Friday, June 8, 2007
A Window into the World: A Preliminary Exploration into the Diversity Efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Religious Education
Friends and Colleagues: This is a work in progress. To date, this essay represents one of my most ambitious research efforts other than my dissertation research. I am eternally grateful to Eugene Navias for his fine essay on the History of UU RE that formed the basis for the RE section and thus made this paper so much richer. I am also indebted to Kathleen Carpenter, DRE at UU Church of Charlotte who has always responded to my inquiries with critical feedback in a timely manner although my turn around time usually is short and unreasonable. I thank you. I am greatly appreciative of Taquiena Boston's lengthy feedback that engaged me in a real way and provoked some creative thinking for me. I cannot leave out John Crestwell. Reading his book I was so inspired by Davies Memorial and the possibility that maybe, just maybe, UUA and local congregations could figure out how to do the diversity piece effectively. I cannot leave out Jacquelyn Lewis. This paper reflects so much of her thinking and the notes that I took while attending the recent conference, Now is the Time: Leading Congregations into a Multiracial, Multicultural Future on February 16-18, 2007. Thank you UUA for that gem. A final note to my instructor, Dr. Julia Speller, wise woman that she is. You allowed me to alter the assignment considerably in order to accomodate my vision for this research so that I could attempt to pull together information that might actually inform us about our diversity history and whether there are sufficient parallels in our RE efforts. My findings are they do not necessarily do so sufficiently. The fact that there are currently no people of color in the Life Span RE Department should be of great concern as we move forward as a movement, denomination and association.
I have included a table of contents so that readers can move quickly to those sections of interest since this is a lengthy paper. However, I only view it as the beginning of a very comprehensive historical overview on UUism that I am undertaking.
Blessings! and please send me your feedback and concrete suggestions.
Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION Page 1
OVERVIEW OF UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM Page 1
Consolidation Page 4
Unitarian Universalist Association Page 4
REVIEW OF THE RELEVANT LITERATURE Page 7
Intersection of Anti-racism, Anti-oppression and
Multiculturalism In the Unitarian Universalist
Association Page 8
Unitarian Universalist Black Empowerment Era Page 9
Open Membership Page 10
Efforts towards Racial Diversity Page 11
Culturally Specific Congregations Page 19
MULTICULTURAL AP ROACH TO EDUCATION Page 2
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF UNITARIAN UNIVER-
SALIST RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND ITS SOCIAL,
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND THEOLOGICAL
FOUNDATIONS Page 28
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AS A CORRECTIVE TOOL
TO ELIMINATE OPPRESSION Page 41
FINDINGS Page 43
HOW CAN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM BECOME MORE
DIVERSE? Page 47
STRATEGIES Page 49
CONCLUSION Page 49
BIBLIOGRAPHY Page 51
A Window into the World: A Preliminary Exploration of Possible Parallels in the Diversity Efforts of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Religious Education
A Critical Reflection Paper by Qiyamah A. Rahman
No religious movement can thrive without a vibrant ever renewed commitment to religious education. Thus, nurturing spiritual and intellectual growth for children, youth and adults remains one of the most compelling challenges facing faith communities, including Unitarian Universalists in the twenty-first century. However, adding the lack of diversity to religion and religious education is a very sobering thought when we pause to reflect on the realization that 11AM on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. The following essay identifies and discusses the social, psychological, and theological foundations of Unitarian Universalists religious education (RE). Because the implications of RE in culturally diverse congregations (multicultural) and culturally specific (monocultural) congregations is such a compelling issue in light of the lack of diversity, this paper will include an overview of Unitarian Universalism, its efforts with diversity and an overview of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education. The thesis guiding this research is that while multicultural curriculum reflects the vision for UU congregations, the social, psychological and theological foundations of RE are not clearly articulated or accessible.
Overview of Unitarian Universalism
Most Unitarians and Universalists trace their roots in the United States back to Massachusetts settlers and founders of the Republic. Many of the early colonies were actually started by Puritans that immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution in Europe. Episcopal King’s Chapel (EKC) was among the first of the already existing churches to convert to Unitarianism in Boston in 1784. King’s Chapel exists today and continues to serve its small membership in the heart of downtown Boston in walking distance from the UUA headquarters. In 1802, the oldest Pilgrim church in America, The Church of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, founded in 1620, converted to Unitarianism when its congregation cast a majority vote in 1800. An estimated 135 of 544 Congregational churches had converted to Unitarianism by 1840. Many of these according to William J. Whalen were the larger and more affluent congregations. Unitarians espoused the belief that Jesus was a man chosen by God, but not God himself. Early Unitarians, grounded in their Christian beliefs embraced the Bible but saw no evidence to affirm the Trinity. Thus for them there was Jesus, a prophet of God and there was God.
Universalism was primarily introduced in America through the efforts of John Murray. Murray, a former Methodist preached the first ever Universalist sermon in 1770 in America. Murray’s message was one of hope. His message differed significantly from the prevailing theology of Calvinism which promoted the belief that God saved a chosen few and thus, the fate of all others was helplessly doomed. Consequently, Murray’s message appealed to those excluded by Calvinism. The new doctrine of universal salvation began to spread in the late 18th century. The gospel of a saving salvation particularly appealed to rural and small town folks. Thus began
Universalism in America.
While some considered Unitarians and Universalists theologically similar enough to contemplate consolidation, class wise they could not have been more different. Unitarians generally comprised the upper middle and privileged classes such as lawyers, doctors, educators and elected officials. The Universalists on the other hand primarily drew their followers from the ranks of the middle and working class that mostly consisted of farmers.
Between 1791 and 1820 Unitarianism was called “the faith of the well-to-do, urban New Englanders.” Harriet Beecher Stowe noted in the 1820’s that, “All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarians. All the trustees and professors of Harvard College were Unitarians and all the elite of wealth and fashion crowded Unitarian churches.” Unitarianism began to achieve institutional identity when many of the established churches split. Hence many Puritan churches became Unitarian. In 1825 the American Unitarian Association was formed as a publishing and educational arm to enhance its infrastructure and to promote the availability of resource materials for its followers.
Social justice and reform have been a consistent priority of Unitarians and Universalists throughout their existence. The first organized Universalist church in America began in 1779 in Gloucester, Massachusetts and included Gloster Dalton, an African American freed slave among its charter members. Universalists, according to Whalen, were the first religious body in this country to oppose slavery in 1790. Some note worthy Unitarian abolitionist personalities included African American Unitarian female abolitionists though less well known and celebrated: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charlotte Forten and Florida Ruffin Ridley. William Lloyd Douglass, Reverend Theodore Parker, Reverend Samuel May, Sarah and Angelina Grimke and Maria Chapman are among some of the Unitarians that joined Blacks. Among the Universalists were Clement and Origen of Alexandria, George de Benneville, Christopher Sauer, John Murray, James Relly, Elhanan Winchester, Hosea Ballou, Caleb Rich, Kenneth L. Patton, Annie Bissel Jordan Willis, Mary and Joseph Jordan, and Robert Cumming.
One hundred years before the actual consolidation of the two religious bodies, Unitarians and Universalists, there had been overtures leading to the historic moment. The rationale for consolidation included the following: 1) to maximize the existence of the many small congregations which was proving frustrating and not fiscally feasible; 2) to reduce the duplication of unnecessary organization, equipment and personnel and 3) to provide for the successful fulfillment of missions. As a result, the two faith communities consolidated, combining their liberal religious voices, memberships and influence to essentially double their influence. On May 11, 1961, in the city of Boston, these two liberal faith communities, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America were consolidated as the Unitarian Universalist Association and thus began a new era.
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s 160,000 members living in the United States represent diverse theological beliefs. The 1,004 congregations located in the United States range in size from thirty members to approximately two thousand. The average congregational membership is approximately 150 members. The largest number of congregations are still located in New England, where Unitarianism planted its initial roots. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is an association of Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations. The UUA’s operating budget is almost six million dollars and is primarily derived from congregational dues. The country is divided into districts staffed by individuals co-employed by both the UUA and District boards of directors. The UUA is governed by a Board of Trustees consisting of District Trustees selected by the 21 district at-large Trustees that are elected to General Assembly. General Assembly is the annual business meeting where important resolutions are explored and brought to the membership for approval through majority rules. Recently the UUA elected its first African American to serve as President of the Association at The Quebec City General Assembly in 2003. Rev. William Sinkford now carries the torch passed from seven previous UUA Presidents.
UUism is a creedless religion that espouses seven basic principles and practices in the United States. They include the following:
We covenant to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
“We do not have a uniform ritual practice, or a set of doctrines, or a creedal dogma or central authority that tells us what to do or believe. The principles to which we have covenanted comprise a religious center that is both solid and profound and provide s guidance in our inner and outer, private and public, individual and social lives” Many contemporary Unitarian Universalists view the Bible as one of many sources of knowledge and inspiration, subject to the same critical analysis and scrutiny of any text. Thus, like most religious liberals, Unitarian Univeralists approach the Bible as a historical account of peoples struggling to make sense and purpose of their lives, recounting their remarkable stories of faith, celebration and struggle. Thus the Bible is viewed as an ongoing revelation, whose interpretations are not sealed but fluid and open to diverse interpretations.
The primary purpose of the UUA is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen UU institutions and implement its principles. Each of the 21 districts elects a Trustee to the UUA board, and comprises thirty-two members.
Local congregations are autonomous and have final authority in decision making calling and terminating their ministers. Relationships between churches and denominational headquarters are voluntary. A 1997 denominational study showed that 90 percent of current members are converts to UUism. Overwhelmingly UUs are European Americans with a very small percentage of UUs of color. According to denominational rankings in Barry Kosmin and Seymour P. Lachman’s, One Nation Under God, UUs are ranked number one in education and number two in income. In the past two decades there has been “a shift in the center of gravity” with evidence of liberal Christian theology abounding according to current UUA President Bill Sinkford. John Buehrens, Sinkford’s predecessor, notes a common pattern that suggests many early Humanists in the 50s have moved to a more theistic position. Until the late 1980’s humanism was the most prominent ideology shared among UU members. Buehrens attributes UUs theological diversity to its ability to attract diverse spiritualities.
During the 50s the three distinctly prevalent ideologies/theologies identified among UUs were humanists, theists and liberal Christians according to Buehrens.
