Does the UUA need another Voice?


I join the chorus in thanking Chris Walton for his work on the blog Philocrites.  In his “signing off” post Walton mentions the fairly short lived group blog Coffee Hour and the value of maintaining “truly public forums”…

It didn’t take long before a bunch of us were in regular conversation and thinking of ourselves as “UU bloggers.” Several of us worked together to launch Coffee Hour, a UU group blog, in 2004, and I was sorry to see it expire in 2005. (Dan Harper laments that many UUs have now opted for semi-public conversations at Facebook rather than in truly public forums, and I’m sorry that we didn’t have the energy or foresight to transform Coffee Hour into something more like a social networking site using Ning or Drupal to keep those conversations out in the open.)

Recently I read a 2008 report on UUA.org titled “Communications” summarizing various communication efforts of our association.  I was intrigued by the paragraphs discussing the autonomy and consolidation of our associations publications.

Unitarian Universalist Advance, an independent organization, launched its journal UU Voice in 1994 to provide a forum for discourse beyond a house organ. The Reverend Dr. Brent Smith, former editor, believes that the role of the journal is to increase the number of voices in communication. “There is a relationship between the strength of autonomous congregations and the multiple variety of forms of communication. To fulfill our role as autonomous congregations demands we have a variety of different communication vehicles,” Smith states.

Smith believes that our recent practices are becoming denominational rather than associational, with more centralization and consolidation. “I see a whole generation of ministers working in that centralized environment. With the UU Voice, we are concerned with the preservation of the free press and the free spirit. We want to hear many voices. Our interest is not in critiquing the UUA. We are focused on individual autonomous congregations.”

Walton’s remarks on maintaining “truly public forums” coupled with Smith’s cautions and the demise of the UU Voice leave me wondering if the larger Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations / Unitarian Universalist movement needs a voice – really a public conversation – separate from the UUA’s communications.   Are loosely connected bloggers with interwoven comments sufficient?

11 thoughts on “Does the UUA need another Voice?”

  1. “Or are loosely connected bloggers with interwoven comments sufficient?”

    No, this is not sufficient at all. The effect is as if the collective “We” of Unitarian Universalism have been reduced to operating as splinter cells. From what I’ve observed and experienced over the past few years, this unfortunate condition is creating mixed messages. This inconsistency manifests itself within our congregations, and out in the larger world.

    The good news today is that there is an increasing number of resources online. As mentioned in the entry, there are DIY social networks. Ning is respectable, albeit a bit awkward to navigate. A newer offering, Grou.ps has enhanced capabilities which allow for enhanced cross-network connectivity.

    http://grou.ps/

    Other services, such as Twitter and Google Wave, are not without merit. Although they do provide variable degrees of connectivity, they cannot provide a tangible sense of cohesiveness.

    An actual stand-alone social network, with features relevant to the needs of its community, can provide a vital, centralized hub.

  2. Yeah, I wrote a letter to the editor of the World a couple of years ago criticizing the use of the phrase “Fair Share.” (Just because a phrase rhymes doesn’t make it sing.) But the editorial policy of the World, I was subsequently informed, states that only letters that comment on previous World articles are eligible for publication.

    I was disappointed to hear back that they would not even CONSIDER allowing discourse on issues that they themselves hadn’t raised.

    Reject my letter if the topic is too narrow, or if I’m inarticulate, but don’t decide as policy that only the editorial staff can determine the issues we debate.

  3. I think we do need an independent communications arm, which is one reason why I blog. But the failure of the UUVoice to leap to the web was lost opportunity for it — might have shored up its organization — and for the quite vibrant Unitarian Universalist web ecosystem.

    But the missing piece — I’m working up an associated long-form post about a related issue — is advocacy. Fine opinions don’t change decisions, and there’s not a lot of evidence the associational decision-makers read the bloggers.

  4. [Updated to second draft]

    Peter, I’ve been having the same thoughts recently. (I may eventually put it all together in a blog post at my ole MUUsings Livejournal blog.) Just this morning I was wondering why we couldn’t still have a UU Advance, and why it isn’t funded appropriately. (I would suggest Veatch for that, and believe that if it’s done right it would eventually pay for itself.)

    What I’ve been wondering about is the need for a UU advocacy initiative. It could be an “Advance-like” endeavor, but I think that even a low-profile faith really does need a high-profile advocacy effort. As Jefferson stated, when the questions and facts are clearly defined, there are, no doubt, many who would embrace our liberal faith community. Just as importantly, there are countless others who would have a better concept of who we are and what we represent in this faster-moving, ever-shrinking world.

    But the facts do need to be clearly stated, and that’s where we need a coalition of articulate theologians, historians, clergy and layleaders who can tell our story, instead of leaving a public void in which others (with other vested interests) are only too quick to fill. If our advocacy efforts were effective, then statements like those from Garrison Keillor wouldn’t bother us nearly as much.

    Today, on the “Unitarian Universalism” Facebook group, I posted a “today in history” item about John Hamilton Thom, who joined forces with other leading Unitarians of his day in England to debate the criticisms of other Anglican clergy about Unitarianism. That could still happen. We can have a public voice that deals with the needs of the present day, and instead of simply debating scripture, our study would be of “real-world scripture” of common sense and common human issues.

    I really admire those Universalist circuit-riding ministers of times past, who would not only go around the country gathering small groups and possible congregations, but also debating religion with the fundamentalists. I also am a big fan of the ministry of 20th century Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies, who had a very clear vision of public advocacy as a part of his sacred duty. (Not coincidentally, he also was a primary mover behind the original Unitarian Advance project.)

