Covenants Are for Everyone but the UUA

We at the Fifth Principle Project have always maintained that the idea of “covenant” to the UUA is about disciplining the rank and file and the congregations when they in any way disagree with the UUA. This article from Rebecca Pace is a case in point. Perhaps the youth involved in the effort described here have been sobered by the reality of how they’ve been treated by those who regard themselves as leaders.

A Broken Covenant

By Rebecca A. Pace

Rebecca PaceAlthough covenants receive a major emphasis in the proposed UUA Article II, General Assembly (GA) Moderators and the UUA Board and staff seemed unconcerned with breaking covenants GA this past June.  Before GA started, the Presidential Search Committee violated the association’s by-laws by presenting only one candidate rather than the required two.  That set the stage for many more fractured covenants during GA.

Actions taken at GA will have profound impacts on the UUA for years to come.  The delegates had two major proposals before them – amending Article II and a divestment and reparations resolution.

The proposal to amend the Article II Bylaws passed.  This will only become effective if confirmed by a 2/3 majority at the next GA.

As serious as the Article II situation is, I want to turn my focus to the business proposal and debate.  The failure of the Business Proposal for Divestment and Reparations, sponsored by the young adults, was predictable.  The young adults see this as a betrayal, a covenant broken.

Business Proposal

As background to this proposal, in 2014 the UUA delegates passed a young adult-sponsored resolution to divest 200 major fossil fuel companies (CU200) from the UU Common Endowment Fund (UUCEF).  The 2014 resolution included an exception to allow the Fund to continue to hold shares in a company if the UUCEF was engaged in shareholder activism, such as introducing shareholder proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The young adults grew impatient with the progress of change and felt that shareholder activism was ineffective.  The covenant they thought was there, in 2014, was fractured.  A group formed, calling themselves Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Divestment.  Their petition for immediate divestment and reparations was supported by 405 signatures from 41 different congregations; well more than the 250 signatures required to place it on the General Assembly agenda.

The business resolution was 275 lines long.  It’s clear that the young adults researched the current portfolio investments, but the resolution was seriously flawed.  It was obvious to me, in the language of the resolution, that the young adults did not trust the UUA or the UUCEF managers enough to consult with them on a viable solution.  I appreciate the young adults’ idealism; however, the actions called for were unworkable and damaging to the UUA and other fund beneficiaries.

The resolution required that the funds from divestment be transferred to an account for reparations to Indigenous peoples, Black and Brown communities, and refugees harmed by the fossil fuel industry.  Days before General Assembly, the business resolution was amended to require transfers even from sources legally restricted to other purposes.  Only congregational funds would be exempted.  If implemented, it would open the fund to multiple lawsuits by aggrieved donors and their heirs.

The hasty sale of securities and distribution of an estimated $13 million dollars from the UUCEF to the reparations fund would have disrupted any investment strategy, and immediately reduced the income generated by the Fund.  If the distribution to the reparations fund was done over 20 years, the UUA would be forced to cut their budget by $700,000 a year.  The young adults seemed to acknowledge these cuts, when they later chanted, “with courage …we will survive this.”

The proposal failed, so why do I think the impact will be felt for years?  The young adults who brought this proposal are our future leaders.  They may have been naive and impetuous, but they should have been treated with more respect.

A Broken Covenant

The lack of respect burst to the forefront at the beginning of General Session IV1 on Saturday, June 24 when the Business Proposal was to be discussed.  The young adult members of the Care Team called the UUA leadership to account for a broken covenant.  The previous evening, moments before the Synergy Bridging Worship Service, a UUA staff member with the Youth and Young Adults Program was fired.

The staff member’s room keycard was cancelled, credentials revoked, and he/she was told to leave town immediately.  There was no indication that this staff member was involved in any criminal or amoral act.  The young adult members of the Care Team said that this action was particularly troubling to them.  The Care Team members said they felt “our UUA leadership team’s actions required us to respond.”  Further, they said, “this action can be seen as retaliatory.”  They closed by reminding the delegates of the pain caused in our community “when covenant is broken.”

At the close of Saturday’s General Session, Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, flanked by her administrative team, justified the firing, saying normal processes had been followed.  But the young adults claim a covenant was broken.   All of this has been removed from the record of the Assembly.

The statement by the Care Team that the action appeared to be retaliatory rings true.  The speculation is that the fired staff member let his/her supervisors know that he/she intended to speak on the pro side for the Divestment and Reparations proposal.  This action was in direct opposition to the public statement on the issue released by the UUA Board of Trustees prior to General Assembly.  Statements by the administrative team implied that the Board’s position had been discussed with the staff member before they left Boston, but the staff member persisted in speaking his/her truth.

Of course, we are left to wonder what did he/she intend to say?  How could one young person alone have possibly spoken eloquently enough to clinch the vote for the proposal when trusted professionals were lined up to speak against it?  What could a young person have said at the Assembly that would have been so damaging that the UUA didn’t want it to be voiced?

