The book Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry resulted from an October 2015 conference “to reframe Unitarian Universalist anti-oppression work by putting the voices, experiences and learnings of people of color at the center of the conversation.” It was a “common read” for 2017-18. What follows is a review from a UU who writes under a pseudonym.
By Veritas Curat
In Centering, we have a psychodrama about victimization and oppression; a battle for the moral high ground, that relies on a mutual dehumanization of the participants and prejudicial labels that divide them from us.
Labels are how we force other people to play roles in our psychodramas. Labels always distort and simplify. That is what they are for. We just have to use them with care and learn to hold them lightly. I don’t want to ever tell someone what their identity is. That is oppressive. — Rev Peter Morales (All quotations are from Centering unless otherwise indicated.)
The labeling psychodrama Peter Morales refers to plays out in a culture of victim, oppressor and rescuer; as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
Culture does evolve in spite of our human flaws. That is why real change occurs slowly and with difficulty. The Civil Rights movement, attempting to put in practice promises of 100 years before, faced overwhelming violent opposition in which many people died And the victory was not complete. But the vision is clear, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Jonathan Haidt tells us,:
…in the 18th and 19th centuries most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor …to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it…this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood which… gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim…it creates a society of constant and intense moral conflict as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.
In Centering we have a collision between our flawed universal human nature evolving a culture of victimhood and an organization overwhelmed by its desire to occupy the moral high ground as rescuer. This desire arises from the best of intentions; from principles committed to justice for all oppressed people. The idea is to center the experiences of “people of color” and “decenter whiteness.” It is curious how this “decentering whiteness” seems to involve spending an inordinate amount of time talking about what is wrong with white people and white culture.
Centering defines the oppressor-victim labeling:
“‘people of color’ is a term we use as a political act to build coalitions to dismantle the effects of white supremacy. – Rev. Sofia Betancourt
This “white supremacy” label in an organization made up of around 80% white people is significant and troubling. It assigns to whites the role of “evil people committing evil deeds,” in Solzhenitsyn’s phrasing.
White hostility – In seminary, I was not taught how to be “authentic” when I showed up to work grieving because yet another murderous police officer had escaped indictment, not only feeling utterly alone in my grief but also experiencing White hostility to my grief. – Rev. Marisol Caballero
White fragility – I worry that the way we often choose to talk about racism within our movement is more concerned with what has come to be known as white fragility than with truth telling. – Rev. Marisol Caballero
White supremacy – The collective sin of white supremacy is a material and particular sin, and we cannot redeem it at a distance or in the abstract. -Rev. Molly Housh Gorden (in UU World Spring 2018)
Centering is thus functioning to “other” the 80% of white people who make up UU congregations. It pours racially charged gasoline on the already problematic divide between the organizational leadership and the congregations they are supposed to serve.
The voices of congregation members were not included in Centering. It is, rather, a centering of professional leaders of color. I would argue that this offers us a window into how the UUA leadership in total — both white and people of color — is now beginning to view the congregations. It’s not a pretty picture.
Belonging is a deep universal human desire. We are a tribal species, and this tribal heritage brings othering with it. Anyone not in our tribal group is other and a dangerous enemy. Given this heritage “Do unto others” has serious limitations in practice. It is practiced most easily within the tribe. Human history is filled with examples of bloody failures to extend it outside the tribe.
This is why the basic teachings of the world’s religions and ethical systems fail to be practiced on a regular basis. The quote sometimes attributed to Gandhi — “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” — is a universal truth. If any organization claims to be free from this disconnect between principle and practice, it is lying to itself.
A perfect storm is coming around the behavior of congregants and the lack of accountability around that behavior. It has been brought to light by what people who are studying for the ministry understand from either their internships or their education and their conversations with those of us who have been in the parish. It’s not going to be pretty. For those of us who are people of color, this started earlier. We started getting out of the parish a lot earlier because of the experiences we were having with congregants, and race was a huge factor. – Rev Rosemany Bray McNatt
Accountability ought to work both ways, but it clearly doesn’t here. The problem is proclaimed to lie solely in the congregations, not leadership. And the role of the UUA has not been to support congregations but to support leaders whose malpractice can be responsible for painful conflicts. And there are many such conflicts
At a recent gathering of UU ministers, one attendee said that she wanted ministers to stop referring to congregations as “my” congregation and suggested saying “the congregation I serve.” My reaction to what she said was swift and visceral. I could feel my body tense, and I had a hard time focusing on anything else that was said in her presentation. I was affronted by the idea of “serving” a congregation of mostly white people… We are reverends. We are ministers. We are pastors. We are never servants.” – Rev. Cheryl M. Walker
If a leader objects to the word “serve” and is not willing to put forward other words that express an idea of humility that is a necessary part of good leadership, then that leader may fail in the kind of relationship that is necessary to be a “reverend” or “minister” or “pastor.” Blaming the congregation for these personal issues is a serious case of projection; it is never the responsibility of the leader but, rather, the fault of the racially oppressive nature of white congregations.
