A Disappointing and Disturbing Week in National UUism
By Rev. Catie Scudera, Published on March 31, 2017
Yesterday, I spent almost an entire day in pastoral and staff meetings — little time for email, and less time for social media. It wasn’t until nearly dinnertime that I learned two “breaking news” stories shaking our denomination.The first was the resignation of our national denomination’s president, Rev. Peter Morales, with less than three months’ left in his term. He submitted his resignation letter effective tomorrow, and the UUA Board and the staff Leadership Council have already responded. I hold in my heart all our friends who serve in paid and volunteer capacities at the national Unitarian Universalist Association office that this disruption will not disturb all the good work they do for too long. Though I keep myself apprised of and engaged with denomination issues, I still feel surprised and confused by Rev. Peter’s resignation. I know I am disappointed both that Rev. Peter’s presidency is ending in this way and by the stories newly-shared of racism present in our UUA.
I pray that Rev. Peter’s resignation will not distract our denomination from careful reflection about racism and white supremacy in our country and our broader church. As you can read in the UU World online, there has been mounting criticism of hiring practices on the national and regional level which, at the very least, perpetuate the “optics” that Unitarian Universalism is a “white faith.” You can learn more about this increasingly public controversy and how to support UUs of color through Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries.
UUs of color organizing collaboratives have called for a “#UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn” to encourage national discussion on the enduring legacies of racism, white supremacy, and segregation within our denomination. In response to a facebook post from Black Lives of UU leader Kenny Wiley, I wrote this yesterday morning:
Have you been following along with the UUA hiring controversy? Many folks have taken to social media to share their stories of racial injustice and insensitivity experienced while working at the UUA. My friend and colleague Kenny Wiley, who visited First Parish in January to share about Black Lives Matter in and outside UUism, is a co-organizer of the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn the weekends of April 30th and May 7th. As it happens, we were already scheduled to have a worship on racism and white supremacy on April 30th in conjunction with our hosting of the Icons of the Civil Rights exhibit.
In response to this latest instance of white supremacy living on in our larger church, in my sermon I’ll reflect on the unfinished work of racial equity and integration within our religious movement and how at both the congregational and denominational level we have much work to do to lift up leaders of color. I look forward to the worship and RE resources Black Lives of UU are compiling in the next month to guide this teach-in. For now, I recognize that we have two wonderful men of color on our current staff team — but, both were hired into cleaning/maintenance positions. The staff worship team works hard to have music and readings from people of color (and members of other marginalized identity groups) every week, but we do not always succeed. Needham itself remains a super-majority white town, despite valiant efforts of those within and outside our church to dismantle old redlining and segregationist tactics. We are not immune to structural racism and must actively and consistently fight to oppose it as a matter of faith and ethics.
I encourage you to follow the conversation on Facebook and twitter with the prior hashtag, as well as #25percentincreaseby2019 and #BuildingANewWay, and I hope to see you at worship on April 30th. May we continue the journey toward wholeness and create a church community truly aligned with our highest values and dreams.
Indeed, I look forward to the weekends of April 30th and May 7th when, as a national denomination, we will engage with these important issues that are real barriers for becoming a fully integrated and welcoming faith. This is one way we will live into our congregational covenant to “gather as a diverse community.”
Sadly, though, this was not the only breaking news story about Unitarian Universalism on Thursday. The second was the revelation that a Unitarian Universalist community minister based in Oklahoma was arrested yesterday on child pornography charges. Obviously, this is extremely disturbing and heartbreaking for all those who know this person. I am not personally acquainted with this minister, but have many colleagues who considered this person a mentor and friend and who are shocked by this news. Especially if you are a survivor of abuse or exploitation, I strongly recommend that you make healthy choices whether to read more about this disturbing case (which may include not reading any more about it at all); I will say no more about the details in this email to our entire faith community. If this crime is triggering or frightening for you, please do be in touch with me through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (781-514-5464) so that we can talk.
Like with Rev. Peter’s resignation, I am surprised and confused by this news — but I am also very angry that one of my colleagues would engage in exploitative behavior. To me, this is a sad reminder that abuse can happen in any community and that all religious groups must have systems of accountability and reporting to prevent and stop abuse swiftly. I am proud of First Parish in Needham for our Needham PATH (People Against the Trafficking of Humans) team and our current task force updating and improving our current Safe Congregations policies. Both of these groups help protect our congregation and the wider community from exploitation and trauma. The staff and leadership at First Parish are committed to our church being as safe as possible for all people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to come to worship, learn, and serve together.
I have faith in the broader Unitarian Universalist movement to overcome these grave errors and continue to build a world we dream about together — one of welcome, inclusion, equity, respect, and safety. I trust in our national democratic governance structure, our open theology from the Six Sources, and our commitment to ethical living and integrity through our Seven Principles. We will be sturdy in our spiritual convictions and in our resistance to the wider society that attempts to reinforce a culture of division, prejudice, and exploitation.
As the hymn goes, “We’ll take one more step — we’ll say one more word — we’ll say one more prayer — we’ll sing one more song — until there is peace for us and everyone, ‘til every word is heard by everyone, ‘til every prayer is shared by everyone, ‘til every song is sung by everyone” — until that future time, we’ll make one more move for justice, peace, and equality.