24 January 2006

The Dangers of Overly Aggressive UUA Reform

I'm really surprised at the negative attitudes being expressed by some bloggers about the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) on Chalicechick's blog.

I do hope that someone will sift through the reasonable and constructive reforms that are embedded on this blog along with the extreme and potentially destructive reforms being offered.

This concentration of negative complaints about the UUA staff, General Assembly, UUA social justice work, UUA Washington Office, etc is something that I've only observed in online forums and blogs. I haven't seen that in live face-to-face settings with Unitarian Universalists. This appears to be an internet-only phenomenon that isn't sustainable in non-internet settings.

I suspect that we're seeing a group of like-minded Unitarian Universalists forming an "echo chamber" online.

Wikipedia has a good explanation for the "echo chamber" metaphor:
Metaphorically, the term echo chamber can refer to any situation in which information or ideas are amplified by transmission inside an enclosed space.

For example, observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true.
There's an object lesson about the dangers of overly aggressive reform for Unitarian Universalists in our denominational history. It can be found in the transition from Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) to Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) in the 1970s and 1980s. This history example comes to us from Lela Sinha:
The life and death of LRY has a lot to teach. Obviously, the clearest lessons are to those of us in the denomination, but other organizations may face similar problems.

Situation: One of the most unfortunate side effects of the vilification of LRY by the UUA was that the new youth organization (YRUU) ended up reinventing the wheel a lot. When LRY was dismantled, most of the experience and materials produced over its 30 year tenure were lost or stored in unlabeled, unsorted file drawers. It was a tragic waste of time and experience. In addition, YRUU youth are rarely encouraged to seek guidance from LRY alumni in their congregations. Every time a new group has gotten started, the youth have had to find training from nearby groups, the UUA, or their own instincts.

Lesson: Any person or organization which is undergoing radical and painful change will probably be tempted to walk away and not look back. Some people say goodbye like that. For organizations, the transition time is a time of grave vulnerability, so the organization has a definite interest in keeping the transition as short as possible. Unfortunately, as in the case of LRY and the UUA, that kind of abrupt change can cause grief and hard feelings that will ultimately make the transition-incurred weakness last much longer.

That temptation to walk away can also lead one to repeat history and reinvent the wheel. A "clean" cut often leaves a mess behind: lack of materials, experience, and institutional memory. If there are existing program materials, for example, they need not be lost simply because the entity which produced them has fallen from grace. For LRY and YRUU this would have meant keeping the publications and experienced alumni available for incoming youth; for a church this may mean keeping old hymnals; for a school with a problem teacher it could mean firing the teacher but teaching some of her popular and creative teaching techniques to other teachers.
Bureaucratic or institutional memory is like plumbing, electricity, and other "infrastructures" that support organizations. The Unitarian Universalist Association is part of that infrastructure that many congregational leaders regularly use and depend on for congregational work. We expect it to be there ... something that we can always assume will be there. An overly aggressive restructuring of any organization can result in a fatal disruption of these resources.

And that is why I'm fearful about the overly aggressive UUA reform proposals.

47 comments:

Chalicechick said...

"There ain't no idea so dangerous it can't be talked about,"

1776

SC Universalist said...

Steve, you obviously didn't get the brochure last year about the conference that was designed to "come up with ways to make GA more democratic" -- from the names there, none were bloggers.
Now I understand the conference was postponed to this spring, but if you would like to meet those folks face to face, you could have an opportunity. I cant give much more details than that -- cause I hadn't planed to go....

StevenR

Bill Baar said...

Surprized! I belonged to Oak Park's Unity Temple from 1986 to 1990 and the Geneva Society since 2003 or so... I heard little about UUA at both, and it when it did come up, the suggestion was it needed to get out of Boston.

We just completed a form on attitudes as part of a associate ministers search. UUA came in dead last as a concern for us.

After the Alito fiasco, It's a higher concern now, but that's because it seems like tool of Kennedy's machine in Mass.

Just what a religion needs, a boozy millionaire senator pulling our strings.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

A cautionary tale providing lessons learned from previous UUA reforms should no way be interpreted as my saying that you should not discuss a topic. A lot of "corporate knowledge" and useful resources could be lost if reform is done sloppily and in haste.

Let me throw out a hypothetical situation here. Let's say that we as an association of congregations decide to implement Fausto's "Moratorium on condemning things at GA" proposal. Part of his proposal suggests " ... Give it a few years to run, and see whether the UUAWO (UUA Washington Office) actually finds anything worthwhile to affirm and promote. If they can't, shut 'em down, and spend the money we save on RE."

Now if there were to happen, my cautionary advice would be to ask an important question. What congregational services does the UUA Washington Office currently provide that we would want to keep if the UUAWO were to disappear or give up its current lobbyist and issue advocacy positions that it currently has?

Would we want to keep technical advice for congregations engaged in social justice work like the current summary of IRS guidelines relevant to congregational social justice work?

Would we want to keep resources that assist congregations in their advocacy work like "Tips on Visiting Members of Congress"?

Would we want to keep issue briefs that illustrate the tie-in between our UU faith and social justice issues and leave the actual lobbying and issue advocacy to UU congregations and individual UUs?

Reasonable reforms of the UUA need to address concerns like this.

Even if one disagrees with the current organization of the UUAWO, there are services it offers that help member congregations.

And if our hypothetical "getting out of the lobbyist business" reform proposal were to happen, we need to make sure that we preserve the useful functions and resources that most reasonable persons would see as helpful to congregations in their local social justice advocacy work.

fausto said...

Steve, I'm not surprised that you're surprised, but you really shouldn't be. You personally seem to find significantly more value and worth in the UUA's present institutional structure and processes than most other UUs do, whether online or in real life. It's just that most UUs who don't find much worthwhile in the UUA simply ignore it most of the time, but the online ones happen to be talking about it right now. In a couple of months we'll probably be talking about something else.

