Quite Literally a Hot Mess: Contretemps Over the Phoenix GA 2012

I have just heard that two members of our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly Planning Committee have resigned. The article is here.

I’m going to comment on this issue from the perspective of a clergyperson who cares about the work of our General Assembly but who neither knows, nor intends to intensively research, the extreme specifics of our planned 2012 “Justice General Assembly.” My semi-ignorance is intentional: it is because I deeply believe that insider politics are the scourge of the institutional Church. I believe that very few people care about insider politics, or have the privilege of enough spare time to stay current with the e n d l e s s conversation it generates. My observation is that the vast majority of participants in any faith tradition desire the church (in this case, the Unitarian Universalist Association of independent congregations) to be community of love and service, prayer and study, and the nurturing of all souls.

Hence, I will keep my observations brief and, I hope, fairly simple.

The individuals and congregations devoted to immigrant justice issues in Arizona are admirable, and I fully support their good works.

However, given that the purpose of our General Assembly is to do the work of the Association, and that the “work of the Association” can only interpreted by the most creative institutional contortions as “spending the week partnering with local Arizona organizations in the work of immigrant justice,” this gathering should stop calling itself a General Assembly. The commitment to having 2012 be a “Justice GA” (a new animal for our tradition) was voted on last year by the GA delegates, which makes it legitimate by congregational polity. What has subsequently happened, however, is that the other congregational-polity aspects of this General Assembly (most specifically, the role of the General Assembly Planning Committee, a group elected by the delegates) have been eroded by what is being perceived as a take-over by the UUA Board.

So this is a polity mess that is unfortunately being played out as a personality and identity issue, with accusations of power abuse flying from one side and accusations of bad faith (eg, people who don’t support this “Justice GA” aren’t good, faithful Unitarian Universalists because they are obviously not committed enough to justice work and witness) flying back from the other side. That’s really a shame.

Continue reading “Quite Literally a Hot Mess: Contretemps Over the Phoenix GA 2012”

A Recently Resigned UU Speaks

This comment appeared recently in response to this old post. I think it’s worth sharing with you all:

I discovered Kevin’s posts and this thread after I resigned my UU membership recently. I found Kevin’s views a bit cynical but interesting and noteworthy nevertheless. Maybe some UU congregations are beter than others. In recent years, the Sunday Services at my UU church had degenerated into a carnival-like atmosphere with antics such as guess the minister’s weight, someone turning cartwheels on the stage, and songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every week there skits with people dressed in silly hats or animal costumes. One Sunday morning they had a belly dancer on stage. During one service members were invited to come up on stage and show off their tattoos. On a couple of Sundays, the minister tossed a beach ball into the audience and invited parishoners to bat it around during the service.

When I wrote the check for my pledge, I thought, I’m paying for THIS??? NOT! The church had become a spiritual wasteland and my soul was sad and starving for nourishment. I decided to get past my “Christophobia”, which originally drew me to the UU faith almost 20 years ago. The situation at my UU church made Christianity seem so much more appealing. My spouse is still a UU but is considering becoming a Quaker. There is only one UU church in our town. The UU minister was not open to input and there was little use of the democratic process. Members who dared to offer criticism were labeled “anti-clerical” and extruded from participation. It became a toxic, embittering place for me. I recently joined a Protestant faith community that feels like a spiritual home to me. What a breath of fresh air. I was reluctant to leave the UU church because it was my chosen faith of my adulthood, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.

First of all, I’m dumb-struck by the description of what is going on in this worship service. While joy and humor are, I think, essential to the healthy spirit of congregational worship, I believe these antics denigrate the very word “worship” and sound to me like excruciating efforts to be hip/cool/relevant in an entertainment-addled culture. In short, I’m horrified. Having heard recently about a congregation that collects its stewardship pledges in a so-called “Ark of the Covenant,” which is a big ark festooned with spray-painted Barbie dolls*, this was not news of our worship life I was ready to hear.

