Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Organization by any other name...

I had a thought about the Independent Affiliates situation recently.

Recall how when the AUC first split off, it had taken the name “American Unitarian Association” and the UUA immediately sued to get it back.

I thought that was a brilliant trap on the UUA’s part to hamstring the AUC and the AUC played right into it. The got national press coverage for splitting off, we’re talking an article in the Wall Street Journal among others.

And what did the AUC leadership waste that national attention doing?

Complaining about the lawsuit over the name, bitching about the UUA and generally making themselves look like UUism’s bitter ex-husband.

They didn’t preach a positive message or in other ways sound like a movement that was going anyplace, they just sounded like a bunch of petty malcontents and the AUC membership has been pretty tiny ever since. (Though they’ve been way playing down the malcontent message in the last few years and I am sure it has improved.)

Now the Independent Affiliate situation has me considering the name question again.

If CUUPs, for example, is no longer affiliated with UUism, will they have to change their name? What effect will THAT have on the organizations in question?



Anonymous said...

I don't think there's any reason at all for the groups to change their name. They haven't ceased to be UU, and I doubt that the board's intention is to harry anyone out of the fold.

Joel Monka said...

That may not be the board's intention, but it is being perceived by many as such. Discussion has begun in many Pagan venues that this is perhaps the impetus we needed to found an independent organization. Things are different today than when CUUPS was founded; there are many more members, better organized, and it's much safer today to go public- perhaps we no longer need the shelter UUs provided. It would be unfortunate for some UU congregations if all the energies of their Pagan members were diverted into starting a new Heath or Grove- one of the three congregations here in Indianapolis is majority Pagan; it would probably have to fold if they left. But there's probably little chance of it; Pagans are even harder to organize than UUs are- loading mercury with a fork would be good practice. But it's not impossible.

Boy in the Bands (Scott Wells) said...

I think the particular problem with naming yourself the AUA, from the UUA's perspective, is that the AUA is a predecessor of the UUA and there are funds that were given (and held?) in the AUA name.

I think a lot of the UUA powers-that-were came off as paranoic twerps, but probably didn't do much their lawyers didn't advise.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, the AUC has pretty much stopped bitching about the UUA and moved on to better things. They continue to attract new members and new churches, and a brand new website is in the works, or so I've heard.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, that scenario will never happen. The Unitarian Universalist Association did not sue the American Unitarian Association because they used the word "Unitarian" in their title. They sued specifically because the UUA is the inheritor of the name American Unitarian Association--the UUA in effect IS the American Unitarian Association (the UUA is also the Universalist Church in America). Although they choose to go by Unitarian Universalist Association, the UUA is the sole rightful holder of the incorporated title "American Unitarian Association."

Therefore, when a small group of people began to call themselves the American Unitarian Association, the UUA successfully argued that this title was unlawful. Having no basis to co-opt that title, the group then renamed themselves the American Unitarian Conference. The UUA has not and almost certainly will not sue the AUC, because American Unitarian Conference is not part of the UUA's direct legal and historical legacy.

All of this is just to make the following point: the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans will not be sued by the UUA over their name, no matter how independent they get. The UUA guards the specific names of the particular parent organizations that birthed it, not the words Unitarian or Universalist. In effect, it is specific nouns that they are concerned with, not descriptive adjectives.

By the way, the amount of ill-informed paranoia that the change in IA guidelines has generated has been rather interesting to observe. This is not directed at your comments, CC. In several of the theologically-oriented IA communities that I follow I have observed tremendous amounts of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the policy change, with fears that big bad UUA is going to drive Pagans/Buddhists/Christians out of Unitarian Universalism, conduct a witch hunt, clamp down on alternative relationship patterns among consenting adult members, etc, etc, etc. Few people even seem to consider that maybe the UUA, whose charge is to serve member congregations--not independent affiliates, not even individual UUs per se--might legitimately be better able to handle its specific job by not juggling 60+ motley non-congregational groups.