In the meantime, since we're talking, I really do think that a big part of the reason we have become a weak, marginal force in both society and in the lives of individuals is an institutional structure that is conducive to ineffective leadership and misdirected priorities. Once upon a time we were able to produce presidents, literary giants, military heroes and educational and social reformers with assembly-line regularity. Something* has sapped our strength, and we should not be afraid to seek it out and name it, nor should we be afraid to discover that it may be something we think we value. If that is what we discover, should we be satisfied with what we have become, or should we challenge ourselves to be again all that we are called to be?

You may disagree and think we enjoy dynamic leadership, a functional structure, and compelling priorities, but our disappointing results since 1961 seem to suggest otherwise.

*Personally, I think it is that we have allowed our historic concern with allowing the individual to be the final arbiter of personal truth to mutate into an emphasis on personal gratification and self-justification. In doing so, we have abandoned a historic corresponding emphasis on personal responsibility and probity, what Channing called "self-culture" and "likeness to God", and what Clarke called "salvation by character".

Steve Caldwell said...

sc universalist wrote:
-snip-
"you obviously didn't get the brochure last year about the conference that was designed to 'come up with ways to make GA more democratic'"

I would be interested in learning more about that. Does this reform group have a web site with event info?

I would be interested in reading more about this and perhaps even forwarding event info to a few relevant UU email lists that I belong to.

Thanks.

fausto said...

Steve says about the UUAWO, in part:

And if our hypothetical "getting out of the lobbyist business" reform proposal were to happen, we need to make sure that we preserve the useful functions and resources that most reasonable persons would see as helpful to congregations in their local social justice advocacy work.

I for one would be delighted to see the UUAWO's mission redirected away from public witness and advocacy and toward congregational service. There's a lot to be said for keeping an eye on Washington. However, making public pronouncements and preaching to Washington interferes with the need of our congregations to understand the political and religious issues objectively enough to be able to reach their own judgments.

LaReinaCobre said...

The part of the discussion over at CC that disturbs me somewhat is the tone. It's like people see no good work being done by the UUA at all. I agree with your opening statements, Steve. I wish the tone was more in the vein of "how can we make this work better," willingness to help, roll up one's sleeves and really be there for the long haul type. But I just get the sense on many of these that people just want to take things apart.

And save money.

I could be misreading it. It's hard to tell these things over the Internet. I made one comment, and then decided to stay out of it.

Chalicechick said...

LoC and Steve, you guys are both activists who complain about the wyay the government handles things. I assume that just because you complain about thing X, that doesn't mean you hate the whole government, so for you two to make an equivilent assumption about what the folks on my blog are trying to do confuses me. I expected better.

As for Steve's concerns about getting rid of the UUAWO, my answers large illustrate just how much the UUAWO reinvents the wheel.:

Would we want to keep technical advice for congregations engaged in social justice work like the current summary of IRS guidelines relevant to congregational social justice work?

Given what I've seen some people say about Bush in church, sometimes from the pulpit, these guidelines are largely ignored anyway.

But if you actually want to follow those guidelines, they are
"http://www.christianitytoday.com/yc/8y4/8y4060.html"> freely available on the internet.

(Just one example. There are many.)

Would we want to keep resources that assist congregations in their advocacy work like "Tips on Visiting Members of Congress"?

Your tax money already paid for this. Why pay for it out of you congregation's UUA contributions in addition? (Again, one of many versions available for free on the internet.)


Would we want to keep issue briefs that illustrate the tie-in between our UU faith and social justice issues and leave the actual lobbying and issue advocacy to UU congregations and individual UUs?

Actually, I'd rather we left lobbying to political organizations, but I've never seen a congregation that had trouble finding political issues to talk about.

Truly, the congregations would do their most effective work if they would instead of looking to the UUA for national issues, look in the newspaper and pick local issues to talk about. One man addressing his town council and saying "Hi, I'm Bob, and I'm a religious man, a Unitarian Universalist to be exact. I find the city ordinance against gay marriage really immoral because..." probably makes more of an impression than the UUAWO sending press releases to all of congress.

CC

SC Universalist said...

steve: the confrence wasnt to be done by an orginazation, as far as i know. so therefore no webpage (and as mentioned: the names I recognized don't have webpages or do blogs). the meeting was hardly secret as I got one announcement on an UU Church mailing list....(and was told about the brochure by another UU in another state)
-- if i get an announcement or one early enough, i will try to remember to let you know. Sorry I don't keep old emails


And with the exception of one rather talkative poster on CC's fixing UUism posts, most of the posters there have generally positive things to say about UU - and most have their own UU blogs where they say those nice things...
Heck, Im probably the crankiest of all -- but that's because I like to talk about stuff that's 100 to 200 years old, and get flustered when people get it wrong -- although I will admit to reading a Scholefield 1950 Unitarian tract- thats current, right? , and I will get around to reading the recent "Faith without Certainty" -- great title, hope the book is as good. I certainly give a lot of money to UU churches and spend a lot buying inprint UU books to be a complete UU hater.....

LaReinaCobre said...

CC - I know that I never said anyone hated the UUA. I don't think even Robin says he hates the UUA. I just feel the tone is very negative, and that is what depresses me - discourages me, even.

Perhaps I have no right to be discouraged by the tone, which is why I didn't say anything about it in your blog. I didn't want to oppose anyone's participation. I still don't. Reform is reform; if this brings about great changes, that is great. I just wish there was a more positive outlook in the meanwhile.

LaReinaCobre said...

Also, I would say in regards to your last paragraph - I don't perceive that as an either/or situation. On any major social issue, work needs to be done locally and nationally.

SC Universalist said...

the problem with posting is that one can make a post and then when done, makes one's comment seem more callous than intended.
My comment about myself not being an UU hater wasnt meant to imply that I thought that someone thought I was.....

Chalicechick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chalicechick said...

FWIW, the negativity you percieve is exactly the negativity non-activists watching an anti-war, pro-choice, whatever rally percieve which is why I tend to warn people against such things. On this small a scale it hardly matters, but people who wield protest signs should realize how pissed-off they look to the rest of the world.

