Okay, I Lied

It appears I’m not quite finished with my Unitarian Universalist dumpster dive. Yesterday I thought I was, but today I decided I really ought to sit down and read the “Findings Related to the Southern Regional Lead Hiring Decision [in] Spring 2017” released by the Commission on Institutional Change.

I may have more to say about this document after I’ve digested it. As a preliminary, mostly just to get it off my chest so that maybe I can get a good night’s sleep:

The identities of the people on the Commission are mentioned nowhere in their report. For all we know, the report could have been brought down from the mountain on stone tablets by Starr King himself. Or maybe by Joseph Smith.

I don’t feel we can excuse this on the grounds that it’s just a bit of slipshod documentation. The overwhelming tone of the report is that it doesn’t name any individual as being responsible for anything. Many of the statements concerning bad things that have apparently been happening within the UUA or within UU congregations are described using passive verbs. This is a classic tactic of bad governance. Bad things happened, but nobody did any of them.

The “Findings” document consists almost entirely of unsubstantiated assertions. No evidence of any kind is offered that would document any of the assertions. A few of the statements are so jargon-laden (or so badly written) as to be incomprehensible.

One of the appendices is a “Chronology of Key Events” preceding and following the hiring decision. Yet somehow the date(s) on which the hiring decision was made and/or announced didn’t make it into the chronology. Didn’t anybody notice?

As Todd Eklof noted in his book, and as the “Findings” document states in its very first paragraph, the UUA Board requested that the Commission work “in collaboration with a professional organization capable of conducting an external audit of white privilege and the structure of power within Unitarian Universalism,” but that’s the last we hear of any external audit. It seems clear that no audit was done. Possibly the Commission simply ignored the Board’s request; possibly they couldn’t find an organization that was set up to do such an audit; possibly they found someone to do an audit but the Board then decided the audit would be too expensive; possibly the nature of the desired audit was so ill-defined that no professional organization could be found that was willing to undertake it; or maybe something else happened. We don’t know.

The Commission’s report seems to have relied on 15 interviews for the information (or alleged information) that was assembled. Those interviewed were members of the Southern Regional Staff, members of the UUA Board, and the two primary candidates in the hiring process, Christina Rivera and Andy Burnette. Only one interviewee, an “attendee at Finding Our Way Home [and] organizer [of a] white supremacy teach-in,” was not part of this insider group. And yet the report is full of vague and unsubstantiated mentions of incidents in which “religious professionals” were “injured” and “harmed” by white UU congregations, due to “cultural differences” and “bias.” Where this information came from, we’re not told.

In a nutshell, there’s a great deal of hand-wringing and tap-dancing in this report, but not much else. It’s not a responsible document. What’s depressing is that the people who put it together surely meant well. They may even think they did a bang-up job. And they are (or so one must assume) among the leading intellectual lights in the upper echelons of Unitarian Universalism.

I would love to see the UU denomination tackle the issues of residual racism in our congregations and institutional structure in a meaningful and effective way. Seriously, I would! If only somebody would write a document explaining how to do that….



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