Statement from the Commission on Institutional Change: September 19, 2018
Do we need to change? The numbers say yes!
An examination of the UUA’s congregation certification data for 2017 shows that out of 1,032 total congregations, 980 certified with the Association. Of that number, 145 congregations are now below the threshold of 30 active members, the level of membership needed to become a new congregation today.
In total, there are 819 certified congregations that are financial contributors to the Association and would meet the 30 member threshold for a new congregation qualification. These numbers are worth looking at because they tell us we have so much room for improving our communities with a more inclusive, vibrant faith.
The Commission on Institutional Change has been working since May 2018 to identify strategic areas which we believe must be addressed as part of the changes needed to allow Unitarian Universalism to remain a vital and viable faith. Our basic premise is that if we can live into the full participation of those who have been most marginalized among us, we can create a responsive, vibrant Unitarian Universalism. A Unitarian Universalist faith marked by full equity and participation will continue to play a vital role in transforming lives and communities. To work towards this goal, we believe the Association must:
- Articulate a theology of liberation, experimentation, and innovation grounded in our
Unitarian Universalist principles and sources of inspiration. Developing a shared theology that centers on helping to unearth, manifest, and point the way towards liberation along with experimentation that strives for our collective flourishing. This theology will also call us to be accountable to the legacies of our past deeds and to work for an equitable future. This will lay the groundwork for our work around truth, transformation, and reparations.
- Ensure quality of livelihood for religious professionals of color, especially those with complex identities for whom our current systems are destructive (or who bear the brunt of the destructive power of our current broken systems). The Commission calls our Association to intervene around issues impacting the quality of livelihood of religious professionals of color, including trans, disabled, and of those religious professionals in less-valued positions — directors of religious education, choir directors, associate ministers, administrative professionals, among others. We also seek a discussion about targeted (margin-centered) universalism, as it calls us to the prophetic task that understands that focusing on the needs of the most marginalized, we attend to and address the needs of the whole. Solidarity can be put into practice by advocating for those who suffer the weight of our system.
- Ensure opportunities for full involvement for UUs of color in the various settings of our faith. We have heard countless stories of how our congregations and organizations repel people of color who come in. Many people of color do not end up staying, some are repelled immediately, others are burned out. Often those who opt to stay, labor to nurture our faith and are not acknowledged for their contributions but are derided and pushed away.
- Enact mechanisms of accountability and integrity towards shared goals of equity, inclusion, and diversity. Mechanisms of accountability and integrity that identify the chains of command, place checks and balances through the system, and promote just relations. Accountability is to the principles, to the commitments that have been and will be made; it is not accountability to any one group of people. The integrity piece is also being addressed in religious education circles by going back to the sources.
- Identify and spread examples of innovation of equity, inclusion, and diversity and establish channels of innovation and risk-taking. People and congregations are innovating and we have models worth considering, not yet for widespread replication, rather, to inform and inspire. Developing a culture of experimentation will be essential in bridging the large gap between where we are and where we need to be. This culture change will necessitate that we stop punishing our truth-tellers and risk-takers. We need to imagine alternative futures to current realities and develop the practices that will take us there.
- Design credentialing, hiring and firing practices, and data collection across the Association, which promote equity at the Association level and as models for UU communities, congregational, and non-parish settings. Some of the key questions we will be engaging with are: What is contemporary competency? How does the credentialing process support or not our goals for full access for People of Color? Why do we make rules for credentialing that require exceptions for People of Color? What are the types of cultural competency and conflict de-escalation training should be required of our ministers? In what ways and through what mechanism can we encourage ongoing work and development in these areas not only for religions professionals but also in our congregations? There is also an assumption that we bring competencies from outside into the church, rather than growing a faith community that strives for excellence defined by our principles and sources. We overly value credentials and educational processes while de-prioritizing results.
- Value the knowledge of people of color and other oppressed and undervalued groups. People of Color skills that are culturally relevant are not valued in the current system. Instead, we value academic skills, the written word and certain forms of formal presentation as well as hierarchical management. People of color are more likely to come into Unitarian Universalism because they hold another marginalized identity, such as being BGLTQ. The intersectional impact of these identities can be hard in the white, middle-class, patriarchal, heteronormative, cis-gender culture dominant in many of our congregations, We also do not have trauma-informed ministries and so do not understand — and often — judge systemic effects of racism as incompetence. We do not recognize the systemic effects of racism and white supremacy culture which results in more people of color struggling economically and still depending on self-funding to participate in much of our volunteer activities. We do not consider the cost of losing work for those younger in their career or in more tenuous positions because of their race or other marginalized identities.
- Prioritize and enable leadership from young adults and working age people. Intervention with the 18–35–50 age ranges and their involvement in leadership (young adults and working-age people). Who has power? The young folks already living into the culture that we want. Youth are not the future, they are the present. Leadership is increasingly held by retired boomers with little interest in younger generations in leading in UU religious life as it is at the congregational level (contrast with young leadership at UUA level, etc.) At times, this generational cohort acts in ways that force potential young leadership to leave. Younger leaders expect multicultural competence and are often skilled at leading with it.
- Promote healthy and sustainable models of leadership and community life. Currently, we do have much to do to allow a diversity of leadership. People of color are often marginalized in our congregations or are asked to do everything, causing early burnout and anger. There are a thousand ways of doing church, but some are stuck on one.
- Ensure that benchmark goals towards inclusion, equity and diversity are reflected through budgets, planning, hiring and promotions, and professional development opportunities. Though we conducted a racism audit in 1981, we have yet to truly make the investments that would make this more than an aspiration. We also do not track data on our progress, hiding behind an ethic of being “color-blind” and erasing the stories of leaders of color, paid and unpaid. How are efforts to support equity, inclusion, and diversity being prioritized monetarily? What do we prioritize? We don’t actually have a reality of scarcity, we choose to allocate our resources in more traditional ways, limiting opportunities for innovation needed in this rapidly changing times.
These issues, as well as our goals for our Association, will be the focus of a special “collaboratory” meeting sponsored by the Commission to be held in Walnut Creek, CA from October 1st through the 3rd.