Thursday, August 02, 2007


When I was invited to be on the board of a liberal Protestant campus ministry several years ago, I found that the two magazines most often referred to by my fellow board members were Sojourners and The Christian Century (the other CC), and I subscribed to them in order to understand better the frame of reference of my Christian board colleagues. Even after leaving that board, I have continued these journals, since I am generally sympathetic with their values
and usually find The Christian Century in particular to be a useful and well balanced source on events in the progressive Christian world.

I was dismayed to find in the News section of the current (July 24) issue of the other CC a post-Portland article under the title “Racial, multicultural tensions still beset Unitarian Universalists”, from the RNS news service. It is not possible to review it in detail, but I think that it is reasonable to say that the article puts a somewhat negative spin on a number of discussions of racial issues within the UUA, and at recent GAs. Probably the best-balanced statement cited was that of UU minister Manish Mishra, who was paraphrased as saying that “the church and its leadership are sometimes unfairly blamed for issues that affect “all of white liberal America.”“

Racism is, of course, a world-wide problem, not just an American problem, not just a liberal political or religious problem, not just a UU problem. Since I grew up in a liberal white family in an openly racist part of this country, since my father taught in a historically black college, and since my former wife and I raised an adopted black child from the age of two months, I have some awareness of this problem and I have a personal investment in racial issues. Those are the assumptions that my adopted black son invoked when he called on Father’s Day this year and thanked me for saving his life (his words) through my support of him during a hard passage in his life in recent years.

Most persons of color are better qualified by experience to speak on these issues than I am, so I usually leave statements on them to others. However, there is a higher-order issue in terms of the place of issues of race within the UUA that needs to be addressed. Although the UUA can (and I believe that it should) act and exert influence on various levels to ameliorate racial problems, a political /social topic such as race is not and cannot be the primary focus of a religious organization such as the UUA. President Sinkford has made the issue of racism a more active issue at the UUA. Sinkford, probably more than anyone else, can make this a productive discussion, but to do so he must aim at specific concrete goals and situate the discussion of these issues appropriately within the primary religious mission of the UUA


Comrade Kevin said...

This is why I believe AO/AR should be thrown on the scrapheap. No one doubts that its intentions were pure, but I feel the same way about AO/AR as I do affirmative action: they were both failed experiments that tried to to their best, but they could not work.

The only racial, multicultural tensions that I see besetting UUs are in the minds of the powers that be at 25 Beacon Street. The power of suggestion is a marvelous way to keep people stirred up and I witnessed that myself at two national cons.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that "a political /social topic such as race is not and cannot be the primary focus of a religious organization such as the UUA." Indeed, I have seen with my two eyes the destructive power AO/AR can created.

You open Pandora's Box and then every person of color who has experienced any semblance of racism goes on a self-righteous tirade, rehashing some event that has happened to them over the course of their lifetime. Ditto that to anyone who is LGBT.

You create an environment where it fosters white guilt and self-flagellation.

I see that sort of behavior as ultimately counter-productive.

Mark said...

"a political /social topic such as race is not and cannot be the primary focus of a religious organization such as the UUA."

I think one key distinction is between trying to Fight Racism in the global sense, and trying to address racism as an issue that impairs or distorts the internal life of a religious community.

I think another key distinction is between trying to Fight Racism in the global sense, and taking a stand against specific policies or practices in the broader world which punish people on account of their race.

I think these distinctions are often lost. Which is unfortunate, because I think living in covenant and advocating justice *are* legitimate primary concerns for religious organizations.

LinguistFriend said...

Kevin, you need to be careful to focus your comments and make them brief so that they do not turn into a rant which communicates nothing. My point was that recent discussions have tended to
carry the possibility of losing track of the primary religious aims of the UUA congregations. If one wants racism to be his primary focus, he should focus on working with the ACLU, the NAACP, or comparable organizations rather than a religious organization. They are much better qualified to really accomplish something.
Mark, your points are well made, I think, and I do not see real disagreement. What might seem to be disagreement is rather a matter of what you define religion to be; my idea of it is broader, I think. I did not suggest that UUA organizations should not be involved in activity against racism, either outside the organization or inside it. When I lived in South Carolina, I was proud to see our local UU minister as a speaker on a frigid MLK day when we marched aginst the placing of the Confederate flag atop the SC state house in Columbia (at least it was lowered to street level). I also would rather broaden the issue to intolerance in general; in some UU congregations, for instance, UU Christians are an uncomfortable minority.

Comrade Kevin said...

Linguist Friend,

Let me qualify my arguments thusly, AO/AR is not working and it needs to go.

End of argument.

LinguistFriend said...

Registered, Kevin. That was brief and clear. Thank you.

Mark said...


I am glad you do not see disagreement between my comments and yours, since I was agreeing with you...My thoughts were that the "lost distinctions" get lost at the institutional level, not that you had lost them yourself. My apologies for not being clearer.

LinguistFriend said...

Thank you, Mark. This can be a nasty topic. I have watched both whites and blacks build political careers on these topics, not always deservedly, and so I tried to phrase things carefully.