Friday, June 02, 2006

Update on the Unitarians United ...

This just in:

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.


Blogger fausto said...

AUC isn't a bona fide religious denomination, is it? I thought it was more in the nature of an affinity group.

Blogger Kim said...

This is the reply I got from him:

Kim, please tell me where I say that I was ordained by the AUC? I am an
ordained Episcopal Priest who is trying to affiliate with the AUC and
start an AUC church ( Memphis. I do not want to
give the impression of dishonesty to anyone. Please tell me how to
correct the bad impression you got so that others do not get the same
impression. Thank you. Dan

Yes, to say he was a minister in the Unitarian church implies he's a Unitarian minister.

Blogger Peregrinato said...

I find the AUC terribly confusing. Am I correct from my scan of its website (in desperate need of organizational help) that any church can merely affiliate with it? So I could gather a group of people, we could call ourselves a church, we could join the AUC at $3/congregant, call ourselves a Church in the Unitarian tradition, they could ordain anyone and instantly grant them ministerial credentials? Is there any sort of process by which clergy are evaluated for professional competency, and congregations are held accountable for anything? I hope there is, but it wasn't apparent to me from a (hasty) scan.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

Last time I read the AUC website throughly, there wasnt any affiliated churches - but I see now there are; and judging by the websitge the AUC doesnt ordain ministers themselves.
However it can grant association status to ordained ministers

(see their congregation page)

I understand there are other small churches calling themselves "Unitarians" besides the AUC.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

I don't envy the AUC all the bureaucratic, organizational decisions they'll have to make around fellowshiping ministers, affiliating congregations, and the like. I have no idea how they're going to go about all that business and suspect they're not quite sure how it will all unfold themselves quite yet.
Of course when they started out, the UUA immediately hit them with a lawsuit around their original name, which didn't do anything to establish warm relations between the two entities.

It's very hard: people who would like to establish Unitarian churches in the classical Unitarian tradition are going to by necessity have to mix it up with the UUA on some level.

It would be one thing if the American Unitarian Association just went defunk and all the churches with the name "Unitarian" in them closed. But of course that didn't happen; there was a merger of the AUA and the Universalist Church of America. That in itself is complicated enough. To add in a new organization that wants to propogate classical Unitarianism but ISN'T an affiliate organization of the UUA is a real stack of details for interested players to figure out.
I hope they do; I'd love for there to be a strong Theistic Unitarian movement out there -- and lots of congregations for unapologetically Theistic and Christian Unitarian ministers to serve.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

LOL! "defunk" = "defunct"

"Bring in da noise, bring in defunct!"

Blogger SC Universalist said...

the third "Unitarian" group has their ownwebsite too - It apparently is not a group but a house church near Charlotte NC (website ) Interesting defination of "Unitarian".....

As for confusing the different "Unitarians", well I read two newspaper articles (online) this month, which called the Unitarian Universalist just Universalist! Apparently Unitarian is being seen by some reporters as the type of Universalist, like Missionary or Southern or General Baptist.....

(of course this is due to the shrinking public knowledge of UU).

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I know it really is important, but somehow reading all this business of names just makes me think the whole thing is frivolous.

Blogger Anna said...

I am actually much less concerned about ministerial credentialing than you are, PB, and almost quaker in that sense I guess. I am still sorting out my theology of ministry, but I keep feeling really funny about all the hoops people are jumping through to become ordained that seem to have so little to do with their actual abiities in the congregation, especially now that I'm in seminary and am hearing all the stories first hand.

Anyway, I really commented to tell you that last night on Queer Eye Carson accidentally said he was ordained a minister by the Universalist Unitarian Church of Modesto California in order to marry a couple in Las Vegas. Then later he said it was the Unitarian Universalist Church. I'm pretty sure it was the Universal Life Church that will ordain anyone, but many people don't know that and so I cringed both times he said it about the impression it gave people that UU is the church that does mail in ordinations. I have very little problem with mail in ordinations mind you, but there is enough confusion about what UU means already!


Blogger PeaceBang said...

Anna, I saw that on the commercials and I DIED! I forgot about it! We should write in!

Blogger Dan Hankins said...

I would like to comment briefly here since I am the “notorious” Dan Hankins mentioned in this posting. I believe I have removed all offending material from my site and, in fact have renamed it United Union for Abortion Alternatives just to remove all religious implications. There’s just not much you can do with the initials UU! When I first began the site I WAS a Unitarian Universalist and a member in good standing in a local UU church. I left the UUA as a matter of integrity but did not want to spend a fortune in time and money on a new internet domain. I joined the AUC and certainly did not realize that many UUA folks felt that they owned the name “Unitarian.” For a full account of why I left the UUA go here . I am sorry for any offence I have caused anyone and wish you all well. Dan Hankins


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