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Friday, February 18, 2005

Bill Sinkford talks with Boston's 'Bay Windows.'

Boston's gay and lesbian newspaper, Bay Windows, published an interview with UUA President Bill Sinkford last week in which he talks about the Association's advocacy of same-sex marriage rights in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country.

The national headquarters of the UUA sits right next to the State House, and under Sinkford the denomination has made use of its prime slab of real estate to influence the debate over same-sex marriage. Last February as legislators began two months of debate on the amendment, the UUA draped a 16 x 20 foot banner along the side of their building that read, "Civil Marriage is a Civil Right-Unitarian Universalist Association." The banner was inescapable to legislators and lobbyists filing in and out of the State House each day. Sinkford said that given the denomination's stance in favor of same-sex marriage, the decision was a no-brainer.

"We had a choice. We could either be quiet or we could be articulate about our values. We decided to be articulate. The decision about the banners was made in about 30 seconds, it didn't take long, and we just felt that because of our position here adjacent to the State House we had to take advantage of that and try to make sure that our state legislators, when they were in session and looking out the window, had to see our message," said Sinkford.

The story is pegged to the award Sinkford received February 10 on behalf of the UUA from the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. Sinkford also talks about Hillary and Julie Goodridge's wedding at the UUA's headquarters last May:

"Hilary and Julie are friends and it was a real privilege to officiate at their wedding. And it's one of those places where the personal and the political intersect," said Sinkford. "For them it was a joyous occasion, a celebration of their long relationship, and for us and for the world it was a political statement that we need to be able to affirm the loving relationships of couples and their commitment regardless of their gender."

While many people of faith may see same-sex marriage as a difficult issue, Sinkford said the marriages of couples like the Goodridges will change minds in the long run.

"The earth has not stopped revolving around its axis, and what we have is a situation where these thousands of couples are enjoying the benefits of civil marriage in the Commonwealth, and the other couples and families in the Commonwealth are continuing to live their lives. I think that's a powerful testimony," argued Sinkford. "This is not dangerous, this is not going to destroy the institution of marriage. In point of fact marriage equality is an affirmation of that institution. Now I think that's a powerful argument for others."

("Talking with William Sinkford: UUA Head Vows Continued Public Support of Marriage Equality," Ethan Jacobs, Bay Windows 2.10.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 18 February 2005 at 5:49 PM

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February 18, 2005 06:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Goodness, I'm sick of seeing this man getting interviewed.

Doesn't he have a denomination to run?

who would like to take all her time off to run around doing political stuff, too, but she has to work so she saves her activism for the weekends.


February 18, 2005 06:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chalicechick or Chalicehumbug? It's a good interview.

James Field:

February 18, 2005 09:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

We have congregational polity. How much running the denomination do you expect? Isn't it his job to do interviews and raise our public profile?

I've said it before but I think knee jerk criticism of Sinkford (and of Rebecca Parker) is counter productive. I'll admit I am blinded by my fondness for Rebecca, but like to think I am open minded about Rev. Sinkford.


February 19, 2005 05:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm a Chalicehumbug at times, I'll admit. And it is a good interview.

But I don't really see the point in giving it. I mean goodness, he's talking to a gay magazine in Boston. I don't know how he could be preaching to the choir any more obviously. And frankly, if we're looking for more recruits, Boston seems a bad place to try. I think we've pretty much saturated the market there.

I do think there are plenty of things he could be doing to build the denomination. Making himself a visible figure in religious dialogues seems a good start. Cutting the UUA washington office budget and putting the extra funds toward outreach would cheer me up,

At the very least, he could not take so many political stands in our names, telling no one anything new about our politics and continuing to alienate anyone conservative. These days I'n nostalgic for the whole religious language mess. At least then he was talking about us.

I was openminded about Rev Sinkford when he was elected. but goodness. I want to read about UUs in the newspaper and have it have nothing to do with politics.

I want UUs to help people themselves rather than trying to make the government do it. We do it aas individual congregations. why must we take such a political approach on the national level.


Jeff Wilson:

February 19, 2005 10:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm probably showing my hand as the type of UU I am with this comment. To me, what Sinkford is doing when he gives that interview _is_ religion. It _is_ about us. I approve.

There is no place in which my political views are not informed by my religious convictions, be it the environment, civil rights, pacifism, reproductive rights, welfare, health care, the death penalty, or any of the other issues that concern me. When it comes to same-sex marriage, I see it as involving human rights, justice, love, individual conscience, and commitment--all religious values according to the UUism I was raised on. I mainly learned political activism at church--certainly not at school.

