Rev. Sinkford’s blog …
As some of you know, last Thursday UUA President, Peter Morales resigned amid controversy surrounding staff hiring and racial diversity. His decision followed reaction to a recent hire in which a white male minister was chosen over a Latina. It was the fifth white male minister to be hired to fill 5 new regional lead positions. As reported, both applicants for this position were acknowledged to be qualified, but the white male was judged to be a “better fit.” It was, given our commitments as a faith and our aspirations, simply a bad decision.
Today there is deep concern in many parts of our community, including very importantly the UU community of color. The UUA staff is beleaguered. Attention has been brought to the lack of diversity in our leadership at the denominational and the congregational level…once again. The UUA Board is searching for a way to respond that will point toward hope.
Let me be clear that I do not view racial/cultural diversity in our leadership as a panacea. You know as well as I do that my ministry here at First Unitarian has not magically stimulated tremendous racial diversity in our pews, though there are a few more darker faces as I look out from the chancel on Sunday morning. A diverse leadership will not save us, but the decision to preserve a white leadership face for our faith is a decision to resist the transformation we claim to yearn for.
Were the UUA’s leaders who made this hiring decision bad, racist individuals? No. I know these leaders well. I hired some of them when I was UUA President. But our institutions are part of a system that is constructed to maintain white privilege, a system that transcends individual attitude and conscious thought.
I make no comment about the individual applicants for the position, either the white man or the woman of color. But let me hasten to point out that the criteria of “fit” will always favor who we already are rather than who we wish to become. “Fit” reflects a preference for white, male leadership that places lower value on the wisdom of people of color and the lens of our experience. Remember the commentary about Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was so criticized for promising to bring her life experience as a Latina to the Supreme Court deliberations.
The challenge for our faith is to make this sad chain of events into an opportunity to take a next step toward the Beloved Community. We need to find a way to renew our commitments and imagine deeper ways to embody them. This will require courage and a steadfast commitment to resist a return to the status quo.
You will see my signature on a letter from ministers of color, referenced in the WORLD article and in the Washington Post coverage of these developments.
A new UUA President will be elected at the General Assembly in New Orleans in less than three months. There are three talented white female candidates. Two of them visited First Unitarian at the end of February.
One was called to ministry out of this church. All three are committed to addressing these spiritual issues.
It is likely to be a tumultuous spring for our faith and a complex General Assembly as we deal with our shortcomings and our commitments. I want you to know that I am trying to support deepening health and wholeness for our leadership and our community. Opportunities for me to make a contribution may well increase.
Racism and resignations were, however, not the only tough issues Unitarian Universalism had to face last week.
Last Thursday also saw the revelation that one of our Community Ministers, in Tulsa, OK, had confessed to use of child pornography and abuse of young children. He was promptly removed from Ministerial Fellowship and will face criminal charges. Just as with racism, this was another sure sign that we are not exempt from the brokenness of the culture in which we live.
I share this sad news with a purpose. At First Unitarian we speak often of the Beloved Community. Our commitment to that vision, however, does not blind us to the reality that evil exists in the world and, at times, even in us. We therefore take very seriously the need to provide a safe environment for our children. Our teachers are thoroughly vetted, references are called, and each one must pass a criminal background check. And there are two adults, not one, always, in every classroom.
To say that we live in a complicated world sounds trite. Our faith is grounded in love. The measure of its worth is the help and support we find to live in this complicated world, not some future paradise and not some lost Eden. Unitarian Univeralism has to “fit” us to help love live in our own hearts and in the world with all of its brokenness and all of its beauty.
Rev. Bill Sinkford