The following is a comment I sent to the UUA’s Election-l mailing list which serves as a forum for the UUA presidential candidates. Gini Courter (pictured below) is the UUA’s elected moderator (their highest volunteer position, presiding at GAs and meetings of the Board of Trustees).
But her endorsement of Laurel Hallman (which you can read at http://hallmanforuuapresident.com ) is not to my liking, as you’re about to find out.
Gini Courter’s endorsement rings hollow
Gini Courter’s endorsement for Laurel Hallman may well backfire. Her
‘listening to congregations’ rhetoric sounds to me like the Bush
administration’s response to Global Warming scientists: ‘Let’s delay
action indefinitely by studying this some more.’ By contrast, Peter
Morales reminds us that we have already gathered plenty of actionable,
practical knowledge on fostering growth because we have been actively
listening to and working with the full spectrum of congregations for a
long time. His training DVDs, workshops, and success stories
(including the growth at his own congregation) prove conclusively that
neither miracles nor gobs of cash but only dedication are required.
However, too few congregations have yet seized on or even realized
their own potential.
Peter would be an inspiring leader who can make congregations aware
that various solutions adaptable to their local situations exist, have
been identified for some time, and are within their means. He would
impress on congregations that none of these solutions will likely work
if they skip the necessary self inspection to identify with painful
honesty why they still shrink or stagnate.
But most importantly, he gives it a distinctive religious thrust, even
mandate: We are the religion for our time, and we owe it to those who
are seeking a liberal spiritual home to truly welcome them.
My experience, as a humanist and atheist, is that UU offers the Good
of religion without the Bad (not counting committee meetings):
community, deep reflection about what is important in life, social
justice, good deeds and activism, joy, music, and caffeine. We reject
religious dogma as the arbitrary and often cruelly inhumane traditions
that they are and insist on thinking for ourselves.
Peter tells us Unitarian Universalism ought to be a life changing
offering for a very large number of Americans, and that we must get
our act together to become the denomination that makes good on that
liberating promise. This time of economic crisis presents an
opportunity not to retreat and refocus on our existing membership but
to invite others in to share what we have.
To me, Gini Courter’s talk about ‘listening’ further sounds like a
calculated appeal to those congregations who don’t want to change, who
neither want to listen nor to share, and to tell them that Laurel
Hallman is the candidate who will happily leave them to their own
devices. Her appeal sounds like fishing for votes among those who
don’t care about the association anyway. Peter has stated that he,
too, won’t force anyone to change. But it is because he wants to focus
the UUA’s energy on those congregations who have declared a desire to
Furthermore, Gini Courter’s harping on ‘listening’ ignores that Peter
(but not Laurel!) has identified and publicized new upcoming problems
for the UU movement that many ministers and lay leaders are not
sufficiently aware of (such as the demographic steamroller bound to
flatten us in just a few years, or the almost total absence of non-
white ministers in the training pipeline). Someone has to alert them
and call on them to jointly work on solutions. Listening goes both ways.
Gini Courter then claims we need a leader “grounded in our polity”
which seems to imply that only a ‘UU lifer’ could ever be eligible.
First, this denies the fact that our denomination would long have gone
extinct if not for the influx of adult seekers from other religions or
no religion at all. Peter is one of those, and he represents that
large, and active, segment of members who arrived here later in life.
For him, UU is not a family tradition but a deliberate choice. He has
turned his own calling into a call to expand our role and turn our
liberal and liberating approach to faith from a feeble and marginal
one to a clear and relevant voice in American religious life.
Secondly, our stagnation is bigger trouble than many realize (we are
in effect shrinking relative to population growth). It is often easier
for someone who has not been an insider his or her entire career to
provide a more helpful diagnosis. Organizations who managed to survive
crisis have typically brought in leaders from the outside. Peter,
fortunately, offers both: he has years of intimate inside UU
experience on the national, regional, and congregational level, as
well as perspectives gained working in business, government, and the
By contrast, Laurel lacks an outside perspective, and her
overoptimistic leadership in the failed million dollar Pathways “Fast
Start” Congregation endeavor is perhaps indicative that a UUA
president needs broader qualifications than long tenure and a
successful ministry. Had she googled “why churches fail” she would
have found out immediately that among two dozen options to create a
new congregation they picked the most expensive one, and the one least
likely to succeed. Optimism alone doesn’t cut it.
Finally, Gini Courter’s evocation ‘treat them not like customers’ is
empty rhetoric. Obviously, the UUA – by nature of its contingent of
fiercely independent members – will never be ‘top down’ or a mere
service pool. But of course Boston headquarters has a much appreciated
and needed role to be of service to congregations and to allocate and
steer resources. For that, we could make due simply with an
administrative manager, and that’s not the job up for a vote.
But to instigate our necessary national dialogue about directions,
problems, and solutions we need a president with a clear vision and a
voice that wakes us from complacency and tells us that, yes: We can be
the religion for our time. Peter Morales is that leader.
M.V., Golden, Colorado,
(a member of Peter Morales’ congregation, Jefferson Unitarian Church)
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