Echos of GA 2007

I just read an article 3000 Unitarian Universalists Gather for National Convention, published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  It carries a similar theme as the one publised by the Oregonian last year, Unitarian Universalists Find They’re Almost Universally White.  Both came out during the midst of General Assembly, and carry a similar theme about racial diversity and race relations/justice making efforts internal to our congregations and association.

The article last year generated intense buzz.  The 2007 Oregonian article was generated by a reporter who interviewed me in 2001 in relationship to the US Census adopting the policy of allowing persons to check multiple racial identities.  To be frank, it was an article that complicated several relationships for me, perhaps more due to the negativity of the headline than anything.  I followed the protocol of informing my UUA superiors and UUMA Colleagues in the Pacific NW.   I regret that the article did not emphasize the vision and innovative ministries that I shared.  I have followed up with colleagues, and particularly the ministers at First Church Portland several times, and I’ve reached a level of understanding and peace with those I’ve had dialogue with.

I was surprised at the similar theme in the Florida Sun Sentinel article (although far less in-depth), and have not seen any response from the UUA as Bill Sinkford had published the next day (which is not available any longer at unfortunately).  I don’t know what the reaction has been against Nick Allen and Alice Mandt, both youth anti-racism leaders and trainer-organizers, and I expect it would not be as serious.  I expect that as a minister, and UUA staff at the time, I’m held to another standard.  Still, my heart goes out to them after my experience.

I’m curious about your impressions.  I’m doing a 4 part worship and workshop series on Race and Class in the fall, and plan to use these articles as part of the learning.  Would love your commentary to be included, with your permission of course.

Full Text of the Florida article is below.
3,000 Unitarian Universalists gather for national assembly

|South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Fort Lauderdale – As a Unitarian Universalist, Nick Allen embraces racial diversity and social justice — both in society and within his religion.

“We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, so clearly that calls on us to address issues of racism,” said Allen, 17, a high school senior from St. Paul, Minn. Allen helped run an anti-racism seminar for teenagers at a gathering of the predominantly white Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly on Saturday. “One of the goals is to ask ‘why are we so white? And why aren’t we more diverse?'”

Allen was among 3,000 clergy this week who mulled these and other weighty religious, social and cultural issues at the Broward Convention Center. Some attended worship services, while others participated in workshops on topics ranging from protecting civil liberties to forming grass roots organizations. The event began Wednesday and runs through today.

The Unitarian Universalist Association grew out of a merger 47 years ago of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. With nearly 221,000 members in 1,042 congregations, it is a theologically diverse religious group with no single creed that is among the nation’s most liberal. It blesses same-sex unions and the ordination of gays and lesbians. The movement draws on a plethora of beliefs, including atheism and liberal Christianity.

Alice Mandt, 19, a black Unitarian Universalist, said she welcomed open discussions about race and religion. Mandt and dozens of members of the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly Youth Caucus, ages 14 to 20, brainstormed ways to thwart racial, gender and sexual discrimination at the anti-racism seminar.

“There aren’t many people of color in the church,” said Mandt, a community college student from Madison, Wis. “So it’s important to have honest conversations about race. It is directly connected to broadening the appeal of the church.”

To that end, young clergy could effectively proselytize social justice and human dignity — among the church’s core principles — by learning to organize social movements, explained Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers, 47, a Unitarian Universalist who helped lead the anti-racism discussion.

“Teaching youth to engage in social movement building helps them to advocate our values,” said Christos-Rodgers, an HIV/AIDS program evaluator from New Orleans.

And it appears the message is getting through.

“This is the first time I had ever heard of Unitarian Universalists,” said Mercedes Duchange, a 59-year-old fashion designer from Pembroke Pines who attended the conference to network with clergy for Hispanic Unity, a nonprofit group that helps Hispanics learn English and gain citizenship. “Everyone is so spiritual here. If you want to join, they will accept you the way you are.”

Jennifer Gollan can be reached

or 954-385-7920.

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