The new Pew study shows that 76% of Unitarian-Universalists are not affiliated with the Unitarian-Universalist Association. In recent years, the UUA has taken an increasingly narrow definition of its purpose and constituency: it serves UU congregations, not individual UUs, not para-church UU organizations, not UU theological sub-groups, etc. In fact, the full name of the UUA is actually “Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.”
It seems to make little sense, when you think about it, that so many UUs look to the UUA as the “mothership,” the “denominational headquarters,” or “the authority” in UUism. The famous seven principles of the UUA are not a creed for Unitarian-Universalism. The UUA is a minority voice in UUism that is representative of less than 1/4 of American UUs, albeit an extremely important voice. No one is denying that, as Chutney pointed out, UU congregations form the backbone of the Unitarian-Universalist movement in America. Yet they are still a statistically small part of the story, and no matter how we fidget with the numbers, we can’t deny this.
The UUA was never intended as the Unitarian-Universalist Vatican. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the UUA does not intend to overstep its mandate. Therefore, the natural question to ask is whether the UUA should be replaced by a more representative body, or, probably better still, augmented by a second, larger national/international organization designed to serve either those other 76% of America UUs or perhaps all 100%, be they congregation members or otherwise. This is not meant to denigrate the work of the UUA, but to look at what the options potentially are.
In previous times, the Unitarians and the Universalists had all sorts of corporate bodies, ranging from large autonomous district organizations to national groups composed of individuals to associations of congregations. The UUA is not destiny or the end of the story, nor is it at all fully representative of who we have been and who we may become. Rather, it is a product of a particular time and a particular way of thinking about denominational organization. It is good that the UUA is going through serious consideration of its mission and purpose; all UUs, if possible, should likewise be considering the present and future and wondering if things can’t be done better, perhaps with new organizations to supplement the important work of the UUA. What would other models of affiliation/association look like? How would they be run? Who would they include? What services would they provide? What would there functions be? It seems reasonable to imagine that the UUA could be supplemented with not only one national body, but multiple ones.