UUs have often been at the forefront of many progressive changes. They were the first “main line” denomination to affirm services of union for gay and lesbian couples in the country. Among its ministerial rolls, females reflect 51% of UU ministers, the highest per capita number of women ministers settled in congregations of any denomination in North America. During the “Sanctuary Movement” in the 1960s UU congregations represented the second highest number of “sanctuary congregations” for Central American refugees accepting political prisoners fleeing persecution. During the civil rights movement the UUA Board responded to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.s’ call to Birmingham and the entire board and approximately one hundred ministers traveled south to support the civil rights efforts of Blacks. Two well known UUs, Reverend James Reeb and Viola Luizzo, were martyred.
Today, many denominations routinely own publishing companies. Beacon Press, is the UU’s publishing arm, specializes in established authors such as: Sonia Sanchez; James H. Cone; Howard Zinn; Robert P. Moses; Alvin F. Poussaint; Margot Adler; Cornel West; Thich Nhat Hanh; Octavia Bugtler; Viktor E. Frankl; Gayl Jones; and James Baldwin. One of the most controversial books published to date was the Pentagon Papers. This book detailed the secret study of United States involvement in the Vietnam War that was allegedly leaked by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, Jr. The two men were charged with espionage, theft and conspiracy. Judge William Matthew Byrne, JR. dismissed the case in 1973.
Review of the Relevant Literature
The review of the relevant literature focuses on an overview to anti-racist/anti-oppressive and multiculturalism in the UUA with a focus on some of its key efforts to achieve diversity. This is provided as a window into culturally diverse and culturally specific congregations and the journey traveled by the UUA over the years. Finally, this section will include an overview on the history of multicultural f Religious education in this country and finally, an overview of the dev elopement of religious education in UUism with a focus on social, psychological and theological foundations .
Intersection of Anti-racism, Anti-oppression and Multi-culturalism in the Unitarian Universalist Association
In 1988, the Reverend Mark Morrison-Reed, an African-American raised UU since early childhood, preached a sermon in Detroit titled, “How Open the Door? How Loud the Call?” His sermon reviewed the history of UU congregations that had
successfully integrated from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Morrison-Reed identified five
common characteristics in these successfully integrated congregations: 1) All were in large urban areas (New York, Chicago and Washington, DC) where religious preference could be pursued because family and group ties were less powerful; 2) The areas all had a large black middle class; 3) the ministers and congregations were “visibly and vocally concerned with issues of race relations and justice, thus the church became identified as one sympathetic with the African American agenda; 4) Each congregation took intentional and, specific actions to open their doors and to be inclusive; and 5) It took time to achieve racial diversity. However, in spite of the efforts of these “integrated congregations” Unitarian Univeralism continues to experience challenges in successfully recruiting and retaining African-Americans and other people of color. Despite the theological and ideological challenges that some African-Americans experience and the exposure to racism, there are others who flourish in the UU culture. Reverend Bill Sinkford, the first African-American President, elected by the UUA is such an example. His spiritual journey has taken him from atheist to theist minister, and now to President of the small but powerful movement of Unitarian Univeralists.
The Unitarian Universalists Black Empowerment Era
Our history in regards to racial justice is brave enough to make you proud, tragic enough to make you cry, and inept enough to make you laugh once anger passes.
For the Unitarian Universalist Association there were many issues around the inclusion of Blacks as members that posed challenges in a racially conscious society, especially in the Southern black congregations. Despite their loyalty and proven leadership, many Black Unitarian Universalists have encountered pain and adversity in their chosen faith of Unitarian Universalism. Most reports reveal the subtle effects of racism and the unpleasant reality of simply being the “only one” or one of a few. The insensitivities and unwillingness to embrace change has in some instances created tensions between black Unitarian Universalists and white Unitarian Universalists. Two controversies involving Blacks highlight some of these tensions: 1) open membership, and 2) the Black Empowerment Era.
At the 1963 General Assembly one of the issues addressed was the exclusionary practices of African-Americans in several rural Southern Univeralist congregations. This proposal, intended to exclude the congregations that were excluding blacks, was defeated. Congregational polity, the right to self governance and autonomy, was at the heart of this defeat. The overwhelming majority of the UU membership opposed exclusion of blacks in southern congregations. However, there was a stronger belief in the freedom of religion and therefore an unwillingness to excommunicate or take actions against individuals engaging in racism. To do so some believed, challenged congregational polity.
The second controversy that challenged Black and White UUs was the years known as the Black Empowerment Era. In the opinion of many UUs, this period was one of the most painful in the history of black and white relations. In 1970, Sinkford, along with a number of African American members, left UUism. Many never returned, thus causing the demise of several inner-city UU congregations. Sinkford was among those who reconciled and returned ten years later. The external environment in October, 1967 in this country had been filled with “a summer of racially-charged riots and a perceived rending of American society.” In response, the UUA’s Commission on Religion and Race convened an, “Emergency Conference on UU Response to the Black Rebellion” at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City. The Black UU Caucus (BUUC) was created during that conference. BUUC worked over the next year on a proposal recommending an annual budget of $250,000 to be allocated over a four year period. The proposal was designed to address racial injustices. The proposal was presented at the 1968 General Assembly in Cleveland and approved, despite the growing financial problems of the UUA. In hindsight, multiple factors have been identified that contributed to the escalation of racial tensions within UUA. The 1997 Report of the UUA Commission on Appraisal noted several factors: 1) “the strong passions and competing ideologies about how racial parity should be approached, 2) self-empowerment strategies” of the stakeholders that included the Black Affairs council (BAC), the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus (BUUCC), and Black and White Alternative (BAWA); 3) “existing structures of governance and presumed consensus about how the business of the Association should be carried out” and 4) questions of power and control about UU identity and who speaks for the UUA. In recent times a number of efforts have been initiated to heal the still infectious wounds of the Black Empowerment Era. They include: 1) conversations with participants held on January 20, 2001 at Starr King School for the Ministry, 2) a series of forums and discussions held at the 2004 General Assembly that included many of the original participants in the controversial Black Empowerment meeting in 1963, including Mtangalezi AKA Hayward Henry, Victor Carpenter, and many others.
Efforts towards Racial Diversity
In 1994 over 500 UU’s, including 100 UU’s of color, were interviewed by telephone by UUA staff and consultants to gain an understanding of the attitudes and activities on congregational diversity. That study indicated that the attitude and support of the ministers are critical to congregation’s efforts to achieve diversity. In 1995, just over 200 UU ministers were interviewed by telephone to gain insights into general about ministers roles and responsibilities to achieve diversity. Over seventy percent of UU’s interviewed thought that it is possible for their congregations to become more culturally diverse, more racially diverse or both. The survey findings concluded noted that intentionality is required to become more diverse. The research further indicated that in order for genuine change to take place the congregation and the minister would have to work together to prioritize diversity in the life of the congregation and to place it on the congregation’s agenda. The research clearly indicated that it is critical for ministers and congregations to be intentional about doing diversity work together. In the same study, fear was cited as the key factor that stops individuals from moving forward on diversity issues. Some of the specific fears and the percentage of ministers were indicated as follows:
• We would settle for a token level of diversity 44%
• We have not yet dealt adequately with our own prejudice 34%
• People will be uncomfortable with the possibility of conflict 31%
• We are all afraid of what we don’t know 30%
• We will lose our sense of being a safe and healing community
if there is racial or cultural conflict 26%
• We aren’t really committed to knowing diverse people as human beings 26%
Although roughly three in ten ministers indicated they had no concerns if their congregations were to try to become more racially diverse, ministers expressed the following fears:
• Fear of conflict/lack of understanding 19%
• Failure/lack of commitment/follow-through 15%
• Resistance to/fear of change 15%
In another survey, Reverend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, an African-American minister that served as a Consultant to the UUA, interviewed twenty-eight individuals from five congregations started by African-American UU ministers. The survey identified the common profile of the African-American members as, “people in historically Black churches who are unhappy with a dogmatic theology; and authoritarian structures.” These same individuals, contended Bowen-Wheatley, were attracted to UUism because they “are in search of a place where spiritual or theological diversity is encouraged.” The two conditions identified by Bowens-Wheatley that would in fact contribute to the increased successful recruitment of African-Americans were the following:
1. a greater tolerance for theist perspectives and honoring the fact that the experience of Jesus has been a source of great inspiration in the African-American community and
2. an educational process on issues of polity – one that values the positive contributions of the Black church.
According to Bowens-Wheatley, the lack of acknowledgement of a collective decision-making process within congregations is disruptive and unhealthy for congregational growth. She noted the difficulties in building multicultural congregations. Her findings indicated that training was clearly needed for clergy, lay leaders and the new start covenant congregations. Training recommendations emphasized valuing and honoring differences in context, worship and administrative styles, comparative polity, including the pros and cons of how UU congregations are governed and special emphasis on context that is racial, cultural and class differences in leadership.
Because of the lack of success in growing intentionally diverse congregations the UUA appears to have no further plans to pursue the planting of intentionally diverse congregations. However, the organic emergence of congregational diverse communities is a strong candidate for success and will be discussed at length in a later section. This same report cites the UUA/Congregation’s District and Extension Services staff’s inexperience in growing intentionally diverse congregations. The UUA had little experience or programmatic support on how to build or sustain intentionally diverse congregations. As a result they inadvertently contributed to their demise through their insistence on diversity of membership, as well as placing ministers of color in new congregational settings rather than considering other ministries where they might have been more successful. In some instances the resistance and hostility to the minister was one of the factors that contributed to the failed outcome. Finally, the inadequate financial support posed problems with sustainability which may have inadvertently created a dependency relationship between UUA and intentionally diverse congregations as noted by the UUA. There was also a stronger interest in building multicultural congregations among European Americans than among African-Americans. There were competing perspectives about congregational focus and identity among clergy and laity about what it meant or how it would work to be diverse or multicultural. Some organizing ministers and/or the congregation felt disempowered and constrained by the decisions, attitudes and assumptions of others – either the covenanting congregation, the UUA or the District.