I think individual churches probably can effect local politics. Whether they should is another question, but they can.

As for nationally, that all three of the things Steve points to as things the UUAWO does are being done by someone else already, in some cases better, nicely captures my point that the UUAWO is not particularly vital to even our social justice work. There are literally dozens of other organizations with more money and more power trying to do the same things.

If the resources we spend reinventing MoveOn's wheel and carrying the water of the Democratic party were spent someplace else, we might get more out of it.

CC

LaReinaCobre said...

CC - I'm not sure if your latest post is intended for me or not ...

But I can say that apart from gay pride parades, which I've marched in under the banner of my local church several times, I don't like large crowds of people yelling. I didn't even like the Howard Dean rally I went to. Like many (Some say 50% of) UUs, I am an introvert. So I am activist who doesn't "do" rallies.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
-snip-
"As for nationally, that all three of the things Steve points to as things the UUAWO does are being done by someone else already, in some cases better, nicely captures my point that the UUAWO is not particularly vital to even our social justice work."

CC,

You're right that the "technical" or "how to" articles on advocacy work on the UUA Washington Office are not uniquely UU.

However, it's helpful to have resources that are easy to find for those who have a hard time finding things on the internet. "One-stop shopping" for resources is the UUAWO being "user friendly" for the congregational activists that they support.

In terms of advocacy resources, the UUA does have resources on their web site today that provide linkages between UU theology (mostly principles and purposes at this time along with our history of involvement) and various social justice issues.

Go to this link:

http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/article.php?list=type&type=5

and check out the "Issue Briefs" section.

Now, there may be areas where these briefs could be improved but they contain UU content and are not duplicated elsewhere.

Chalicechick said...

If the un-computer-savvy can't google, I really doubt they can navigate the UUA webpage, which is much more complicated and less intuitive.

But assuming they can, I don't know about you, but I could put together a page of links to other sites in about five minutes that would be just as workable as one-stop-shop.

As for linking faith to social issues, if you can't look at a social issue and automatically see the religion in it, maybe it's just not a religious issue, and more to the point, maybe the obviously religious issues are the ones people are more likely to listen to a religion on. (E.g. Someone might listen to what a religion has to say about abortion or the evolution debate. Religious people are quoted in the newspapers on those issues all the time since reporters know people care about what religious people think on these issues. Nobody cares what a religion has to say about judicial nominations and the religions that have backed/condemned Alito's nomination have gotten almost no press as a result.)

If we absolutely MUST tell people what to be worried about politically, ask for volunteers. There's a lady in my church who writes up that sort of thing all the time just for my church, so it stands to reason that there are dozens more to be found nationwide.

Point being?

If the moratorium idea were put into place, which of course it won't be, I would hope that we could come up with some things to affirm and promote. But if we couldn't and the UUAWO were closed and the money used to, say, fund RE in poorer congregations, the Republic would not fall.

CC

Bill Baar said...

People forget the Religous Right is a movement. It's not a Church. Conservative Churches support it. But it's really a seperate movement.


There is no such thing as a Relgious Left movement. At least not on the scale of the Right.

If people want a Religous Left movement, they should build one.

Getting the Church directly involved in politics is bad for the Church, and has little impact on Politics.

Bush and Cheney are both United Methodists and both dismiss their Bishops mumbo jumbo on politics.

Most Americans do the same with their own Churches.

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fausto said...

The problem with most political position statements put out by the UUAWO (many or most of which, but not all, I do happen to agree with personally, BTW) is that they are not supported by sound theological reasoning, so to a stranger they are not logically compelling. Rather, they seem to spring out of nowhere, strange and Godlike and complete, like Athena from Jupiter's head. To someone who doesn't already share our full battery of presuppostioins, the natural response is likely to be, "What planet are you from?"

Steve notes that the justification for such positions can usually be found by anyone who looks hard enough for it, and I assume he's right about that. Nevertheless, it is not enough to place the religious justification for the position in a hard-to-find footnote or website, because most of the audience won't bother to look. It is also not enough to cite GA resolutions as the sole justification, because most of the audience, UU or not, won't be familiar with the resolutions, much less the detailed debate points and moral and religious nuances that preceded them. It is not even enough to cite our 7 Principles as the justification, because even our Principles are derivative and not foundational. If we are going to take persuasive, reasoned religious stances on political issues, those stances have to be argued in the main body of the position statement from the ground up, not from the Principles, but from their underlying Sources, the second and (to my mind) far more essential half of our "Statement of Principles and Sources".

When I argue against public witness and advocacy by the UUAWO, I'm not saying that going all the way back to the Sources and supporting every position we take from there would be a useless exercise. I am, however, saying that not to do so is a useless exercise, an enormous waste of scarce time, energy and money that could be far better spent elsewhere. And if we do go to all the trouble to place our political positions on real religious foundations, the best audience to direct such statements to would not be strangers in Washington, but congregants in our own congregations.

Too many UUs don't know the roots and foundations of our own faith, or else don't agree on what we hold in common. I think it's an urgent job of the UUA at this point in time to rebuild those foundations. You can't pile any more cargo on top of the pier when the pilings underneath are starting to give way; you have to reinforce the pilings. Teaching those foundations to our own members by illustrating how they apply to current issues of concern would be a powerful ministry.

Bill Baar said...

How the roots and foundations of our faith can lead us to be silent on Roberst and condem Alito as a threat to our fundamental rights is beyond me.

I see no foundation for this other than tactical partisan-politics.

There are no fundmental principles of faith at work. Bush said he would nominate Judges in the mold of Thomas and Scalia.

If the UUA had opposed that concept, it would have made more sense.

But they didn't do it that way, they passed Roberts and flipped on Alito.

It's nonsense.

Bush by the way, did exactly what he said he would do... depending on what you thought of Meirs that is... but I suspect she do was in the mold of Thomas and Scalia.

