Update on the Unitarians United ...
The Rev. Dan Hankins writes to tell me that he's offended that I question his ministerial credentials, as he has been ordained by the Assemblies of God and is now an Episcopal priest. He is apparently starting an "AUC" church -- American Unitarian Conference-- and therefore claims to accurately identify himself as an ordained minister "in the American Unitarian Conference."
I write back to tell him that I'm sorry for my assumptions but I never questioned his ministerial credentials, and I think he's being disingenuous. Calling his organization "Unitarians United for Abortion Alternatives" obviously leads visitors to his website to assume that he's a Unitarian Universalist. I tell him that I am in full sympathy with the AUC's critique of UU culture, but that's not the point. The point is that there is such a thing as specificity of tradition and of fellowship within those traditions, and we should be responsible for identifying ourselves in non-misleading ways.
I apologize for implying that the Rev. Dan Hankins a liar. I retract that. He has not lied, but has been sloppy in his wording and, I believe, disingenuous in his protestations. I still wonder at the "accident" that leads visitors to the web site to "join the UUA" [sic] and not the "UUAA." Hmmm.
Remember, folks, that I went to this web site out of interest in an organization that is religiously based and wants to explore alternatives to abortion. I'm not jumping on this man because of what he's doing. I'm beating this drum because of what it represents for us. I see knowledge of our polity slipping many places and it bothers me. Again and again I meet UUs who are unaware (1) that only a congregation can ordain one of our ministers (2) that our ministers are accountable to their colleagues and our member congregations through the fellowshiping process. This isn't to say that the fellowshiping process is perfect, but it's what we have, and I will always vociferously protest when someone skips not only the first step but the second step, and publicly identifies as one of our ministers.
I believe in the fellowship process. I believe in the relationship between colleagues. I believe in that mutual accountability, so that if one of us screws up or causes harm, there is at least the chance that the person harmed can take their complaints somewhere and feel heard. I understand that we often fail to take steps against seriously dysfunctional UU ministers. I know. But if someone feels harmed by me (like one bride who was furious that I told her I wasn't available to do her wedding after she jerked me around and behaved abominably in the early planning process), they should be able to call the UUA Department of Ministry and say, "Hey, this minister of yours should be punished!" Ministers floating around out there with no clear affiliation make even that small satisfaction impossible. I don't like it, I tell you. I don't like it that if someone said to me, "Gee, one of your colleagues told me that if I had an abortion, I was very likely to suffer terrible psychological consequences from it," I wouldn't be able to get in touch with this minister and say, "Hey colleague, can we talk about this?" If that colleague is serving one of our congregations, I know how to get in touch with them. But if the minister is neither in fellowship nor serving one of our congregations, there is no possibility of getting in touch.
Remember, I'm a Puritan at heart. I believe in the chastening rod.
I think we underestimate the power of our collegial relationships. I know that for me, they are tremendously important: a source of support, of wisdom, of discernment and of correction. I want to be held accountable to my colleagues. They should be busting me sometimes; I expect and need it.
If the American Unitarian Conference is going to start congregations, they will have the freedom to call ministers from any tradition they like. I'm not even sure where they are in the process of dealing with the specifics around forming their own association of congregations. I hope they do. I think it would be terrific. However, as they know and as you know, they will never be in the business of ordaining ministers as an organization.
I'm sorry if I seem like a ridiculous Pharisee here. It's not just that I'm a polity freak. It's that I have deeply held religious beliefs undergirding my respect for the way our tradition works.
Rev. Hankins IS a minister, a fact I always assumed might be true. I think he should be clear with visitors to his site about what kind of minister he is. Again, as I said in the comments section, people doing ministry in such a morally charged context as abortion --and counseling people at an intensely vulnerable time -- should be very clear about who they are and whence they derive their moral authority.