Joel's comment speaks toward a mindset I've seen in these discussions (Joel, I think you may be a member of a UU congregation so I apologize if my comments don't precisely apply to your personal situation, I'm mostly riffing on something that you said that stimulated a thought). Many people involved in the IAs are not members of UU congregations, it turns out., or, if members, only attend IA activities and are mostly members because they felt they needed to be in order to get access to those IAs. They use UUism strategically but have only a tentative identification with UUism, it any at all. They are Pagans or Buddhist (or, yes, polygamists) and so on and seek a group of Pagans or Buddhists to hang out with. The IA of their persuasion offers a shelter to gather under (often in a culturally/theologically conservative geographic region), but otherwise they likely wouldn't have joined a UU church or told people they are UU.

Informed that the UUA in effect voted their IA out of affiliation, these people largely freaked out. They had no clear understanding of the UUA, what role it plays, what powers it has, and most importantly, what roles it doesn't play and powers it doesn't have. This ignorance is itself often a symptom of not really caring about UUism and just using it strategically for non-UU purposes. Faced with the misplaced fear of a witch hunt that will never come (because the point of IA disaffiliation wasn't theological, and because the UUA has no power whatsoever to conduct such a campaign), these folks in the IAs began yelling about persecution, exclusion, and forming plans to pull out of UUism altogether.

One has to wonder whether the UUA is supposed to serve such fair-weather "UUs" in the first place. CUUPS is a good example, though I'm not trying to pick on them (it's just the one CC and Joel raised). Many CUUPS people don't care much about UUism, they just use it as a tool for organizing Pagan groups (the same holds true in the UUBF). Now perhaps many of those people will pull out over a misunderstanding. Is UUism all that worse off if nominal UUs go elsewhere to follow the paths they really wanted to follow in the first place? Is the UUA board to be expected to cater to nominal UUs in non-congregational bodies who don't bother to educate themselves about the denomination and are ready to pull up stakes at the slightest perception of unwelcome?

Now, these aren't necessarily the people Joel is talking about. He muses on what would happen if Pagans pulled their energies out of UUism, so he's already talking about Pagans who do put an amount of energy into UUism, placing some of them further into the fold than some of the people I'm referring to. One of his local UU churches is mostly Pagan, for instance, and such a church would obviously suffer if all the Pagans defected.

There's an irony to all of this, I think. CUUPS grew under the shelter of UUism--it is only strong enough to possibly go elsewhere because of UUism. UUism has been a tremendous boon to Paganism in North America (and many Pagans who fully consider themselves UU have devoted wonderful talents--and money--to UU congregations). Pagans needed UUs, and the UUs by-and-large provided them with things they needed. But not all Pagans involved in CUUPS thereby became UU, and if they leave, they may take things that UUism needs with them. It's just an interesting situation--the dust kicked up by the IA policy change probably won't settle for some time, and may do so in patterns unintended by the UUA or unpredictable at this still early moment.

fausto said...

Good question, CC. I wonder if it has ever even occurred to the disaffiliation enforcers.

Even if it hasn't, though, I think there's a legitimate distinction that can be drawn. First, the (former) IA's may have "UU" or "Unitarian Universalist" as a component of their names, but none of them is called "Unitarian Universalist Association" per se. In the case of the AUC, the problems was that the name "American Unitarian Association" is the name of one of the predecessor entities that was merged into the present UUA, and it legally remains a synonym for the UUA, so the UUA was justified in asking the new organization to call itself something else. Second, if the UUA grants permission for the IA's to use "UU" or "Unitarian Universalist" in their names, there's no issue anyway.

Chalicechick said...

My understanding from a knowledgeable source is that if you start an organizaton and call yourselves "Unitarian" OR "Universalist," then the UUA doesn't care. But if you call yourself "Unitarian Universalist," the UUA will come after you legally.


Anonymous said...

The President of CUUPS told the membership at out annual meeting during GA that there is *no* issue with curent or former IA organizations using "Unitarian Universalist" in their names.

I've not seen anything from the UUA Board saying different.

Anonymous said...

Many of the IAs began as groups outside the UUA that used "Unitarian Universalist" in their title. At some point, often years after they'd been operating and with no threat from the UUA, they decided to affiliate with the UUA. There are still groups with Unitarian Universalist in their name that have never chosen to go through the affiliation process. So, at least looking at the matter historically up to this point, I think your source may be incorrect, CC.

Steve Caldwell said...

On 17 July 2007, CC wrote:
"My understanding from a knowledgeable source is that if you start an organizaton and call yourselves 'Unitarian' OR 'Universalist,' then the UUA doesn't care. But if you call yourself 'Unitarian Universalist,' the UUA will come after you legally."


Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness has been around since 2001 according to their web site's history.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has officially come after them and legally demanded them to cease using the words "Unitarian Universalist" in their name.

I suspect there are some Unitarian Universalists who would wish that they would not use the UU name. But nothing has happened legally.

Chalicechick said...

Ok, I must have misunderstood my source. Thanks for the correction.


Anonymous said...

Steve said:
Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness has been around since 2001 according to their web site's history.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has officially come after them and legally demanded them to cease using the words "Unitarian Universalist" in their name.

The UUPA Board has maintained regular contact and dialogue with UUA staff in various offices and the UUA Board. During my time on the Board the spectre of being forced to remove "Unitarian Universalist" from our name came up and we were informed by UUA staff that the UUA had no intention of forcing anyone to stop using that phrase in their names.

James Andrix said...

By my understanding of trademark law, 'Unitarian', 'Universalist', and 'Unitarian Universalist' would all qualify as descriptive terms. It would generally be an uphill battle for the UUA to stop someone from using them.

Robin Edgar said...

But the UUA just love uphill battles James. . . ;-)

Lilylou said...

This comment has nothing to do with your post. It is to notify you that you and Linguist Friend have both been tagged with a meme over at Ms. Kitty's. Hope you'll have time to take it up.

Shahera5 said...

I'm a little distressed by the tone of comments about pagans expressed in your comment, Joel. "Is UUism all that worse off if nominal UUs go elsewhere to follow the paths they really wanted to follow in the first place?"
What is a nominal UU? Can one not follow a pagan path within a UU church? Or is a pagan path not UU enough? Now, as a founder of Gaia Community, a pagan UU congregation, I recognize the our standard worship style is different from that of most UU churches. However, I thought UUism embraced all forms of searching for spiritual truth. I would think that UUs would be happy that there are national UU independent affiliates that help support congregation members' individual paths so that those congregation members are inclined to maintain their congregational membership and pay their pledges. In most churches only 10% of members actually volunteer in a more substantial way. Are they nominal UUs as well?

Joel Monka said...

Kitty- I think you meant Jeff- the words you quote are from his post.

Anonymous said...

Kitty, you addressed Joel but meant to speak to me.

I thought my remarks were pretty clear in context. By "nominal UUs" I mean people who aren't really interested in UUism, they only use it strategically as cover so they can practice the religion that really interests them, such as Neo-Paganism, Buddhism, etc. If a fully-fledged Neo-Pagan or Buddhist group existed in their town they'd be over there instead, with nary a thought about UUism. You've probably encountered such folks--I certainly have. I'm not begrudging them their interests and I'm glad that UUism can provide them with something useful. But since they don't really identify with UUism per se and aren't likely to get involved outside their own little cliques, I think it is an honest question whether the loss of such people would seriously impact UUism and whether they ought to be a concern of the UUA. That's an open question, not an answer. I don't have a firm conclusion on this matter at the moment.

I think maybe you display some of the paranoia that I've talked about in your comments. How you got from my comments to wondering aloud if pagans are even welcome in UUism is beyond me. Certainly there's nothing in my comments that suggests pagans can't be UUs or that UUs don't like pagans or that pagans should leave UUism. The fact that you've organized a UU pagan group obviously puts the lie to such ideas anyway. Go back and read my comments less defensively and you'll notice how I overtly say that many pagans are bonafide UUs and a boon to the denomination. Why are the (misunderstood and seemingly not read very carefully) remarks of a guy on a blog so distressing when your own experience with UUism speaks otherwise?

Masasa said...

Jeff, you have a point. Attempts to be all things to all people have not served us well. I am so glad there are UU pagans, and I am glad there are UU organizations that have a pagan focus theologically. I am also glad there are pagans organizing outside of UUism, as that may serve others. But we don't need to be "it" for non-UUs just because they are pagans. If anything, if Unitarian Universalism is to live on, we need to clarity. I think often we are afraid of scaring people off by being clear, but I would argue that just as likely, we are scaring people off by being unclear.

Masasa said...

Whoops. I need to apologize both for my typos and for the lack of clarity in my writing. These days, I am trying to do too many things at one time.