As a Christian minister from the black church, I was used to preaching from a biblical text… Folks were complaining because I used a text from the Bible instead of a reading from a non-theistic source. I gradually found myself compromising my style of preaching. When I was scheduled to preach, I wrote three sermons. The first was written as I was inspired by the Spirit. The second was edited for the UU ear, and the third was watered down so I’d still be employed after the benediction. – Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore
Preaching to a group of congregants, many seeking refuge from oppressively fundamentalist Christian backgrounds who are seeking a new spiritual home free of guilt and shame, ought to inspire some empathy and sensitivity. Does Rev Moore not understand the nature of her congregation and their needs? Instead, the story is about how the congregation is “complaining” about biblical texts and requiring her to edit her sermons for “the UU ear.” Is there something oppressively wrong with “the UU ear?”
We are almost always the first minister of color to be serving in congregations where our ministry takes us. These communities harbor some measure of anxiety that we might be passionate about diversity and that we might impose that passion on the congregation in some way. Clergy of color have been driven out of congregations and pegged as single-issue minister or as ministers who focus on social justice to the detriment of other needs. – Rev. Manish Mishra Marzetti
Are the congregants really “anxious” that ministers of color “might be passionate about diversity” or are they concerned about their “single-issue minister(s)” “imposing” their passion upon them? This is one-sided and unnecessarily patronizing.
Unfortunately, our current ministerial environment is one in which many, if not most, UU congregations are unprepared for the cross-cultural aspects of calling a minister of color. Further, they are not only unaware of their lack of readiness in this regard but also actively resist such self-knowledge. – Rev. Manish Mishra Marzetti
Is it possible that there might be more affirming ways of approaching a congregation besides belittling their self-knowledge? We are to imagine UU congregations as not only ignorant of their “lack of readiness” but also “resistant” to learning anything about it. Has this leader paused to consider that maybe this “resisting” could possibly be resentment at being patronized?
When I received this love and preached about Islam in a sermon that focused on the similarities among various faiths — including Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism — I was told that my speaking of Islam reminded some UU congregants of terrorism. Of course, this had the effect of silencing my voice yet again. The message I heard was that I could never preach about Islam. – Rev. Summer Albayati
Don’t ministers learn how to deal with concerns about their sermons in their training? How is it that a normal occurrence in ministry is so offensive that it becomes “silencing” and causes her to believe she could “never” preach about Islam. Does she not understand the difference between “disagreement” and “silencing”?
And, apparently from this, she concludes:
Can UUism ever purify its collective heart from hatred towards Arabs and Muslims?
It is curious that this overwrought hyperbole causes no concern in the book’s editor. There is a serious problem when a leader within the organization can slander UUism in this way and receive support and encouragement for doing so.
“This reminds some UUs of…’ is used often as a justification for silencing almost anything in our communities. This is the fear that we will create some tiny place of discomfort, some memory of early pain, some small sense of lack of inclusion, and that is used to justify massive lack of inclusion. We are severely limited by that phrase. How can we as religious leaders start to undermine the notion that it is okay for a personal small moment of discomfort to silence an entire tradition, an entire people, an entire faith perspective in our congregations? – Rev. Sofia Betancourt
Being “severely limited” by causing “discomfort” in their congregations may say more about the religious leader than their congregations. How does one weigh discomfort? The leader of color judges the discomfort in a white congregation as “tiny” while the “lack of inclusion” is “massive”? This minimizes the experiences of white congregants and exaggerates the consequences of this supposed “silencing” which, if the previous quotation is any indication, has been vastly overblown.
