On Thursday, October 17, 2019, Rev. Paige Getty met with Susan Clack, Frank Hazzard, and Becky Reese, serving as representatives of UUCC community members who identify as the 4th Principle Group (4PG). The purpose of the meeting was to have a dialogue with Paige about key issues of concern to 4PG members with the intention of moving forward toward reconciliation and eventual resolution. Following are highlights of the discussion, which all four of us have agreed to share with the congregation.
When asked what she tells people who ask about what’s been going on at UUCC, Paige said it’s not a set speech and that the answer depends on who is asking and the context. She says we are navigating what it means to be in community with one another; that we are in a conflict, which she believes is racialized. (In contrast, the 4PG representatives maintained that their members do not see the conflict as racialized, except to the extent that it has been framed that way by others.) Paige believes the issues are multifaceted and have many complications. She sees the heart of the conflict as being about a level of discomfort and dissatisfaction with the ways our understanding of ourselves as a congregation and our mission have evolved, and particularly with how we’re doing our anti-racism work.
She noted that many people are grieving the loss of the congregation they once joined because it has changed. And while the conflict is not about her personally, it is about the direction of the congregation under Paige’s leadership. In addition, Paige also sees a generational element to the conflict. The needs of some older people are not being met, and she is still learning and exploring how to resolve that.
Paige asked Becky, Frank, and Susan each to name what has been lost, what they are grieving, and what needs are not being met. Key points included losing long-standing members of the community, a supportive environment of kindness and respect, and friends sustaining each other through tough times, whatever their age or color.
Becky, Frank, and Susan said that the 4PG members do not oppose anti-racism work and that many are actively engaged in it in various ways. They believe the 4PG has similar aspirations regarding racial justice, but they object to what they see as call-out culture norms. They oppose what the 4PG characterizes as the divisive and directive approach at UUCC and the UUA, which they view as marketing and indoctrination. They would prefer a process that they would characterize as learning together and collaboration in which we reach congregational agreement on priorities and the approach to achieving them.
Paige suggested that the premise that 4PG members are not objecting to working on anti-racism falls apart when we move beyond talking just about individual racist actions. She and board leaders see individual actions as irrelevant if the goal is to dismantle systemic institutionalized racism. In other words, a group of individuals who never engage in individual racist acts can still contribute to systemic institutionalized racism.
Paige noted that many Black people report that they’ve never been completely comfortable in a UU environment, and people are saying they don’t feel comfortable in our congregation. The 4PG representatives observed that many new UUCC members report challenges with becoming engaged and involved in the congregation as well. While people of color may always wonder about what factors contribute to less welcoming behavior, it may be a fairly common issue in general.
The 4PG representatives raised several specific issues of concern:
(1) The “pause” in communications regarding the ideas in the Gadfly book appears to be indefinite. Paige said the message to stop discussing Gadfly and associated issues on social media was a guideline for a particular conversation, at a particular time. She did not perceive it as an ongoing prohibition but noted that we should use good judgment on social media. (She said not mentioning the Gadfly papers was an example of good judgment.) The 4PG representatives asked if she would send out a congregation-wide email clarifying that public social media space is now open to all subjects. She said she probably would not. Paige remarked that, among other things, such a message would reinforce the false narrative that the congregational leadership has the authority and ability to dictate what may and may not be discussed, as opposed to the leadership requesting restraint and good judgment. The 4PG representatives agreed that some issues, including ideas raised in the Gadfly book, can be volatile, and yet having undiscussable topics is an unhealthy behavior in organizations.
(2) Why was leadership upset by the 4PG’s use of the UUCC directory to send the July 31 letter, since the purpose of the directory is to facilitate communication among congregation members? Paige explained that she and the board see the directory as a resource for personal contact among members. Using it to send a mass email, which was not authorized by leadership, was perceived as a breach of trust. The 4PG reps pointed out that leadership would not have authorized them to send the message through official channels, which Paige acknowledged. Paige noted that she is not interested in doing things that make people feel forced to go around the systems and norms that are in place. And yet, Becky, Frank, and Susan suggested that is precisely why the 4PG bypassed leadership.
(3) The 4PG recommends that UUCC engage in a congregation-wide conflict resolution effort that includes a forum in which all in the UUCC community can speak for themselves and engage in a responsible exchange of ideas via a structured process led by experts from outside the UUA. One objective would be to collectively set norms based on an assumption of good intentions. [A response to this request is in process following a visit by these 4PG representatives to the November 12th Board of Trustees meeting.]
Paige still questions what 4PG members mean when they say they object to “the approach” to racial justice work. She acknowledges that she is aligned with a “side” that is dedicated to working toward racial justice. Becky, Frank, and Susan continued to emphasize that both “sides” are for racial justice, but the favored tactics differ, as well as perhaps the level of emphasis/working-commitment. Defining what people object to in terms of “the approach” would be one of the key topics to be included in a reconciliation process.