Regardless of intent, the impact was harm and that must be addressed.
After much hard work and thorough study, The Guidelines committee of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association presented a groundbreaking new process for working through guidelines violations, including conflict and misconduct amongst colleagues, staff and lay leadership. It was presented for a vote at the upcoming Ministry Days in Spokane, WA. The vote is to engage in a year of study over the proposed new process. Conversation began quickly amongst colleagues that became intense. A response letter was drafted by a small group of colleagues and was signed by several others. Many Unitarian Universalists have responded to the response letter, the UUMA released an FAQ, and difficult conversations continue across social media and offline.
The Leadership Collective of Allies for Racial Equity (ARE) feels it crucial to note that a significant number of folks who hold historically marginalized identities have expressed deep pain in reading the response letter. Particularly people of color, LGBTQ folks, non-binary people, women, and religious professionals have expressed profound hurt in reading this letter. That, in and of itself, is enough to give us pause.
Significantly, the public response of signatories and authors of the response letter to folks sharing this pain has been defensiveness and argument. There is a clear lack of awareness around and ownership of the impact that the words in the response letter have caused. Regardless of intent, the impact was harm and that needs to be addressed. We urge the writers and signatories to sit with this reality: people who are marginalized feel less safe in our faith because of the words you wrote and/or signed. Please seek to understand the pain of those who are hurt so that we can all learn to do better. Please consider an apology for the harm.
The new proposed guidelines and process aim to address the ways in which power differentials make dealing with conflict and misconduct more difficult, particularly for those with less power. It is troubling to us that the response letter and subsequent defenses seem to minimize the impact that power plays in such instances. The petitioners seek to address what has been revealed to be a major flaw in our system by patching the system rather than reworking it significantly, as people who hold marginalized identities have been asking of us for some time.
Among the leadership collective of ARE, we have experienced countless times in which the current process fell short for us. In many of those situations the sexual orientation, gender, age, fellowship status or professional role was part of what made the situation difficult, and the process did not adequately hold the complexities of power differentials. As is common among institutions built in white supremacy, our process protected those in power. If we truly wish to uproot the white supremacy in our beloved Association and congregations, we have to take time to study and change or discard the systems that currently do not serve this goal. We have to take the time to change the systems through the lens of uprooting the white supremacy embedded within them. This year of study is meant to give UUMA members the time to do this work and to allow us to continue to improve upon the hard, diligent, faithful work done already by the Guidelines Committee of the UUMA.
In addition, the response letter states that the onus of handling ministerial misconduct should rest in the congregations. Not only is it clear that many, if not most, congregations are unable or unwilling to do this work, this is also a gross misunderstanding of our congregational polity. The Cambridge Platform is clear that our congregations should not only work to support one another, but should also work to hold one another accountable. The network by which we are able to do this is our association of congregations and the professional organizations that hold our religious professionals to agreed-upon standards. It is undeniably clear to us that most congregations are not able to hold the complexities of power differentials. As our association is just beginning to truly reckon with the ways in which white supremacy lives within our faith, most congregations are somewhat behind the association in this work, and our association must help to mitigate the harm done to those among us who hold marginalized identities.
We hope that the outcome of this process helps move us all towards deeper understanding of the ways in which white supremacy has harmed us all in our association and in our congregations by its role in protecting those who have fallen out of covenant. We hope that we are able to find a new system in this year of study that truly works against power hoarding and moves us towards restorative justice.
Allies for Racial Equity Leadership Collective
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We are building an anti-racist movement of white Unitarian Universalists to dismantle white supremacy in ourselves, our congregations, and communities.
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