One of the critical strategies supported by UUA and the Veatch Program, a UU foundation, to promote racial and cultural diversity was support for persons of color moving into ministry, including transfers from other denominations. In 1998-99 financial support was provided for seven interns of color. UUA also supported two “first ministries” for fellowshipped UU ministers of color. These time limited grants in settings which provided maximum professional formation opportunities, were tailored to the specific needs of the ministers and congregations. In previous years the Department of Congregations, District and Extension Services offered support for congregations whose mission focused on ministry to persons of color. The focus was instead a “diversity of congregations” rather than merely racially diverse congregations. The six congregations that participated in this program at the conclusion of 1999 were:
• Tahlequah, Oklahoma – This congregation “graduated” from their ministry support program with a membership of 1/3 Native American located in the capital of the Cherokee Nation;
• Palisades, New Jersey – intentionally racially and culturally diverse; was the successful internship site for a minister of color;
• San Jose, California – two ministries – one English speaking, one Spanish speaking – in one congregation;
• Durham, North Carolina – intentionally racially and culturally diverse; previously served by an African-American minister and continues to be the only intentionally diverse congregation planted in the Thomas Jefferson District;
• Rainier Valley, Washington – intentionally, racially and culturally diverse and;
• Chicago, Illinois – The ministry at the Church of the Open Door was inclusive and included a focus on the bisexual/gay/lesbian community of color on the south side of Chicago. The congregation was served by an African American lesbian couple who have dual standing as UU ministers and United Church of Christ. It has since closed its doors.
Having experienced disproportionate failures in its intentionally diverse startups, Congregational District and Extension Services (CDE) began requiring proof of self-sufficiency, and strong district and covenanting congregational financial support before accepting congregations into its program. Financial support became time-limited and they have now moved completely away from creating small diverse congregations that inevitably became dependent on UUA for financial support. Instead, the UUA is currently invested in large start ups that include large investments of capital that are fully staffed, opening the doors with approximately three hundred members. This model unfortunately has not proven to be successful at this point in time. It may simply be that it is too early to determine.
An early strategy intended to diversify the membership of UUism was the creation of congregations to be served by African-American ministers who entered the UU ministry during the 1980s. Although this approach proved to be successful in the creation of initial pulpits for ministers of color, it was not successful in creating self sustaining racially diverse congregations. Unfortunately, most of these congregations have either closed or are in nesting relationships with other UU congregations. At a UUA Field Staff, Big Complex Meeting in December 2000 in Boston, then UUA President, John Buhrens stated that there have been no recent success stories of intentionally diverse congregations besides All Souls in Washington D.C. originally pastured by Reverend E. Powell Davies and later by Rev. David Eaton. In addition is the Community Church in New York City, The Church of the Open Door in Chicago, Illinois, and co-pastored by Reverend Irma Crawford and Reverend Karen Hutt was an example of a congregation whose mission was to serve the African American GLBTQ community. Unfortunately, it has since closed. However, in its outreach efforts it was also targeting the middle eastern community that resided in the nearby area. Buhrens further noted that he is not sure that UUs know how to create intentionally diverse congregations. Sometimes, he said, our motivations are tainted by paternalism. Leadership and personnel issues are still a major limitation he further noted. He stated that diversity of ministry staff teams apparently existed at one point but had now been disbanded. UUism as a denomination and movement remains ninety-one to ninety-eight percent European American. Sinkford contends that he is not, “trying to find a few more dark faces so the white persons sitting in the pews will feel better about themselves.” Yet clearly the intent is to encourage more racial and cultural diversity within the ranks of UUism.
In 2002 John Crestwell, now Reverend John Crestwell and Reverend Dr. Richard Speck, Joseph Priestley District Executive of the UUA engaged in the following conversation in response to Crestwell’s excited utterance that he wanted to start an African American Unitarian Universalist congregation. Speck’s response, borne out of a history of failed attempts was as follows, “We’ve tried starting churches with African American ministers and most of them failed miserably. I’m about to lose a church this week (Sojourner Truth) that was started by an African American (Yvonne Chappelle Seon). . . Our religion has struggled placing misers of color. We have a checkered past but we are working on it. We’ve not done well with this. . . ” On the journey toward actualizing his dream of starting a congregation, Crestwell shifted away from a culturally specific model for African American UUs to a multicultural model. However, his rationale and insights about UUA’s “failed history” of diversity still bear noting for their insights about an institutional pattern: “In the case of Davies Church, I felt this was a situation where the UUA had been made gun-shy from failed diversity projects of the past. Those failed for a number of reason: poor leadership; por research; the time, place and circumstance; and poor financial support, so I do understand why more money could not be allocated to us. Why would UUA leaders believe our project would be any different? Why would they believe we could pull off what had not been done really well since the work of the late Rev. David Eaton at All Souls Church, Unitarians? He grew a strong multicultural ministry during his two decades as the minister, but the church fell apart after his death and did not recover until the recent ministry of Rev. Robert Hardies. . .
Taquiena Boston, Director of Identity-Based Ministries with the UUA contends that the approach to creating multicultural/multicultural faith communities (her language) depends on the definition of multiracial/multicultural. For example she says:
“Christian denominations that are more racially and culturally diverse than the UUA often have a tradition of culturally-specific congregations that correspond to the history of race relations, immigration, and identity-based neighborhood organizations in the US. They can cal themselves diverse because their denominational membership includes congregations that are predominantly African America, Korean, Hispanic, Italian, Irish, etc. in a single congregation’s membership demographic. Multiracial/multicultural congregations that include a mixture of racial/cultural groups are the minority in Christian denominations, and half of these congregations according to research – are actually experiencing a demographic shift to another monoculture because of changes in neighborhood demographics. In addition, the traditional wisdom around congregation growth emphasizes homogeneity as a critical success factor. Research also points out that person most attracted to multiracial/multicultural congregations are members of interracial couples or multiracial families who are seeking a worship community that reflects the racial/cultural diversity of family members and /or families like themselves.
Boston, unlike others believes that despite the inability of UUA to sustain
culturally specific congregations that there is a role for both models;
I think that however an institution defines multiracial/multicultural, there is a role for both culturally-specific congregations and for intentionally multiracial/multicultural congregations. Whatever approach the institution takes, diversity of ministries (staffing, lay leadership, programming) is essential to diversity of membership. The second approach will be the most challenging because it is counter-cultural, and the history of congregations has been a tradition of racial and cultural segregation. In addition, the racial injustice and “micro-aggressions” that people of color experience in every other aspect of their lives makes them reluctant to engage such struggles in religious community. Finally, class – and its intersection with race/culture – presents another obstacle to creating racially and culturally diverse congregations, especially in liberal faith communities. Liberal communities tend to be populated by people with more formal education, and people who identify with ruling class values about education, “professionalism,” and social sophistication. Liberal values tend towards individualism. I hear liberal circles make distinctions between spirituality and justice more than persons from marginalized communities.
Certain denominations and associations including historical mainline, evangelical non-Pentecostal, Pentecostal, and charismatic and fundamentalist groups contend that the “most effective” congregations are those whose members belong to the same ethnic group.
Culturally Specific and Culturally Diverse Congregational Models
This research paper provided an earlier treatment of the unsuccessful efforts of the UUA to create culturally specific congregations. Besides the Church of the Open Door in Chicago, IL that has recently closed, another culturally specific program (not a congregation) that has had moderate success is the Unitarios Universalistas de Habla Hispana. It is sponsored by the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA and is a multi-faceted effort to make Unitarian Universalism accessible to the Hispanic community of San Jose. The programs include: development of Spanish language worship resources, social/cultural events, pastor care, youth activities, alliance building, peer support, and emergency assistance. Another culturally specific congregation planted by the UUA was Thurman Hamer Ellington UU (T.H.E.) started in 1991/2 and originally pastored by Reverend Daniel Aldridge, an African American UU minister that had transferred from another denomination. T.H.E. was planted in Atlanta by the UUA and the UU Congregation of Atlanta (UUCC). T.H.E. has since closed. While T.H.E reached the required 30 members to formally affiliate with the UUA it was never able to grow much beyond its original numbers. When Reverend Aldridge left to pastor a larger congregation, All Souls in Washington, DC, the church was lay led for a while, then led by a European American intern, Jeff Jones, now Reverend, and later by a European American female minister, Reverend Frances West. In its final stages before its demise, the congregation moved from its shared rental space into a “nesting” relationship with its sponsoring congregation. This arrangement allowed T.H.E. to utilize lay led worship within UUCC holding retaining its autonomy including a separate board of directors and decision making. Eventually the membership became unable to sustain worship and they simply discontinued.
Reverend Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Minister of Vision, Worship and the Arts at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, cites revealing statistics that support the aforementioned statement. She asserts that “of 300,000 Christian congregations in this country, only six percent are multiracial, that is, comprised 20% of another race other than the majority. We have much work to do around this issue (diversity). . . and capacities to be built. We don’t need communities of people pretending to be all the same, but rather communities in which the unique particularity of each person is recognized, accepted and affirmed. In the midst of that, it is important to risk showing our authentic selves and embracing the conflict that we might encounter, even while we commit to stay in relationship.” Taquina Boston defines a multicultural congregation as one where no one racial group comprises more than 80-90% of the membership. In a focus group that inquired about what UU congregations would need to do to be considered multicultural. The participants indicated the following: 1) commit to becoming intentionally welcoming, inclusive, and affirming of diverse races, cultures and other identities; 2) support member congregations and UUA initiatives to develop multiracial/multicultural ministries and congregations and 3 engage in multiracial/multicultural partnerships to support institutions that empower communities of color and their leadership. Middle Collegiate Church is a multicultural congregation that was able to successfully transition from a culturally specific congregation, European American, to multicultural congregation. They are a teaching congregation that celebrates the arts, is comprised of ministries that nurture “mind, body and spirit’ through worship, care and education. They have a social action component and engage in interfaith dialogue for the purpose of justice and reconciliation. Some of the outreach strategies they engaged to achieve multiculturalism were:
1) intentional outreach to African Americans (advertised in the Amsterdam News);
2) programming that African Americans identified, including culture ie jazz on the church steps and gospel choir; 3) outreach through the arts ie. after school arts program for children of single, low income parents; 4) hired multiracial/multicultural leadership and 5) planned for and supported sift to leadership of senior minister of color. Their vision for 2010 is as follows:
1) focus groups to identify vision for the future; 2) action, care, participatory worship; 3) staffing to implement the vision; 4) programs to attract and serve racially and culturally diverse membership; 5) internal leadership development, including antiracism/multiculturalism and 6) assessment and evaluation.
Lewis identified some of the challenges involved in becoming multicultural/multiracial: They include 1) language, that is, how do people want to be called; 2) representation of group identity, that is, how do we form a group identity that reflects everyone?’; and 3) how to cope with projections and biases when they surface. For that matter, learning how to handle conflict because it is inevitable is an essential skills set in most congregations and particularly those that desire to be culturally diverse. Some of the strategies Lewis listed included:
1) raise level of racial/cultural identity and awareness; 2) remind congregants of who “we” are 3) provide education and classes; 4) clergy must model for congregants how to negotiate and 5) racial and cultural boundaries.