It is ironic that immediately preceding this announcement an adult member of the Care Team asked that the delegates be gracious about occasional noise and activity coming from the young people among us.  He said our youth and young adults are “sacred and holy.”  He continued, “We are called to listen and be respectful.”  Even that statement has been removed from the recording.

Late Saturday afternoon, at the close of the proposal’s pro and con statements, the young adults again called the UUA accountable for an implied broken covenant.  They rose en masse, moved forward with signs calling for “Divest Now”, “Reparations are Accountability”, and “Fossil Free Future.” They chanted the following:

“ . . . In a moment when we are deciding our legacy and our responsibility in the family of things, our impact depends on our willingness to transform.  May we respond with courage, integrity and conviction knowing that we will survive this.  We have studied our history—both the prophetic and the posturing—to discern clarity and accountability.  May we make history anew on the wings of compassion, justice and hope.  For the leaders of our faith, for the investors of our resources, for the representatives of our congregations, we pray for bravery in the face of misinformation, manipulation and fear….”

The young adults claim the implied covenant to fight climate change and to fight for justice with reparations was just posturing.  It’s only an ideal, often talked about but never acted on.  Accountability is just an illusion.

These idealistic young adults are our future leaders.   The youth will remember.  The pain from the firing, and broken covenants, will fester even if the young adults come to realize the proposal was unworkable.  Have we a lost generation?  Will they just be bitter, not seeking revenge, but seeking reckoning?

These are troubled times for Unitarian Universalists.  We need greater transparency and grace from our leaders in Boston.

Footnotes

1 https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2023/business/iv

Two Important Things

Subscribe to Comments

Subscribe to comments to follow the comments from other readers.

Join the Fifth Principle Project. It’s free. The Fifth Principle Project is an organic grassroots initiative to gather into community Unitarian Universalists who want to reinvigorate the right of conscience and renew the democratic process in the governing of our denomination.

5 3 votes
Article Rating
21 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Julie
Julie
9 months ago

Thanks, Rebecca. Great article. Yes, covenants don’t apply to the top members of the UUA hierarchy. In my congregation, UUA loyalists are also exceptions to the rules of covenant. I had my membership application rejected by a congregation I had been participating in for 15 years. One of two reasons given was anonymous and vague accusations against me–in other words, gossip. Making decisions on the basis of gossip is a clear violation of the congregation’s Right Relations Covenant. This is a covenant that the Board leadership and minister have often shamed, blamed and scapegoated people for supposedly (not actually) violating.… Read more »

Jim Aikin
Jim Aikin
9 months ago

There would seem to be no good guys in this story. The young people were motivated not by any sort of realism by by blind ideology. They deserved to be smacked down. On the other side, however, we have the UUA leadership, which seems to love to do the smack-down but then hides the baseball bat and loudly claims there was never a bat. I’ve given up on Unitarian-Universalism. As much as I admire the efforts of Todd and the rest of the NAUA as they try to pump the bilge and get the ship back on an even keel,… Read more »

Sally G.
Sally G.
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Aikin

I disagree about the motivations of the young adults, though of course we are both speculating. I take at face value their shock that the UUA was invested in Enbridge, which financed the police with rubber bullets that attacked Line 3 protestors, including some UUs there at the urging of the UUA. They are part of a movement to divest from financiers of big fossil-fuel projects, as well as from the energy companies themselves. Did they overreach? Clearly—but it seems to me only out of a sense of urgency on a burning planet (I am writing this from northern New… Read more »

John Eichtodt
John Eichtodt
9 months ago

How many times can one say how grateful this site exists, and articles like Rebecca’s are being written and published. How many times can one call for our great faith communities to honour it’s sacred tradition by enabling, encouraging its members to think critically, individually. To exercise their right of conscience. To speak, cry out and be heard with respect. This is part of the living core, the heart, mind and soul of our faith. Thanks once again for keeping our faith alive . Grateful thanks Rebecca.

Rebecca
Rebecca
9 months ago

Please don’t call young adults future leaders. They are current leaders.

Anna
Anna
9 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

You don’t believe they will be future leaders in UU? Why not?

Karen
Karen
9 months ago
Reply to  Anna

They are (hopefully, if they stick around) future leaders, but they are with certainty current leaders. Referring to young people as “future” leaders only disregards the vital roles they are already playing.

Robert Murphy
Robert Murphy
9 months ago

Thank you, Rebecca Pace. A Unitarian Universalist Association discussion about accountability is needed. This is a proposal for Article Two that was presented at this year’s General Assembly: Eliminate the proposed Article II statement about “transformation.” Replace with the following statement under the heading “Accountability.” “Future generations will hold the Unitarian Universalist Association accountable for its actions. We promise to be wise stewards for the next seven generations and beyond.”