If I opened the newspaper every single day and discovered yet another article or interview about how UUism support same-sex marriage, I'd be proud each time.

I've heard others complain before about too much politics in UUism. I can sympathize, but I can't offer much help. As I understand UUism, there's not really any way to separate them, at least not for me. Individual religious beliefs, practices, and associations have social implications; that is to say, they have a political dimension. There's really no such thing as private spirituality disconnected from matters of money, justice, and power. And particularly because non-liberal religionists are fighting fang and claw to impose their own political agendas on all of us, we need to avail ourselves of every opportunity to spread our message, to the choir, to the opposition, and to anyone else within shouting distance.


February 20, 2005 09:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

How about this:

I'm willing to accept a Venn Diagram where religion and politics have both intersecting and non-intersecting regions.

Specific polciy reccomendations (e.g. We should go to war in Iraq) should be considered solely political. Moral principles than can be applied to politics (we should take care of those weaker than us.) is in between and religious discussions (we should use a language of reverence) are on the solkely-religion side.

If Sinkford wants to be in the middle sometimes, OK. But I think going into the solely-political sphere ius going too far and I think he should focus more on the solely religious.


Steve Caldwell:

February 20, 2005 10:50 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 20 February 2005, Chalicechick wrote:
"But I think going into the solely-political sphere is going too far and I think he should focus more on the solely religious."

The connection between politics and religion isn't a clean division. Personally, I don't think we can totally separate the two. It's appropriate to put some restraints on how political churches should be.

For example, the current US law prohibiting tax-exempt religious groups from partisan political activity while allowing religious groups to speak out on current moral issues is OK for me.

However, there is no realistic way that we could get all religious groups (e.g. religious liberals, religious conservatives, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, etc) to accept leaving the public square and political discussions to just the secular voices. If UUs and other religious liberals were to unilaterally give up our role in secular political debate, then the only religious voice in public debate would be the Falwells and Dobsons of the world.

Secondly, the issues we face may be political issues but they also have a religious component where our values offer something that we should share beyond our walls.

For example, Unitarian Universalists have a history of promoting access to accurate comprehensive sexuality education. In addition to the excellent "Our Whole Lives" curriculum, the UUA and the United Church of Christ published an "advocacy manual" to assist us in advocating for better sexuality education in our churches and in our public schools.

Finally, our religious history is full of examples of our spiritual ancestors engaging the world using our religious values to make the world a better place. Some examples include:

- John Quincy Adams defending the Amistad slaves in the courts

- Robert Gould Shaw who gave his life fighting alongside African Americans to eliminate slavery from the US

- June and James Barrett who were shot supporting reproductive choice access in Pensacola where June was wounded and James was shot and killed by an anti-abortion activist

The Barretts are mentioned in the UU religious education supplement to grades 7-9 Our Whole Lives curriculum along with our denomination's history in supporting reproductive choice.

Take care,


February 20, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

I didn't say one could totally separate them.

And I don't mind UUs being political activists. I just wish Sinkford would be one on his own time and spend the time the UUA is paying him working to build the church.


Steve Caldwell:

February 21, 2005 12:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 20 February 2005, Chalicechick wrote the following:
"And I don't mind UUs being political activists. I just wish Sinkford would be one on his own time and spend the time the UUA is paying him working to build the church."

Well ... maybe giving a public witness to the types of social justice stands our congregations have endorsed through open and democratic process (aka "GA business") is one way to "build the church."

I personally think there is some value in being very open about the fact we are a liberal religious community. I think the comparison between my home congregation (All Souls Shreveport) and the next nearest UU congregation to my southern "Bible Belt" community (Longview UU Fellowship).

Over the last three years, my congregation has had negative growth. Only in this past year have we had any positive growth. We've attracted newcomers and we received some excellent publicity in Fall 2004 over the same sex marriage political debate in our state and our beginning steps towards "Welcoming Congregation" has gained us some excellent front page news coverage. But these allegedly "political" social justice stands have angered a few members of our congregation.

Some of our members want to be "Welcoming" without anyone outside our congregation knowing about it. And these very vocal complaints have probably derailed our "Welcoming Congregation" efforts.

In contrast, the Longview UU congregation has been very public about the uniquely different approach that we have towards issues like sexual orientation and gender identity. Their growth numbers over the past three years have been very positive.