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve,

I say this as an anonymous poster primarily because I'm weary of the criticism and harshness I've experienced on blogs (a forum which, I believe, makes it even easier for folks to complain and criticize - things that are important, but not if they're separated from intentional action and collaboration). I'm writing to thank you for being a really thoughtful, wonderful ally and UU volunteer. I am a young UU (active in the youth and young adult communities) and have served for years as both a volunteer and UUA staff person - oh the conflict! that experience (of a dedicated staffperson, overloaded volunteer, etc.) is largely misunderstood and/or misrepresented and/or criticized, so it gives me faith and hope to consistently hear from folks like yourself who offer critique and suggestions, but in a manner that is more positive and constructive. keep up the great work - you're wonderful. i really appreciate you and the perspective you bring to the online UU universe.

fausto said...

Bill said: How the roots and foundations of our faith can lead us to be silent on Roberst and condem Alito as a threat to our fundamental rights is beyond me. I see no foundation for this other than tactical partisan-politics.

Yes, that's exactly the problem. Those seemingly contrary positions may be perfectly good and consistent partisan politics, and in this instance they are even consistent with my politics (though apparently not with yours), but without a more cleary articulated religious foundation the opposition to Alito makes little sense as a religious witness. (I don't have any problem with the UUAWO's neutral position on Roberts, which as I recall was that there wasn't a compelling religious argument either for or against him.)

If the UUAWO wants to be taken seriously as a prophetic religious voice, it needs to make religious arguments. As I said above, it's not enough that such arguments are based in procedural resolutions; to be credible and persuasive they also need to be based in clearly articulated basic religious truths. Ifwhat the UUAWO wants to engage in is primarily partisan as opposed to religious advocacy, that's fine, but in that case it would probably be more effective if it severed its financial and organizational ties to the denomination, and found independent sources of financial support instead -- not unlike what the Moral Majority or Focus on the Family did on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"Steve, I'm not surprised that you're surprised, but you really shouldn't be. You personally seem to find significantly more value and worth in the UUA's present institutional structure and processes than most other UUs do, whether online or in real life."

Fausto,

Actually, I know a few Unitarian Universalists who would condemn the current UUA structures as much as you and other have done in the recent discussion on Chalicechick's blog. Let's call this a "strong anti" perspective for now.

My estimate is that we have maybe 2-5 strong anti folks in my congregation. That means we have roughly 1.5% to 4% of these folks in my congregation.

My very rough estimate of this strong anti demographic on CC's blog participating in the "Fix the UUA" conversation is at least 50%.

You see, I'm not surprised that the strong anti attitudes exists. I'm surprised by the increased concentration of it in these blog discussions.

I haven't seen large percentages of the strong anti views in offline settings in my congregation, within my district, and beyond. I've visited other congregations, participated in UU workshops, facilitated workshops, served on boards and committees, and more.

That's why I doubt that most UUs "don't find much worthwhile in the UUA." The parents of our middle and high school youth in the Our Whole Lives Grades 7-9 program find this UUA resource worthwhile. The religious educators who attended the UU History "Renaissance Module" hosted by our congregation last September found this UUA resource worthwhile.

The adults in the Longview TX UU fellowship who participated in the Our Whole Lives for Adults and Welcoming Congregation found these UUA programs very beneficial in helping them grow at 15% a year (testimonial from their former congregational president).

I have found the strong anti attitudes to be rare in real life and amazingly concentrated in some parts of the blogosphere. That's why I'm surprised.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
-snip-
" ... the negativity you percieve is exactly the negativity non-activists watching an anti-war, pro-choice, whatever rally percieve which is why I tend to warn people against such things."

CC,

I don't protest march that often. The last two times I've done that has been with Shreveport PFLAG.

About 4 years ago, we traveled out of town to Dallas TX to protest Boy Scouts of America current policy of discriminating against gays, atheists, agnostics, and Unitarian Universalists. Other Dallas-Ft. Worth area UUs were there with us and we got to meet Steve Cozza, the founder of Scouting for All.

Scouting for All
http://www.scoutingforall.org/

The second time was a small protest march sponsored by the Baton Rouge PFLAG group about 2 years ago. We drove down from Shreveport to participate.

As I recall, both instances involved the groups having lots of fun including joking and singing (including a UU hymn or two). And no negativity.

These two examples doesn't include PFLAG Shreveport's participation in the local Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras parade. The Mardi Gras parade aren't really protest marches, but we do get to be visible in the community while throwing beads, triklets, and tiny plastic footballs to the crowd. And being Mardi Gras, no negativity at these events either.

Steve Caldwell said...

An anonymous writer replied:
-snip-
"I say this as an anonymous poster primarily because I'm weary of the criticism and harshness I've experienced on blogs (a forum which, I believe, makes it even easier for folks to complain and criticize - things that are important, but not if they're separated from intentional action and collaboration)."

I know what you mean. In many ways, blogs are just fancier version of the old usenet newsgroups wrapped up in a web browser interface.

I think there's a difference between brainstorming as part of intentional action and collaboration and a "drive by" brainstorming where ideas are thrown out without an awareness of the full consequences.

Then the anonymous writer replied:
-snip-
"I'm writing to thank you for being a really thoughtful, wonderful ally and UU volunteer."

Thanks for your very kind compliment. I appreciate the encouragement.

Steve Caldwell said...

The SC Universalist wrote:
-snip-
"steve: the confrence wasnt to be done by an orginazation, as far as i know. so therefore no webpage (and as mentioned: the names I recognized don't have webpages or do blogs). the meeting was hardly secret as I got one announcement on an UU Church mailing list"

SC Universalist,

If folks are going to do grass-roots reform, they need to get their stuff on the internet. The net isn't a perfect way of distributing information and there is a class bias (even with "free" computers at the library, etc).

However, the "OpenUUA" grass-roots reform effort used web sites and even set up an email list for their work.

