Notes From An Exit

To begin the story, eleven years ago Karen and I joined what we found to be a very positive and uplifting community of UUs at Buckman Bridge UU Church (BBUUC) in Jacksonville, FL. This congregation was a liberal island in the midst of a very conservative sea. It was lay-led and had a much higher energy level for volunteer service than any other congregation of which I have been a member. Over the years, many other liberal individuals and families who moved to Jacksonville found us and the congregation grew.

Saving the middle for later, here is the end of the story. For a variety of reasons Karen and I resigned our membership in BBUUC this past July [2021]. What I am sharing next is the message I sent to the dozen or so members of BBUUC who expressed concern when we left.

BBUUC members and friends,

    • BBUUC has meant very much to Karen and me over the past decade. In the past several years, however, the national UUA has changed greatly. There are new pressures we both find very unnecessary and unwelcome.
    • There is one issue I would like to share regarding our departure from BBUUC. The UUA has been extraordinary for its sensitivity to the feelings of people of color, people who are disabled, and people who are transgendered. The Commission On Institutional Change spent three years soliciting stories of harm experienced by people of color in UU congregations. The Standing On The Side Of Love campaign became the Side With Love campaign with respect for people who are disabled. To clarify gender identity, all UUs are now encouraged to share the pronouns by which they wish to be addressed in most or all communications.
    • Nonetheless, when it comes to white UUs, sensitivity is lacking. There is no hesitancy to tell white UUs that they are, knowingly or unknowingly, supporters of “White Supremacy Culture.” We who take seriously the current meaning of “White Supremacy Culture” in the United States today feel gaslighted. There is no doubt in the larger society today that White Supremacy and White Supremacy Culture mean something very evil and sinister. The choice by the leadership of the UUA to assert that the UUA is “swimming in a sea of white supremacy” (UUA President Susan Frederick Gray in an open UUA Board Meeting in May of 2021) is incomprehensible.
    • Combine this with the words from UUA owned Beacon Press’s bestselling book ever, White Fragility, by Robin DeAngelo, “a positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.” (p. 149) These messages to white UUs are aggressive slams, slaps in the face, moral put downs.
    • What do I support? Approaches to antiracism that make judgments based on a person’s actions and the content of their character rather than on the color of their skin or ethnic origin. Approaches to antiracism that target unjust laws and institutional policies rather than white identity. Approaches to antiracism based on collaboration across racial and ethnic lines and utilization of all the talent and skills available. That kind of antiracism has won significant gains for racial justice in many times and places. That includes Jacksonville’s Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment (ICARE) Church Based Community Organization in which many BBUUC members participate.
    • White parents need to consider the self-identity development of their children. Do they want them to learn that they are inescapably racist because of their skin color and must always work uphill to only partially overcome the shame and disgrace of that identity? Or do you want them to grow up with strong sensitivity to racism and injustice in the world combined with a personal sense of power that they can achieve change by working together with others from any background to identify needed changes and go all out to achieve those changes? Which message do you want your children to hear on a regular basis?

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What happened in the middle of the story? And where to next? These are topics Karen and I will address during the UUMUAC Third Wednesday Vesper Service on Zoom in May. Here are some spoiler highlights.

Karen and I both held leadership positions at BBUUC. Being CPE certified, Karen became a volunteer Chaplain shortly after we joined in 2011. She continued that post until we both decided to leave in July of 2021. Along the way she recruited and provided the training for an effective volunteer Pastoral Care Team. She also became an ICARE Team Leader.

In April of 2014 we both attended the ICARE Nehemiah Assembly. We witnessed local history being made as a large (over 2,000), integrated, core of members from 38 religious congregations in Jacksonville confronted the school superintendent, the mayor, and a mental health CEO to make specific desired improvements in their organizations’ delivery of public services. I subsequently interviewed the Lead Organizer for ICARE to learn how it worked and how we could join. In August, Karen and I and several others presented a proposal for BBUUC to join ICARE to the church Board and it was passed. BBUUC’s ICARE Justice Ministry Network membership grew from 16 in 2015 to 37 in 2021. We brought over 90 people to the Nehemiah Assembly in 2021.