Often a person of color is one of the most visible and invisible people in a culturally white faith community. A person may be highly visible by the way they look, or by name, language, accent or tone, or simply because of the energy created by a felt difference in culture. Yet, a person of color’s personhood, unique beauty, struggles, spirit, identity and experiences are invisible to the white community, often because of assumptions, projections, bias, micro-aggression, and discrimination. – Rev. Mitra Rahnema
How much of any individual’s “personhood, unique beauty, struggles, spirit, identity and experiences are invisible to [any] community?” We all arrive at a community being both visible and invisible. We are visible at first by the superficial appearance we present, people form first impressions and it takes a long time for our “personhood, unique beauty, struggles, spirit, identity and experiences” to become visible to those we become close to. Making this universal, human process of integration into something a “white faith community” unjustly does to people of color is itself an unjust othering of people based upon the color of their (white) skin.
Centering also provides valuable insights into the resignation of Rev. Peter Morales. His essay in the book was written before he resigned and provides important information about the issues involved in his resignation. He describes his precipitous rise within the organization:
It took only six years for me, a new seminarian and a relatively new UU, to be appointed to the following positions: the Steering Committee of what was to become DRUUMM, the Steering Committee of LUUNA, the UUMA Executive Committee (during my first year in preliminary fellowship and as the first Latinx), the UUA Board of Trustees (as the first Latinx), and UUA Leadership Council. Today I am the first Latinx to serve as UUA president…
When typical Anglo ministers are asked to serve in a leadership role in the UUMA or in the UUA, they can assume they have been chosen because of their qualifications. I have never been able to assume that…
… in no way would my qualifications have put me in line for the opportunities that were heaped upon me if I were white. A kind of distorted privilege was operating. I was caught up in a larger drama that I did not fully understand. I felt I was playing a role in someone else’s psychodrama… – Rev. Peter Morales
“Distorted privilege” was a very dangerous phrase for him to employ. Even though it is appropriate given the UUA’s “hunger for diversity,” as Morales puts it, this idea made him enemies. It is important to remember that his resignation followed an issue over hiring a white male instead of a woman of color. He further endangered himself by openly stating that there were not enough qualified people of color to choose from. This honesty led to a disproportional response which eventually led to his resignation.
The one true distortion in Peter’s argument is the misuse of the word privilege to describe the epic mind game that is tokenism…Tokenism is not a privilege but rather an indication that UUism remains a predominantly White movement that is generally awkward in its interacting with people of color. – Rev. Marisol Caballero
This “distorted privilege” is, I believe, a very real problem in the UUA, which addresses it poorly. Religious professionals of color are no longer interested in serving white congregations because they have heard stories about “silencing” and “white hostility” and “white fragility” and “white supremacy” and other psychodramatic labels. There appears to be no willingness to look at this supposed block of “white supremacists” as a gathering of diverse individuals all with their own “personhood, unique beauty, struggles, spirit, identity and experiences.” It appears that the only people who have these unique qualities are people of color facing an undifferentiated mass of stereotyped whites.
There is a danger in holding racism too much in the forefront of our minds. We may miss opportunities to do transformative ministry if we constantly fight against every instance of racism we see. – Rev. Dr. Kristen Harper
This quote describes the dangers represented by the book it is contained within. Apparently, the route chosen is to try and change the nature of white congregations rather than examine the negative perceptions leaders of color have towards them.
I found it hard to imagine that sentence about serving at the intersection of UUism and black communities would seem relevant to a search committee in Portsmouth, NH. I was concerned it would raise immediate red flags. I was applying for a ministry position in a predominantly white church in one of the whitest states in the nation. – Rev. Lauren Smith
The question of why a minister whose calling was to serve “at the intersection of UUism and black communities” would choose to apply at such a church goes unanswered. It seems this calling places the needs of her predominantly white congregation in a secondary position.
UU congregations present unique challenges to those serving as their leaders. They tend to be made up of highly paid and well-educated professionals who do not fit well in traditional Christian churches and who are apt to question religious authority. This dynamic gives rise to divisiveness between those trying to establish leadership authority and those they are insecure about leading.
Centering amounts to a recipe for making the UU church an unfriendly place for a white newcomer to enter and alienating the white congregants who are already members.
Veritas Curat makes some interesting counterpoints. I led a three-session common read discussion two years ago which was well received by the twenty [or so] participants in my mostly white congregation in Blacksburg, VA. I disagree with this author’s conclusion that “Centering amounts to a recipe for making the UU church an unfriendly place for a white newcomer to enter and alienating the white congregants who are already members.” This conclusion seems like a good example of white fragility. I think Centering raised our awareness of the struggles of ministers of color in a denomination whose first principle is ‘the inherent worth and dignity of every person.’
