In the 70’s, the funk revolutionary, George Clinton, was the leader of not one, but two exemplary bands—Parliament and Funkadelic. It was very confusing to me to see thier album covers with different names, but with some of the same personnel. Regardless, the music was often exquisite. Clinton demonstrated the potential for creativity by loosening the reins of power. In doing so, he gave the world the “Mothership Connection.”
I’m just back from the annual retreat called Finding Our Way Home, which is attended by 140 religious professionals of color of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Miami. As such, I’ve been pondering how might my beloved UU movement loosen the reins of power in order to fulfill its dream of being anti-racist, more inclusive, and the spiritual Mecca that it promises to be.
If there are to be any great strides in dismantling institutional white supremacy, those in power positions must voluntarily relinquish their power and make room for persons from traditionally marginalized communities. Individuals and power-holders must decide to allow the ideas and methods borne of persons of color to rise to the top. There exists a prerequisite for openness to the possibility that visions of white persons are not always the best and most promising path forward. As George Clinton would say, white folks “got to give up the funk.”
The primary action in this approach is in voluntarily relinquishing control and sole decision-making responsibility. This would represent a shift from dominion over decision-making to shared decision-making. Change results from consciously sharing power versus clinging more tightly to it and expecting persons of color to somehow prove themselves capable or deserving of leadership and enacting a different vision.
Persons of color cannot prove themselves worthy of authority and responsibility on their own. We’ve already done that work, whether by attaining higher education, demonstrating creativity by innovating worship and RE and social justice reforms, enduring difficulties and hardships, leading people and congregations, enacting change, etc. It’s never good enough if a majority of whites or the top leadership don’t acquiesce.
In the Unitarian Universalist Association, one person who already embodies this practice and who should be considered an exemplar of dismantling white supremacy is the Reverend Sarah Lammert. She has not once, but twice, intentionally shared her leadership role with women of color. As the UUA Co-Director of Ministries and Faith Development, she has shared her leadership portfolio with Jessica York, then Dr. Janice M. Johnson. In both instances, the institution has been well-served.
Similar kudos can be extended to the UUA President, the Reverend Susan Frederick-Grey, for her efforts of casting a vision of anti-white supremacy as a critical element of the UUA mission.
Throughout our movement, more intentionality is needed if UUism is to reach its vision of becoming a true beloved community. It is especially needed at the congregational level where few persons of color fill the leader’s role. Often, what we witness in congregational leadership is a congregation calling a white minister, who then hires a minister of color as the 2nd chair. (I’ve experienced this myself.) This does not represent shared power as the assistant is typically operating at the behest of the white minister.
When conflict arises or real differences in leadership style, vision, theology, temperance, or any other attributes related to leading the congregation, often the white minister exercises their prerogative by dismissing the assistant, who has no recourse. Such responses to differences only perpetuate white supremacy and its by-product: tradition.
The other by-products of refusal to share power and work through differences include: personal suffering, perpetual racism, disillusionment, anger run rampant, brokenness, loss of community, shallow spirituality, and massive injustice across the board.
I call upon my colleagues in power, those in the mothership (personal or otherwise) to “give up the funk.” That is, share their power transparently and employ democratic principles in their leadership. Strive for co-creating a shared vision of ministry and mission. And commit to working out differences when times get real. Our dreams of a funky situation depend on it.