ICARE involvement at BBUUC provides a significant contrast to UUA antiracism projects initiated at BBUUC beginning in 2019. ICARE is antiracist in a very practical way. It discerns real issues of discriminatory laws and practices at the local level by itself and at the state level by working with similar groups in other cities. It researches what can be done for positive change. It mobilizes people power to create the necessary tension with officials to motivate them to make the changes. Both white people and black people are seen as real assets to the cause.

By contrast, UUA antiracism programs stress a generalized White Supremacy Culture, overwhelming white guilt, and segregated identity development. The entire problem of racism is seen as inside the white soul which must be purified. Only Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC) are seen as unambiguous assets to the cause. White people must be monitored by people of color “to do what they say they will do” whatever that is. There is no direct attention to discriminatory laws and policies.

Have you guessed how I got in trouble?

My first infraction was to include a story in the March, 2021, ICARE Council report about a conversation that happened in a Zoom breakout room during an ICARE Board meeting. A member of one of the African Methodist Episcopal churches in Jacksonville asked me what Unitarian Universalism was all about. I blocked. My elevator speech before that time highlighted how UUs can be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, even Athiest. The one thing that held them together in my experience was a strong commitment to compassion that reached out to justice issues among other things. That night, in that breakout room, all I could think about was how according to the new UU dogma, all white people are supporters of White Supremacy Culture. I couldn’t give an articulate answer to the question I was asked. (Who would want to belong to a church deeply submerged in White Supremacy Culture?)

That Council Report went to the Board. The virtual pastor’s report in the Board minutes included the words “BBUUC conflict developing related to Gadfly Book’s perspective.” The die was cast.

My second infraction happened when forty-year veteran of UU ministry, Rev. Kate Rohde, was kicked out of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association (UUMA) and lost her ministerial credentials for Facebook posts disagreeing with the party line. I took twenty minutes at the next Council meeting to present the details and my feelings about what was going on. The only response was from our virtual minister. “She was bullying people.” (In the UUMA, “bullying” means arguing a point the other person doesn’t want to hear. Do people ever disagree with you on your Facebook pages? Do you have the power to get them fired for thinking that way? If you had the power, would you use it? That is what happened to Rev. Rohde.)

My last and final infraction was to send an email to about 25 people who had attended either of two Candidate Forums held for UUA Board Candidates. Karen organized a Forum for Jay Kiskel, and our virtual minister organized a Forum for Sam Trumbore. The email I sent after those forums and just before the annual General Assembly included Allan Pallay’s statistical analysis of Widening The Circle Of Concern along with a brief statement of my own panning the validity of the research in that volume. Our virtual Pastor’s response was swift. Henceforth I could only address these issues with her, with the Board President, and one other person she named.

Karen had already decided to leave BBUUC and I was finally ready. Why didn’t we stay and fight it out? The simple answer is that few if any BBUUC members wanted the congregation to split. I didn’t either. In conservative Jacksonville, FL, liberal UUs quickly become each other’s family. And most BBUUC members were not prepared to understand the issues if we did continue the fight. Sermons and classes for congregational leaders stressing white guilt and how much harm was being done to BIPOC people hadn’t happened yet.

Karen and I resigned from BBUUC on July 13, 2021. We both spent a lot of time with our oldest son before he died of cancer on Sept. 18. After that I prepared for and underwent my second knee replacement surgery. By February of 2022, I was ready to rejoin ICARE. Two very capable Team Leaders had taken over ICARE at BBUUC when we left. They invited me to reconnect with ICARE at BBUUC which I readily did.

To our virtual minister, that couldn’t happen. In late February 2022 she sent an email ordering that I stop participating with any BBUUC organization until or unless I apologized to a small committee for causing “harm” and committed to support UUA policies and antiracism programs. (When repeatedly approached by an individual to support the 8th Principle which I did not favor, I resisted. I was later told I had “harmed” that person.)

Since participation in ICARE is based on congregational membership, the door was now closed for participating in ICARE with BBUUC. Karen and I decided to implement a plan we had been thinking about. We created the Seven Principles Fellowship. It is currently a House Church but has potential for growth! We picked up several members before holding our first meeting. ICARE is glad to have us.

As mentioned above, tune in on Zoom for the May 2022 UUMUAC Vesper Service for an occasion where we can talk about where things might go from here for persons and families who recognize the spiritual bankruptcy of much of the current UUA programming.

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