Multicultural Approach to Education
Scholars such as Barbara Wilkerson believe that all congregations should train their leaders and modify their Religious Education (RE) programs to accommodate a multicultural world . Letty M. Russell and J. Shannon Clarkson…believe that . . . religious teachings concern what it means to be human. Pursuing goals of multicultural education according to Sonia Nieto accomplishes the following: 1) more productive learning environments, 2) more varied instructional strategies 3) a greater awareness of the role culture and language play in the learning process and 4) potential to create mutual and equitable relations among all groups in society.
Origins and Goals of Multicultural Education
In the early 20th century educators were compelled to pay greater attention to diversity because of the large influx of second generation immigrant students whose parents had migrated to the United States in the previous century. The presence of the immigrant off springs interfacing with already existing ethnic groups already experiencing segregated and inferior education caused educators to re-examine the goal of the melting pot paradigm which was the prevailing educational philosophy at that time. It was popularized by Israel Zangwill. Educational historian, Ellwood Patterson Cubberley in 1909 described the melting pot model as follows: “Our task is to break up these groups or settlements (of immigrants), to assimilate and amalgamate these people as part of our American race, and to implant in their children, as far as can be done, the Anglo-Saxon conception of righteousness, law and order, and popular government, and to awaken in them a reverence for our democratic institutions and for those things in our national life which we as a people hold to be of abiding worth.” According to Wilkerson, Cubberley’s analysis failed to consider the plight of African-American and Native American children who were unable to assimilate or amalgamate because of some of their highly visible indicators such as skin color, distinct facial features, and hair texture . Furthermore, the assumption of white superiority further marginalized these children and essentially rendered them invisible. Faith communities were often party to such assumptions as exemplified by Robert Baird, church historian. Baird ranked all other ethnic groups in America “downward” establishing Anglo-Saxons as the normative experience. In 1911, a forty-one page report commissioned by Congress documented the “inferiority” of immigrants. Lawrence Cremin contends that the report resulted in the drastic reduction of future immigration into the United States. So while advocates and leaders voiced the need for a transformation in the educational philosophy employed by school systems it wasn’t until the second decade of the twentieth century that Horace Kallen conceived a new model, termed, cultural pluralism. Initially, few showed interest in it. During wartimes the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 all but halted immigration to the United Stares for any groups except those from Northern and Western Europe. Intergroup or intercultural education emerged as a result of racial wars in America (name some) This movement was aimed at reducing racial prejudice and misunderstanding which previously had led to violence in the United States. Some RE in faith communities as well as public educators advanced the goals of intercultural education in the 1950s. James Banks contends that this was the first stream of education that spawned diversity.(14) However, several deficiencies resulted in the demise of the cultural pluralism movement: 1) it was never institutionalized 2) it was mainly perceived for schools in conflict 3) it never developed a coherent articulation of its philosophy in relationship to American education and political values.
Meanwhile, assimilation proved to be an effective strategy for the Irish, Italians and Polish. While they initially experienced discrimination upon arriving in the United States, by the 2nd or 3rd generation they were able to readily assimilate. However, some paid a dear price – having to give up their cultural identity, while others managed to integrate their old country traditions with their newly adopted country. However, ethnic groups like African-Americans and Native Americans did not possess the ability to blend, camouflage and assimilate because of their obvious physical distinctions. The second factor to influence multicultural education was the 1960s civil rights movement. The successes achieved through confronting the racial barriers in America dismantled some of the most blatant forms of discrimination in education, housing, transportation, education employment and social norms. The third steam to influence multicultural education ironically was immigration laws, specifically the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 and 1968. Shifting trends immigration and events revealed the following dynamics:
• The number of immigrants entering the US increased almost 80% as compared between 1951-60
• Europeans had previously accounted for almost 60 percent of immigrants during the 1950s in contrast to the years between 1971 and 1980 that they represented only 18%
• The number of Asians and Latin Americans dramatically increased during this period
• Between 1981 and 1989, 85 percent of immigrants came from Asia (47%) and Latin America (38%)
• United States experienced a declining birthrate
• Funding provided by 1968 Bilingual Education initiated bilingual programs in school districts with large immigrant populations
• Churches and community agencies became involved in sponsoring families of refugees and worked to help them get settled.
Several approaches to multicultural education evolved beginning in the 1970s. Anthropologist, Mary Gibson described multicultural education as a, “process whereby a person develops competencies in multiple systems of standards for perceiving, evaluating, behaving and doing.” The five core ideas she identified are:
culture and ethnic group are not equated; instead, diversity within an ethnic group is recognized.
Education includes out-of-school learning.
Ethnic isolation is antithetical to education, since the development of competencies in a new culture requires intensive interaction with people who are already competent.
Individuals need not reject their cultural identity to function in a different cultural milieu.
Divisive dichotomies between cultures are avoided, bringing about an increased awareness of multiculturalism as “the normal human experience.”
Some of the most prevalent models that evolved during the beginning and subsequent years of the 1970s are described here:
Christine Sleeter and Carl Grant – In 1987 Sleeter and Grant reviewed the professional literature on multicultural education and identified five distinct approaches discerned in the literature:
1) teaching the culturally different – an assimilist approach aimed at helping minority students develop competence in the public culture of the dominant group. It is aimed at helping educators teach “culturally different” students;
2) human relations approach – seeks to promote communication and good human relations among students of different backgrounds. Helping students feel good about themselves is one of its primary goals. While this model is a rich source of practical ideas for teachers it tends to be short on “well grounded theory and long term-goals” Furthermore, Sleeter and Grant contend that it fails to address issues of social stratification such as poverty, institutional racism, and powerlessness.
3) single-group studies – focuses on the cultural experiences of a single ethnic group. While special attention is given to curriculum and instruction and stresses contributions and experiences of the ethnic group, Sleeter and Grant are critical of its avoidance of oppression and social stratification. As a result teachers and learners are not sensitized to the need for social change.
4) multi cultural education – is the most widely represented in the professional literature.
The five major goals of this approach are: 1) promotion of the strength and value of cultural diversity 2) respect for human rights and cultural diversity, 3) alternative life choices, 4) social justice and equal opportunity for all and 5) equitable distribution of power among all ethnic groups. This approach focuses mainly on race and ethnicity, the cultures of American racial groups, and in some instances, culture as an anthropological concept. This approach appears to have the strongest theoretical base. However, Sleeter and Grant contend that this model has not dealt seriously with pedagogy or with system wide educational practices that need changing. In the opinion of the two researchers this model has not been widely applied, and thus has failed to show examples of the model in operation.
5) multicultural education and social reconstructionist – This is the approach that Sleeter and Grant espouse. It refers to, “education that prepares young people to take social
action against social structural inequality.”
The goals of this approach are transformational or emanicipatory and include changing teaching practices that classrooms become more democratic and students learn to use power for collective betterment rather than mainly learning obedience. The strength of this approach is its aim of “reducing racism and building a more just society.” One of its weaknesses is a lack of informational material on ways to achieve its goals for education. At the time this research few empirical studies existed on multicultural education. Leonard and Patricia Davidman propose a “synthesis conception” that integrates elements that are multifaceted, change-oriented strategy aimed at six interrelated goals: 1) educational equity; 2) intercultural, 3) interethnic and intergroup harmony in the learning environment, 4) expanded knowledge of cultural and ethnic groups; and 5) the development of learners, parents and educators guided by a multicultural perspective.
Historical Overview of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education and its Social, Psychological and Theological Foundations
Eleanor Morton, Director of Religious Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota asserts that Sunday School has not always been a mainstay of American life. According to Eugene Navias, the first documented Sunday School was started by Theophilus Lindsey in 1763 in Yorkshire, England. Gloucester a printer, and Robert Raikes published Reading, Riting and Religion which spread quickly through England and then America according to Navias. He contends that in the New World, the Sunday School movement emerged in the late 18th century around the same time that Univeralism began with the appearance of John Murray and just prior to the emergence of American Unitaranism. A 1790 resolution adopted by early Universalists depicts some of the social and theological aspects of Universalist religious education in its infancy. Note the inclusion of poor children as an indication of a social and theological foundation reflected in Universalist principles :
The Instruction of Children – We believe it to be the duty of all parents to instruct their children in the principles of the gospel, as the best means to inspire them with the love of virtue, and to promote in good manners, and habits of industry and sobriety. As a necessary introduction to the knowledge of the gospel, we recommend the institution of a school, or schools to be under the direction of every church; in which shall be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and psalmody. We recommend, further, that provision be made for instructing poor children, in the said schools, gratis. As the fullest discovery of the perfections and will of God, and of the whole duty of man, is maintained in the Bible we wish that divine book to be read by the youth of our churches as early and frequently as possible; and that they should be instructed therein at stated meetings appointed for that purpose.
Navias’ findings note that early universal public education reached out to “community children who would otherwise be deprived of basic schooling.” Likewise, Morton contends that Raikes initial intention was to solely provide religious education. Instead, the teachers soon realized the need to include reading and writing. Thus, it could be said that religious education was “the forerunner of public-supported education.” Navias maintains that catechisms for older children and youth began to appear in 1782 when Judith Sargent Stevens (later Murray) wrote and published an elaborate catechism in Gloucester, MA. Shippie Townsend also contributed a catechism for children in 1787 for Universalist curricula. Navias notes that Hosea Ballou wrote a child’s Scriptural Catechism in 1810. Another catechism noted in 1865 in Rhode Island reflected the influence of the Restorationist Controversy that stated no matter how sinful, all souls would be restored to God’s favor, according to Navias.
Reverend William Ellery Channing, a Unitarian minister, represented one of the early influences on UU religious education. In 1837 he urged the audience of the Boston Sunday School Society to have faith in children and instead of stamping their adult thoughts and ideas, to stir up those of the children. He further emphasized the importance of helping children to see and feel the love of God rather than merely telling them of God’s love. However, Channing disapproved of catechisms according to Navias and denounced them at an 1837 annual meeting he attended. Channing described them as “a skeleton, a dead letter, putrification and lifeless form.” While the curricula being used by Unitarians and others at that time were “didactic and authority-centered” Channing, though he objected to catechisms he had otherwise a very progressive vision of education that included the transmission of the author’s or teacher’s beliefs to the learner.
