Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A weird beginning

Second in a series of posts about General Assembly and the June UUA Board meeting

In response to the question "who sets the vision?", Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs replied during the UU University Policy Governance track (and I paraphrase) "The Board sets the vision. But don't forget that the minister has the pulpit."

UUA President Bill Sinkford had "the pulpit" as he gave his final report on Wednesday, and included a vision statement about the shift from "anti-racism" to "multi-culturalism". It was an important message from the first African American UUA president. One of my first surprises on the UUA Board was that our AR/AO/MC (anti-racist/anti-oppression/multi-cultural) efforts were so fixated on Black and White.

There was good reason for that. Watching the DVD "Wilderness Journey" helped me understand the intense pain that so many felt over the controversies of the late 60s and early 70s in Unitarian Universalism -- controversy that drove Bill Sinkford away from Unitarian Universalism at that time. [These events are also detailed in the new book "The Arc of the Universe is Long" which I predict will become THE reference for anti-racist UU history.]

So why would a vision statement about multi-culturalism irritate any of my fellow board members? The eloquent vision statement made no reference to any of the "ends" formulated six months before that had already made the same shift: the UUA "ends" refer to being "intentionally...multi-cultural" and "embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege", but "racism" and its derivatives are nowhere to be found. This shift was made with the participation of all board members, including the current president and both candidates, but was never acknowledged in the vision statement set forth in the plenary report.

Why does that matter? It matters if you believe that collaboration is essential to effective governance with an elected president and board. It matters if you perceive past UUA Boards to have had relatively little influence with an agenda set and dominated by the President. It matters if the action in question (presenting the vision statement) is one in a long string (over decades) of unilateral action on the part of the UUA President. It matters if some of those actions are perceived to undermine other UUA-related institutions by going around them.

It matters if you are trying to model behavior for the rest of the Association about what collaboration looks like.

Let me be clear here that one of the reasons that I agreed to run for the Board was Bill Sinkford. He did not disappoint. My respect for him continued to grow over the two years I had the privilege of serving with him. I doubt he perceived any of his actions as "going around" anyone, as within the culture of what it has been to be a UUA president he was doing what the UUA President did.

Hence the "weird beginning": a statement read by one of the Board members very near to the beginning of the first meeting with the new President that essentially said the Board wanted more collaboration. It came across to at least some of us (including me) as a scolding for a President who had been on the job for 12 hours. Add to that the "missing moderator" from Saturday night and conspiracy theorists could have a heyday about Board vs. President.

Though it wasn't initially clear, the statement was a personal one with input from just a few Board members. Though Board members agreed this was not exactly how we needed to start as a new Board, I appreciate us naming this "elephant", albeit awkwardly, so that we can address it in the future.

The President does have the "pulpit" and I expect him to use it. I also expect him to publicly acknowledge the partnership he has entered, at least until we all reach the comfort level of a Lao Tzu.

Next post: the life of the congregation president


Anonymous said...


Why not write the name of the Trustee who delivered the "scolding?" I think this something that I would want to know if my ditrict trustee said (or an at-large trustee). The Board says they want accountability. So, lets start by making trustees accountable.

I found your post troubling. It sounds like some on the UUA Board are already trying to negate the impact of this election.

Kurt Jensen
UU Congregation of Fairfax

Robin Edgar said...

In light of the controversy surrounding the rather questionable reading of the "prepared statement" in question by New England district UUA Trustee Rev. Will Saunders it is incumbent on the UUA Board of Trustees to make the full written record of that prepared statement open to scrutiny by concerned Unitarian*Universalists. U*Us need to be able to read the full document so that that they can enter into a free and *responsible* search for the truth and meaning of not only what Rev. Saunder's prepared statement actually said, but what it may have implied about the not always evident "very deep culture" of the UUA Board of Trustees.

PeaceBang said...

It was Will Saunders.

Linda Laskowski said...

Just the opposite, Kurt. There was an attempt by one of us to raise an issue from past administrations and have an open dialogue about it. Under different circumstances I would not have perceived the comments as any kind of "scolding" - it was more an issue of timing.

This interaction, including names, was publicly reported along with many other questions and responses by UUWorld, with no interpretation one way or the other -- which I attempted to give (my own, that is). The name has been thoughtfully supplied by the next poster,semi-anonymously.

Let's all be thoughtful here. Openness, transparency, and accountability are all two-way streets, in personal relationships as for organizations. If you over=react to the information you get, board members could be more careful about how publicly they state their concerns, and bloggers like me could decide to parse every phrase. I don't want that. I am grateful to those Board members willing to take the risks required to move toward "Beloved Community".

Anonymous said...


You yourself wrote that it came across as a "scolding." I just wanted to know the trustee's name (or as it turns out names).

Just FYI. I had stopped reading the UU World GA blog after GA ended and figure most others have too. I have now read the rather comprehensive coverage of the Board meeting on that blog. Thank you for pointing me in that direction and to UU World.

Based on what I have read, I am surprised that Will Suanders wasnt ruled out of order as quickly as I saw the Moderator do to a few folks at the just concluded GA. After her report on what she saw as board governance weakness at our congregations, it seems rather "weird."