Here's two examples of their online infrastructure for reform:

OpenUUA Homepage
http://www.openuua.org/

OpenUUA Discussion List
http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/openuua

One benefit of the OpenUUA group's work was placing the UUA Board's meeting prepackets online. Now, anyone who is curious can browse the various committee and staff reports dealing on topics such as finances, RE, restructuring youth programming, etc. The very critical letter from Rev. Davidson Loehr about the Pathways large UU congregation attempt near Dallas is available online.

As you can see, much of the OpenUUA's suggestions to improve transparency and accountability are now in place. And these folks used the internet as one of their organizing tools.

I would hope that the "making GA more democratic" folks would learn from the OpenUUA example.

Finally, if you get any info about conferences like that, please let me know. I subscribe to UU-Leaders, LREDA-L, and many other UUA-sponsored lists. Stuff like this "more democratic conference" may be of interest to other UU congregational leaders on these email lists.

Thanks.

Bill Baar said...

Fausto: You and I agree exactly.

And the problem I fear is we've lost the foundation.

We have a strong one in my Church. But Nationally it's gone.

We're left with a Political Action Committee, and clumsy one at that.

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fausto said...

Steve said: The parents of our middle and high school youth in the Our Whole Lives Grades 7-9 program find this UUA resource worthwhile. The religious educators who attended the UU History "Renaissance Module" hosted by our congregation last September found this UUA resource worthwhile. The adults in the Longview TX UU fellowship who participated in the Our Whole Lives for Adults and Welcoming Congregation found these UUA programs very beneficial in helping them grow at 15% a year (testimonial from their former congregational president). I have found the strong anti attitudes to be rare in real life and amazingly concentrated in some parts of the blogosphere. That's why I'm surprised.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think you're misconstruing my position, and therefore making somewhat of a straw man rebuttal.

I don't think I'm "anti". I don't oppose the need for a national denominational organization, or its efforts to provide useful services to our congregations. In fact, I'm all for a national organization that effectively and energetically serves the needs of the congregations. What I oppose is merely the tendency since 1961 in the national UUA organization to distract itself from its core mission to the congregations. I also regret that in 45 years our relevance to the national discussion has declined rather than grown, and that, in the language of neonatal care, our newborn denomination has "failed to thrive". That's not being against the UUA, though; it's supporting a clearer and more concentrated focus on the UUA's primary function, and opposing distractions that impede it from fulfilling the primary function.

For example, while it's certainly possible to point as you do to some popular and effective UUA-sponsored RE initiatives, I nevertheless think the typical UU church instills a lifelong religious identity and faith commitment in a significantly lower proportion of its members' children than most other denominations do. Perhaps if the UUA spent more of its resources developing truly faith-forging and age-appropriate RE curriculum materials, that both captured the imaginations of our children and were fun for parents to teach, and devoted less energy to institutional social advocacy and witness, we might not have so many dropouts before the few remaining ones complete Coming of Age, we might grow more of our own new members, and we might even produce more spiritually and ethically mature individuals who could be more effective as agents for social change than our present institutional witness efforts seem to be.

Perhaps what makes me seem unduly negative was CC's idea to lift some of my comments from other threads and include them in her list of ideas for fixing UU. In context, my suggestions were somewhat more ironic and tongue-in-cheek than you are taking them to be. For instance, I introduced my first one, the moratorium on complaining, as a "modest proposal", which was a veiled reference to Jonathan Swift's famous 1729 satirical essay in which he proposed solving the problems of starvation and poverty in Ireland through cannibalism. Like Swift's, my comments are intended to provoke acknowledgment of uncomfortable problems that are easy to deny, but not necessarily to advance realistic immediate solutions to those problems. I suspect many of the other proposals CC has collected were made in the same spirit.

Chalicechick said...

Fausto, I did ask your permission before lifting anything. That, said, I didn't take your suggestion terribly literally myself. Given that Jeff has suggested both splitting up Unitarianism and Universalism AND UUism merging with still another faith, I think that most people see this as a chance to toss ideas around.

Steve, I assume becuase you thinking some things in America could be better run, that doesn't mean you are "Anti" American government?

In calling the people who make suggestions "Anti-UUA" how are you different from the conservatives who say those who want to make change "hate America?"

Don't be so melodramatic. Look at some shades of gray.

Maybe those of us who look at the UUA and see that it could be something better love it most of all.

CC

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fausto said...

Maybe those of us who look at the UUA and see that it could be something better love it most of all.

Amen, CC.

BTW, I'm not criticizing you for using my ideas; I'm only saying that taking them out of their place in other discussions and placing them in a different context among a checklist of proposals for inproving UUism makes my original satirical nuances a bit harder to recognize.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC, Fausto, and others,

I was using "strong anti" as a shorthand for who have an intense disapproval of the current-day UUA organization.

I did not mean to imply that anyone here was saying that we need to get rid of the UUA. I also wasn't trying to say that those with the intense disapproval were "anti-UU" either.

I know that folks like Fausto, CC, Michael Durrall, Rev. Loehr, etc who are strongly critical of current UUA organizational practices. I'll repeat that my suprise doesn't come from your existence. I'm surprised that the blog discussions surrounding UUA reform have such a high concentration of folks who fit this strongly critical demographic.

My experience in UU settings other than the blogosphere is that this demographic makes up about 1.5% to 4% of the UUs I meet in my congregation and other UU congregations. What we're seeing on Chalicechick's blog is much more prevalent than 4%.

I'm on a break at work now ... I'll write more in my reply later on today.

fausto said...

I was using "strong anti" as a shorthand for who have an intense disapproval of the current-day UUA organization.

I realize that, but I don't think "intense disapproval" fairly describes my position.

I don't disapprove of the organization, although I do question the wisdom and effectiveness of its apparent ordering of priorities.

If the UUA were to realign its priorities, and were to make some organizational changes in order to best achieve its reordered priorities, I would agree with you that it shold be done in a way that preserves institutional memory and skills. Ideally, much of that knowledge could be put to more effective use, not lost, in any reshuffling.

Chalicechick said...

((If the UUA were to realign its priorities, and were to make some organizational changes in order to best achieve its reordered priorities, I would agree with you that it shold be done in a way that preserves institutional memory and skills. Ideally, much of that knowledge could be put to more effective use, not lost, in any reshuffling.)))

