Congregational Independence is About to Vanish by Erik P. Bloomfield

About the Author

Mr. Bloomberg is Managing Member of Allegiant Capital, PLLC, a financial services firm located in Dearborn, Michigan providing planning, asset and risk management for individuals and business entities. He is also Managing Member of Impact Arms, LLC, a Federal Firearms Licensee located in Grosse Ile, Michigan devoted to supplying sportsmen and competitive shooters in SE Michigan. 

He holds a BS Metallurgy from Iowa State University .

He is married with 3 adult children, 4 grandchildren, 1 German Shorthair Pointer and 1 Vizsla.

He reside in Grosse Ile, Michigan.

He is a former Unitarian, last membership Unitarian Church North of Mequon, Wisconsin .

 

Today our congregations are in grave danger of losing our Seven Principles and, with them, the two foundational pillars of our liberal faith, congregational polity and freedom of individual belief.

This danger comes directly from our UUA leadership’s sponsorship of a complete rewrite of Article II. Another UUA leadership-sponsored initiative focused on rewriting all of the Association’s bylaws, including Article III (Membership). The guarantee in Article III’s of a congregation’s “autonomous, self-governing” character is expected to be watered down or eliminated.

Not surprisingly, the proposed changes to the Membership bylaw will not be available before the June 2024 vote on Article II.

The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, predecessor bodies of the UUA, shared a strong belief in the Congregational Way, embracing congregational and individual freedom based on these precepts.

  • All church members are spiritually equal and called to the work of ministry.
  • Every local church is autonomous and complete.
  • Each local church is called into wider associations of fellowship.
  • Believers are bound to one another in a voluntary covenant.
  • Every believer has full liberty of conscience when interpreting the scriptures.

Following the 1961 merger forming the Unitarian Universalist Association, these precepts were recognized in our Fourth and Fifth principles.

  • Fourth Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • Fifth Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

These fundamental principles are supported by the First Principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Preserving What We Value

These basic tenets of organization and association are worth preserving. They are essential to the health and function of each congregation and community of believers.

Our spiritual ancestors, regardless of their theological beliefs, covenanted with each other around—absolute freedom of conscience in matters of faith, freedom of the pulpit, equality among members, and self-governance unencumbered by denominational structures, discipline, standards of belief or apostolic hierarchy. Congregational polity is the only form of organization that allows us to protect our freedom of conscience.

The UUA has, however, for the laudable cause of anti-racism, anti-oppression and “dismantling white supremacy culture,” claimed a “theological mandate” to redefine its relationship to congregations from a supportive association to an enforcer of “covenant” over congregations and individuals. The UUA seeks a shift in systems of power toward itself and away from individuals and congregations through a racial creed, all in the name of love.

If UUs, especially General Assembly delegates, allow the UUA to redefine the relationship of the association to congregations, our liberal faith will disappear. We will go the way of Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians—abandoning our moral authority while splintering into ever smaller remnants of what once was a denomination generally respected by our society for its unyielding support for and advancement of the Enlightenment values that are at the foundation of our country and our denomination.

Congregational Way…Only If We Can Keep It

Thankfully, our forebearers had the good sense to gather our congregations in the Congregational Way—our churches respect the freedom of conscience, and no one can demand that we accept any collective standard of belief. We can continue with the Congregational Way, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “only if we can keep it.”

The Enlightenment and its legacy of freedom and democracy are under attack from all quarters. One would think that the denomination that has ensconced that legacy at the core of its religious faith would double down on its historic commitment to defend of them.

Instead, for the last ten years, in my view, the illiberal and generally regressive change in priorities at the UUA has been profound and unwelcome.

Outgoing UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, in her 2023 farewell address, denigrated those of us who seek to defend and retain the best of our Unitarian and Universalist legacy. She described this defense as “obstructing.”  Saying

…there remains small uncompromising groups that seek to undermine the democratic process by obstructing their congregations and the UUA into living our commitments. . . what is damaging is when individuals, especially those with privilege, break covenant, attack the motives of leaders undermine their leaders and ministry and insist on their own way against the will of a community.

This is from the woman who as President, among of the UUA presided over and abetted the UUA’s brazen abandonment of our principles, principles that institutionalized democracy as central to our faith. She supported leaderships persistent efforts to avoid legitimate criticisms that the magnitude of the changes to A2 alone more than merit. Consistent with the abandonment of our principles, she further supported and abetted the UUA’s violation of their own bylaws in offering only one candidate, Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, for UUA president. That unelected president has continued the attack on our liberal faith.

