Meddlesome Priest

With the Ministerial Fellowship Committee’s (MFC) new definition of UU ministry, our denomination has slipped the bonds of liberalism into the realm of dogma and creed. Continuing the implementation of the UUA Board’s objective to dismantle white supremacy culture, the MFC now demands that UU ministry “reflects commitments to anti-oppression, collective liberation, and ongoing learning.”

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee has jurisdiction over all phases of ministerial credentialing. Thus, this change to the definition of ministry effectively means that ministerial candidates MUST incorporate anti-oppression and collective liberations into their ministry. If they fail to do so, their fellowship with the UUA will be questioned. Among other things, this exposes as false the insistence of both the UUA and the MFC that they are separate and independent organizations. On the contrary. They are working together toward the same goal, the dismantling of UUism as we know it.

This demand that new ministers incorporate prescriptive beliefs and behaviors into their ministry turns liberal religion on its ear. Liberal religion encompasses diverse beliefs and practices emphasizing individual interpretation, tolerance, and critical thinking. Creedal religions demand doctrinal affirmations and personal conformity.

Liberal religion is less concerned about “how” one practices religion and more focused on the outcome of liberal religion . . . living ethically.

The Keeper of Ministry

The new definition of ministry, presented at the November 13, 2023, UUA Board of Trustees meeting, has been in the works for months. Earlier this year, the MFC’s Settlement Working Group (SWG) outlined the changes to ministry and new rules for fellowship in their January 2023 Transforming Preliminary Fellowship report.

What is striking in reading these changes to ministry is the hubris of the MFC. There is a “we alone will decide” attitude regarding the direction of UU ministry.

When the Committee determines that a candidate is qualified for Ministerial Fellowship, the Committee shall grant the candidate Preliminary Fellowship.

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee defines the parameters of ministry, determines who can be a mentor, and determines which candidates may be considered in a search process. Congregations are, thus, left to choose from only a list of “meddlesome priests.”

More Problems

There is a compounding problem for congregations that self-limit their ministerial search to candidates only in “fellowship.” Those congregations have effectively surrendered their independence to the MFC. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee is an outside agency over which a congregation has no control or say in how ministers are selected, trained, vetted, or credentialed.

This MFC change to ministry is a clarion call to all UUs who pay little or no attention to the UUA. For those who believe the UUA has no influence on their congregation, you may wish to reconsider the impact on your congregation from a minister ideologically credentialed in your pulpit. If a minister is required to accept the doctrines of the UUA to be fellowshipped, then the minister will likely have to insist that individual UUs believe likewise in order to be members of their congregations.

Congregations should now reconsider any bylaw restriction they may have to require the calling of a minister in fellowship. This reconsideration is especially timely in lieu of the Guiding Principles used by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in redefining ministry. One of those principles was to “de-center parish ministry.” The MFC de-emphasized parish ministry, knowing full well that congregations are still the basic unit of membership in the Association.

This de-centering of parish ministry from its mission to build a supply of ministers may explain the crisis in the shortfall of ministers for congregations covered in our October 12, 2023 Discussion Post. This decision to de-center also reveals the growing disconnect between the Boston-based Association and its member congregations. It may explain why UUA leadership is so keen to remove “serve the needs of its member congregations” from the Association’s Purpose in the proposed Article II language.

What To Do

There is a solution to the problems generated by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee: reclaim congregational polity. That is, congregations are autonomous and self-governing organizations that can, and should, define the criteria of ministry for their congregation.

Liberal religion requires work. The time has come for congregations to determine if the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is helping or hurting the cause of liberal religion.

Watch the November 16 Townhall Forum Video

On November 16, 2023, the Fifth Principle Project hosted a townhall meeting to discuss the proposed changes in Article II.  The forum allowed UUs to understand the thoughts of their fellow UUs. We recommend that you pour another cup of coffee or a glass of wine and spend some time with UUs from across the country.

Watch the Townhall forum.

Save the 7 Principles Mailing List

We continue to encourage UUs to join the  Save the 7 Principles mailing list.

If you wish to become involved in this crucial vote next year at the June 2024 Virtual General Assembly, please sign up for the Save the 7 Principles mailing list.

The Save the 7 Principles mailing list will send you occasional emails so you can be informed and, hopefully, actively engage in saving the soul of Unitarian Universalism. The Fifth Principle Project encourages its members to add their names to the Save the 7 Principles mailing list.