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Unfortunately, not a particularly good book review – intermixing quotes from other sources, making it hard to distinguish what was from the book, and what wasn’t.
Notably, one of the first quotes is “…in the 18th and 19th centuries most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor …to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it…this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood which… gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim…it creates a society of constant and intense moral conflict as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.”
oops.. hit return too soon (doesn’t see to be a way to edit)… so to continue..
or .. to continue – that quote strikes me as spot on – and until I figured out otherwise, makes me think the book might be worth reading. And… didn’t leave me motivated to read much more of the review (isn’t that what book reviews are for – to help one figure out whether to read a book, or not, as distinct from a detailed critique?).
Doesn’t Cheryl Walker understand the meaning of the word minister? As a verb, it means to serve, as in ministering to someone’s needs. Perhaps to her the word serve has a master-slave connotation, which it does not necessarily have.
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As a minister who entered when I was the only woman minister in the district, some of these complaints are not due to color. You get complaints from members, sometimes stupid complaints. If the complaint is stupid, you check around to see if it is widely shared. If not, you ignore it. If it is shared look into it — people may need education or you may need to change your approach. I notice that the sillier quotes come from more inexperienced people. That shows that these speakers need better education in seminary and internship. You need to first educate the student for the church. The road is rougher for those who are not white males and is probably, in the current atmosphere, getting a bit rougher for them as well. Part of a clergy person’s work is to help the congregation grow as people. No congregation will be free of stereotypes regarding ethnicity, race, sex, etc. You will often have been the only one of your kind to “serve” as minister. If you can’t live with that, and it IS hard, it is not going to work out. We serve the congregations we get and we all would probably have a better experience, all of us, if we focused more on creating healthy congregations and healthy ministers. That kind of congregation is less racist, sexist, more flexible, more open to mutual learning. Every minister of any background, will be unable to regularly preach in the Christian vernacular in a UU church that isn’t Christian and even in those that are it has to be a UU type message. You CAN learn to use scripture and biblical examples in ways even non-theists will appreciate. It IS exhausting at times to deal with other people’s reaction to your feminism, anti-racism, etc. and the fact that you have to tamp it down to serve a congregation and for some, preaching on something race related more than once a year (or feminist, or GBLT, or whatever) will nurture the perception that you do it all the time. AND there are often congregations that will assume without meeting you that you are a single issue preacher AND we all have to be careful to think about what people need us to talk about not what we are interested in (not too much UUA stuff, nothing about being a minister, etc.). Talk a lot about issues most people face in life. There is a very high attrition rate for clergy because it is hard to be thick-skinned AND tender-hearted and harder when a particular congregation requires superhuman tolerance for bad behavior, time to move on OR toughen up even more and see if you can teach the healthier people to set appropriate boundaries. It is a hard job to be a good minister, and being a female in my time and even now makes it harder, as does being being brown-skinned — it will get easier over the years if things continue to progress — but it isn’t for those of us who are easily injured by flawed people. In my day, I would have liked more support while going through it and UUA officials who had an understanding of the issues I faced that my counterparts didn’t. I expect there might be better outcomes for all if most new clergy could start at a healthy congregation, rather than, as so often happens, a congregation that has a history of problems that make them small.
Sounds like an interesting book, but I hope it privileges the voices of experienced clergy who have sorted out what stuff belong to them and what belongs to others.
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My name is Josh Pawelek. I am the minister of the UU Society: East in Manchester CT. I am white. I worked very closely with Rev. Mitra Rahnema to publish this book. I am proud of this book and everyone who wrote chapters and responses for us. As I read Veritas Curat’s review, I am struck be one fundamental distinction between their point of view and those of the authors, which I share. That distinction is a willingness to accept the reality of White Supremacy Culture operating not only in our historically white identity UU congregations, but in virtually all white identity institutions in the United States of America. Veritas Curat doesn’t take White Supremacy Culture seriously, so Veritas Curat doesn’t comprehend the extraordinary value our historically white congregations gain by centering people of color voices, stories, histories, spiritualities, etc. Veritas Curat argues that taking White Supremacy Culture seriously is divisive and unwelcoming to white visitors. I believe the exact opposite is true. When we are honest about our history and the way White Supremacy Culture continues to operate in our institutions, then we offer all visitors, including white visitors, a genuine welcome and a path to authentic inclusion.