    One of my religious mentors, a rural Georgia Universalist, farmer and small-town mayor named Haynie Summers, was also editor of the Universalist Herald publication. In one issue of the Herald, he made a statement that has stuck with me for almost forty years: “To me, religion should include everybody and be concerned with everybody. The more I learn about the actions of human beings, the more sure I am that any activity that pits one individual, one group, one nationality or one race against another is wrong, and is not good religion.” We have nothing to be ashamed of, I believe, in proclaiming the high-road of “good religion” that heals and seeks to bring people together (in their myriad interests and styles and customs) instead of building walls and barriers to keep us apart, and in proclaiming the “good news” of a world where freedom and unity, respect and compassion, love and mercy can grow together.

    I think we almost have a duty to proclaim that good news of “good religion” (whatever the name) over the destructive tendencies of “bad religion” (whatever the name), and of humility in ALL religion — admitting that none of us have all the answers, even those who founded and grew the various world religions. In our liberal tradition, all of us are ultimately “priests” and “prophets,” but I’m convinced that we still need a place at the table of public advocacy on a societal level.

    While I continue to develop that blog post, I would love to know what other people think about this subject. Thanks again, Peter, for all that you are doing!

  5. I think most of us who identify with the UU faith do so because of our local congregation or perhaps to some internet connection or to the UU World. One of my best friends has not attended a service at her church in several years but still serves her local congregation in a limited capacity.

    I think it is the local congregations that need to get their message out in whatever way that is appropriate. They do not need to necessarily take their cues from the home office in Boston. I agree that we are all priests and prophets and we should live our lives accordingly.

  6. Mickbic, that was one of the things I was contemplating as well, but in my own mind at least, I think we also need that place in the larger conversation to make it clear that there are other valid (or arguably even better, from a global healing perspective) ways to look at religion other than fundamentalism. Whether it comes from UUA, or from some independent source, I think we need that third voice in some of those “all or nothing” debates over hardline religion versus anti-religious secularism.

    Much of the USA still sees UU as an outsider faith, as an asterisk hardly worthy of consideration. Only to the extent that we can establish some degree of legitimacy and persuasiveness in the public arena will society begin to sit up and take notice that we just might have something important to say…that we even have our own “tradition” and “heritage” that’s worthy of consideration. Powell Davies did that in his high-profile ministry. His was a courageous, high-profile ministry, which even challenged the evangelists to debate him…even Billy Graham*…and which earned the respect from Washington politicians and Supreme Court Justices who came to hear what he had to say on the issues of the day from a liberal-religious perspective.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,815957,00.html?iid=chix-sphere

    Today, in contrast, our more famous UU’s seem thoroughly ashamed to even use the name for fear of condemnation. (Davies then was able to establish many new UU congregations which today have thousands of new members…it’s not an either-or proposition.)

    Here in the Bible Belt I could tell many stories about how lonely it is “out here in the UU hinterlands.” In Facebook groups like the “Unitarian Universalists of Georgia” and “South Carolina Unitarian Universalists,” I hear them quite often…about the struggles people are having with family members and friends, in trying to convince them that UU is a valid faith-alternative and not a cult. Being a religious liberal should be a cause for pride and honor, no matter where you happen to live or how close you are to a UU congregation. And, in a highly-mobile society, I believe that should be an important consideration.

  7. Peter, you ask: “[Does] the larger Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations / Unitarian Universalist movement needs a voice – really a public conversation – separate from the UUA’s communications?” Absolutely. Why, I even wrote about that need and described how a visionary independent publisher could set up a good online periodical back in June 2006 when “UU Voice” announced its imminent demise.

    You also asked: “Or are loosely connected bloggers with interwoven comments sufficient?” It’s not sufficient, because a loose web is too fragmented to draw or sustain attention from a broad audience. I suspect that very few UU blogs attract the regular interest of even a small fraction of UU leaders.

  8. As former editor of the New UU Voice, I definitely believe we need a new Voice. The movement does not know how to jettison things that don’t work anymore, and current UU publications read as though they were written in the 1970s.

    My new blog, http://www.TenMinutesOrLess.blogspot.com is an attempt to introduce issues that are lacking in our discussion today. This blog is written for many faiths, but the issues are similar.

  9. I’m less than convinced that asking a bunch of UU bloggers whether there needs to be more UU blogging is a great way to determine the best communications policy.
    While the UU Voice may have tagged itself as not focused on the UUA, but independent congregations – every issue I ever read was sharply critical of the UUA, usually at length.

    I often saw in UU Voice and still in some ministerial blogs a lot of text devoted to slamming UU denominationalism. But, I don’t recall ever seeing a sincere defense of it. You can’t really have a debate, or for that matter an informed conversation with just one side of an issue being presented.

    1. Hi David, I agree that we need balanced publications. That or multiple publications with different purposes. As for asking bloggers, I see asking the question here as a way of simply asking the question. I wish every UU blogger conversation had a means for becoming a conversation at the local congregational level.

      Wouldn’t it be interesting if significant conversations raised in in the UU blogging community were turned into small group ministry sessions? Oh, if only I had a dozen iMinistry interns…

      Whatever issue is being discussed, a question has to be raised somewhere in order or it to be picked up and discussed by our larger UU community. I’ve been pleased to see that a number of congregations are publishing various feeds from uupdates.net on their websites making UU blog conversations more visible to non bloggers.

      What do you think about the need for additional UU publications? Do you think we’re fine with primarily UUA publications or would you like to see others?

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