In times such as these, marked by a deep sense of insecurity, distrust, and fear of change we need the strength found in radical community welcome even more. And those who are most frightened, because they are now the targets of hate or erasure need the assurance of safety as community members the most. In this way, our faith needs to focus on living into our faith and its expressions of community and to take steps to address what hinders full participation and care for others. Our work for the last 18 months has convinced us that this is essential to our spiritual lives and engagements. Vigils and observances in remembrance of tragic happenings are important as practices of solidarity, but real solidary goes deeper—these events ought to compel us to take action acting to address our part to ensure that our communities can be places of sanctuary for those who need them most.
When charged by the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Association to investigate racism in Unitarian Universalism, we were given a specific assignment to look at the events of the spring of 2017 and what they told us about the state of race and our faith. As we engaged in this work, it became apparent to us that we needed further exploration into what it means to be a religious professional of color in our Association of Congregations, and the impact of our practices in the lives and ministries of religious professionals of color in particular. What we found was a toxic triangle of systemic racism, conflict aversion, and idealism, which negatively impacts religious professionals of color, while their white peers continue to work largely unhindered unless they too called into question the dynamics of racial oppression. When racist realities meet idealism and are then compounded with conflict-averse culture, the results are devastating to individuals.
When religious professionals of color call us into right relationship within our shared principles, the pushback they experience may leave them exhausted, ill, traumatized, and often their employment in jeopardy because of their convictions and our denomination’s culture of conflict aversion. This conflict aversion led to practices which greatly amplify the pain that individuals endure when they speak their truth to communities unskilled at hearing it.
We could spend the rest of our time further amplifying and documenting the destruction that this toxic triangle of systemic racism, conflict aversion, and idealism had caused and continues to perpetuate. If left unaddressed, the interviews we have conducted suggest it will undermine the vitality of our faith. Our Association has asked its religious professionals to be the advance team for the anti-racism and multiculturalism we aspired to—and which we have failed to live into. As a faith movement, we have claimed over and over again, resolution by resolution, that we wish to embrace, especially to examine the experience of members, friends, community partners and others who are people of color and other marginalized within our dominant culture. And yet, over and over again we miss the mark. Before we turn to this other important work, we add a few more observations about the state of religious professionals of color.
We find it particularly egregious that, despite many Associational professions towards anti-racism and multiculturalism since our last racial audit in 1981, we have not developed accountability procedures that keep track and help us rectify how we are doing in the commitments to Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multiculturalism. We have not even tracked what has happened and is happening to the religious professionals who have taken on navigating this toxic triangle day after day, and year after year. In our stories collection effort, we have collected testimonies that bear witness to how this course has caused damage to the mental, and physical, and spiritual health of our religious professionals. One minister of color was moved to say that religious professionals for marginalized groups deserve “combat pay.” As an Association, we have not even done the most basic courtesy of noting the stories and tracking the progress of our candidates to ministry—and thus, have an incomplete, but telling picture of our current reality.
In January of 2018, the Commission began an effort to track data on the credentialing and career trajectories of religious professionals of color, as story after story reveals that they face a shorter professional trajectory, as do white professionals who take strong stands against racist behavior. After almost a year of considerable time and effort we have come the following conclusions:
- Existing data is inadequate to do any analysis of what happens to religious professionals of color. In fact, there is no centralized data available about any other form of religious professionals with the exception of ministers, even though we have professed a goal of more diverse hiring. Currently, there is no reliable nor complete data on directors of religious education, administrators, or music directors exist. Religious professionals work in administrative, membership, and a host of other support positions, at full and part-time roles and yet we have no way of accurately document their contributions nor the challenges they may face in our congregations. Because our current decentralized credentialing process the data available is not only uneven across identities but sparse. Furthermore, we need to reckon with the reality that a significant number of our religious professionals are not employed in full-time positions and thus may not have access to professional development resources available to full-time employees. Thus, the gap of available data gets further compounded as we moved to look outside of Credentialed Ministers and Religious Professionals. As an association, we have not devoted the resources, despite our recognition of the significance that these individuals play in the transformation of our association towards a goal that we have stated we aspire to, to even track.