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The two comments from the two ministers, revmcr and Josh Pawelek illustrate this situation for me. First, arguments are made criticizing the current UUA strategies concerning race. Next, comments surface claiming that the person making these arguments is suffering from “white fragility” or doesn’t want to dismantle “white supremacy culture.”
“White supremacy culture” brings visions of gas chambers for me. And using the word “serve” is bad? WTF? I am harmed by the implication that I don’t want change. Of course, by saying I feel dehumanized, I become an example of “white fragility.”
I am certainly an anecdote, just like those people revmcr’s study group. If I am in the minority, perhaps it doesn’t matter that I walk out the door. If I am not, I don’t believe UUism will recover.
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I am curious why the author of this “review” felt it necessary to remain anonymous. Perhaps they realized how directly they were insulting the experience of our UU siblings of color? How painfully they were diminishing the heartfelt stories of UUs of color struggling to love our faith into its potential? How they were responding to vulnerability with derision?
In this review and in many of the arguments circulating among uncomfortable white UUs at this time, what I hear is either a concern or an outright statement that some white UUs would rather leave Unitarian Universalism than allow our beloved UUs of color to claim a central space in our faith. What a terrible, painful truth.
The beautiful book Centering is a powerful contrast. In it UUs of color offer us tender stories of how they have been hurt in our spaces, but confess that they love UUism too much to leave. Can white UUs love our POC siblings and our faith enough to make room for the full exercise of Unitarian Universalism that they are offering us?
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Really, Molly? You can’t see why someone would like to be anonymous after hundreds of people defame the author of a book which most of them didn’t have time to read? You can’t see why someone would want to remain anonymous when questioning current practices and ideologies and logic gains you censorship, banishment, being compared to a Nazi, and called racist, ableist, transphobic, etc.? You don’t know why someone might want to remain anonymous when the UUMA has arrogated to itself the right to censure people’s speech and writings without any warrant to do so and has not followed their own process in doing so? You don’t know why someone might want to be anonymous when even curiousity or a small quibble with current ideologies have earned ministers firing and threats of firing from their clergy supervisors? Please. I doubt you are really that dense. When you stop threatening people, bullying people, punishing people, for expressing sincere although possibly wrong opinions and engage in real dialogue, they will no longer live in fear. Discussing race is difficult. Most everyone doesn’t see the whole picture. It is a shame that UU’s have chosen to shame, bully, and dig in, rather than having real discussions and to try to get better at having important conversations.
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I think this observation is interesting and important: “The voices of congregation members were not included in Centering. It is, rather, a centering of professional leaders of color. I would argue that this offers us a window into how the UUA leadership in total — both white and people of color — is now beginning to view the congregations. It’s not a pretty picture.”
And Krohde2014 is onto something when she points out how young those quoted clergy are. I don’t know how young they are in years, but their quotes seem to me to reflect the solipsism of the young.
I have heard from colleagues who’ve been teaching UU History and Polity at seminaries for years that too many of our new ministers arrive at seminary already firmly persuaded that they know everything they need to know in order not just to criticize but to set about “dismantling” what, in fact, they don’t understand.
I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t find the PC business “threatening”. I find it boring. Again and again I’ve engaged the recommended texts, only to find a predictable, reductive, neurotic, fearful and unforgiving view of human beings and human relationships.
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This is incorrect: “some white UUs would rather leave Unitarian Universalism than allow our beloved UUs of color to claim a central space in our faith. What a terrible, painful truth.”
The terrible, painful truth is that many, many, many of us are unpersuaded that “UU’s of color are claiming a central space in our faith.” Instead, what we see is a group of bien pensant ideologues (of various colors) claiming a central space (not to mention a substantial chunk of money) in order to push an embarrassingly narrow-minded and incoherent narrative.
Speaking of terrible, painful truth: I read, the other day that a couple of polls showed African American support for President Trump at over 30%.
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I recently became ordained as an interfaith minister (outside of the UU, though am a member of a UU congregation). As one who has never been shy about expressing his opinions, I found it an internally humbling experience. Rather than giving me a license to proselytize and “know what’s right”, I suddenly saw the need to more strongly and humbly listen to and study others’ viewpoints and beliefs. There are congregants who I am diametrically opposed to on this issue, but who I respect greatly. For me, respect doesn’t come out of “agreeing with me.”
