently, logically, and authentically so many long term UUs respond the the tactics the woke UUBrd , leadership, and other entrenched staff at the UUA regarding the authoritarian tactics over the past decade. The problem is that the arguments and disagreements are about an ideology. Their woke ideology can not be challenged – it is by their definition the truth, the reality, their worldview. It has become their religious dogma. This last rebuttal of course ignores logic, reason, and fairness. The new rebuttal is “ Oh it is just your feelings”. Which can… Read more »

Terri
Terri
10 months ago

What your amazing correspondence does, Stephen, is helps clarify exactly what is going on with the UUA and the A2SC/A2P. It is not some innocent, flawed, misunderstood process by well-meaning people. It is a hostile takeover of a legitimate religion by those who would see it destroyed, and who expect UUs to stand idly by while they do so. People like you will make it possible to save Unitarian Universalism, because you have made, and will, no doubt, continue to make clear just what kind of crime – fraud – is taking place. We are going to amass enough evidence… Read more »

Miles R Fidelman
Miles R Fidelman
10 months ago

The UUA Board is an “revolutionary power” – in the sense that Kissinger & Krugman use the term. They have pulled off a coup, taken over the organization, and in a large sense are shaping the course of UUism as a religion/faithTradition/community/whatever-it-is-that-unites-us-as-independent-congregations.

Other than as an exercise in public resistance & organizing, there is no reason to think that a letter to the Politburo (excuse me, Board) will get anything other than a carefully phrased non-response?

larry lunt
larry lunt
10 months ago

My church put a BLM banner over the front door for a year or two. Is it fair to say the UUA has embraced the BLM political agenda? Is that an overstatement?

allan foster
allan foster
10 months ago

struggling as i am with what is going…and reading ‘charles’ words…there is a tossup in my mind between seeing clueless behavior or simple stupidity. or both. of course there is some good intentions involved i am sure….