All UUA presidents have been ministers. This doesn’t seem like a pattern that will change anytime soon (perhaps never). Is that a good or a bad thing?
Requiring the president to be a minister sharply curtails the pool of potential nominees. It excludes people who frankly might have far superior management and financial skills and training than most clergy. It ensures that the presidency will go to someone in the entrenched elite of the UUA, and by definition puts someone with more immediate concerns for the smaller number of ministers in power rather than someone with visceral concerns for the much larger number of laypeople. And it encourages the tendency of some to view the UUA as some sort of ecclesiastical authority, with the president serving as a religious mouthpiece that represents and in some way defines other Unitarian-Universalists and their religion. Given that the UUA has vigorously striven in recent years to convince us that it is merely an organization that supports affiliated congregations, it seems like a mismatch to then cede to it the prophetic voice of the denomination and turn its head into anything other than a (much-needed, well-respected) CEO of one (large, infrastructurally-crucial) special interest within UUism.
On the other hand, a lay president would lack an inside perspective of the minister’s job, and the ministers are not only a huge pool of centrally-positioned UU talent, dedication, and hard labor, they are inextricably defined by their relationship with the UUA. Would a president without the mandate of the ministers be able to govern effectively at all? Surely not. Ministers have experience running the very congregations that the UUA exists to support. They have clear commitments to Unitarian-Universalism, and a clear investment in its health and growth. Ministers are familiar with the workings of the UUA and the needs of the congregations it supports, and have some training in UU history. And a minister as president can provide a critical point of common orientation for a religious movement that is defined more by centrifugal than centripetal forces. While we all know that ministers are not always more spiritually advanced (nor is it clear that spiritual attainment is necessarily a needful quality for running the UUA), nonetheless ministers are expected to have put in hard time on personal and religious development and thus to be better representatives of who we wish to be as religious persons.
What do you think? Is it possible that a layperson will ever be president of the UUA? Is it desirable? Why or why not? (note: this is not meant as a slam on ministers or laypeople or any of the current or past candidates for the office, merely a thought exercise that seems worth exploring)