 

4.3 4 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
33 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Robert M Wallace
Robert M Wallace
2 months ago

I agree that the new definition of ministry carries unfortunate political baggage, though I’m not sure that anyone but very up-to-date political geeks knows exactly what “anti-oppression” and “collective liberation” are supposed to involve.
(A footnote about your title: I think the original “meddlesome priest” was Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was in conflict with his king over various ecclesiastical appointments and was murdered in his cathedral by knights who thought they had been authorized to do so by their king. Are you suggesting that future UU ministers might parallel Becket in some way?)

Julie
Julie
2 months ago
Reply to  WebMaster

In my UU fellowship, the Antiracism Action Team–that makes racism and other things worse, not better–is already metaphorically burning heretics–scapegoating, shaming and demonizing dissenters who disagree with the AAT on various matters– most of which are not even related to race. We have a Right Relations Covenant which the AAT insists everyone follow–insisting that disagreeing with them is doing harm and is “out of covenant” behavior. However the AAT never follows our Right Relations Covenant themselves. We have a 4th Principle (dissenters) group that has 80+ members and growing. But still the AAT keeps on. When our dissenters group members… Read more »

Ann
Ann
2 months ago
Reply to  Julie

The racial justice team in my UU congregation, made up almost entirely of middle to upper-class white women reading Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi, set the back racial justice cause at my congregation. It needlessly alienated many would-be allies, and, since 2017, the congregation has only gotten whiter.

Bill Baar
Bill Baar
2 months ago

When I was on the Board of our Church we went through the by-laws removing any references to UUA or MFC that would have been obstacles should we had decided to do without them. The minister said our Church was there before UUA and would be there after UUA. It was a wise decision.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
2 months ago

Well, given the current seven UU Principles, it is hard for me to comprehend that a UU minister would be pro-oppression, pro-collective-enslavement, and against ongoing learning. So, does this statement: “the MFC now demands that UU ministry ‘reflects commitments to anti-oppression, collective liberation, and ongoing learning.’ ” really mean anything new? Given that this is being written as requirement for ministerial candidates, seems to me that those abstract terms — anti-oppression, collective liberation, and ongoing learning– do need to be operationalized, as anyone’s determination of the sufficient or insufficient presence of each of those abstract terms may well differ from… Read more »

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
2 months ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

Yes, it is hard to imagine that any UU minister, much less any rank-and-file UU, would be pro-oppression, etc. The principles more than adequately cover this, which is why specifying this in the moral code of our ministers is completely unnecessary. That the MFC felt it necessary to make this code explicit is consistent with their efforts to ditch the principles altogether in favor of enforcing a specific ideological program.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Thank you, Frank, for your reply here, and more importantly, for all the work you do in attempting to keep the UU UU. I’m thinking that I will take much of what I said in my comment here, and pose a question to UUA Board and the MFC.

Bill Baar
Bill Baar
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

MFC will found someone oppressive if given the tools to ferret them out. I’m certain of that future.

Erik Bloomfield
Erik Bloomfield
2 months ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

It means something if the counter-party demanding conformity is the one defining the term. Short answer, yet it means something, something essential–the right to dissent. We can’t assume the terms mean what we think they mean. The UUMA demand is aleatory–they get to write the language and the counter party must agree–there is no negotiation. You assume no one in the UUMA could possibly disagree with these concepts–this says it all. There is no longer diversity of thought in the UUMA–they might as well be JW’s–that’s where this all leads, along with empty pews.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

The 7 Principles don’t recognize or address implicit racism which is the root cause of racial inequity. The church was blind to it’s own institutional racism. The 7 Principles didn’t recognize the Church was a part of a white supremacy culture.

The specific language, “dis-mantle racism” acknowledges that the UU is an institutionally racist organization. Like any problem it needs to be acknowledged before it can be addressed.

(I offer this as devil’s advocate. I think it’s what a proponent would say.)

John Eichtodt
John Eichtodt
2 months ago

Again, really grateful to be so well. Informed. Hopefully, enough UU s will realise in conscience that this drift into anti Unitarianism has to be prevented.

Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
2 months ago
Reply to  John Eichtodt

If individual and congregational independence are important, we need to recognize that the association is an adversary, not an asset or ally. To remain with the association is to act against the concept of individual and congregational

Terri
Terri
2 months ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

This has probably already been answered somewhere in the world, but can we remain Unitarian Universalist congregations and not be affiliated with the UUA at all? That would be ideal, at least while they remain so out of touch with reality.

David
David
2 months ago
Reply to  Terri

Maybe not, as the UUA holds the trademark to the name. They prevented the new, independent congregation in Austin from using the name UU.