Word.

If we were to present these ideas to the average congregation, I suspect WAY more then four percent would agree with at least one of them.

I suspect the numbers are more like four percent have changes they'd like the UUA to make, four percent want the UUA to stay absolutely exactly as it is and 92 percent don't really care.

CC

Lydia said...

I'm somewhat new to the UU blog world and really quite surprised at how negative people are about UUism, and how short and unfriendly they can be with each other. I would really like to see people address each other kindly. I too have been a little taken aback by all the negativity about the UUA. Of course it isn't perfect, even has big problems, but I object to CC's comparison between the US government and the UUA. The US government is wreaking havoc upon the world, causing irreparable environmental damage, taking the nation to war under false pretenses, participating in illegal wiretapping, and torturing people in order to get intelligence. Being negative and protesting the government is so different than complaining about the UUA on a blog. I imagine that those who work at the UUA have quite good intentions. I look forward to seeing the ways that all the creativity and passion obviously present in the ideas to "fix" UUism can be directed toward something concrete and nourishing for our beautiful movement. Certainly great changes begin as ideas. I just hope they can move past that.

Chalicechick said...

My point with that was no matter how awful the government is being, the fact that you criticize it does not make you "Anti-government" or "Anti-American."

So, the fact that people criticize the UUA doesn't mean they hate it.

Again, I'm not sure why people are taking this whole thing so negatively. I don't think there's an institution in this world that couldn't stand improvement and I don't really think anybody suggesting things means it as an attack on the UUA. (OK, Robin might. But nobody else...)

CC

Chalicechick said...

Another way to look at it:
last year UUism grew .72 of one percent.

If this is good enough for you guys, fine. But if you actually want to spread the good news of our faith to the world, you might want to participate in our discussions about how to attract more members rather than complaining about the fact that such discussions exist.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"I also regret that in 45 years our relevance to the national discussion has declined rather than grown, and that, in the language of neonatal care, our newborn denomination has 'failed to thrive.' That's not being against the UUA, though; it's supporting a clearer and more concentrated focus on the UUA's primary function, and opposing distractions that impede it from fulfilling the primary function."

Fausto,

I would love to see our congregations grow in terms of numbers, spiritual maturity, healthy organic systems, and incarnational terms (i.e. "living our values" through our congregations). And I don't think that the advocacy and witness portions of the UUA staff are hurting or helping our growth significantly.

I would like to see how our growth rates compare to liberal Protestants (culturally and theologically, this is the closest match to us). What is happening in the UCC, United Methodists, Episcopals, etc in North America?

If the overall demographic trend in North America for liberal Protestants is shrinking in numbers, then this same trend may affect our growth. Here's a quote from an old USA Today news article on Protestant growth trends:

"The Mormon church and evangelical faiths grew during the past decade while more liberal Protestant denominations shrank, according to a new census of U.S. religions conducted by a Roman Catholic research group.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew at the fastest rate, with the Pentecostal denomination Assemblies of God following closely behind, the 2000 Religious Congregations & Membership study found."


If liberal Protestant are having problems with numeric growth, it stands to reason that we may be facing the same growth concerns.

I bet how we greet newcomers will have more to do with our growth potential than anything the UUA Washington Office does. It may be worth checking out the "drive time essay" from Rev. Peter Morales:

Repel Fewer Newcomers
http://www.uua.org/programs/layleader/drivetime18.pdf

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"For example, while it's certainly possible to point as you do to some popular and effective UUA-sponsored RE initiatives, I nevertheless think the typical UU church instills a lifelong religious identity and faith commitment in a significantly lower proportion of its members' children than most other denominations do."

I think part of the answers to why certain UUs who were raised UU stay as adults and what kept them UU can be found in a survey prepared for the recent "Mind the Gap" campaign:

"Born UU’s - Who Stuck and Why" by Rev. Terry Sweetser
http://www.uua.org/sunday2002/lifelonguu.pdf

Here's part of the summary findings:

** 67% liked Sunday School because of some form of community connection.

** 69% did not like the school atmosphere of Sunday School.

** 94% of lifelong UU’s interviewed were involved with a Youth Group/Program.

** 91% reported their participation in these programs as being a vital/significant experience.

** 74% reported it being important to them because of peers & adults who cared.

** 46% attended conferences as youth

** 71% of those attending conferences reported it was a vital connecting experience.

** 29% attended a UU camp

** 86% of those attending reported it was a vital connecting experience.

** 78% of lifelong UU’s interviewed stayed a Unitarian Universalist because they felt it was home and/or because of connections made during their youth experience.


The biggest hurdle I've seen with the transition from youth programming to wider church life is the differences between what we do in the RE classrooms, camps, and conferences is often radically different from what we offer for adult worship on Sunday mornings.

One possible answer to this may be changing how we do Sunday worship.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
-snip-
"So, the fact that people criticize the UUA doesn't mean they hate it.

Again, I'm not sure why people are taking this whole thing so negatively. I don't think there's an institution in this world that couldn't stand improvement and I don't really think anybody suggesting things means it as an attack on the UUA."


CC,

For the record, I'm all for improving how the UUA works at the congregational, district, and national levels. I never said that the UUA was perfect either. Here's my experience in UU reforms.

While serving on my district's board, I worked with a team of other volunteers to create institutional structure for support and oversight of youth advisors working in congregations and at district events.

When the OpenUUA proposal came up, I delivered a short presentation on the proposal to my congregation's board. They voted to endorse it and played a small part along with other congregations in getting that issue on the General Assembly business agenda in 2004. This became the "democratic process" rule that affects how the UUA conducts its business.

The UUA Rule G-2.1 (Democratic Process) can be found online here:

http://www.uua.org/administration/bylaws.html#ruleG-2.1.

