Saturday, December 28, 2013

An Open Response to Peter Morales

Dear Reverend Morales:

I handle complaints and questions a lot. My work involves providing medical supplies to people with multiple chronic conditions, including many instances of mental illness. Things sometimes go wrong, and I have to deal with them. As Co-Moderator of my congregation, I’ve put myself in the position of hearing out other people’s ideas and concerns regarding governance and other issues. And as Moderator of Leather & Grace, I’m constantly hearing from both kink-oriented UUs and others in our faith.

I’m no stranger to this, having served in student government from junior high through college, and as an activist on many issues since my senior year in high school. And yes, sometimes I get annoyed by someone who seems overly petty or fault-finding. But one thing I’ve learned is that even someone who comes with a seemingly endless list of complaints can still have something useful to contribute. So I strive as best I can to pay careful attention to the other person, and to respond in a way that still holds up both their intention and the potential for the two of us to work together.

That’s why I’m writing to you now. Imagine, please, that you have a family member who is seriously ill. You’re trying to get a hold of some supplies which your family physician says will help this person recover, or at least ease their pain. Getting the insurance to pay for it, however, is frustrating. Now imagine that you can choose between two supply companies. The first one you call, the representative explains what needs to be done, answers all your questions, and does her best to walk you through the process. When you express the frustration you feel having to jump through hoops just to care for your loved one, she responds: “I understand, and you’re not alone. I hear this all the time from other clients. But I’ll do my best to help you all I can.”

Now imagine you call the other company, and the conversation proceeds the same way, up to the point where you express your frustrations, and this person responds with a rant of his own, accusing and blaming you and others for carrying a chip on your collective shoulder, “bullying” people like him and “trivializing” other people’s “real” problems, perhaps even dismissing your worries as “silly.”

Wouldn’t you feel like hanging up on the second person? But, more importantly … does this sound rather familiar?

When some Unitarian Universalists, concerned about classism and ableism within our faith movement, raised the issue of language that was chosen as a holiday message from the UUA, did you not use the term “pre-offended” as a description? You then talked of working together – but on whose terms, and to what ends?

Just as many people become frustrated at the numerous rules imposed by insurance companies, so it is that the culture and institutions around us impose rules as to who has privilege and who is on the margins. That is where groups like ours – and leaders like you – come in. Should we as progressive people of faith, strive to work with and help those who are frustrated by all of this, and do our part to make things better, even if just a little? Shouldn’t that also include thinking more carefully of what we say, whether in a holiday greeting, or in response to an attempt to raise awareness? Lastly, given your choice of words, can you see how some would now be hesitant to approach you with any question, concern or idea, regardless of its merit?

Please give what I've said here careful thought, and thank you.


  1. Desmond, thank you for sharing. For those of us who aren't as connected into UUA affairs, could you provide us a link to some background?

    1. Nick: Most of the discussion occurred on Facebook. The UUA released an image with a quote from Rev. Victoria Safford: "We already possess all the gifts we need; we've already received our presents: ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights, hands to build true peace on earth, and to hold each other tight in love."

      Leaders of EQUUAL and UUs for Class Awareness responded that, while the understood and appreciated the intention behind this greeting, they thought the choice of words did not take into consideration the experiences of people who are marginalized economically or due to physical abilities.

      Reverend Morales chose to post a statement in response, one which included rather dismissive comments. It seems he believes too many UUs "arrive 'pre-offended'" -- that is, with a chip on our shoulders. The statements made by members of the two groups in question did not arise out of a begrudging spirit, but out of hope that our faith movement and its leaders could learn and move forward.

      What bothers me most about Rev. Morales' statement is that it not only dismisses the specific concerns brought forward in this, but that it seems to dismiss any attempt to raise questions, express concerns or share ideas for improving how we put our faith's values into practice. It smacks of him saying that he knows what's best for all of us, so we shouldn't be bothering him. Harsh as that sounds, the only reason I say them is in the hope that we will consider the impact of his own words.