While the Unitarian Sunday School Society was not an official arm of the American Unitarian Univeralist Association, they accomplished the following: publication of curriculum, guides for Sunday School Superintendents, Sunday School hymnals and worship books and conferences to train Sunday School leaders and teachers,” according to Navias. Universalist schools continued to address the educational needs of Univeralists in 1851 when they formed the Universalist Teachers Union that later assumed the name of the Universalist Sabbath School Union in 1856. A few years later in 1913, the Universalist General Sunday School Society in Utica, New York united the disparate efforts of the Universalist State Conventions for Univeralist Sunday Schools in 1913. Meanwhile, the Unitarian Sunday School Society published five curricula series from 1833 to 1909 before the actual creation of the American Unitarian Association formed its own Department of Religious Education in 1912.
Morton and Fisher contend that for the remainder of the century most Unitarians simply followed the Sunday School practices of mainline Protestant Churches, rooted in the Judeo Christian Bible while reflecting a “liberal and modernist point of view.” Navias’ findings appear to also substantiate a similar claim for Universalists who he contends published “uniform lessons” along with most evangelical Protestant denominations. However, a shift occurred when it was determined that Universalist children needed to learn more about their faith tradition and its uniquenesses. In response, an array of periodicals and pamphlets were produced for weekly or monthly home use by parents as well as to assist adults who taught in the church schools to augment their lessons.
Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy were two individuals at odds with each others beliefs about religious education for children in the 1870s and were contemporaries of Raikes were Edwards maintained that a child could come to God and goodness only through a conversion experience. Furthermore, he believed that children should be taught the Calvinist catechism and instructed from the pulpit. Chauncy on the other hand contended that individuals come to a gradual awareness and understanding of religious truths through teachings. Another significant personality noted in Navias’ research findings is Jonathon Mayhew. Mayhew was also an 18th century liberal that asserted that humans possessed the ability to discern right from wrong, think for themselves and honor the religious conscience of others. Ten years after Robert Raikes established the first Sunday School in 1780, Dr. Benjamin Rush founded the Sunday School Society in Philadelphia. By 1827, according to Morton, there were more than two dozen Sunday Schools in Unitarian churches in New England alone. Some of the initial resistance to Sunday Schools was based on the erroneous beliefs that attendance at services would drop and that the mixing of girls and boys would result in immoral behavior. By 1827 the Boston Sunday School Society was created. In the interim, Henry Ware, Jr. edited and published in 1833 what Morton contends is the first very first Unitarian curriculum. In 1872, Reverend Jenkin Lloyd Jones began a publication titled, The Sunday School in which he wrote articles on theory, methods and lessons. In addition, Jones amazing energy extended to weekly teachers’ meetings, a published songbook, and a book for special occasions. By 1878 Jones had begun publishing Sunday School courses in his new periodical, Unity. Other developments added momentum to the evolution of Sunday Schools when in 1875, Reverend George F. Piper became Secretary of the Sunday School Society and created approximately 300 lessons. Unfortunately, these lessons were considered too liberal for the conservatives and two conservative for the liberals. In addition, the materials were too advanced for their designated age group. Reverend Allen Walton Gould, one of the prophetic voices of the 19th century was raised with the publishing of his book, Beginnings, an early sociology of religion in the last quarter of the 19th century.
The Kindergarten movement, another popular innovation in education, began as early as 1834 by Elizabeth Peabody, a Unitarian in Boston, Massachusetts in the Bronson Alcott School. The movement began to gain popularity in the late nineteenth century according to Navias’ findings. In the 1890s, Dr. Edward A. Horton published a fourth Unitarian curriculum in Boston. This curriculum followed a one-topic three-level format with seven topics in the series. The entire church school used the same topic on all levels including the primary, junior and senior levels. Horton utilized didactic teaching and rote learning to instill religious tradition and moral character. While the curriculum clearly addressed the varying development levels of its learners, it still failed to integrate liberal religious psychological, social and theological foundations. Thus it essentially utilized the prevailing Bible and Christian history. A fifth curriculum of Horton’s called, The Beacon Series, though short lived, used myths from “many cultures, ethics, social awareness, and evolution.” This curriculum, perhaps in an effort to interject Unitarian values applied critical scholarship to the Bible. However, Morton maintains that because the curriculum was content focused and failed to draw on the experiences of the children, it was not popular and was soon discontinued.
The Universalists continued publishing uniform lessons well into the 1900’s in an effort to sustain their participation in interdenominational initiatives as well as to gain access to training and certification for their teachers. However, fears of identity loss prompted the creation of curriculum that reflected new theories in education, Biblical study and religious education. In 1903 the Religious Education Association was founded which brought together liberal educators and professional leaders including Unitarians and Universalists as some of the earliest members Navias states. One hundred years later Universalists and Unitarians separately produced RE materials specifically designed for their use. This resource, New Beacon Series in Religious Education, was begun in 1937. If the Unitarians were struggling to meet the challenges of RE, then the Universalists were struggling mightily to create relevant RE resources for its members. Morton describes these efforts:
In 1888, the Universalists agreed that they would use the uniform lessons of the orthodox churches, but with the addition of Biblical interpretations that would illuminate Universalist principles. Finally, in 1901, the Universalist Graded Lessons were published, similar to the Protestant curricula but more liberal. By 1920, however, they were out of print and never reissued. Things picked up with the establishment of the General Sunday School Association in 1913. Funding was made available for staffing and publications. Clinton Lee Scott in The Universalist Church, A Short Story wrote: “It operated in a period of tentative pedagogical theories and experimentation. It magnified the place of the child in the church, pressed for better housing of children’s classes, and enlarged the scope of religious nurture in the home and community. The Association was able to make the transition from Bible-centered to curriculum-centered to experience-centered teaching, with a facility less readily achieved in the larger
Significant occurrences influenced liberal religious education between 1890 and 1910 that are worth noting here. Number one, interest in world religions flourished among Unitarians and Universalists leaders who enthusiastically participated in the World Congress of Religion in Chicago in1893. Additionally, in 1896 John Dewey published his book, School and Society that launched the era of progressive educational philosophy.
The social and theological foundations of UU RE were readily apparent in, The New Beacon Course I Religious Education published in1912 in the Sixth Unitarian Curriculum. Not only did this publication reflect John Dewey’s philosophy of education that essentially proposed educating children through a curriculum rich real-life problem-solving experiences, but the content is also broadened to include “more non-biblical materials, the study of other denominations, science, great lives, and social concerns as they affected young people.” The content was child-centered using content centered discussion questions complemented with activities such as coloring, pasting, and writing exercises. According to Morton, this curriculum was “far in advance of anything being done by other denominations.” Both Morton and Navias highlight 1912 as a watershed year for RE. That year the American Unitarian Association instituted a Department of Education that assumed responsibility for publishing curricula from the Unitarian Sunday School Society. Navias and Morton both note the shift from “material-centered” curriculum to “child-centered” curriculum. Navias astutely notes the development of “moral character and world problems” in Junior and Senior high curricula reflected in, Talks to Young People on Ethics and Our Part in the World.
In the late 1920s two curriculum committees met to plan for “future curriculum development,” according to Morton. In the 1930s feedback on Unitarian religious education suggested deficiencies. In 1936 a Unitarian Unified Curriculum Committee drafted the following objectives after the 1933 Commission of Appraisal, chaired by Frederick May Elliot, called for “major new resources” for RE and reaffirmed the centrality of RE to the Unitarian movement. Another curriculum body, despite their distinctly different views on educational, theological and psychological dimensions drafted a statement by 1931 which Morton contends made absolutely no references to the “Bible, Jesus or Christianity.” While the 1930s was a tumultuous time as a result of the Great Depression that had devastated the country, Unitarians continued to gain momentum in the development of RE curriculum. While feeling the effects of the Depression, Unitarians though lacking funds to invest in new materials nevertheless, conducted exploratory work through study committees in Boston and New York. In 1935 Reverend Ernest Keubler was appointed Secretary of the Department of RE for the UUA. Keubler was a “liberal theist,” influenced by Bushness, Coe, and Hartshorne, and, a follower of Dewey and Kilpatrick.” Amidst all the valiant efforts to upgrade RE curriculum a momentary setback occurred when the findings of the 1936 report of the Commission of Appraisal showed that interest in RE was low. This was not good news for a religious denomination that had focused so much of its fiscal and human resources on RE. Perhaps one can speculate that the hiring of Sophia Lyon Fahs in1937 in which Kubler was instrumental, reflected their attempts to rectify the deficiency. Fahs almost immediately began to produce new curriculum under the New Beacon Series that she either authored, co-authored and/or edited.
In 1936, a Unitarian Unified Curriculum Committee drafted the following objectives for RE: 1) an intelligent religious faith; 2) religious and ethical idealism. . . and character; 3) highest religious and ethical values. . .and the desire to conserve them; 4) ability and desire to participate in the development of the church; and 5) ability and disposition to contribute to an improved social order.
In 1937 Sophia Lyons Fahs was appointed Curriculum Editor. Fahs had been a student of John Dewey at Columbia University and George Albert Coe and Hugh Hartshorne. In addition she had five children that she drew insights from to inform her educational philosophy. She believed that each child is born holy and that religion grows from the daily experiences of life as children explore the natural world and the human world of family and peers. This “New Era” that she and others were ushering in is partly captured in the following description that characterized some of the social, psychological and theological foundations of RE: 1) RE should be grounded in the first hand experience of children; 2) reflect a world view of the universe as one and humanity its natural child; 3) religion as a growth from natural human experiences; 4) historical and biblical study should come when children are old enough to discover the universality of human wonderings, questions, and fears that binds them together with those who came before them; and 5) RE begins at home.
Morton’s observations provide a succinct summary of the period from the 1930s to the 1960s that particularly impacted some of the social foundations of UU RE:
A number of histories acknowledge declining enrollments in our church schools during the thirties, due in large part to the Depression and the falling birth rates. By the late 40s, however, it is “full steam ahead” through the 50s and 60s, the years of surprising growth for Unitarians and Universalists. The Fellowship movement had started in 1948; the post-war birth rate was at a record high, the economy was prospering, and church schools were once again expanding. . .
Dr. Dorothy Tilden Spoerl assumed the Curriculum Editor’s position upon Fahs’ retirement. In an effort to determine the pulse of the members Spoerl conducted a survey that determined few UU children found their congregation of central importance to their lives. Curricula were developed that drew on the feedback obtained to rectify the perceived deficiencies.
With the Depression, World War II and the Holocaust in its not too distant memory, the 1960s symbolized the changing peacetime economy. Now the civil rights movement consumed national attention during a time when rights and advocacy for marginalized individuals captured the imagination and attention of society, particularly faith communities. A popular anthem of the 60s was “question authority.” According to Navias, a new secularism was the prevailing trend beginning to influence RE. The Commission on Education and Liberal Religion suggested that more emphasis be placed on ethics, UU ideals, theology, freedom and responsibility, the natural order and social relationships, according to Navias. Hugo Holleroth, a member of the Commission, articulated core values and attitudes of UUs as follows: 1) freedom; 2) responsibility; 3) sensitivity; 4) self-discipline; 5) honesty; 6) self-identity; 6) adventuresomeness; 7) love and 8) independence.
