Special Comment on Denominational News

The following (with added links) was delivered to the congregation by Pastor Kimberley Debus on Sunday, April 2:

This past week, two separate issues have developed in our Unitarian Universalist movement. Some of you may be aware already of one or both, as they begin emerging in the news and on social media – they have deeply affected many Unitarian Universalists around the country. It feels important to speak plainly about these issues, because while they seem in some ways remote, as the song says, “what touches one affects us all.”

The first of these issues came as a shock to us all: on Thursday, a Unitarian Universalist minister was arrested on child pornography charges. As a respected colleague and mentor, his arrest and subsequent admission of guilt are sending shock waves as he has broken covenant with our Association, his congregation and family, the community he serves, and the child victims and survivors he has harmed. I pray for them that they may find comfort, healing, and support. And my prayers also go to this colleague that he may atone for his sins and make peace with God.

We know, as ministers, that our congregations include survivors of sexual abuse. When news like this breaks – a faith leader, held to the highest ethical standards, violating a sacred trust and committing heinous acts – the survivors among us can be retriggered, revisited by trauma from the past. If this is true for you; if you need to be heard or held, do not hesitate to call me.

The second of these issues has been unfolding over the last week. The hiring of a new Regional Lead for the Southern Region caused concern: while you can read more at length in this article from UU World – the summary is that despite two candidates being equally qualified, the white, male, minister who refuses to move into the region was chosen over the Latina, female, credentialed religious educator who has lived in the region for over a decade. Both were deemed qualified – both are/were also members of the UUA Board of Trustees.

When news of this emerged, a number of red flags were raised: racism, classism, and sexism is alive and well in the Association. As it turns out, all but one of the members of the UUA’s Leadership Council is white, nearly all are fellowshipped ministers, few are women. And for a denomination that prides itself on anti-racism/anti-oppression/multicultural leadership, it exposed the systemic problems in our denomination.

As news emerged and a collective outrage ensued, the Association’s President, Peter Morales, issued a shockingly harmful and dismissive letter, trying to deflect the conflict, excusing rather than addressing the issues, demeaning religious educators, calling the women who raised the concern ‘hysterical’, and generally making matters worse. Several letters have gone to the Board, including one I signed from religious professionals, asking for a different measure of fair hiring practices and refocus on our response to oppression and racism within our walls. And on Thursday afternoon, Morales resigned his position. While citing his belief that he can no longer lead, many of us – myself included – feel that he should have come back into covenant and focused on repairing the harmful assumptions made in our Association’s hiring practices. Late Saturday, UU World published this update, which includes a variety of reactions.

This is an important moment for the Association, but also for us as Unitarian Universalists. We are being called to walk the talk. What we are witnessing first hand is the problem of many organizations: a general commitment to diversity in hiring often isn’t important enough to keep white people from somehow being the “better candidate.”

Now many of us understand what white supremacy is. We understand that it is about race, gender, and class – because these systems are interconnected. We see it in government and the workplace. But we see it in part because we are not as emotionally committed those organizations as we are to the transcendent goodness of the organization of our faith community. The truth is, the UUA is typical of most organizations in its practices. And there are plenty of organizations that are better. But being typical is not what we have promised. Not what we have been called to be. Our typical-ness is hurtful to UU’s of Color, both present and potential. And it is hurtful to all of us. So we have to change.

On April 30, we will make shifts to our regularly scheduled Sunday morning to participate in a teach-in on racism and white supremacy. On the 30th, with more joining on May 7th, we will join thousands of Unitarian Universalists around the country in this large-scale historic action.

Over the next few weeks, we will be receiving more information about the teach in, as resources and materials are created. This work may be difficult, but I hope you will engage with us on this difficult topic. We must be a faith that takes anti-racism and anti-oppression work seriously, especially within our own walls, and this hard work will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.