The Independent Affiliate matter is not over

UUA trustee Linda Laskowski notes in her blog that the class she met at the Starr King School for the Ministry seemed to universally opposed to the broad dismissal of Independent Affiliate organizations. She cited some reasons having to do with the ecology of the UUA that speak my mind. I downloaded the UUA directory Chris Walton mentioned, and was whistful when I saw the gutted Independent Affilate section.

One of the continuing themes I see expressed “from Boston” and in General Assemblies is that the de facto greatest function of the Unitarian Universalist Association is to maintain an internal identity — perhaps even more than providing services; I do not consider UUA fund raising a service — and that without the identity-molding functions of the UUA administration the whole thing would collapse. I’ve wondered before if there wasn’t an unspoken fear that the Independent Affiliates were viewed (if not as threats) as rivals for the attention of  the Association itself.

I hear echoes of this sentiment in necessitarian arguments behind funding Starr King and the Meadville/Lombard Theological School: without these, the ministry would become defective, even though most Unitarian Universalist ministers today come from neither.  This also is what I come away with in the new UUA ad campaign, which disappoints me. (I don’t see an atheist triumph in it as others have.)

I don’t mean there was some calculated plan. Unitarian Universalism for its own sake is such a weak goal (when contrasted with the promotion of personal religious freedom or international community, much less as more overtly religious goal)  that it seems to be an anxious response to changing times. But a politics of conformation won’t work. But rather than letting people find their own place — surely a role of the Independent Affiliates — the laity with options will drift away.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Does anybody find it odd that there is such a focus on preserving/promoting/supporting an ecclesiastic identity in a religious body that is the product of the Free Church movements? It feels strangely sectarian in some ways, and in other ways like Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox claims to preserving/promoting/supporting an apostolic identity. What this UUA identity-drive does not feel like to me is either ecumenical or interfaith, or like any of the broad definitions of Unitarianism and Universalism that can be relevant to wide populations. Because, and let us be honest, why should Joe or Jane America be at all interested in adopting a highly sectarian religious identity? Many highly sectarian groups at least offer some kind of divine favor (eg. the salvation of the chosen few, or the enlightenment of the secret elite), in return for one’s membership in the sectarian body. Unitarian Universalism does not even offer that kind of reward.

  2. Visit the thriving mega Churches around me and it’s hard to figure out what their denominational loyalty is. Dig into it and you’ll usually find some connections, but for the most part the Church and its members don’t identify with a National Denomination.

    I find that a loss because it’s the history of these national groups I find interesting (on reason I read your blog Scott because you cover this), but for most Church goers today the National Denomination is not very important.

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