April 28, 2017
Dear UUMA Board of Trustees and Rev. Don Southworth,
The ministers of the Prairie Star, Central Midwest, and Heartland Chapters of the UUMA met this week in conjunction with the MidAmerica Regional Assembly. During our shared meeting, we took time to discuss the Easter Sunday letter Rev. Southworth wrote to the UUA Board of Trustees, as well as the various responses to that letter, including that of the UUMA Board, that have emerged in the time since Rev. Southworth’s letter became public.
Our conversation centered on three main things: 1.) Our broad disagreement with many of Rev. Southworth’s assertions, including and especially his condemnation of the UUA’s promise to fund Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism; 2.) Our sense that Rev. Southworth’s claim to be speaking on his own behalf, rather than as our Executive Director, was at best naive and at worst disingenuous and irresponsible, and is a betrayal and an abuse of power of our expectations of our leader as a—if not the—spokesperson of our Unitarian Universalist professional ministry; and 3.) Our heartbreak over the harm that was caused by Rev. Southworth’s letter to our UUMA colleagues of color, UUs of color more broadly, and to the credibility and reputation of UU professional ministry within and beyond our tradition.
Given these deep concerns, we write today in affirmation of the following points:
We unequivocally rise in support of the leadership of our colleagues and lay leaders of color who are beckoning us to build a new way in Unitarian Universalism, decolonizing our faith and dismantling the white supremacy that lives in the DNA of our institutional structures and culture. We are grateful for the risks our colleagues and lay leaders of color, and institutions like BLUU and DRUUMM, are taking on behalf of our faith, speaking publicly about their experiences and struggles in Unitarian Universalism at great spiritual cost to themselves. We support the UUA’s commitment to fundraise the $5.3 million owed to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, and commit to working within our UUMA chapters and in our congregations and communities to be a part of raising these reparative funds that have been owed to Black UUs for decades.
We know that Rev. Southworth’s letter has caused real, and perhaps irreparable, damage. We, as Unitarian Universalist ministers, are deeply sorry for the pain that this particular letter has inflicted, as well as the way all of our actions—and inactions—as UU clergy have compounded that harm among our colleagues, in our congregations, and in the broader faith. We recognize that we collectively share a responsibility for making amends for our ministry’s and our association’s upholding of white supremacy. This, we believe, includes staying in covenantal relationship with our Executive Director, and affirming his humanity while simultaneously calling for reparations and accountability for the impacts of this letter.
Therefore, we ask for the following concrete steps to be taken to begin the process of making amends and reparations:
1.) We are grateful for the UUMA Board’s response to Rev. Southworth’s letter, and their assurance that there will be an accountability process. We urge you to follow through with this process, and to make it publicly transparent. We ask that this process include engaging open-heartedly with the responses from colleagues and lay people of color, including Lena K. Gardner’s direct response to Rev. Southworth. We also ask that you consider together, prayerfully and with humility, whether Rev. Southworth is equipped to continue in his current role as Executive Director of our UUMA, and if so, what support and accountability structures will be put in place to ensure that this kind of harm is not perpetrated again in the future. Likewise, we also ask that the UUMA Board enter into conversation with our colleagues of color, and leaders of color in our movement, to discern what the process of building credibility and making amends for the harm caused on behalf of our shared professional ministry. Finally, we ask that you engage the critical question of when, how, and in what venues, the Executive Director can and should speak publicly about issues facing our faith as an individual rather than as a representative of our ministry.
2.) We urge Rev. Southworth make a public statement acknowledging the harm and pain that his letter—and subsequent social media responses—have caused to UUs of color, and to our ministry. We ask that Rev. Southworth consider entering into conversation with some of those whom he has harmed, including colleagues of color and leaders of color in our movement, to begin the process of making amends. We further urge Rev. Southworth to engage in this work publicly and transparently, and to be responsive to the comments and critiques he has received in the same social media forums in which he posted his original letter and subsequent responses.
We are deeply disappointed in Rev. Southworth’s actions and public statements, and we simultaneously affirm our love of him as a beloved colleague who, like all of us, is flawed and can cause harm in spite of good intent. We believe that our covenantal relationship as colleagues calls us to make clear that although we do not agree with the content of the Easter Letter, we are committed to companioning Rev. Southworth and the UUMA Board as we, together, make amends for the ways in which we have fallen short and failed to fulfill our calling to serve and build revolutionary, transformative love embodied in a more just and equitable incarnation of the Beloved Community. We look forward to building this new way together, as a part of a broader project of liberation for Unitarian Universalists and our broader world.
Prairie Star, Central Midwest, and Heartland Chapters of the UUMA