In the 1970s another shift occurred, UUs wanted curricula that were explicitly religious and emphasized UU heritage. Essentially, this concern was the result of the high attrition rate of UU young adults after they finished senior high school and went off to college. Furthermore, the changing social norms, research in human development, faith development theory, increased interest in adult RE, new prophetic imperatives for justice, all these developments and factors suggested new philosophy, methods and materials of UU RE. Additionally the social, psychological and theological foundations of RE continued to be clarified and expanded.
Navias reports that in 1979 the UUA Board of Trustees appointed a blue ribbon task force, the Religious Education Futures Committee (REFC), to make a two year continent-wide study and to recommend the process, guidelines, resources and funded needed for RE. Excerpts are selected from the findings of the REFC as follows: 1) We must build upon the pluralistic nature of our movement and provide programs which not only address the diversity among us but which nourish commitment to the UU Principles we hold in common; 2) We must recognize the church as a worshipping and educating community for all ages, and therefore address religious growth from infancy through adulthood; 3) We must develop and publish curricula and program materials through the Section of RE, as well as assist local societies (congregations) in designing and evaluating curricula which meet their specific needs; and 4) We must design curricula in spiral rather than in linear terms .
According to Kathleen Carpenter, Director of Religious Education at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charlotte, a 700 member congregation, “Instead of educating individuals about RE, we need to give them tools to deepen their spirituality and develop their identity as UUs. This does not mean we no loner teach about other religions or throw out the teachings of non-UUs. It means we present experiences and information that allow them to understand who they are in this world, spiritually and as humans To understand what it means to be a UU, they must understand their beliefs and UU teachings such as the principles and purposes in comparison to the stories of others. We need to teach contextually and encourage their search for meaning” Carpenter contends that in the 1960s and 1970s UU curricula were very secular with a focus on world religions and models of ethical living. However, the mid 1980s and early 1990s presented a shift with new curriculum reflecting a renewed focus on U identity with lessons on the movement’s history its principles and purposes, rituals, and stories. Approximately sixty percent of UU curricula used are UU developed.
In more recent years Judith Frediani, Director of Lifespan Faith Development of the UUA, has articulated the following role of the newly named Department formerly known as Religious Education, “Our job in Lifespan Faith Development is to help people make life religious – help make our lives meaningful, ethical, spiritual, connected, mindful.” Currently, the movement in the UUA is away from RE to faith development philosophy.
For the purpose of this paper the most current research utilized was from the 1982 to 2002 period that identified the following RE recommendations: 1) growing recognition among UUA leaders, ministerial and lay, and congregations that quality programs of lifespan (child, youth and adult) RE are essential for growing congregations and a healthy UU movement; 2) greatly increased membership in and collegial supports by the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA); 3) higher standards in RE in the requirements for UU ministry by the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee 4) recognition that congregations and their professional and lay leaders (need and deserve) skilled consultation and access to training and resources now being made available in many districts through the employment of District Program Consultants by the UUA in collaboration with the Districts; 5) Establishment of an office and a full time Director of RE Credentialing in 2003; 6) Increased collegial collaboration between the UU Ministers Association and LREDA which has resulted in a joint UUMA/LREDA Professionals Day at General Assemblies and other cooperative ventures; 7) The endowment of the Angus H. MacLean Chair in RE at the Meadville/Lombard Theological School and the appointment of Dr. Susan Harlow; and the goal of the Starr King Theological to fund a chair in honor of RE Til Evans; and 8) the establishment of the Sophia Lyons Fahs Center for RE at Meadville/Lombard (which is in quiescence due to a lack of funding).
RE as a Corrective Tool to Eliminate Oppression
Transformation of society is a worthy goal for a faith community that allows it to move beyond mere participation. For at the root of any ethnic groups spirituality and its interpretation of social context is its calling to be present in the world in a meaningful way that reflects a legacy and contribution. Therefore it stands to reason that one of the tasks of religious education is to help learners embrace a spirituality of transformation. Effective religious education must capture bonding, mutuality and resistance toward such behaviors and attitudes such as individualism. Individualism leads to alienation and depersonalization. Sacredness of individuals, reflection and critique of contemporary society’s narcisstic focus on the self provides some balance by actively being in service on behalf of others. The demise of community and tendencies towards alienation and ennui reflects disengagement. During slavery, segregation and discrimination were visible forms of racism provided sharp distinctions between right relations with others and violations of said relationships. The complexity of current problems often exceeds any superficial analysis and the ability of religious educators and members to know what to do about many of these problems. To guard against a sense of feeling overwhelmed it is important to constantly engage in rigorous interrogation of curricula. Many UUs have experienced some loss of memory with respect to its historic function. A similar parallel can be seen among some middle class Blacks and their relationship to the Black underclass. The middle class ethos of consumerism, careerism and materialism poses a threat to the middle class in general in this country. And UU’s are not immune to this reality. While there is little evidence of conspicuous consumption among UU, never the less, UUs take pride in their high levels of education and cultured lifestyles. At the same time many take for granted their white skin privilege and their accompanying lifestyles. This is true to the extent that little progress has been made to sign onto some of the social justice efforts to correct some of the economic injustices and gaps. While at the same time movement towards diversity has failed to result in critical numbers of people of color. Furthermore, UUs have failed to really invest in any kind of class analysis. As a result, UUs risk the threat of individualism and self-centeredness amidst their growing prosperity and affluence.
How do UUs redefine their religious education mission in light of: 1) the need for identity formation 2) alienation and the need for the restoration of holistic relationships and 3) religious fundamentalism and the need for spiritual and social empowerment in the present social context? One of the challenges of UU Religious education is achieving a balance between revitalizing its rich heritage and responding to the needs of its growing diverse community of bi-racial children and its desire to become more racially and culturally diverse.
The purpose of RE is to sponsor persons toward a mature faith. Furthermore, the role of religious education in reproducing the diverse ideologies, values, perspectives and lived experiences of its faith community cannot be ignored, particularly as it relates to its own religious culture. Morton contends that Universalists and Unitarians have always tended toward the more liberal movements in educational philosophy and psychology. This was clearly evident in the overview of RE Unitarian Universalis primarily drawn from Eugene Navias’ comprehensive research. Additionally, religious education carries a tremendous responsibility in giving voice to and exercising power. Thus, faith communities seeking to embrace diversity as an integral dimension of its religious beliefs and putting its faith into action must be prepared to constantly interrogate its definitions and uses of power. This was partially evidenced in early RE in disseminating education to the poor along with the targeted faith community of Universalists. How is that vision currently reflected in the contemporary vision of RE is a critical question to ask? It has been noted that not all cultural groups share the same “truths” and certainly many reflect different learning styles, however, the cultural views of “reality” and what is real for one demands cultural competence to be able to bring into the open those differences in a balanced and respectful way. Obviously, this is more easily accomplished in a culturally specific model because accountability is not an issue. The lack of diversity precludes any “authentic” feedback from parents, students or direct learnings on the part of religious education professionals without benefit of classroom diversity. Herein lies the political nature of religious education, that is, not merely the content, but the teacher(s) and minister(s) and the students. Deciding which cultural traditions will be privileged is not the issue so much as how power is shared. Currently, there are no people of color in the Lifespan RE Department at UUA. What are the implications of that reality as relates to RE? What old paradigms does that reinforce? What new paradigms does it prohibit? What barriers to diversity are erected as a result of the absence of people of color among those responsible for curriculum development specifically and more importantly, faith development in general? Simply reflect for a moment on how the UUAs’ credibility is perceived when it articulates its desire for diversity with such glaring absence. Actions speak louder than words is an old axiom that comes to mind. How many consultants of color have been recently hired to develop the new curriculum advertised? While these questions might be perceived as “tired,” that is, old and dated, imagine how “tired” UUs of color must feel continually having to raise them?
Without an extensive and rigorous review of all UU curriculum it would be presumptuous for this researcher to formulate any objective perceptions about UU curricula. Instead, what I have attempted to do is to examine the historical efforts of Unitarians and Universalists to determine how they have arrived at this point and to determine what the social, psychological and theological foundations of RE are. The inherent limitations of this research effort have made it impossible to thoroughly interrogate those foundations. Instead what I have attempted to do is to highlight them in the evolving history. Now, having accomplished the goal of providing an overview of UUism, its efforts at diversity which in fact impacted and reflected the development of RE, I will attempt to draw some very basic observations utilizing document analysis and grounded theory. Document analysis is a process that rigorously analyzes a document for the purpose of drawing some insights. Additionally, it considers the historical circumstances in its analysis of the document. Grounded theory is a process where the data is organized and reviewed until the data begins to “speak” through emerging themes. Those themes then form the basis for critique and assessment.
What appeared to emerge in the literature is the ability of the religious education professional to nurture an appreciation in him or herself for multicultural curriculum that does not stop with the basics of similarities and differences but also develops an eye and ear, that is, a feel for what is needed in order to be affirming of the individual within their cultural context. The question then becomes, “how do we need to be affirmed more?” Lewis encouraged participants to create spaces in their lives where they can do the work of creating multicultural congregations. She invited participants to export the conversation beyond the table to home and work places. Finally, she invites people to take the conversation to the community. Again, reminding those that choose to transform society many of us are a border people, that is, we live with multiple identities and therefore we are often marginalized. Recognizing this reality, I propose that white allies within UUism can join people of color in reframe this experience and intentionally choosing to live and move back and forth from the margins to the center. As Reverend Carlos Rodgriguez says, we (people of color and other oppressed people) live in the hyphen. While this is a natural state for people of color it is not necessarily so for many European American UUs. Hence, one of the roles of UU Religious Education professionals as I have come to observe from the research is to approach RE not as neutral and objective, but as a subversive act to empower children and to teach about all the usual themes along with white skin privilege, power dynamics and how all this relates to being UUs in the larger world and living out our principles of spirituality and justice. Thus, UU RE professionals and volunteers are social change agents learning and teaching every Sunday how to translate these concepts. Being on the border makes it imperative that we be conversant, because oppression in America affects everyone.