I think the growth that Longview UU has experienced is partly due to their very public profile on "political" issues like the "Welcoming Congregation" program. And my congregation's fear surrounding the "Welcoming Congregation" program is hurting our growth in Shreveport.


February 21, 2005 09:08 AM | Permalink for this comment

I don't think the "Welcoming congregation" program is ultimately such a good thing. A friend of mine goes to a UU church in a small town in the midwest. The people there aren't the most sophisticated and lots of them are very uncomfortable with homosexuality. The board of his UU church, having decided that "Welcoming Congregations" are the trendy thing to be, has forced the "Welcoming Congregations" initiative through.

So now there is a "welcoming congregation" extending itself to people who will find on arriving that the congregation isn't nearly so welcoming as they claim.

IMHO, they aren't doing the gays and lesbians in their area any favors by promising them a truly accepting environment when the church can't provide one.

And indeed, they aren't doing themselves any favors by trying to recruit gays and political liberals on the basis of their poltics and sexual orientation without taking into account those people's theological beliefs.

We should be reaching out to people who jibe with us theologically.


Steve Caldwell:

February 21, 2005 11:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 21 February 2005, Chalicechick replied with the following:
"I don't think the "Welcoming congregation" program is ultimately such a good thing. A friend of mine goes to a UU church in a small town in the midwest. The people there aren't the most sophisticated and lots of them are very uncomfortable with homosexuality. The board of his UU church, having decided that "Welcoming Congregations" are the trendy thing to be, has forced the "Welcoming Congregations" initiative through."

I'm not sure what being "sophisticated" has to do with being willing to address issues like homophobia and racism. I'm not the most educated person (possessing only an ancient 1981 undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia) and I think everyone would agree I'm not the smartest person. I've lived in conservative "red state" cities from 1992 to present.

Prior to this "red state" city life, I lived in a small heavily Republican northern Michigan town with a population of 3000. And from 1983 to 2003, I served in the US military and retired with just over 20 years of service. In light of my military service and my conservative community background, I'm perpetually amused to find myself on the liberal-to-radical end of the spectrum in many UU discussions.

Given my "unsophiticated" midwest and southern background, I should have serious issues with the theology underlying the Welcoming Congregation program. But I don't.

The reason that I'm OK with Welcoming Congregation and other UU anti-oppression work is probably my good luck.

I've been in UU congregations that have presented me with opportunities to learn and grow including the opportunity to work with learning about my own homophobia. I think there may be something "salvational" in our often imperfect denominational efforts to become " ... intentionally willing to struggle to dismantle legal and social barriers to equal association, act with integrity and honor the many gifts we bring" (these words borrowed from the Liberal Religious Educator Association web site).

I'll agree that "forcing" any sort of Welcoming Congregation vote through with a bare majority will do more harm than good. As Matthew Gatheringwater had previously commented on his former blog site, the goal here isn't in winning the Welcoming Congregation vote.

Ideally, the study and discernment process will result in a congregation where sufficient spiritual transformation has happened and the Welcoming Congregaion vote is approved with a 90%+ supermajority.

Finally, the goal behind Welcoming Congregation isn't just making the congregation a better place for just bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender (BGLT) persons. Homophobia and heterosexism also hurt heterosexuals and Welcoming Congregation also provides salvation from this hurt. For example, homophobia is one mechanism in our society for ensuring compliance with strict male and female gender roles. So ... a congregation and a world with less homophobia and heterosexism isn't just better for just BGLT people. It's better for everyone.


February 21, 2005 12:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Maybe the Welcoming Congregation program has worked better other places. I've never been in a congregation going through it.

To me, the Welcoming congregations program reminds me of nothing so much as being at a company that was going through ISO 9000 certification.

When my old company was doing that, the changes in procedure really didn't amount to changes in the way we did things. They mostly amounted to a big show that resulted in a certification we could hand around to potential clients.

I think what we should be talking up to our potential members is our respect for freedom and reason


Steve Caldwell:

February 21, 2005 04:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

It's ten minutes before your RE class kids show up and you still haven't found the pipe cleaners and craft sticks you need for today's class.

If we had the ISO 9001 "stupid label guy" who labeled everything in site as described in the "Dilbert" comic strip, imagine how easily it would be to find classroom religious education supplies.

This is totally unrelated to Rev. Sinkford, UU politics, Welcoming Congregation ... but imagine how easy it would be to teach RE if all RE supplies were labeled and stored in accordance with the labels.