Appearing recently at the UU Womens Federation she responded to a question about the role of the UUA in the current controversies over abortion, the Rev. Betancourt offered her assessment of the first principle, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” With the exception of a simple suggestion that the first principle has little to do with personhood and embryos, she did not, as one might expect of a theologian, address how the first principle applies to the issue of abortion. Instead, she disparaged the first principle by attacking Immanuel Kant.

Um, I will say. Oh, I struggle with our first principle, I do. Um, you know, if you will forgive me briefly, [the the] language of the inherent worth and dignity of every person comes from Immanuel Kant, the literal father of modern racism.”

This is a patently false assertion. Immanuel Kant is not the father of modern racism, and while it’s true that Kant held views on race that were an unfortunate reflection of his time, his philosophy argued for the equality of human beings and gave us crucial tools that to this day are crucial to the historic fight against racism.

What Could be More Destructive?

What could be more destructive to liberal religion?  I can’t think of a thing.  Congregational leaders who abide by this coup are not worthy of leadership.  We need leaders who have faith in Unitarian Universalism. It is past time to reign in the Association—it does not honor our congregational polity.  The Association may speak to us as congregations, but we must insist it not speak for us.

Next UU the Conversation Town Hall Meeting

The theme of the next Town Hall meeting is “On Accountability”

The Article II Proposal makes us “accountable to one another for doing the work of living our shared values.” For each Value we are asked to Covenant to act. This implies judgment. We would no longer be accountable to our own conscience, but to others.

How does this call fit with our Universalist and Unitarian religious ancestry? What should we expect from ourselves and our congregations to fulfill this call to action? What could we learn from recent UUA actions? What are the pitfalls?

  • Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2024
  • Time: 2:00 PM Eastern, 1:00 PM Central, 12:00 Noon Mountain, 11:00 AM Pacific
  • Duration: 75 – 90 minutes

Pre-registration is required. Visit this link to register.

 

Guest Contributors Welcomed

The Fifth Principle Project welcomes guest contributors who would like to share their thoughts and submit a new Discussion topic. This website was designed as an open forum so UUs can engage in thoughtful, maybe even provocative, discussions.

See our Guest Contributor page for more information.

Two Important Things

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Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
24 days ago

The problem is not with the UUA. The problem is with the individual congregations. Several recent UUA actions, notably the installation of Betancourt. as alleged president, should have resulted in a flood of protests from individual congregations. In the real world, Betancourt is not president of the UUA because she was not chosen by the process required for election of a president. To regard her as president is to affirm and advocate absurdity. Continued acceptance of irrational action by the UUA will result in the denomination evolving into a mindless horde of folks intent on feeling good about themselves, and… Read more »

Erik P. Bloomfield
Erik P. Bloomfield
24 days ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

“The bottom line is, if the UUA collapses, it need not affect any single congregation. While the association is handy for some things, it isn’t really necessary. The individual congregations can continue to function.” True statement, but more difficult in practice than said. As long as the UUA exists in tension with congregations it will be an impediment to our life in harmony with each other. If it won’t respect its duty to serve congregations it should be brought to heel. You suggest starvation by withholding funds–I agree–this will require congregations to work together in some other association to coordinate… Read more »

Tim Bartik
24 days ago

The quotation by Rev. Betancourt about Kant is unfortunate, and shows an inability to separate whether a given principle (or “value”) is true or useful from whether the person who stated that principle is flawless. Kant is very hard to read — not in general a good writer — but his thinking remains powerful today, not only as an abstract philosophy, but as a philosophy that provides a useful guide of how to live a better life. A very good recent book on Kant, by Georgetown philosophy professor Karen Stohr, explains his thinking clearly and how it can help us… Read more »

Mary Hrbek
Mary Hrbek
23 days ago

Does anyone have a link to the quote from Rev. Betancourt? I’d really like to hear it in the context of the discussion. The quote itself is appalling.

Frank Casper
Admin
23 days ago
Reply to  Mary Hrbek

Mary,

I took that quote from a video of her appearance at the UU Women’s Federation. I downloaded the video so I have it. I cannot now seem to find it again on youtube, but it is likely there somewhere. But I extracted the text and wii email it to you. Just search for the word “Kant” and it will lead you to the section of the transcript that contains the offensive comment.

Barbara Jean Walsh
Barbara Jean Walsh
15 days ago
Reply to  Mary Hrbek
John Miller
John Miller
22 days ago

May 11 is Saturday, not Wednesday like it says above. Registration is correct.

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