Perhaps in order to distinguish the greatest differences between RE for a culturally diverse and a culturally specific congregation the RE professionals must support a theology of freedom, reason and liberation. Oppression is not just about those that are the “lowest” in society and therefore marginalized, it is also about the power brokers in our congregations and how they are oppressed. Religious professionals must continue to interrogate changing norms that influence curriculum development which means they must maintain ways to understand the needs and how to provide them in such changing times. Furthermore, while UU RE has done an exceptional job in highlighting world religions, it does not appear to have tackled the global dimensions of issues like poverty, democratization, HIV/AIDS, war, famine and hunger and globalization. The lack of any curriculum that addresses international relations between UUs in this country and the 500,000 Unitarians around the world reflects a newly emerging frontier that RE can no longer ignore in the 21st century. With the reorganization of the International Resources Program it would be imperative that a close working relationship exist between the Director and the Life Span RE Department to explore curriculum development.
How Can UUs Become More Diverse?
Lewis, Boston and other small group responses suggest that UUs must find ways to diversify their ministries: commitment; vision; staffing; programming (worship, RE, social action, outreach). In attending a weekend retreat on Leading Congregations into a Multiracial, Multicultural Future, led by Reverend Jacqueline Lewis, the following approaches were gleaned:
The congregation has to claim diversity today – right now and project it into the not yet future – claim what they can do now for the future; Congregations are writing and living the future right now. They have to speak the good news in many different ways;
They have to serve as a container and create a community for who they are becoming and for those who they would seek to attract. They also have to be able to say, “these are my people.”
Formational stories – The power of stories and the word. Most stories have a beginning, middle and end; talking and sharing stories builds intimacy. They may have to do some exegesis on themselves so that they are “storying the future.” Re-storying race means preaching, teaching, education, conversation, confrontation. It also means that many of us need to put ourselves in therapeutic relationships and have our stories re-framed. It means acknowledging the narratives that have formed us (slavery in America, like Lisa in the kindergarten circle, like the lynching of Emmet Till for “eyeballing” a white lady, like a radio personality calling strong Black female athletes out of their names, like whatever stories of “race” that make Imus able to say such a thing!)
Negotiating cultural boundaries – like people on the boundaries the faith community has to post itself on the borders where they are needed in order to be with the people. Conversation partners are needed in order to be authentic and naked with each other. Along this same vein, identify a cross cultural support group for key leaders. As a leader, be able to step over the edge. You will meet a lot of good people that need your help.
Multivocal – develop the capacity to be multi-vocal if you are going to be multicultural then you must be able to tell your stories in multiple voices. You have to speak the story in many different languages; using different texts.
Incorporating the arts allows the visionary storytellers that are also prophetic and pastoral to be involved because they are the artists among you
Change agents – become adept at change and learn to love change because you can’t lead if you can’t change your stories, leaders tell compelling stories
Cultivate your spiritual practices because that is what will fuel your courage and spirituality and fortitude
Model being a change agent and a multicultural boundary person. You have to be the change you want to see
Clarity of mind – we have to know who we are in order to be co-authors in this new story and new community
Failure – We have to create new stories and paradigms about failure so that we allow our failures to inform our success
Leadership – multiculturalism requires leadership on the borders where many of the people we need to reach are at. Thus being on the margins to nurture and care for the people there and help empower them toward the center. Adaptive leadership will be needed for this phase of the journey. This requires no longer having the right answers but instead having the right questions. Leadership requires knowing how to stand on the balcony to observe the big picture and stepping outside the system to detach ones self to be able to gain some objectivity.
Multicultural – Become students of other cultures and not just voyeurs, but authentically engaging people and reaching out to the social services to visit and infuse some human capital as well as fiscal capital.
Identity Development – the process of editing your stories as you narrate them and retell them to reflect our changing consciousness.
Lewis stressed the need to deconstruct the story and text that congregations and denominations have created that may be posing obstacles. Perhaps UUs is that they cannot create multicultural congregations. Lewis reminds us that we have to change the composition of the conversation table, shifting and blending the UU culture to facilitate multiculturalism. One way to shift the power dynamics is to invite new people to initiate ways they would like to serve the congregation rather than inviting them to join a committee.
While the researcher does not presume to have any clear answers to some of the concerns about the lack of diversity in UUism and the implications for RE, a few suggestions might provide steps toward effective religious education:
Intentional partnership between middle class and underclass congregations
Deliberate networking with so called third world communities of faith, which places UUs in a posture of learner
Integration of transformation theory into RE curriculum development that focuses on the reconstruction of the self or some dimension of experience of persons
Initiate a RE conference with a focus on multicultural RE. Identify the top 3-5 denominations that have been successful in creating multicultural congregations and create a venue for them to share their knowledge and by all means pick their brains. Then hold a debriefing session among UU Religious Educators and critique what has been learned and how that relates to our RE curriculum
Empower local DRE’s to develop curricula based on feedback from focus groups and congregational surveys on what is needed.
Form partnership with local, national and international multicultural congregations that are doing an outstanding job in RE. Arrange to visit, review their materials and observe. Utilize technology such as email, conference calling, websites, and blogs.
Continue to look for ways to carry RE outside of the classroom and into the day to day lives of members and out into the community.
This paper began as an effort to identify and examine the social, psychological and theological foundations of religious education in culturally diverse and culturally specific congregations. In an effort to more fully understand the historic circumstances that led to the current and preferred use of the culturally diverse model the researcher provided extensive background on UUism and its journey toward diversity. . The thesis, that is, that while multicultural curriculum reflects the vision for UU congregations, the social, psychological and theological foundations of RE are not clearly articulated or accessible was affirmed in the opinion of this researcher. The social, psychological and theological foundations of UU RE were not easily accessed and once accessing information were not clearly evident.
However, like jazz, like wine, the mastery of Religious Education and diversity issues in the UUA will mature as Unitarian Universalists mature and evolve. The more rigorous and intentional the efforts, the more innovative and progressive the approaches and outcomes will likely be. May the journey toward honoring the sacred in each and everyone be manifested in the religious education process and content. May we join heart (spirituality) and head (reason and logic) to serve humanity in its just search for the Divine within and without.
(picture taken by Qiyamah A. Rahman 2006)
Be Ye Transformed
by Qiyamah A. Rahman June1, 2007
Romans 12 1-2
“I appeal to you therefore by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As an African American female student/scholar I approach the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion. Furthermore, I use my racial, gender and cultural identity both as a hermeneutical lens and as a reading strategy. Thus the text becomes the site where my social location as reader and the historical conditions merge with the text to produce multiple meanings. For me, living in the hypen as an African American is a counterculture act which places me on the margins/borders where I can use my education and awareness to help others and stand with those who are disempowered as a result of various oppressions. Questions that often inform my reading and exegesis are: 1) What is the context of this scripture? 2) What are the significant historical circumstances that impact the writer’s choice of words? 3) Who is speaking? 4) Who is not speaking? 5) Who is the scribe speaking to? 6) Who is the scribe? 7) What is their stand point, that is, their identity and social location? 8) what is their agenda and motivation? 9) Are they speaking from the margin or center of society and power institutions? 10) What if any relevance does their message have for people of color striving to be in integrity with God/the Sacred? 11) What is the metatext? And 12) What are the historical circumstances out of which the text emerged and why is it significant?
Verse 1 - Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
The body is the temple of the Holy and Sacred. The body is the living church/temple that we have been given to house our “soul” - that physical body that holds our cells and blood and skeletal frame. That is the practical role of our physical temple, the physical being what others first see and react to. Surely there was a time when we judged others by the quality of their soul and their character and not by their temple which comes in many sizes and shapes and colors may or may not resemble one to the other. Surely, there must have been a time when all bodies were considered beautiful and valued regardless to appearance. Perhaps in the mythical Garden of Eden. Did the original split between spirituality and sexuality begin in the Garden? Now we tend to be influenced by “first impressions” and judge one another by external things like the color of our skin, hair texture and facial features, even though these things may have little to do with ones holiness. Romans 12:1 reminds us that we worship using our bodies as a sacred offering for spiritual worship which is sanctioned by God, so surely the body and the source of good things. Thus it is only right that we keep our temples “holy and acceptable” to present to the Holy. The Apostle in Romans speaks positively about the body and the mere fact that it is presented to God portrays a positive meaning and links the body/temple to God the Holy. One can extrapolate a holistic relationship in which the Apostle emphasizes a distinct relationship between the following words that are placed in the same paragraph: “bodies” “living sacrifice” “acceptable” “spiritual” “worship’ “God.” Were these words not powerful in and of themselves the use of the phrase, “acceptable to God” commands the attention and alerts the lovers of God. Like the Sufi mystic, like the Christian saints – the lovers of God eagerly seek to do those things that are acceptable and pleasing to the Beloved.
Reading for subversive purposes and with a hermeneutic of suspicion, one realizes that in today’s times we have not followed the advice of Romans 12:1 to hold sacred the body temple. But instead we have separated the body and soul, resulting in misguided worship of the physical body. Separating body and soul we distort its true purpose. When the soul separates from the body, that act of separation, essentially constitutes a kind of death, a disconnect, a mini death. Conceptualizing the body and soul as separate entities creates a sense of disconnection that has created a lot of damage. The splitting of spirituality (soul) and sexuality (an aspect of the body temple), according to Lee Butler, results in the bifurcation of our very being that does not only result in the fracturing of our individual selves, it ultimately results in the destruction of our lives as relational beings.” Thus, we create and experience sexual dis-eases and sexual predators in our disembodied selves, in a world spinning out of control. By splitting spirituality and sexuality we create a dangerous world full of “evil” acts and behaviors. Romans 12:1 reminds us that our precious bodies serve as our temple and as a reminder of our connection to the Holy One whose creative energy in the universe inspired the design of the human body. Every breath we take, every word we speak is discerned in the universe. That which is sacred engulfs us with compassion and love as we seek to express the gifts of life that we have been given. Do we cherish this gift or do we squander it? Do we hold it as precious or do we abuse not only our temples but also others temples through acts of violence, that include, verbal, emotional, physical and psychological? Are we complicit with systems and institutions that abuse others and act unjustly? The mystery of life is embodied in the temple of life which we use to worship and give praise and acknowledgement to the Holy.
