I’m running for the UUA Board to represent the best interests of our congregations, and I am honored that you are considering my candidacy. It is a privilege to consider how I might support our congregations in moving toward their mission in the world.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is an association of congregations, not individual UU members. Congregations, working within their covenanted relationships of members, discern together their sense of the direction and vision of our movement and should charge their delegates to represent that process during our General Assembly. The UUA Board is accountable to that direction and vision of who we are becoming.
This is an ongoing process of evolution that I hope electronic communication and social media–which we’ve used so extensively during the pandemic–may assist us in doing it better in the future. I’m very open to creative ways to stimulate greater openness, participation, and involvement by our congregations and their members in ways that stimulate their growth, development, and commitment to our shared work together.
Differences with Jay Kiskel
Part of the democratic process that UU congregations take part in includes the election of UUA Board members. This year, somewhat unusually, UU congregations (via their delegates) have a contested election to consider. To help you in your choice, I want to offer some ways that I differ from Jay Kiskel.
5th Principal Report
Jay has made claims about the 2009 Fifth Principle Task Force Report that are either misleading or incorrect. I offer here some of my–I believe more accurate–understanding of the Report.
- Most of the report deals with the question of whether UUA General Assembly should be done every other year.
- The report only deals with the issue of UUA General Assemblies. It does not discuss whether there should or should not be competitive elections for UUA positions or offices. It does not discuss direct voting by congregational members.
- Its primary concern is how to send more committed, informed, and diverse delegates to GA that are responsive and accountable to their congregations.
- The report specifically supports an “intentional anti-racism/anti-oppression/multi-cultural lens to the Assembly business and preparation.”
Commission on Institutional Change Report
My opponent is extremely critical of the COIC Report, Widening the Circle of Concern. This is our current roadmap to address racial inequities within our UU Association and congregations, and has already served as a tool for many congregations in better understanding how we move forward to an anti-racist future.
- I affirm the legitimacy of the findings in the report. I do not think it needs to be submitted to our congregations for “peer review.” Indeed, the peer review has already happened, in the many conversations with Unitarian Universalists that fed into the report. The content of this report is consistent with previous UUA GA reports & recommendations. It is consistent with what I have heard from Black, Indigenous and People of Color within the UUA, including my congregation’s members of color.
- I support following the recommendations and actions in the report. I know some are and will be quite challenging for the UUA and our congregations. Most things that are important are difficult–often, that’s how we know they are important. As a Board member, I will prioritize this work.
- Unitarianism and Universalism were predominantly white 60 years ago, before consolidation as the UUA. As we seek to support the continuing movement of our tradition toward pluralism and to support the growth of our multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural identity with our principles at the center, what the COIC Report asks the UUA to do is of utmost importance to that success. That transformation will require centering our members who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
White Supremacy Culture
My opponent rejects the term “white supremacy culture” as applied to UU congregations. Unitarian Universalists certainly are not white supremacists in the same way that Jim Crow and the KKK operated. At the same time, the idea of “white supremacy culture”–a culture that is a part of American history and that operates often without our full awareness–is helpful in understanding the world we inhabit. This culture is one of following white norms or being silent or resistant on issues of race, and it has the effect of affirming the white status quo that can marginalize or harm Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
- Black leaders, Black Lives Matter organizers, and Black UUs tell us “white supremacy culture” is the appropriate term to use to describe the white status quo in America of systemic, institutionalized racism. Their experiences matter.
- The recognition of institutional racism in society, law, governmental policy and regulations, and in religious and non-profit organizations is obvious to the vast majority of Black, Indigenous, People of Color from their experience.
- UUs from the north of the United States often are less aware of this issue because of the quiet, “genteel” racism that hides out of view until it is named and exposed. It is often invisible to white folks but glaringly obvious to BIPOC folks. (see Waking Up White by Debbie Irving for a personal testimonial)
- Increasingly, governments, agencies, non-profits, and large corporations are taking the reality of this experience very seriously and making changes. Why wouldn’t UUs do the same?
- Institutional patterns and behaviors are the target for change, not shaming and blaming white people. Change is difficult and white people are sometimes emotionally reactive when confronting their own role–even when unconscious–in systemic racism. But we can move forward together toward an anti-racism future that we share. The goal is systemic change that removes barriers so everyone can thrive. Good anti-racism work is not a zero-sum gain.
- Naming the problem is critical to making systemic change that sticks. American racism was created by white people under the illusion that they benefit from it. That illusion keeps them attached to it. That is the big lie. Revealing that lie and deidentifying with it can be a source of liberation for everyone.
My opponent resists the concept of accountability as it is described in the Commission on Institutional Change final report, Widening the Circle of Concern. I believe that accountability is an important part of our way forward, and one that we have sometimes missed in our historical approach to race and racism.
- The UUA General Assemblies have addressed the issue of race and racism many times since consolidation in 1961.
- Even after making major commitments at UUA GA, little action and follow through has happened in our congregations.
- Congregational polity that guarantees the independence of each congregation has undermined our ability as a UU Association to make public commitments to action and transformation.
- The COIC report recommends an accountability process to prevent that from happening again.
If Unitarian Universalist congregations want to become inclusive, diverse, and welcoming places for all who affirm our values and principles, the white status quo must go. We must make commitments and be held accountable to those commitments. This isn’t personal work. This is institutional work. I hope I can be part of helping our congregations, and our movement, in the path forward.
Modernism, Postmodernism and Harm
Postmodernism, which arose in the 20th century, recognized that human beings do not experience the world in the same way. The nature of truth can depend on who is the subject experiencing reality. The experience of a person with brown or black skin color in America is not the same as the experience as those with little skin pigmentation. Most of us would agree, for example, that People of Color are at greater risk of harm during a traffic stop. Naturalized immigrant citizens with brown or black skin color are often treated with less respect than fluent English speaking, light skin colored immigrants. Police officers are likely to believe they are treating everyone equally (Modernism) without realizing they are conditioned unconsciously by emotional, non-rational, systemic, racially biased forces to be more reactive to people of color. The same process might cause native-born Americans to treat immigrants disrespectfully without that being their conscious intent.
Problems arise in our congregations when a White identified person acts from what they experience as good intent but the impact is not good, often experienced as harmful by someone of color. The intention vs. impact dilemma is a fundamentally postmodern problem. The intention most likely was objectively good but the outcome was bad as subjectively experienced by a marginalized person or community. The subjectivity of the experience of harm can be quite troubling to the Modernist who wants an objective standard by which to be measured. As we’ve discovered with post-traumatic stress disorders, minor idiosyncratic triggers can elicit strong responses (see Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies). There are deep links between racism and trauma.
Postmodernism requires us to become more compassionate. It requires us to learn about how another person experiences the world, to walk in their shoes and live in their heads. This is part of the goal of centering the marginalized. When there is a mismatch of impact and intention, rather than trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong (the Modernist objective approach), a better approach is to open up to learn more, be curious and investigate to hear the others perspective to understand how the mismatch happened. This happens in sincere dialogue respecting and exploring differences much better than rationally oriented argument and debate.
To learn more about the larger cultural struggle American society is weathering between Traditionalism, Modernism, and Postmodernism in our politics, I recommend the writings of Steve McIntosh. Here is a link to a short YouTube video that introduces the theme of his book, Developmental Politics.
As my opponent in this campaign is a supporter of the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, and has written a book critiquing both the UUA and the UUMA, and different controversies of the last few years, I’ve been learning a lot about these concerns. I offered this sermon at the end of May to present my thoughts about some of those issues.