I assume a congregation can call themselves Unitarian or Universalism because those are generic names that long predate the UUA.

Erik Bloomfield
Erik Bloomfield
2 months ago
Reply to  David

Having a trademark is not the same as enforcing exclusive use of the trademark. If the UUA has the funds to waste on legal enforcement of the trademark of terms in use long before the association was created let them spend away. The Episcopal church has wasted countess millions suing individual congregations wishing to exit the denomination with their church buildings. The bullies in Boston need a dose resistance. UU’s are far too willing to roll over to avoid necessary conflict.

Scott May
Scott May
2 months ago

They’ve certainly spent a large amount on consulting fees post President Morales. Does anyone by chance know how much?

Erik Bloomfield
Erik Bloomfield
2 months ago

Impaired freedom of the pulpit is no freedom of the pulpit. I would not consider anyone for congregational ministry who finds this new requirement acceptable. The UUA is no longer an association, it is a denomination with a fixed set of beliefs imposed on its ministers that will result in a fixed set of beliefs imposed on church members. It is the individual congregations of the UUA that have allowed this takeover–we are under no obligation to associate with the new fundamentalists in Boston. We will do just fine without the association speaking for us. This is an either, or… Read more »

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago

The 7 Principles don’t recognize or address implicit racism which is the root cause of racial inequity. The church was blind to it’s own institutional racism.

The 7 Principles didn’t recognize the Church was a part of a white supremacy culture. The specific language, “dis-mantle racism” acknowledges that the UU is an institutionally racist organization.

Like any problem it needs to be acknowledged before it can be addressed.
(I offer this as devil’s advocate. I think it’s what a proponent would say.)

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  larry lunt

“We covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all persons.”

Please demonstrate how an institutionally racist organization that doesn’t recognize or address implicit racism can hold that as a First Principle?

Show your work.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

The reason is white people who have traditionally been in charge of the church, are blind to their own implicit bias. So while we thought we were respecting the inherent worth of people of color we are actually adding to their oppression.

“Ignorance” is my short answer.

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  larry lunt

Well, I suppose that is an answer. Not a very good one. An organizational ad hominem. A biased argument no less, pot meet kettle.

The claim, I suppose, is that an entire organization which spent years of concentrated time and energy crafting and re-crafting those Principles was too blind and ignorant to understand the clear language of the Principles they were crafting.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Yes, I believe that is the argument.

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  larry lunt

Aha! I caught you in a clever trap! I believe a True Believer would ignore everything but the “pot meet kettle” analogy – pointing in outrage that my usage of that analogy was evidence of my own blind ignorance – because the pot called the kettle “black,” thus putting me on the defensive against a charge of racism. To avoid that very likely ad hominem misdirection I should have cited Matthew 7: Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to… Read more »

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

I’m sorry I don’t understand your comment.

Jim
Jim
2 months ago
Reply to  larry lunt

So, as devil’s advocate standing in for an illiberal True Believer you would be looking for racism in any opponent and disregarding the content of their arguments. In my response I used “pot meet kettle” which should have given you an opportunity to cry “racist!” and thereby avoid addressing the content of the argument. Using the judge ye not language avoids that pitfall…

… Oh well. Sorry about that.

This is not at all far-fetched given the histrionic caterwauling at GA about the phrase “Yankee values.”

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

I don’t understand the analogy your making with the ““pot meet kettle” reference?

Just talk, stop trying to look clever.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim

If they vote to abandon the 7 Principles and sources and vote in the new ideology in 2024 will you leave?

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
2 months ago
Reply to  larry lunt

Your posts read to me like you’re using the devil’s advocate position as a ruse. I suspect you’re hiding your embrace of the UUA ideology by trying to make it sound reasonable. I think Jim is right. There is nothing reasonable about stuffing the whole of the UU tradition into mass ignorance. You tell us, as they have ad nauseam, that the problem of racism by UU’s, and everybody else for that matter, cannot be addressed until it is acknowledged. In short, you’re asking that UU’s admit that our faith, bequeathed to us over the last 500 or so years,… Read more »

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

I left my church 3 years ago.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

I think the division comes down to do you believe implicit racism is a significant cause of racial disparity and diversity training can mitigate it not?

It looks like the church is going to vote to accept that as true. I think when that happens it’s time to go along with it or leave.

larry lunt
larry lunt
2 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

What are you planning to do if the Principles and sources are abandoned for the new doctrine voted in 2024?

Peter Aitken
Peter Aitken
2 months ago

So much for freedom of the pulpit.

33
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x