Another important role of the body is to procreate. Keeping our temples sacred allows us to preserve the sanctity of life and to continue the sacred act of procreation. In some faith traditions before men and women begin intercourse with the recitation of a prayer or a meditation. By doing so they acknowledge the sacredness of the act and the potential gift of renewing life through birth and rebirth. Additionally, the body represents a source of pleasure. Many individuals erroneously associate the terms erotic and eros with adult films that diminish the human body in general, but specifically women’s bodiesl. Others often consider the words erotic and eros as profane. Karen Baker-Fletcher reminds us that the love of Christ for the Church, the love of a bridegroom for his bride, and the bride’s love for the groom are examples of eros. She defines eros as the desire for union with the other. Baker-Fletcher asserts that eros has the power to heal the spirit as well as the body. She contends that the erotic satisfies more than physical hunger and tastes. Furthermore, the power of the erotic heals the soul and the very bones. “Presenting our bodies,” as instructed by the Apostle in Romans 12:1 is an act of power. Audre Lorde links the two concepts, power and eros. She describes eros as one of several types of internal powers that women can use to effectively work to heal oppressive conditions in their lives. Lorde maintains that, “the erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling . . . and is the life-force of women . . .that creative energy empowered . . . our language, our story, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.” Human failure to claim the power of eros and the erotic is a direct result of the split between spirituality and sexuality. As a result, the Black Church has predominantly taken a reactionary and accusatory stance that has unnecessarily wounded and stigmatized those who have courageously claimed their sexual identities that include gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trangendered and those questioning (GLBTQ). The HIV/AIDS epidemic has dramatically deepened the disconnect within the Black Church that as has resulted in “disappearing” sex except within the bounds of marriage and heterosexual unions.
Verse 2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind
The Apostle in verse 2 offers guidance to the people not to be drawn into the world. In other words, do not allow the world to act on you but stand strong and act on it that you may live a life according to those standards and values that reflect that which is sacred and holy. How might the world seek to transform us? Any number of ways, but this essay will address institutional power. Attempting to live by a set of moral guidelines is encouraged in the Bible and most religions. Yet, often working in environments and cultures where honesty and integrity may not be valued can be problematic to those living a life according to the laws of God. While moral guidelines can provide a moral compass in our individual lives it may be more complex if we desire success in our careers and vocations. This is particularly true if we live and work in highly competitive fields and environments where unethical behaviors are the norm. “Moral corruption” is damaging to the soul. In the Quran the scribe likens the soul to a mirror that is tarnished each time a wrong deed is committed. Thus, guarding the portals of the soul is essential. Living in the world becomes even more problematic for African American women in fields and positions where they are either the “only one” or “one of a few.” While the institutional culture and systems may affirm African American women by allowing them entry, that does not mean the institution is acting responsibly if once in the system she is expected to “play by the rules,” that is, if the rules are cut throat or simply require her to sell her soul for a job or career. Now a days some positions require sixty plus work weeks, with mandatory evenings and week end meetings. For women that want a life separate and apart from their careers they may have to choose between the lesser of the two “evils.” Thus, we are not always talking about evils that do great harm to others. In this instance she is being asked to do harm to her mental health and to dismiss any regard for effective self care in order to position herself for promotions and the perks that a career track can offer. As a result of poor self care, research findings indicate that the majority of ministers suffer from workaholic behavior, depression and substance abuse. Thus, the Apostle’s words of warning, “Do not be conformed to this world.”
A dehumanizing environment can cause alienation, a condition of estrangement which Delores Williams describes in her article, A Womanist Perspective on Sin. This condition of estrangement she asserts leads to a loss of identity. Society imposes a sense of unworthiness on African American women that in turn promotes their loss of identity. Williams further characterizes this process as “invisibilizing” African American women. Williams sheds light on how pervasive racism is in society that conveys messages to women of color through out their lives that they are not good enough the way they are. So the sin of “devaluation and defilement” renders African American women “invisible.” Unfortunately, because these conditions are so pervasive African American women internalize them and they usually assume they constitute the problem. Hence, the term “internalized oppression. Research findings indicate that African American women working in settings with few or no other African Americans often experience some or all of the following:
• Pressure to perform and prove themselves. One manifestation is assuming myriad tasks and roles to prove ones worth. This pressure is often a combination of internal drive and external realities.
• Emotional and physical stress from the pressures may result in health problems if self care is not a part of the individuals life style.
• Emotional conflict due to switching personas, that is, crossing cultural divides due to segueing between work environment, family and social life.
• Struggle with sense of self. If the individuals sense of self is not already sufficiently strong enough to withstand not seeing images of others that look like her she may end up mired in depression or be vulnerable to unhealthy addictions such as workaholism, alcoholism, food, sex, gambling etc.
Serving as bridges between two worlds, African American women often
experience what Katie Cannon calls the “loneliness and pain of endless and constant translation.” She further asserts that it is “harder to find places where they can be at home in the same way that others can.”
Having knowledge of this tendency to internalize oppression, African American women can choose to retain an ethical framework when others are playing “dirty” by refusing to react hostilely or to lash out at others. This allows African American women to stand in their power and be grounded in their ethics. Maintaining ethics and dignity are essential and herein the Apostle’s words resonant, “do not conform yourselves to (the easy standards of) the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind . . . Do not lose your self in the ways of the world. The easy fixes that coerce and seduce us into their ways bear a price in the end. If we choose to align ourselves with systems that are destructive to ourselves and others then we give away our souls and we may find that our hands are stained with “bloodguilt.” What is it that the Apostle is cautioning the people against? Fill in the blank _________________. Whatever your tendency is that sends caution to the wind. Fill in the blank_________________.
We must know ourselves or we are vulnerable to the “evils” of the world. Physician heal thyself! Minister, heal thyself!
But be transformed by the renewal of your mind
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word renewal means: 1) to make or become new; fresh, or strong again; 2) to restore to existence; recreate; revive; 3) to make or do again; repeat; 4) to begin again; resume; 5) replace; 6) to grant or obtain an extension. What a rich and powerful word. The scribe places the following three words in close proximity to each other: “transformed: “renewal” and “mind.” The two words “transformed” and “renewal” are not only action words but they evoke positive action. They direct the reader toward change. Both words denote change, not just any change but change for the better. Using the example cited earlier let us examine African American women ministers in Unitarian Universalism, in the congregational setting where some are battling with what could be defined as oppressive cultures. How does this manifest? Perhaps there is resistance to anything “Black” that the minister suggests or attempts. Any anti-racism training that the minister suggests or anytime a Black speaker is invited to deliver the sermon when she is not in the pulpit, the board and/or her ministerial committee or both, caution her about becoming a “single issue” pastor. Or the other extreme is they are so eager to be seen as non-racist they provide no critical feedback. Everything she does is fine. Neither extreme is helpful. A year later the minister has failed to increase the diversity at the church, thus, the board and/or her ministerial committee are growing impatient and beginning to micro manage her because they believe if she were more efficient she would be more successful at achieving diversity. They are beginning to question her competence which taps into her own internalized oppression. She begins to work longer hours and to initiate new programs that while needed, she cannot possibly manage alone. She becomes more controlling in her relationship with the administrator who she feels has not responded well to her leadership. She is not sure if it is because she is African American or simply a personality conflict. In addition, pastoral care has dropped off after a year because the “uniqueness and glamour” of having their first African American minister has worn off. The minister is living in an area in the country where she has not lived before and so she has not formed any close friendships. She has intentionally not formed close intimate relationships with members in an effort ot honor appropriate boundaries. Yet, she has not been successful in forming any outside of the church. She was dating a United Church of Christ minister that she really cared about but he wanted to be free to date others. Besides, she was still lonely for “girlfriends” that she could hang out with and let her hair down. In the erroneous belief that if she worked harder and longer hours to prove her competency, she would win over the board’s lingering concerns about her leadership, and the few disgruntled members that didn’t seem to like anything she did, she was now working sixty hour weeks.
Girlfriend needs a renewal of the mind. She needs to remember who she is and whose she is. Where is her mentor? Where is her spiritual director? Where is her therapist and self help group? In other words, where is her support network? The trite and overused axiom that, “God helps those that help themselves” is applicable here. She needs to stand in her power and find some support that will hold up her mirror and remind her who she is. She is a child of God and she is good enough just as she is. A renewal of the mind is needed here as she heals from the woundedness that she is recreating in her present from past experiences. Losing sight of her ministry goals has dug her hole deeper, made her situation worse and allowed her to become a moving target for all that is wrong with the congregation. A renewal of the mind will allow her to call on the God consciousness that called her to ministry and to the congregation in the first place. A renewal of the mind will bring her some peace of mind and clarity so that she can rein her workaholism in and begin to practice better self care. Having allowed the world to transform her she needs to claim the power of God and renew her ministry and mind by getting a mentor, a spiritual director, therapy and into a self help group. She needs to get a life.
One commentary source contends the following:
that “conversion and sanctification are the renewing of the mind: a change, not of the substance, but of the qualities of the soul. The progress of sanctification, dying to sin more and more, and living to righteousness more and more, is the carrying on this renewing work, till it is perfected in glory. The great enemy to this renewal is conformity to this world. Take heed of forming plans for happiness, as though it lay in the things of this work, which soon pass away. Do not fall in with the customs of those who walk in the lusts of the flesh, and mind earthly things. The work of the Holy Ghost first begins in the understanding, and is carried on to the will, affections, and conversation, till there is a change of the whole man into the likeness of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Thus, to be godly, is to give up ourselves to God.
That you may be and prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect
What is the will of God? It is about manifesting the God consciousness that we were conceived in. That we might know God and recognize our God consciousness and learn to live integrated lives that reflect balance, values and justice for all people. The prophet Micah in 6:8 says it much more eloquently and simply, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to work humbly with your God.?” The Apostle in Romans clearly spells it out for us, “the will of God is that which is good, acceptable and perfect.” Thus, when we resist oppression and the abuse of power, then we are doing the will of the Holy, we are doing what is good, acceptable and perfect.
May it be so! Blessed Be! Amen! Shalom! Ashe!
Butler, Lee. “The Spirit is Willing and the Flesh is Too: Living Whole and Holy Lives Through Integrating Spirituality and Sexuality in Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic edited by Anthony B. Pinn and Dwight N. Hopkins. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004.
Daloz, Laurent A. Parks, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen and Sharon Daloz Parks, ed. Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
Fletcher, Karen Baker. “The Erotic in Contemporary Black Women’s Writings” edited by Anthony B. Pinn and Dwight N. Hopkins. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004.
Walley, Barbara “Oneness (part 2 of 2) in Creative Thought: Awakening Humanity to Its Spiritual Magnificence (Spokane: Religious Science International, 2007.
Williams, Delores S. “A Womanist Perspective on Sin” in A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil & Suffering. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999.
BibleGateway.com – Commentaries (http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/index/php?action=getCommentary)