I watched my partner spend 30 minutes looking for yarn needed for a class activity at church that was put back in the wrong place.


February 21, 2005 06:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good point, but two days after the ISO 9000 auditors left, we couldn't find anything anymore either.


Scott Wells:

February 21, 2005 07:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, Steve, we do have something in common. I got my A.B. from the University of Georgia in 1991: I'm sorry you didn't get what you want from your degree there.

But I agree with Chalicechick on the Welcoming Congregation program. I've always thought it was built on a euphemism -- begging the question of why everyone wasn't welcome -- while negecting the fine points of evangelism. It can also exoticize gay people, leading the current membership to have certain expectations of their "welcomed" newcomers that they may or may not fill (and shouldn't be forced to fill.)

Steve Caldwell:

February 21, 2005 09:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 21 February 2005, Scott Wells replied to Steve Caldwell:
"Well, Steve, we do have something in common. I got my A.B. from the University of Georgia in 1991"


I graduated from the University of Georgia in June 1981 (B.S Ag. in Microbiology).

The late Rev. Cliff Hoffman (Minister-Emeritus of the Athens GA UU Congregation) officiated at our wedding ceremony in 1981. I didn't join the Athens congregation, but I considered myself enough of a UU to have that put on my dog tags when I enlisted in 1983.

Then Scott wrote:
"I'm sorry you didn't get what you want from your degree there."

I didn't say that I didn't get what I wanted from UGA. I graduated in 1981 with a solid understanding of physical and biological sciences which has served me well.

I mentioned my UGA education to point out that my background was solidly "red state" in terms of where I have lived and where I have worked over the past 25 years. My background is very close in "sophistication" to the midwestern UUs that Chalicechick mentioned in her post.

And I'll also re-state that being in favor of programs like "Welcoming Congregation" doesn't require coming from a "sophisticated" background. Welcoming Congregation can happen just as easily in the Bible Belt as it can in Boston or San Francisco. I've seen it work very well in Longview, Texas and I've seen the UCC folks in Tulsa OK do similar work.

Then Scott wrote:
"But I agree with Chalicechick on the Welcoming Congregation program. I've always thought it was built on a euphemism -- begging the question of why everyone wasn't welcome -- while negecting the fine points of evangelism."

So you're suggesting that the problem with "Welcoming Congregation" in part comes from the name. Would we be better off using a different title for this program? Would we be better off calling our outreach program "Open and Affirming" like our UCC and Disciples of Christ cousins?

Then Scott wrote:
"It can also exoticize gay people, leading the current membership to have certain expectations of their "welcomed" newcomers that they may or may not fill (and shouldn't be forced to fill.)"

Well ... it's possible to have anti-oppression work go badly. If we end up objectifying persons or groups of persons, then we have made a mistake.

But "fetishing the exotic" is not the intended goal of the Welcoming Congregation program and a purely mechanical focus on the exotic can derail anti-oppression work.

This potential danger is so real that the UUA curriculum "Weaving the Fabric of Diversity" has a very funny skit addressing this danger called "Diversities 'R Us."

Besides the focusing on the "exotic," the other issue that can derail programs like Welcoming Congregation and UU anti-racism work is fear. The work is challenging and often scary.

In my opinion, the desired goal of Welcoming Congregation and other anti-bias/anti-oppression work is to engage in the congregational "soul work" by providing opportunities for speaking, listening, and reflection.

Scott Wells:

February 21, 2005 09:56 PM | Permalink for this comment

No, I think all (or nearly) the sexual-minority-including programs have bone-headed names, the Lutheran and Presbyterian probably being the worst because they make theological claims (reconciled in Christ, anyone? more or less light?) at the expense of their opponents. Rather smug I think.

By contrast, the "Welcoming Congregation" comes off well.

But I don't go to church to validate some members' ideas of gay people, pro- or con-. Some churches may feel the need to go through the WC process, but I wouldn't choose a church because of it. Heck: I'm "exotic" enough being Christian.

Little wonder I go to a Christian church with a large gay minority?


February 22, 2005 05:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm sorry if the "sophisticated" bit came off as a crack.

I also am quite "red state" in my background having beeen raised in VA, gone to school in NC and LA, and worked as a reporter in SC before returning.

