Do (Former) Independent Affiliates Meet UUA Bylaw Criteria?

In the debate (going on, for instance, here and here) over the disassociation of former Independent Affiliates (FIA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association, there is some question as to whether the FIAs met the requirements of the UUA. Most often highlighted is the issue of serving congregations, in keeping with the UUA’s trend toward a strictly institutional understanding of its work. It may be helpful to review the actual UUA Bylaws and Rules pertaining to Independent Affiliates in order to determine how well or poorly the FIAs fit the bill.

Bylaws Article II Section C-2.2 describes the purpose of the UUA:

“The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”

The UUA, and by extension its official affiliates, should therefore be engaged in some of the above activities. These are serving congregations, organizing new congregations, extending and strengthening UU institutions, or implementing the UUA principles (inherent worth and dignity of every person, free and responsible search for truth, etc). It is clear that an affiliate should not be expected to do all of the above, as it is pretty absurd to think of IAs organizing new congregations. Therefore we might at a minimum expect that an IA will extend and strengthen UU institutions (the nature or level of formality of these institutions is undefined), or at least implement the principles of the UUA.

Bylaws Article III Section C-3.8 states that the criteria for admitting an IA is that it is independently operated and that its “purposes and intentions” are “in sympathy with the principles of the Association,” i.e. inherent worth and dignity of every person, free and responsible search for truth and meaning, etc. There is no mention of what sort of relationship, if any, they should have with UUA member congregations. The principles themselves only mention congregations twice, saying that there should be acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in congregations, and that the right of conscience and the democratic process should be promoted in them. We can infer, therefore, that an Independent Affiliate should sympathize with the promotion of such things in UUA congregations.

Designation of Independent Affiliate status lasts for one year, and may be renewed. To qualify, IAs must make a $100 donation, place the UUA on their mailing lists, submit an annual report that includes such information as number of members, names of officers, and when official board meetings were held, and agree not to discriminate against people. In its initial application, it must disclose its finances and tax status and the purposes of the organization. And perhaps it must make a statement.

This is covered in UUA Rule 3.8.1. A new organization seeking IA status must make a statement that shows 1) how its “purpose, mission and structure models interdependence through engagement with our member congregations, coordination or collaboration of effort and resources,” and 2) how “the organization supports the transformation of institutions and our world to be aligned with those values expressed in our Principles.” It is unfortunate that the English grammar of requirement A is incorrect, obscuring the meaning of this important clause. As best as can be discerned, the UUA seeks to know either how the IA interdependently engages with congregations and coordinates/collaborates with them in terms of effort and resources, OR it wants to know how it models interdependence through either engaging with congregations or coordinating/collaborating in some unspecified way over efforts and resource. Thus there is either a requirement that first-time applicants engage in some manner with congregations, or a requirement that they at least model interdependence in their coordination of their efforts and resources. This cannot be fully clarified due to the poor wording of the rule.

However, and here is a big issue for the former Independent Affiliates and their supporters, there is a second, clearer and more important (such that it was given its own Rule rather than buried in a list with other criteria) qualification: according to Rule 3.8.7 the organization must be of “substantial benefit to the Unitarian Universalist movement.” The movement, not the congregations. Here where the meat of the issue is finally reached, the congregations truly drop out of the picture, and the Board is enjoined to consider whether an Independent Affiliate will benefit Unitarian-Universalism as a whole, not whether it will benefit the UUA congregations specifically.

This review may not settle the issue, but hopefully it provides some context for the decisions of the Board and the reactions of the FIAs.

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Filed under Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

One response to “Do (Former) Independent Affiliates Meet UUA Bylaw Criteria?

  1. By the way, here’s how the board described its new approach to independent affiliates in its written report to the 2007 General Assembly:

    We have been reflecting on the purpose, positioning and potential of independent affiliate status as part of a comprehensive and ongoing examination of the mission of our Association. This decade long conversation about Independent Affiliates has supported a growing sense of focus and clarity about how relationships with and between congregations and affiliate organizations shapes Unitarian Universalism. The Board understands that the health and vitality of our congregations form the foundation of our Association and that our congregations are not served by Independent Affiliates operating in isolation or being an alternative for congregational life.

    The Board is now implementing changes to our rules that reflect an intentional shift to redirect how organizations outside congregational structures relate to our Association of Congregations. The Board is now accepting into Independent Affiliate status organizations that provide strategic cooperation, collaboration, or dialogue between organizations with different beliefs, perspectives or interests. The Board understands this refocusing to model the values and principles of Unitarian Universalism, which hold that we can work together in community to transform institutions and the world. If the work that we do as Unitarian Universalists is not grounded primarily in congregational life or done in the context of relationships which model our value for interdependence, we run the risk of existing as a collective of liberal ideologies and theologies rather than as a faith community. Organizations that do not meet the new criteria for independent affiliate status may choose to explore new ways of engaging directly with our congregations and districts, including partnering with other groups to create entities or councils that meet the new criteria.

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