My response to the Commission on Appraisal

Greetings:

I want to think the Commission on Appraisal for taking-on the difficult work of reviewing and recommending an update of the well-regarded “Principles and Purposes” C bylaws. To aid discussion, I posted the draft on my blog, “The Boy in the Bands” (www.boyinthebands.com) and followed with my own thoughts. Several persons replied there, and other bloggers — many of whom are ministerial colleagues — took up the challenge to express opinions on the proposal.

You may read my thoughts and the comments in full — complete with a provocative title to draw readers — at http://boyinthebands.com/archives/change-for-not-believing-in/

Because you surely have more submissions than time, I have summarized my points here:

Praise

1. Thanks to the COA for taking on the work, which is sure to please some and upset others.
2. The “Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences” phrasing is a vast improvement over the current reductionist approach to these traditions.
3. Adding the Facebook group was a wise step.

Criticism

1. The draft swims in jargon.
2. It is long, wordy and lacks mental hooks that will encourage people to own it.
3. It mixes the vital with the ephemeral. The reference to fabric in worship is offensively trivial.
4. It is strikingly prescriptive in actions and attitude.
5. Most importantly, it makes a leap from being a covenant between congregations to a covenant between the UUA and individual members.

This last point is the draft’s damning failure. I recommend the COA take this work as a vital exercise in self-reflection, and to start from scratch.

There’s an opportunity to create something beautiful, memorable and inclusive. This draft seems better suited to a corporate visioning or party platform process: useful to those who are in the middle of drafting it, but opaque and uneasy to those outside it.

The history of Unitarian and Universalist public faith statements have often come from a place of having something to prove to hostile or indifferent outsiders, and this “tradition” of uneasiness rings though this draft. To this end, I have two recommendations:

1. Do nothing until after the general election, and preferably until after the next presidential inauguration. While partisan politics have nothing per se to do with this process, the whole country is caught considering issues of rhetoric and identity that tints all other activities. This unusual time should not tint our Association’s process.

2. Consider a maximum length for the next proposal. While this might seem arbitrary and exclusively editorial, the discipline of restraint will surely let the clear intent of a new covenant come through.

Sincerely yours,
(The Rev.) Scott Wells
Washington, D.C.

3 Replies to “My response to the Commission on Appraisal”

  1. Well said Scott… well said… this is especially troubling for me: Most importantly, it makes a leap from being a covenant between congregations to a covenant between the UUA and individual members.

    They should wait until after the election. UUs way to caught up in politics at the moment and assum an Obama victory, Liberalism will be caught with a responsibility it hasn’t faced in a while. This could sound very different in six months.

  2. God BLESS you, child. I am going to be referring to this when I write my own response, whihc I need to do PRONTO. I keep trying to find the time to do it, but it will have to get done tomorrow. Your point about how the covenant has shifted is deeply upsetting to me and will be the point that I also underline.

  3. “Serving congregations” is the prevalent idea in all UUA activities right now, as we in the ICUU have experienced with a few pains and misunderstandings in the past few years, so it is hard to see how this new individualistic approach that you find in the draft will make its way into the final document. I think that it will be quickly reworded to adapt to the current UUA congregation-centered approach.

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