This rule establishes requirements for transparency and openness in UUA business for the UUA Board and UUA committees. Again, I'll suggest that you might want to study this as an effective example of grassroots reform:

http://www.openuua.org/

Another positive reform I've seen is the proposed revisions to the UUA process for social justice issues.

My objections to the many of the reforms being proposed on your blog is they remind me of the GOP's "Contract with America" that they used with great political (but not governing) success in 1994. Catchy bumper sticker slogans and pithy soundbites such as "Dissolve the UUA and hold a new 'constitutional convention'" don't make for good government in the UUA.

CC said in an off-blog email that I was way too threatened by the brainstorming and she added "Calm down. Nobody is out to destroy the UUA." One day later, someone proposed dissolving the UUA on her blog.

In this case of several of the proposed reforms, I'm glad that the bylaws amending process will protect us from the poorly thought through reforms.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
-snip-
"But if you actually want to spread the good news of our faith to the world, you might want to participate in our discussions about how to attract more members rather than complaining about the fact that such discussions exist."

CC,

My objection here isn't with constructive reform. And you're assuming that the only thing standing between growth beyond our wildest dreams is not having reforms implemented.

I haven't said critical things about every reform proposed ... just the ones that I think aren't fully thought through. On some reform ideas, I've tried to add information about prior history, existing efforts with reform efforts, etc. Even if you're thinking that I'm acting like a jerk, this is still useful information to have for implementing these reforms.

For example, if several prior attempts to build an "association of free faiths" have been tried with limited success, perhaps we should study this history. Personally, I would like having a multi-faith assocation that includes other liberal faith traditions besides Unitarian Universalism. But this idea hasn't been successful in the past. Knowing why it hasn't been successful may help us with this proposal in the future.

I'm also in favor of numeric growth because I think that Unitarian Universalism offers salvation.

We offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole -- and this salvation is greatly needed in the world.

My objections are directed towards what I feel are destructive reform suggestions.

Keep in mind that critical analysis of certain reform proposals doesn't mean that I'm against reform in general nor does it mean I'm against growth.

fausto said...

I don't think that the advocacy and witness portions of the UUA staff are hurting or helping our growth significantly.

Here's where we disagree. I think they are largely ineffective with its intended audience of outsiders, and they divert attention and needed resources from the most important mission, which is doing congregational support and new congregation planting, doing it lots and doing it really, really well.

I think you're asking the wrong question when you ask who stays and why. I think the right question is who leaves and why. It's not just adults who leave because "there's no 'there' there". Even kids drop out because they don't feel they're learning anything. I The losses you're talking about in other denoms are measured among adults; from my non-scientific observations their Sunday Schools don't have nearly the same attrition rates that ours do.

The UUA needs to do far more than it is currently doing to solving the problem of attrition in our congregations, among both adults and children. (CC, if you want to clip that and some of my other comments from this thread into another "how to fix" proposal, go ahead.) I suspect that if the problem were studied more carefully they would find the need for more religious content as a major cause for both kinds of attrition. I've heard precisely that complaint about RE even in my own congregation, which has stayed closer to its older Unitarian roots than most (we still have a cross over the pulpit, for example) but uses standard UUA-developed RE material. The advocacy and witness programs hurt in two ways: they drain resources that could be more effectively applied to the attrition problem and other congregation-building efforts, they reinforce the impression (both inside and outside) that substantive religion is not valued.

Chalicechick said...

(((And you're assuming that the only thing standing between growth beyond our wildest dreams is not having reforms implemented.)))

I don't recall saying that. I do recall implying at least that there are no doubt changes we could make to make the UUA more effective and we will never make those changes if we don't have a discussion first.

Yes, somebody suggested dissolving the UUA, but then rebuilding it in a slightly different way. IMHO, in twenty years, it would have ended up much the same.

Seems to me one's man's constructive program is anohter man's destructive program. If we get rid of something, we can pay for other things. If we start something new, we will have to take the money away from something else to pay for it. I agree with Fausto that it would be constructive to spend less on political stuff and more on RE. You don't.

And that something didn't work in the past doesn't mean it can't work in the future.

Though I did think that, for example, your spending an hour and a half straight going through my blog and complaining about some dozen different ideas was a little odd. At the time, I wondered if you stand at your office suggestion box and read every suggestion as it is put in, yelling after the suggester "Twinkies in the break room vending machine? Do you realize how much that would cost? And besides, we had ho-hos there once and NOBODY ate them. So all snack cakes are doomed to fail. Did you hear me? DOOMED TO FAIL!!"

My personal questions aside, I think I was pretty welcoming. I even put up on the blog a notice about your objections and encouraged people to consider carefully what you said. And then I come over here and find out how "Anti-UUA" I am and how all the people disagreeing with each other about what to do are an "echo chamber," etc.

The thing about the contract with America is that the guys who wrote it ACTUALLY HAD THE POWER TO MAKE CHANGE. We don't. We can suggest something, but in the end, we're just talking.

I just think that coming over here and calling us names and complaining how negative you find us is not constructive behavior in itself. If you want some positivity in the discussion, put some in.

Don't do a bunch of complaining on my blog then come over here and say people on my blog are only complaining.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
-snip-
"And that something didn't work in the past doesn't mean it can't work in the future."

CC,

I never said don't do things that haven't worked in the past. I just said it's worth studying why similiar initiatives failed in the past. Otherwise, we may end up repeating the same mistakes twice instead of making progress in our reform.

Then CC wrote:
-snip-
"And then I come over here and find out how "Anti-UUA" I am and how all the people disagreeing with each other about what to do are an "echo chamber," etc.

My personal bias here is that I'm an institutionalist who prefers incremental change when it comes to UU reform.

The "echo chamber" aspects come from the overall theme that if there's problem that we're facing, it must be the UUA's fault. If our congregations are not growing, why let's blame the Washington Office,
RE curriculum, GA business procedures, etc.

I've already apologized for using "anti" as a shorthand.

I'm apologizing again for the verbal shorthand that I used.

I don't think you're anti-UU, but I do think that you've expressed a dislike for how and what the UUA staff and volunteers do their work, how the association arrives at its priorities, etc.