In northern VA, acceptance of homosexuality is a given. My gay high school friends came out in high school and publically. Meanwhile, I met a gay guy in SC who was in his mid-twenties and absolutely in the closet, terrified that any straight person would find out. (I only know because I'd gone to college with one of his ex-boyfriends and asked the guy if he knew the ex-boyfriend after hearing they had both once lived in the same town. Poor guy had some very sleepless nights because he thought I already knew. He came out to me awhile later and I've kept his secret since.)

I never said individuals in a rural area can't be sophisticated, but finding a church full of them is a shaky propoosition and some mass marketed program pulling them into sophistication is a shakier one.



February 22, 2005 08:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

I've been mostly staying out of this one, but I'll offer a few random thoughts.

1. The Adamses and Shaws and Barretts of the world were living out their personal faith, in private. They weren't seeking public forums for the sake of the publicity. They weren't trying to represent their co-religionists. They weren't mouthing off a bunch of highfalutin' hypothetical values and principles, with a strong underlying implication that other people would be better people if they were more like us. While they were living out their private faith in their own lives, the denomination was doing private "inside work", giving them and their congregations the personal and institutional framework that provided their firm foundation. I don't see Sinkford giving the same priority and resources to supporting the "inside work" and character development that he gives to hornblowing beyond our walls, and I feel cheated because of it.

2. The head of my congregation is one of two mothers in a two-parent household. Ours is a quiet suburban town. We have a lot of other gay couples with kids. We've never felt the need to become certified as a "welcoming congregation". The gay people in our congregation already feel completely welcomed (witness who we choose as leaders), and don't think it's necessary to put the church and their own children through the ordeal of additional work and negative publicity that would likely follow if we sought certification. In their minds it is better to be who we are than to brag about it.

3. My congregation doesn't want more "welcoming congregation" support, but it does want more RE resources that teach substantive religion to our kids, rather than just good citizenship and UUs-from-history (whose beliefs were not shared by many UUs today, and are not promoted in the historical material). We could barely scrape together two or three years of Bible-based curriculum material, and almost nothing with any substantive rigor teaching any other religious tradition in similar depth. We're finding we either have to look outside the denom to fill the gaps, or go without. We couldn't even find any material teaching Unitarianism and Universalism as valid living faiths rather than anachronistic history (and no, "Heresy Apparent" doesn't qualify). Parents who bristle at the beefed-up Biblical content ask why we don't balance it with similar stuff from other religions, and are surprised and annoyed to hear that there just isn't any. They get angry with the RE committee, but their anger is misdirected. They should be angry with HQ when it spends its resources promoting who we are to the outside world but can't give the individual congregations the tools they need to continue to be who we are.


February 22, 2005 08:06 PM | Permalink for this comment


who wishes she'd written it that way in the first place.

Steve Caldwell:

February 23, 2005 07:42 AM | Permalink for this comment

My long response to the "Welcoming Congregation" question can be found here.

My short response is it's better for us to promote the idea that we are BGLT-friendly ourselves instead of depending on popular culture (e.g. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) to market our social justice theology for us.


February 23, 2005 08:08 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm not opposed to self-promotion. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

But my short response to Steve's short response is that marketing and self-promotion cannot take the place of faith development, or we will eventually die from the inside out. I see a disturbing number of signs that too many UUs no longer know the difference. Whether that problem is being recognized and addressed at 25 Beacon is a question worth asking.


February 23, 2005 02:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yeah. What he said.



February 23, 2005 06:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Word UP.


February 23, 2005 06:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

I mean, word to the MOTHER on "too many UUs no longer know the difference."


February 23, 2005 07:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, I see: I leave town for the weekend and everybody goes and has a nice long conversation! Good job. And then there's an amen choir at the end. All we need now is a benediction followed by a postlude. How does it go? Amen. So be it. Blessed be. Word up.


February 23, 2005 09:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

**CC giggles happily, glad to see her meme of riving that tubular eighties slang is spreading...**



March 2, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink for this comment

Being the neophyte whose congregation went through the WC program before I ever attended, I won't presume to give an opinion on the merits of the program itself.

On the other hand, I don't think it takes "sophistication" to see the inherent worth and dignity - and the justice and desirability of equal treatment in church, society (including coffee hour), and under the law, of every person, gay or straight. I think that just takes a strong moral grounding. Being a life-long southerner with very little post-secondary education, I'm probably the least sophisticated person posting here... but I took it for granted when I started attending the UU of Chattanooga that the congregation - some "sophisticated", some not - would be more or less unanimous in their acceptance of one another, and that gays and lesbians would find a safe-haven there that they cannot find in the larger community.

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