People resign from UU and other congregations for many reasons. We are too political for some people. Sometimes we are too traditional or “too Christian” (a comment I’ve gotten at my congregation by those who were too turned off by our traditional liturgical structure to realize that the content is highly non-traditional). We fight or discuss too much for some folks. Other are dissatisfied with our religious education programs. All legitimate, all understandable complaints. It’s all part of the balance: for every elated new member who proclaims with teary eyes that we are the spiritual home she’s been looking for, one goes away still seeking. But this report of beach balls and cartwheels and inane carnival routines… this is a really big bummer.

I’d like to speak a bit about the writer’s comment that she is “paying for THIS.” She’s right, but I want to speak a bit more about her decision to cut her pledge and to resign from the congregation. First of all, our pledges to our congregations do support the minister’s salary and the worship program. Beyond that, however, our pledges are made and fulfilled to support institutions that exist to uphold and incarnate our most cherished values for individual members and within the wider community. I sense that if our writer had felt that the democratic process worked in her congregation, she might not have quit the church and withdrawn herself and her financial support. Bad programming happens. It happens when a congregation loses its way, makes an honest mistake, tries something innovative that isn’t well-executed, or trusts people with leadership roles for which they may be ill-suited. Failure happens. However, when the congregation is not allowed to reflect on failure, to express when they feel it is occurring, and to feel a welcome part of casting a new vision (and an improved program), we cannot and should not blame them for leaving.

I haven’t paid my church pledge yet and I’m doing some nail-biting about it. This was an expensive year. Not only did I have doctoral tuition to cover, I traveled the world on a wonderful five-month sabbatical! But I’ll make sure that pledge is paid. Beyond my role as minister in the congregation, I am a member. I am in covenanted relationship with its people and our God (however we express that Ultimate). I am well satisfied that my most cherished values are being supported, promoted and lived with sincere intent by this generation of the Church, and if I have to scrape the bottom of my savings account to fulfill my financial commitment to this coming year’s programs and ministries, I’ll do it. And when I do, I’ll do it with extra gratitude that I can do so with a contented heart, and in sorrowful memory of this writer and others who have left our communities spiritually hungry and insulted in their souls.

The Church is a human institution and is prone to human error. May we be big enough to hear those who leave us on the way out the door and to consider what they have said.

* It’s not the campiness or the Barbies that I object to. It’s the co-opting of one of the most holy relics in the Jewish religion for cheap giggles that offends me and, I think, makes a mockery of our claims to be a respectful, mature people.

She Feels Called To Reconciliation

Cindy wrote in response to my earlier post, “The Whole Rick Warren Thing,”

Lesbian UU here.

And utterly unruffled by the Rick Warren pick. I’m not feeling any consternation. No anger at all.

I feel a growing spark of hope.

These days, I feel called — very powerfully called — to reach out in reconciliation. This is a time for GLBT folks to really show up in our communities and help the sick, the poor, the elderly and the children. My stripe of marriage has no bearing on my ability to do good works.

I somehow feel that, if I could make good on the goodwill that runneth over from the election, I should do it. If I can be visibly gay, visibly religious and visibly ready to bridge the distance between myself and the conservative end of the religious spectrum, I might be doing a fraction of that thing called “God’s work.”

I’m very moved by Cindy’s words. Not because she’s saying something that I agree with more than I agree with those who are angry and hurt by Obama’s choice of Rick Warren, but because she speaks so unapologetically about her sense of calling.

Unitarian Universalists are very good at sharing opinions — what we think – but if we are to mature as a people and live authentically into our covenantal promise to support one another in the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” we will have to become more accustomed to bearing witness to each other’s deep calling.

We have a long history of sharing our convictions through intellectual argument and rational persuasion (that has often been quite irrational, but I digress). I am excited by the possibility of a new era where we may speak of calling, of discernment and of how God may be working through our lives.

As my friend and colleague Adam says, “Rock ON.”