Two separate and painful events in the wider world of Unitarian Universalism occurred on the same day, March 30.
The Rev. Ron Robinson, a UU minister and founder of the Third Place Community in Turley, Oklahoma , was arrested on child pornography charges, and admitted guilt. This was a shock and a source of great sor- row, especially for those who admired and trusted him (and I am among those who held him in high esteem). All of the leadership responses I have seen have been powerful and appropriate. Reverend Robinson’s fellowship (i.e., credential) has been suspended, as has his membership in the UU Ministers’ Association. He was active in the UU Christian Fellowship and the Missional UU Church movement, and the leaders of both have spoken out with measured and caring words, and holding all involved in their concern, foremost the victims of these crimes. The organization I’m part of, UUs Ending Modern Slavery, set up a helpline (650-665-9891) for anyone whose traumas related to trafficking in children or other forms of abuse were re-awakened by this news.
And in an unrelated story, on the same day, UUA President Peter Morales resigned with three months left in his term. This startling event has its roots in a debate that had been unfolding over the previous several days, when recent hires cemented the complement of Regional Leads in the UUA as a 100% white, male team. Challenged by hundreds of people of color, ministers, religious educators, and others to live up to our stated commitment to diversity and empowerment, Rev. Morales agreed that we have a long way to go, but wrote intemperately about “hysteria” in the response, asserted that candidates of color are scarce, and suggested that leaders such as religious educators are rightly passed over in favor of ministers because the latter tend to have more management experience. These responses only added fuel to the fire, and he resigned effective April 1. Other, less precipitous resignations have followed, and the UUA Board has been working intensively to put an acting Chief Operations Officer in place (Rev. Sarah Lammert) and name an interim president until the election that will be held at the General Assembly in late June, as scheduled. I was moved to learn that our By Your Side Singers reached out to the UUA Board with a song, acknowledging their difficult and emotional work. To learn much more, I encourage you to visit uuworld.org.
I am happy to say that the conversation that was underway about hiring practices, and diversity and anti-racism in the UUA in general, has con- tinued. Among other responses, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists immediately proposed a White Supremacy Teach In, which Dan and I are enthusiastically joining; as of this writing, 270 congregations had committed to the teach in. We will devote April 30’s service to this theme. In Sunday school at 9:30 am, grades K-5, which have been focusing on ecology this spring, will learn about white supremacy and environmental racism.
Our religious movement, which has historically been mostly white and also overrepresented in the political and economic power structure, has been challenged before–from the inside, as now – to confront white supremacy: the elevation of white people over people of other races. Some- times our response has been bold and prophetic; often, sadly, it has not, and we have settled back into the status quo. In this we are no different than the racially troubled nation in which we blossomed, but we should be. We can be. Working together, we will be. I am filled with trepidation, but also with hope that this moment of ferment will be a turning point. It can be if we make it so. I hope you will examine your own values and dreams and commit to moving in the direction of justice, freedom, and equality. One concrete action: come to the service, and bring your children to Religious Education, on April 30.