The non-UU interfaith seminary was entirely non-dogmatic (the program director was Hindu, and my advisor was a Kabbala Rabbi). Since students came from many faiths, countries and backgrounds, it genuinely accepted different viewpoints and ideas. I’m a free-thinking agnostic and my Rabbi advisor had no concerns or issues with that. It was also much more spiritually, theologically based– not politically/activist.
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I’m glad there still are some like you.
I don’t know and am not saying, as I have not attended. However, if the UU seminaries are now dogmatic and teach and require a single ideology, I would not call them interfaith. I would recommend a different seminary or school for interfaith education.
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I add that as the director was Hindu, you can be sure that the Hindu theory of “there are many different paths up the mountain” was a central tenant of our education. How un-UU (joke).
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David Cycleback— thank you for bringing up mental illness!
Forty years or so ago, the Unitarian Universalist minister and theologian James Luther Adams became involved with Gould Farm, a working farm/residential treatment program in the Berkshires that Boston Unitarians and Transcendentalists had helped found a century before. Gould Farm is still in operation, and the last time I was there, some of the older staff could still fondly remember “Jim” and his contribution to the healing work of the place.
Sadly, since bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, anxiety disorder and major depression are all human universals, it isn’t of much interest to the progressive woke. It can’t be used to divide the clever Us from the benighted Them, since —as you point out— to those who suffer and to the families who adore them, rearranging the words in use seems completely beside the point.
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I saw another list of five or six marginalized groups, and I said “Hey, I’m two of those.” (I admit that I also joked, “Where are my reparations?”) Then for the UUA anti-oppression class I saw that those two and only those two, and the only two that are cross-gender and cross-race, had been removed from the list.
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And, while I don’t know, my guess is that those two marginalized groups were removed from the list when the course designers realized they applied to all genders and races. For the class, they wanted only marginalized groups that fit the narrative.
Happily, I’m not interested in fitting in a UUA narrative.
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It reminds me of a number of years ago when US News and World Report came up with a new and improved computer calculation to pick the best school. The problem was the result of the calculation was the top school was Cal Tech. US News and World Report thought that Cal Tech was a fine school, but they sentimentality felt the top should always be a Harvard, Princeton or MIT. So they scrapped that system and went back to the one the produced the schools they preferred. The picked the final result, then fished around for a calculation that would produce it.
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David—keep commenting, or maybe write a post? I want to know more!
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I will add that I belong to a congregation that, while there was a bit of bumpy road on the issue last year, is going well and living up to UU’s traditional values. We do racial (and much other justice) work (in the congregation and as outreach), have Beloved Conversations, classes, etc., but without the strife, shaming, required dogma et al. I went to a workshop and it was a positive, instructive experience. Congregants have differences of opinions on the issue, but they’re treated respectfully as differences of opinion– and respected that, as UUs, we can and will have differences. In fact, the congregation has started a group where people get together to discuss “hot topics,” in part as an outlet to express and listen to differences of opinions, and as a way to learn how to express and listen to differences of opinions. It helps that the board leadership focus on the health of the congregation itself, and doesn’t rotely follow everything the UUA suggests just because the UUA suggests it.
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I will add one relevant note. Being a bipolar person means thinking differently, and cognitively ordering things differently. Mentally ill often have trouble fitting into society’s norms because they don’t think the same way– literally processing and ordinging sensory information differently at the neurological– and they have to be trained to fit in. I’ve been successful in life but, anyone who knows me, knows I don’t think linearly and have to do things “my way.” I’m the last person you should try to micromanage.
My beloved engineering professor father once told me “You have a strange mind.” However, he then followed it up that, as a professor, he meant it as a compliment, as he said I thought about topics that never even entered other peoples’ minds and thought about things from different perspectives.
I’m not at all going to take up a personal oppression of victim angle, because I don’t feel oppressed or a victim (and am not because I don’t let myself be). But I do know that dictating one dogma, one way of doing things, a set of rules of how things “must” be done is oppressive of people don’t think the same way as others, . I think that’s oppressive of everyone (people don’t have to have the same priorities or do things the same way), but in particular of people who are mentally ill and don’t think the same way.
If the UUA cared about the mentally ill, and really cared about the congregants in general, they would not be requiring all congregants to follow the same cookie cutter dogma and methodology.
