Interdependent Web: Breaking through is messy

Interdependent Web: Breaking through is messy

A weekly roundup of blogs and other user-generated web content about Unitarian Universalism.


It’s hard to believe these words as I write them, but I have been editing this column for six years. Time flies when you move twice and have two babies!
These six years of observing and reporting on UU conversation online have given me a particular perspective on the conflicts that have been happening this spring among UUs, particularly on social media. If you haven’t been following along, this week’s column will give you an overview; in this introduction I want to briefly give the longer view.

In short, UU social media is prone to periodic conflagrations. Many of them happen about this time of year, as religious professionals and congregations begin to look forward to the slower days of summer.

This one is a bigger fire than most that I’ve seen. I suspect that’s because we, as a religious tradition, have so much combustible material about race.

These flare-ups often remind me of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which he warns, “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
This time, however, the conflict has a different feel. Sure, it could destroy us. But it could also save us, if we find our way through.

Without further introduction, here’s what UU’s have been saying online this week.

Core documents

Last week, blogger Mel Pine’s post about recent UUA hiring controversies went viral, mostly due to sharing by people who objected to its content.

UUism at the national level is in crisis. It’s a complicated mess and some will object to the way I simplify it, but my feeling of safety is again being threatened and I need to do my own version of speaking truth to power. In a nutshell (pun not intended but appreciated now that I see it), a coup has disrupted the democratic process.

The demands of one UU faction have led to the resignation of the denomination’s democratically elected president (three months before the natural end of his eight years in office), the resignations of the chief operating officer and a department head, and the decision by a parish minister to decline the leadership role to which he had been appointed. (Melting Pot Dharma, April 12)

The Rev. Ashley Horan, noting that “our faith calls us to love, not niceness,” responded directly to Pine’s post.

In this case, we have one blowhard, garbage blog post from one sadly misguided individual who thinks he is “speaking truth to power.” But the cumulative impact, when you have hundreds or thousands of people who share these feelings, who run our congregations, who hold the power to make hiring decisions, who decide what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and demand that people assimilate to their version of what “safety” feels like is that we have a WHITE SUPREMACIST INSTITUTION that will do anything it can to keep the uprising from happening, even when the INDIVIDUAL INTENTIONS OF ITS ACTORS are not necessarily malignant. (Prophets of a Future Not Our Own, April 13)

UUMA Executive Director, the Rev. Don Southworth, wrote a letter to the UUA board, addressing his personal concerns about the Policy Governance model, the board’s relationship with the UUA president and staff, financial stewardship, and conflicts of interest. The letter, which was not initially intended to be public, included candid comments about funding Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), and the public comments of trustee Christina Rivera.

I want to acknowledge two things at the beginning of this letter. First, I am feeling angry and disillusioned by the actions of the UUA board over several years culminating in the last few weeks. I fear your actions have put the faith I have given my life to in great danger and, while I have done everything I can to make this letter as reasoned and loving as I can, I apologize if my strong emotions get in the way.

Second, it is important that I share the context and identity I am writing from. I identify as a white, cisgender male. I become more aware every day at how that identity clouds my decisions and actions, hopefully more and more unconsciously, despite the years of study, training and spiritual and personal development work I have done. (Calltrepreneurship, April 16)

Lena Garner, who shortly will be BLUU’s sole paid staff member, responded to Southworth’s letter.

Now it is here where I will just say this point blank: this letter, filled with misinformation, wrongful accusations, and seeking to willfully misinform in order to discredit and undermine, is the face of institutional racism. It is how the insidiousness of white supremacy weaves its way into our faith couched in language of concern but charged with accusations and misinformation. (Medium, April 18)

Christina Rivera also responded to Southworth’s letter.

Don, Generally, I do not reply to letters to the Board, preferring to defer to the Board Secretary to respond on behalf of the Board. However, on this occasion you have chosen to call into question my integrity as a Trustee in a public setting, amongst my Board colleagues, and (once your letter becomes part of our Board correspondence) to the larger UU community, and that I cannot allow to go unanswered. Like Rob, I disagree with your characterization of both the work of the Board and of the BLUU funding decision. But I will constrain my reply to those areas which you addressed to me directly via this letter to the Board. (Facebook, April 20)

Further responses

Veronica Boyd wrote that she has no patience for white fragility.

I have no tolerance for violence against people of color, whether it’s cops shooting us down in the street or a religious professional using his pen to erase our existence. There is real shit happening out here in our world. As a faith, we need to prepare ourselves to help in the healing process of the violence that’s occurred and the violence that will come. We need to accept the reality that we are living under a white nationalist regime that has declared war on members of our congregations. It is beyond time to get it together. (Medium, April 20)

Kim Hampton responded to Southworth’s contention that there are many causes that lay claim to the UUA’s financial resources.

It always fascinates me when white people don’t get that all these things are direct descendants of white supremacy. Environmental devastation? Ever heard of Flint? (they still don’t have clean water) Immigration justice? Shall we talk about how they are rounding up people who are darker skinned and leaving the undocumented Irish immigrants here in the Northeast alone? The “insanity we have seen since the election”? Let’s talk about voting rights and voter suppression, which is all about keeping people of color from voting. Community organizing? Let’s talk about how white organizers get paid but organizers of color are expected to organize for free. And that when they try to get paid, they are called everything but a child of God. (East of Midnight, April 19)

The Rev. Michael Tino noted differences in responses to white critique, and critique by marginalized people.

In a culture/system rooted in oppression (white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, classism, etc.), people with dominant identities are allowed to criticize leadership even when their criticisms are uninformed or harmful. When they receive pushback on that criticism, they cry that their “rights” have been trampled on, or their individuality dishonored.

In those same systems, when people with marginalized identities attempt such criticism, they are labeled “agitators” or “rabble rousers” (or worse), underscoring their position as outsiders to the system. Criticism from marginalized people brings violence from the system attempting to re-center the dominant worldview. (Facebook, April 20)

The Rev. Krista Taves gave us a frame for understanding what’s happening here.

We are in a white entitlement controversy here. This isn’t a crisis. It’s a breaking through. And breaking throughs are messy. (Facebook, April 20)