Who complains about the UUA?

I don’t want to debate “the merits of the case” now but only respond to an assertion Steve Caldwell made on his blog about popular feeling about the UUA. (While I’m at it: Chutney, I think you over-read Steve’s call for research, and over-reacted. At least, I don’t think it unfair to expect those who write about a structure to know how it runs formally.)

Back to the simmering masses. I’ve seen plenty of evidence of resentment towards, and a desired change to, the institutional workings of the UUA. It comes from (some) ministers. For the most part these are quiet, feeling that overt criticism is unwelcome. Perhaps it will foul up some desired outcome from Boston (a new settlement being handled properly and a building loan guarantee are two example I’ve heard; one was recent, the other was a few years ago). More often the feeling is that “the beast” doesn’t want to be changed and so can’t be. Why bother making a fuss; there’s plenty of work at church. Note, the theology of the ministers I’m thinking run the gamut, save Pagans, whom I know too few to make a reasonable sample. (I’ve known laypersons in historically Universalist churches and Christians complain over coffee too, but since when has anyone listened to their complaints?) The one reliable avenue to address bad UUA programs — by which I include those which were born from the head and not the base — is to ignore and stonewall. And people wonder why Fulfilling the Promise (which I still don’t get) and Journey Torwards Wholeness failed to thrive. (The UU Voice counts as an occasional avenue.)

For the longest time — the 90s really and perhaps before — the best way to silence complaints in the ministerial college seemed to charge the innovators as anti-institutionalists, which itself is rather funny as heirs of Emerson. (Though I think the “dump Emerson” proposal is spot on. I’m more of an Elbridge Gerry Brooks — he filled some of the role Frederic Henry Hedge did with the Unitarians, though Brooks was more ecumenically Christian than Hedge the Transcendentalist — man myself.) For anti-institutionalist read not a team player, which might have been true before but doesn’t pass muster when serious institutionalists begin to make the same charges. See, for instance, the Free Church Conference.

The biggest difference between what the former aren’t saying and the bloggers who are is an open vehicle to communicate, a bit of leadership (thanks ChaliceChick) and hope that things might change. A shame that nothing will come of it.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. More often the feeling is that “the beast” doesn’t want to be changed and so can’t be. A Liberal faith bound by a Tory leadership? Liberal Churches seem awfully prone to this.

  2. I agree, CC. I see this as more of a venting-and-brainstorming exercise than a real prelude to storming the Tuileries.

    BITB says: “I’m more of an Elbridge Gerry Brooks”.

    Which reminds me that 30 years or so ago I was a summer intern for a distant cousin of his, Congressman (and UU) Gerry Studds.

    (No, not that kind of intern. Though it did later become public that Gerry did have something of a zipper problem as far as Congressional pages were concerned. But he survived the scandal and got re-elected anyway.)

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