So, as a member of a so-called ‘official’ marginalized group, do I consider the current UUA marching orders oppressive of members of that (and other) marginalized groups? Yes, 100%. They are also doing exactly what they would not want, or allow, any other group do them (“Here’s the new dogma and methodology. Now follow it and don’t question it.”)
As the topic of anti-oppression seems to be the UUA cause, I would love it to be framed that top-down religious dogma– expecting everyone to act and think alike and have the same exact priorities– is one of the common forms of oppression and injustice.
If you would like to write more on that topic as an official post, I would.
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David, my email address is email@example.com. Please do send me an email so we can discuss a blog post. We’d love to have your perspective. I’m away from home until Friday night, so you may not hear back from me until Saturday.
I’m actually surprised that considering they list logic and Robert’s Rules et al as tools of White Supremacy, they don’t include top-down religious dogma as one of the tools of White Supremecy. Has there been any tool more used in human history to suppress peoples, including different culture, races, genders, sexualities, people? It’s Thanksgiving Day today, and has anyone heard of Christopher Columbus’ story?
But, oh wait, that’s a tool UUA discovered they can use themselves. Cross that one off the list.
The arrogance and egocentricism of people who say they have the one truth and the one way doing things and that they are going to try to force everyone to follow it.
And, I’m 100% serious, I think top-down religious dogma should be included in UUA’s list of categories and methods of oppression. One of the oldest tools of oppression in human history.
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Some of you may be familiar with Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al, a climate justice-based lawsuit filed in 2015. It was brought by 21 youth plaintiffs against the United States and some executive branch positions such as Presidents Obama and Trump. The lawsuit claimed that government policies had played a direct role in causing young people to suffer real harm from climate change. On January 17, 2020 the “Kids’ Climate Lawsuit” was thrown out by an Appeals Court. The Appeals Court said that the young plaintiffs lack standing to sue. In the end, the court agreed with the government that the courts are in no position to administer a complex plan to end use of fossil fuels and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. The court case was still pending but was discussed while we were at GA 2019. We were introduced to a young African-American boy whom UUA had chosen to be its climate-change face to the world. (It is not uncommon for people pushing a cause to choose someone to be its face to the world, its “Smokey the Bear” figure.) In my opinion, UUA would have been more honest if it had selected someone who truly does represent the UUA position on climate change. I think of Paul, who is a member of my own UU congregation, Borderlands UU, in southern Arizona. Paul would be an honest “Smokey the Bear” on climate change, as he is a PhD scientist who has been passionately advocating for action on climate change for decades. He has long been telling the truth about climate change, as our Fourth UU principle suggests he should: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Truth telling is not always welcome, with climate-change-truth being a prime example. Our minister at Borderlands UU typically takes the summers off and we lay members take turns in the pulpit. Last summer, our theme centered on individual passions of our members. Paul was asked to take one Sunday and talk about climate change, but our minister vetoed it and Paul was not allowed to speak. I was appalled. Paul is truly a “Smokey the Bear” spokesperson for climate change. But, thinking back to GA 2019, we were shown the little African-American boy whom UUA had chosen to be their “Smokey the Bear.” I saw his picture on-line this morning along with the report about the lawsuit. Shame, shame, I thought. That little boy does not represent the most UU “free and responsible” search for truth and meaning. A little African-American boy is not a typical UU “Smokey the Bear.” In truth, we UUs have a lot more members like Paul. Paul is an old white man. But apparently none of the many UUs like Paul were sufficiently politically correct for UUA to showcase on climate change. I could also point out that this is not the first time UUA has acted out of political correctness. The speakers at GA 2019 were pretty much, anyone except old white men. Ah! Political correctness! Edith Mayfield (I was Edith Fletcher at GA.)
I am floored by the lack of sensitivity in the above anonymous essay that would criticize Black clergy for not wanting to be identified as a “servant.” Surely the author of the article is aware of the history of slavery in the US? And furthermore aware of how that history could understandably make any African American resistant to identifying as a “servant,” especially to a predominantly White congregation? Is it too much to ask that we be sensitive to that history and how it may impact our Black loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers?
Is the unifying purpose of this article to criticize UU ministers of color? I find nothing else to unify this web page other than, “Here are ministers of color speaking about racial topics, and they’re whiny, wrong and insufficient to the task.” I realize that all the quotations that are being criticized are from the same book, but I see no other unifying thesis to this anonymous author’s comments besides a desire to criticize them.