Response to Concerns Raised About Ministry Days
Friday, June 24, 2016
Response to Concerns Raised About Ministry Days
Rev. Josh Pawelek
At Large Member, UUMA Board
June 23rd, 2016
At the conclusion of my report to the UUMA business meeting as the outgoing chair of the Committee for Antiracism, Anti-Oppression and Multiculturalism, I took a moment to reflect on concerns I and others had been hearing from colleagues about Tuesday’s opening worship service. Those remarks are posted below, followed by further comments and a recommendation from the UUMA Board in light of concerns raised about Wednesday’s 25/50 worship service.
Many of you reported having a wonderful experience in Tuesday morning’s worship. But some reported the opposite; and I’d like to name what I’ve heard and offer an apology. First, “One More Step” and “Guide My Feet,” while they are beloved songs in the current UU canon, are also songs in which people who don’t walk or run or step cannot locate themselves. Second, references in music and spoken word to ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers,’ though very common in our language, leave no room for gender queer people and anyone who doesn’t identify with one side or the other of the gender binary. I know of two ways to address these concerns. First, adapt the language. We don’t have to walk or run, we can move, we can roll. Many of us may be sisters or brothers, but we are also siblings. Second, if there’s a compelling reason to use the original language, then in the very least, acknowledge that the language is not inclusive and state the compelling reason. In a number of instances on Tuesday we pursued neither of these options. To all those who felt left out or invisible, I offer a heart-felt apology. I also caution us that this apology is not about the feelings of any particular individual, and it is definitely not about political correctness. This is an acknowledgement that we missed the mark. This is about who we are, how we are together, and how we fulfill the promise of our theology and our principles.
There’s more. Orlando. So complex. It’s been difficult for the United States to speak of Orlando in terms of race. But there are distinct racial and ethnic dimensions to this mass shooting. At best on Tuesday we hinted at these dimensions, but we didn’t name them explicitly; and to the extent we mirror the nation’s difficulty with speaking about the racial and ethnic dimensions, beloved colleagues in our midst experience themselves as invisible. Yes, the Pulse Nightclub attack was an attack on the GBLTQ community. And it was also an attack on Latinx/a/o night (I believe they billed it as Latino Night). Let’s name that. The victims were brown, some were black, some were white. Let’s name that. And adding to the complexity, the shooter was a person of Afghan heritage. We have colleagues of South Asian and Middle Eastern heritage who are living intimately with this complexity. Let’s name that too.
These remarks will be published online for those who are not present but who may wish to know about them. I am grateful to those who’ve brought their concerns to us. I suspect there may be more concerns we still have not named. I am grateful to those who have high expectations of CARM. In this moment I don’t wish to make any promises about how these kinds of concerns will be addressed in the future, but we have the capacity to address them. Of that I am sure. We have the capacity to listen, to learn, and move—with haste—to a way of being, planning, worshipping, presenting—to a culture—in which our actions more seamlessly match the welcoming, multicultural UUMA we envision.
As an addendum to these remarks, I want to add that concerns have now been raised about ableism in the 25/50 service. Some examples include: 1) a song that equated blindness with ignorance; 2) an invitation to rise without reference to ability or ‘in body or spirit’; and 3) more references to walking as a metaphor for our spiritual lives with no acknowledgement that the metaphor is not inclusive. There was more.
Clearly there is a problem with ableism in our public presentation. Public statements, music, stories and metaphors that perpetuate ableism have been hurtful to colleagues. As with any oppression, this ableism likely runs deeper than our public presentation. I remain grateful to all those who are willing to call it to our attention, and I am deeply sorry that such calling is still necessary.
Realizing that Tuesday’s problems continued into Wednesday, it seems clear that the UUMA needs to make some changes related to ableism and accessibility. After further discussion about these concerns at its Thursday, June 23rd meeting, the UUMA Board has committed to work with the Executive Director to arrange for an ableism audit of the UUMA and create processes to insure that the UUMA’s attention to and knowledge of these issues (not only at Ministry Days but at all UUMA programs and in chapter life) increases sufficiently so that substantive changes can be made and our welcome to and inclusion of colleagues with disabilities can flourish.
Rev. Josh Pawelek, on behalf of the UUMA Board