“The Heavy Hand of the UUA”

Note: An edited version of this letter appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of UU World (Vol. XXVI No.3)  The full text follows:

UU World
25 Beacon Street
Boston MA 02108-2803
June 1, 2012

Dear Editor,

Why do I feel so disconnected from the UUA as represented in UU World? I read our national magazine with increasing alienation, despite my deep identification as a UU and my vital connection with my own congregation.

I’m feeling marginalized and manipulated. The UUA idea of “proactive leadership” is to wrangle the cattle in this balky herd and drive them in a particular direction. There’s a lot of shouting, and dogs nipping our heels, and neglect of the needs of the individual cattle, or even the herd, once we’ve been branded and secured as a resource. Seems like there must be different, better cows out there to rope in to increase the herd, and this motive drives our wranglers, who want to move us in directions the current stubborn herd seem reluctant to go.

Thus we get inspiring stories in the UU World about people and congregations that are moving in the “right” directions, toward the failed utopian vision of a multicultural, multilingual Unitarian Universalism, a vision that no longer moves or inspires me, or that I even consider achievable in our current world. Having rejected the idea of the melting pot as disrespectful to original heritage, must we really adopt the culture and language of the target demographics, at the expense of our current membership, congregational self-determination, and even our theology? What does this do the vitality of our congregations and the inspiration of our Sunday services?

Contrast this “herd” analogy with the tribal leader in the movie “The Emerald Forest,” in which an American engineer has returned to the Brazilian rainforest. His young son was kidnapped by original inhabitants years before, adopted into the tribe, and is now a young adult. The frustrated contractor finally meets the tribal leader and asks him to return his teenaged son:

The engineer: “Tell him to come and visit. He can choose.”
The Chief: “If I tell a man to do what he does not want to do, I am no longer chief.”

As a college-educated, 30-year, English as a first language UU of mostly European background, I feel not only neglected, but looked down upon as not the demographic the UUA craves in our congregations. In reading the UU World, the leadership appears to distrust congregational polity and consider themselves prophetic – more moral and farsighted than the mere congregations, which need to be directed and led – although that clearly is not in the spirit of our Principles. Consider the policy of the UU World to print letters to the editor only in response to published articles. Members can respond on approved topics but not initiate neglected topics or acknowledge elephants bashing about in the living room. The guidelines for submission have no channel for reader-initiated articles, only for suggestions to the editorial staff – the heavy hand that holds the reins of the wranglers.

I wish that, rather than hammering on goals and directions hashed out in the ivory towers of Boston, our leadership focused instead on discerning, articulating, and manifesting the direction the current membership wants to traverse.

Ellen Lawrence Skagerberg
Santa Rosa, California
member: UU Congregation, Santa Rosa (California)

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