Sally G.
Sally G.
9 months ago
Reply to  Robert Murphy

Thanks, Bob! Is there a team working to get the formal approval (membership or board vote, depending on the individual process) from 15 congregations? How would one connect to be part of the effort?

Terry Anderson
Terry Anderson
9 months ago

Thanks for shining a light on this confusing GA result Rebecca. I was surprised that the amendment to eliminate the reparations part of the divestiture motion was defeated. I would have been more supportive of the motion if the confusing reparations parts were removed. I thought that many more voters would reject this “omnibus” motion as well. I was wrong. In order to have the combined motion defeated the UUA chorus must have signalled their followers to vote against the amendment knowing that they wanted the main motion defeated (to hang on to lucrative fossil fuel stocks?or avoid lawsuits”?). In… Read more »

Sally G.
Sally G.
9 months ago
Reply to  Terry Anderson

Actually, I came into the discussion thinking that the reparations portion should be separated, but changed my mind after listening to the young-adult proposers; they saw it as all of a piece, and I understood their point. I trust that they will be back next year—remember, the 2014 resolution failed in 2013, and they got about a 30% vote—considered a success for a first vote in divestment campaigns. This is not “one and done”; it is only the beginning of the discussion.

Sally G.
Sally G.
9 months ago

I don’t find that amazing at all—I find amazing, in the most negative way, that the recording of the session has been edited to remove references to the firing. Sadly, though it is extremely disturbing, it is not really surprising—just confirms my worst understanding.

Karen
Karen
9 months ago
Reply to  Sally G.

I am guessing that the information regarding the firing was removed because human resource matters are to be kept confidential to protect employees’ privacy.

Rebecca
Rebecca
9 months ago

This post could give a false impression that the Fifth Principle Project includes or supports UU young adults. This does not seem to be the case. Consider the Fifth Principle Project’s strong support for Rev. Beverly Seese’s campaign for UUA Board of Trustees. Rev. Seese’s candidate statements included the following: “I acknowledge the desire of many, especially younger and/or marginalized-identifying members, to take our religion in a profoundly different direction. I believe this is the wrong approach.” and “I would wholeheartedly support another branch of UUism to be formed, that is more attractive to the aforementioned folks, maybe named 21st… Read more »

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
9 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

I think it’s you giving false impressions. There is absolutely nothing posted here or elsewhere that even suggests the Fifth Principle Project opposes UU Youth. And your constant use of the word “seems” is just your transparent effort to soft-peddle your clear prejudices regarding just about anything anyone within our movement utters. What is that about? Why do you insist on coming to this page and doing nothing but cast dispersions with your every post? What’s more, you do it in this post by reference to statements from Rev. Beverly Seese’s campaign for the UUA Board of Trustees, statements that… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Frank Casper
Thomas
Thomas
9 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

Rebecca, I am confused. I can only speak for myself but I am under the impression (speak out people if I am wrong) that all of us feel that if white fragility, white guilt, centering, micro-aggressions and all the rest are the tools you or anyone uses to approach anti-racism and it works for you and helps to diminish (goal being to eradicate) racism in your life and the lives around you then please continue. I think that is awesome. What I have a problem with is being told I have to follow your path – or I am not… Read more »

Karen
Karen
9 months ago
Reply to  Rebecca

David, the Fifth Principle Project and related groups generally have a negative reputation among UU young people. As far as I know there are no youth, and perhaps no young adults, involved in FPP or UUMUAC or the like. Why do you suppose that is?

Eric
Eric
9 months ago
Reply to  Karen

Karen/Rebecca – if FPP or UUMUAC had been around when I was a young adult (late ’90s to mid 2000s), I would have joined.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
9 months ago

I perceive that one fundamental issue this reparations/divestment vote illustrates is the divisiveness and simple-mindedness of identity politics. Divisive, because immediately different teams are created with the tendency to each to play against the other and to assume all the other teams are competitive under-miners of our team. Team membership is based on the roll of the biological dice — this age/that age; this ethnicity/that ethnicity; this gender orientation/that gender orientation; this sexual orientation/ that sexual orientation; etc. So UUism becomes like a football league with different teams each thinking they are the best and the others are out to… Read more »

Aspen basaldua
Aspen basaldua
9 months ago

It troubles me the direction the UUA is headed in.As UU young adult I am appalled by the close mindedness of the UUA and UU young adults. This divest movement approach admirable, but not well executed .The fact was this UU young adults alienated potential allies. They sought out revolution without winning people over. The case in all of the UUA decisions is revolution without the consent of the people. I find my fellow UU young adults to be as dogmatic as the UUA. Rather than growing and debating with members of our faith. They would prefer to create counter… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Aspen basaldua
Eric
Eric
9 months ago
Reply to  Aspen basaldua

It’s encouraging to hear a young person speaking out. Hopefully others will follow your lead.