Friends, many of you have heard or read about the changes happening at the Unitarian Universalist Association and the continuing conversation about hiring practices and issues of racism and privilege in our denomination. In short, the recent hiring of another white, male minister for the position of Regional Lead led many people of color in our denomination to share their anger and painful experiences of the ways in which our denomination has currently and historically systemically privileged white ministers in leadership over people of color and non-clergy people. This event provided us with an opportunity to examine a long and ongoing history. Whether an individual hiring situation can be said to follow this pattern is less important than seeing that the long-term cumulative pattern is clearly one which privileges white, male ministers over people of color -- a pattern that is a definition of a system build on white supremacy.
The conversation about these issues has been painful and intense and also hopeful and an opening for real communication. Rev. Peter Morales, then president of the UUA, responded to questions and accusations with a letter that many felt exacerbated the situation. He subsequently resigned from his position as president, in his words, to make sure that he wasn’t the issue. Subsequently, Rev. Harlan Limpert, chief operating officer, and Rev. Scott Tayler, director of Congregational Life, also resigned from their positions.
The UUA Board has appointed a three-person co-presidency to last until the new president can be chosen in the scheduled election at this year’s General Assembly in June in New Orleans.This team consists of the Rev. Sofía Betancourt (assistant professor of theology and ethics at Starr King School for the Ministry), the Rev. William G. Sinkford (senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, and UUA president from 2001 to 2009), and Leon Spencer (professor emeritus in Leadership,
Technology, and Human Development at Georgia Southern University, the 2007 recipient of the UUA’s annual Distinguished Service Award, and a longtime leader in our journey toward becoming an antiracist and multicultural faith).
You can find a deeper discussion of these happenings in many places online right now -- see the links at the bottom of this post.
It is crucial, however, to read and listen to the experiences and stories of people of color in our denomination — to hear their experiences of these issues that they’ve been dealing with in our denomination for decades. Please take some time to read the links at the bottom of this post.
Growing out of this conversation has been a request that all the congregations in the UUA participate in a “White Supremacy Teach-In” in late April and early May.
You may find the terminology of white supremacy to be challenging, painful, and troubling. We encourage you think about the following as you hear those words:
White supremacy is a way of thinking and organizing institutions based in the belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial groups, especially black people, and are therefore rightfully the dominant group in any society. It can exist in the actions and beliefs of an individual and it can exist in the actions, structures, and practices of institutions and organizations.
We are being asked to see the ways in which the systems we have built and the way we govern ourselves and hire for our institutions -- consciously or unconsciously -- has continually privileged white people over people of color in ways that have been painful and destructive to the lives and careers of people of color — and in ways that those of us who are white have not been able, or have not chosen to see.
In our current discussions, the phrase is not being used to say that this person or that person is a white supremacist. It is being used to describe a system which consciously and unconsciously values the contributions and experiences and value of white people as superior to those of people of color and which understands white leadership as normative.
You’re invited to read and explore further about these concepts through the links below and to talk with your ministry team.
So, how are we responding at First Church?
This congregation has been involved in the work of anti-racism and anti-oppression for many years now and we will continue to have work to do. We want to honor the new energy and urgency and to continue to further our commitment. This is not out of line with the work we have committed to doing over the past decades.
Earlier this year, we formed a group solely for People of Color, led by Tania Marquez, to share experiences, collaborate, and offer support and inspiration. A group for white people doing this work will also be starting soon.
Your Board of Trustees, for example, recently completed a curriculum called the San Diego Pledge to End Racism and plans to offer it to the congregation in the year ahead.
Kathleen, Ian, Melissa, and the Adult Religious Education Committee, are creating an anti-racist lens into our re-visioning of our lifespan faith development ministry.
Your ministerial team is discussing ways in which we can engage with the request to do some specific learning in the next few weeks. There are several events coming as part of our “Building Bridges” focus that point to hearing and learning from the stories and experience of voices and lives which we may not have paid attention to well — the Women’s Chorus partnership with Women’s Empowerment, for example. And Rev. Ian will be offering a worship service on April 30 (Hillcrest) and May 7 (South Bay) that highlights the voices and experiences of those seeking asylum in this country and encountering a system which is so closely tied to racism and white supremacy. Your ministers have been preaching over the past months on border issues and the ways in which our unconscious attitudes play out in national policy.
On May 7, Kathleen will lead a workshop on white supremacy from 2 to 4pm in Bard Hall on our Hillcrest Campus.
More opportunities will be coming to engage in this important work. Please don’t hesitate to talk with Kathleen or Ian if you have questions or concerns. And pay attention to our Facebook page and the Window for information on upcoming events and opportunities.
We are being asked to be willing to hear painful stories and see painful truths that may challenge our understanding of who we are and how we live our lives and to stay in the conversation in the face of our own discomfort. We are being invited to change the way we do things in the face of these truths and our commitment to our deepest values. And we are entering a time of new possibility and hope for a richer understanding of ourselves and a more beautiful realization of the beloved community. This is hard work and we will make mistakes. And this has always been the call of our work to build community, deepen spiritual growth, and act on our values to heal the world.
in love and possibility,
Rev. Kathleen Owens, Lead Minister
Rev. Ian W. Riddell, Minister of Music and Worship Arts
Tania Marquez, Intern Minister
Alix Klingenberg, Intern Minister
Dr. Melissa James, Director of Family and Lifespan Ministry
Some Links to Explore the UUA Situation and White Supremacy further:
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