I think we have a bigger problem facing us than how we do business in GA, Bill Sinkford's photo ops, and other things that you've expressed concern over on your blog.

I think we're going to get bit by demographic trends if we don't examine the role of religion in North America and how we fit into this big picture.

Our growth in the 1980s and 1990s was linked to baby boomer generation parents having kids and looking for congregations that reflected their values. I was born near the end of the boomer generation (1959) and my kids are 13 and 18. That's why our family initially joined a UU congregation in 1988 when my daughter was 1 year old.

The past strategy of relying on boomer parents and kids in RE to drive congregational growth won't work. We need to look at the work of the association's Financial Advisor.

The previous advisor (Larry Ladd) provided demographic feedback in his annual reports every year about membership and RE enrollment. I suspect that the new advisor will provide the same information in his report next summer.

RE is important for congregational life (folks of all ages need age-appropriate UU ministry), but we may need to look at other aspects of congregational life for driving growth. Across the UUA, RE enrollment is stagnant. Larry Ladd asked the following questions in his report about this trend:

"We need to identify the causes of the slowing growth in religious education enrollments. Is it that our adult membership is aging? Is it that we are becoming less successful in attracting young families and single parents? Is it other factors? Most importantly, this indicator likely predicts a decline in adult membership in the near future.

I see this as a very serious problem for our congregation. The community is greying (average age is increasing) and the population is shrinking.

I suspect that something will replace RE as the "engine" driving congregational growth in many congregations as the North American population greys. What that replacement "engine" will be I don't know.

The other demographic trend is the break in the assumption that church attendance is something that most folks do. For boomers and post-boomer generations, the habit pattern is broken.

If one uses polling data, about 40% of US citizens attend church regularly (and this figure is inflated). If one compares polling data with actual observed behavior, the actual figure for regular church attendance is around 20%.

That means that another source we drew membership from -- Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics needing a place to go on Sunday morning -- is also going away. These folks are can now just as easily stay home. Not going to church is becoming the norm in the US. An atheist who used to attend UU worship so the neighbors wouldn't look at him or her funny now doesn't have to worry about that.

Then CC wrote:
-snip-
"The thing about the contract with America is that the guys who wrote it ACTUALLY HAD THE POWER TO MAKE CHANGE. We don't. We can suggest something, but in the end, we're just talking.

Large parts of the Contract with America were not implemented due to the checks and balances in the US government. But it was a successful list of "talking points" for getting elected.

Some of the proposed reforms might not go beyond the talking stage because the UUA also has checks and balances in its organization too.

Furthermore, the power to make some of the changes already resides in the hands of those interested to make the changes. For example, a UU monestary is something that UUs can start creating today. It doesn't require congregational approval nor does it require GA approval to start. The same is true for creating a UU yoga and many other suggestions.

I did a blog article about the differences between reforms that might required bylaws changes and how that process would be harder to pursue.

The only suggestion I would make to the UU monestary idea would be networking with the CU2C2 organization (Council of UU Camps and Conferences) because they would be a type of UU camp. And there are some UU camps (e.g. Murray Grove) that already provide some "monestary-like" services for UUs looking for an individual or small-group spiritual retreat. There are probably some ideas and resources our hypothetical UU monestary and other UU camps could share with each other.

The OpenUUA example is a good one about how one does constructive reform within the UUA's checks and balances.

Keep in mind that promoting openness and transparency in UUA business isn't something that everyone supported.

One concern that came up during the debate on this was the tradeoffs between openness and efficiency. For example, if we have meetings open to the public, then we can't make last-minute meeting schedule changes to meet the needs of the committee volunteers.

Another objection came from a board member on our district's board. He thought that the UUA didn't need to be open to individuals in general but rather to official representatives of member congregations (based on his views of UUA polity).

These concerns and others were debated and the end-result is an official policy that UUA committee are open to the public for most meetings and the closed meetings are rare exceptions (personnel matters for example). Committee reports are available for free online (and for UU bloggers, this is good ... we have more raw material to blog about).

The OpenUUA organization that promoted this reform still have their web site up and the email list archives of the online brainstorming and strategizing are still available too.

If you are serious about reforming the UUA, I would look at their example as a good one to imitate.

Chalicechick said...

The super secret conspiracy that went into putting this discussion together was this:

CC, who does job stuff in the morning and works on her novel in the afternoons, was working on said novel last Friday afternoon.

I was at a sticking place in what I was writing and needed to look at something else to have a break.

I ended up finding SinceSlicedBread.com where people could submit ideas for changes the government could make to improve the economy and improve life for Americans.

I read over the ideas, voted for my choices, and said to myself "Well, hell, those ideas aren't very original. Fausto and Joel have come up with more interesting ideas for the UUA in the last few days than any of those ideas.

So I decided to start this contest. I couldn't afford a $50,000 prize, so I decided I'd find some quirky weird thing that the winner might like. I saw a "build your own Goddess" kit one time and I plan to get something similarly UUish and a little goofy. Or maybe I'll send them FUUSE thong underwear. Something yankee-swap-ish.

My big worry was that few people would participate and I would look stupid.

I stuck up Fausto and Joel's ideas and emailed them both, telling them what was up and offering to take their ideas down if they had an issue with it. They were both cool with it. I came up with another idea of my own to round out the group.

And the rest is history.

I didn't ask for suggestions for individuals, congregations, etc, because, well, the Sliced Bread competition didn't and I was using it as a model. Also, mailing one letter to the UUA with the winner is a damn sight cheaper than mailing every congregation or every UU.

I accepted changes that the UUA could help with or take on as a program (UU monastery, UU yoga.) I've sent something like five rejections and in most cases, the writer has clarified what they meant or changed the scope a bit and I've accepted the second draft.

If you want to run a contest for changes congregations could make or individuals could make, consider this an invitation to run your own damn contest. And I will even extend you a guarantee that I won't go back to the Chaliceblog and bitch about the way you are running it.

CC