- The scant data about ministers of color is incomplete and concerning. Data has not been maintained in any consistent way and practices (including removing people from the data set who encounter difficulties in the process of credentialing) undermined these efforts. The implication for our work is that our ability to report with any level of accuracy has been compromised by the existing data collecting practices and thus mean that we must abandon this effort to say with precision where we have been at this time. What we do know is that at least 143 people of color have entered into the professional ministry since 1981 and, in light of the available data, that we have dated that about 70 of them have achieved final Fellowship. We can also report that we do not know how long it took, though we do know from the data we have, that multiple placements and multiple short ministries are not uncommon for those ministers of color among us.
- This lack of data dishonors those who attempted to serve and who continue to serve. We have discovered many names missing from the lists, individuals who paid with their life’s blood and who saw their ministries compromised by the toxic triangle we named. While ministry is a demanding profession, what we ask from our ministers of color often results in loss of health and wellness, crises of faith and other detrimental situations.
- A few other populations historically marginalized among us, especially people with disabilities and transgender individuals, experience similar barriers to successful and healthful employment. We also need to track their contributions and challenges. They also need monitoring.
In light of this work and these conversations, we call for the following:
- The UUA should invest in the resources to track the career trajectories of credentialed and non-credentialed religious professionals, including credentialing-process success or barriers to access the process, and reasons for ending employment or call. Data collected should include among others:
- Length of service in years (not completed placements) and nature of employment
- Level attained within Fair Compensation Guidelines
- Reasons for termination, especially use of “negotiated settlements” which seem to be hastening the demise of religious professionals of color.
- Documentation of the role played by field staff in ending the ministries and employment.
- Consistent hiring and firing processes should be used for hiring UUA staff and also recommended for congregations seeking to hire religious professionals of color. We commend President Susan Frederick Gray for making resources available for “startups” for ministers of color and strongly recommend these be offered to other religious professionals of color as well and developed into more of a systemic approach rather than done situation by situation.
- Reasons for employment or call termination ought to be analyzed and integrated, and benchmarked according to best practices, including trauma-informed ways of following up with religious professionals who have been damaged by their work with our communities. Our collection of testimonies point to the use of “negotiated settlements” and other closed processes to reduce the public outcry that can come from the firing of a religious professional of color. These also keep congregational misconduct a secret and allow it to be perpetuated. Congregations who misconduct repeatedly should be openly identified. Congregations, Ministers, as well as other Religious Professionals who have had a failed relationship with a Religious Professional of color should be identified as part of the search process. Educational resources should be offered to them (perhaps at their cost) and this education should be required prior to being allowed to participate in the settlement system.
- The establishment of a Rapid Response Team which can intervene when employment disputes involving religious professionals occur. This team would be centrally coordinated and consist of trained individuals with different specialties so that a specific team could respond to a specific concern.
- Trauma-informed practices to be used in the recruitment, education, development, credentialing, hiring and firing of religious professionals of color.
- Continuing education for all religious professionals including ministers. To this end, we support the call for the end of “final fellowship” and support the idea of “full fellowship,” a status which acknowledges a deeper level of professional knowledge and confers the ability to serve in certain leadership positions and to supervise those undergoing credentialing or in needs of mentorship, and call for ongoing professional development in order to maintain full fellowship status.
- Examination of the credentialing process which biases service to congregations which predominantly serve white, economically secure or affluent people. Our congregations are hard places for religious professionals of color to serve and tying progress on credentialing only to this pathway is both outdated and establishes disadvantages to those who struggle in those communities.
- Common standards for multicultural competency and anti-oppressive awareness (including training in anti-blackness and intersectionality) with the resources for development, and implementation, and assessment of impact.
- Accurate tracking of data on all religious professionals, and particularly religious professionals of color, (and transgender, and disabled religious professionals) including a request to share names with the UUA during next year’s certification process. Development of data that will allow accurate tracking of the status and trajectory of religious professionals of color as well as allow Associational resources to support these individuals who often suffer in isolation.
As we move to other pressing matters, we do not leave our focus on the religious professionals of color who give so much of their life’s energy to the furthering of a Unitarian Universalism which lives its values. As we examine the need for reparations, we will, no doubt, return to this area. We call on the UUA Board, President Susan Frederick-Gray and her team, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the UU Ministers Association, the Liberal Religious Educators Association, Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries and other related bodies to note the call for a radically different system of support and accountability. This will benefit all of Unitarian Universalism which must do better in these times when our faith needs to be a sanctuary against hate and oppression.