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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Who in the UUA decides what congregations want?

Tom Schade churns out even more substantive commentary about the UUA Board's decision to disaffiliate the "independent affiliate organizations." In his first new post, he argues that the independent affiliates have served as idea incubators for the Association as a whole and have played important roles in ministerial formation and networking. If, to use Isaiah Berlin's famous contrast between the fox and the hedgehog, congregations are hedgehogs — devoted to their particularity and resistant to novelty — then the independent affiliates are foxes — boundary-crossers who inject novel ideas into the system.

In a second, even more provocative post, Tom argues that true believers in "congregational polity" — which used to mean the ecclesiastical traditionalists — seem to have carried the day in the long-running UU quarrel between denominationalists and congregationalists. (The denominationalists tend to look to Boston or to the General Assembly for their coordinated, unified center; the congregationalists tend to insist on diverse, independent, local centers.) But Tom says the victory has not actually empowered congregations in the UUA's political structure. The Board's motto may be "congregations come first," but (and here I'm putting words in Tom's mouth) the decision-making structures don't yet reflect that. He explains:

[A] rhetorical unity has been reached that "serving the congregations" is the highest level value of National Unitarian Universalism. And this is good, but it raises a lot of questions.

Alice Blair Wesley's argument was that first the AUA, and then, the UUA was and is organized, in fact, as a non-profit corporation, governed by its board. It is not really an association of congregations and the General Assembly is not truly a representative body of the congregations doing the work of the association. It appears to be, but it is not.

So, what happens when the Board and the National officers and staff adopt the language of working always on behalf of the congregations? The temptation will be that it will become an all-purpose slogan, and a language that justifies anything and everything.

He argues that the new rules for independent affiliates empower the Board to decide what constitutes service to congregations while leaving the congregations themselves out of the process. "A statement is being asked for, and the Board will decide on whether Party A is serving the needs of Party B," he writes. "Who has the power in that situation? Party B? I don't think so."

Very interesting. To encourage readers to engage with Tom directly, I'm turning off comments here; please head on over to thelivelytradition to hash it out with him.

Update 6.8.07: And here's yet another post in the series.

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 7 June 2007 at 10:07 PM

Previous: Harvey Cox on Brazilian Protestants and democracy.
Next: This week at uuworld.org: Steps toward diversity.

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