Trauma and Unitarian Universalism

Bravo to both Bill Baar and Rev. Victoria Weinstein for their posts today about 1968. Their posts have made me wonder if what needs to happen is a re-framing of how we talk about it. For too long, discussion of 1968 in most UU circles only deals with outside actions beyond our control. That needs to change.

Rev. Nancy Bowen, my Hebrew Scriptures professor at ESR, authored a commentary on the book of Ezekiel that was published by Abingdon Press in early 2010. Her lens for looking at Ezekiel in particular and the Israelite exile in general was through PTSD research and theory. Maybe it would do us some good to look at ourselves as a movement through the same lens.

The 1960s were a hard decade in this country. Between the ongoing activities in the fight for civil rights, the escalation of conflict/battle in Southeast Asia, the beginnings of the gay rights movement and the second wave of the women’s movement on top of the assassination of both a President and a presidential candidate (not to mention the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X), there has only been one other decade in which there was the same amount of upheaval–the 1860s. And I think if we look at those two decades as intimately related, there might be some hope in moving the association forward. I’ll write about the 1860s in another post, but for now, let’s look at the 1960s.

This country doesn’t deal with trauma well—maybe it’s because the US is a young country. And, as such, neither does the association. Less than 10 years after the formation of the association, the trauma that has haunted it ever since began; that’s right—the infamously and horribly misnamed “Black Empowerment Controversy.” Even with all of the work that Mark Morrison-Reed has done to help move forward the deep conversation that needs to happen about that period, it still is little recognized as being the formative event that has shaped our religious life together. In other words we ran, and continue to run, scared.

As a movement we are suffering from PTSD.  And until we can honestly look at that period of time and take the lessons from it that we can get, we will continue to look at 1968 from the outside (politics and such) instead of doing the deep theological work that’s required to look inward.


5 thoughts on “Trauma and Unitarian Universalism

  1. One of the things I found striking at the time of GA 2010, and even more striking in retrospect, is how heavily the discussion of GA 2012 was interwoven with discussion of the “Black Empowerment Controversy” and of subsequent events in its light.

    • GA 2010 is what started me on the PTSD and UU track. I will never forget standing in the back of Plenary Hall and watching 3/4 of the people in there raise their hands/placards when Gini finished her reading from “Arc of the Universe.”

      I knew then that nothing good was going to come of it.

  2. We at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist are in the middle of a three session Adult Faith Development class on the “controversy”. A fall “Tapestry of faith” session sparked our interest and we asked for more!! I have been a UU for six years and find this history facinating. Tomorrow night, “what would we have done?”.

  3. hey, thanks for the call out. Rev Dan Harper has done some posts on UU Churches and the “sexual revolution” too. That was the other great event that swept through. The year 1968’s an approximate marker for the end of one kind of Liberalism and the emergence of the Progressive movement and Theologies we UUs have today. I’d argue these too are spent and these revolutions are traumatic moments. I’ve encountered young seminarians from ML who had only vague knowlege of the BAC.

    My favorite story from this era (and one I want to know far more about) was the life of Rev Hugo Prosper Leaming Bey, the Minister of Chicago’s All Souls First Universalist Church. The Church sheltered protestors during the 1968 Democratic convention. Rev Leaming stuck with the Church as the surrounding neigborhood became African American in the 1970s (the Church survives as All Souls Free Religous Fellowship, and I think our only 100% AA congregation) and eventually declared himself African American adding the surname “Bey” and tracing his heritagle to a lost tribe of “Ishmael”. The facts on the lost tribe have been debunked, but Rev Leaming’s profound desire to be in solidarity with his community very true and real. There are lessons in his life worth taking note of today.

    • You’re always welcome Bill. I appreciate your voice, especially when I disagree with you.

      Anyway…the one thing I’ve learned about trauma is that it builds; if the initial trauma is not addressed, it just builds upon itself. So while 1968-1972 is done, it resurfaced again in the late 80s and really resurfaced in 1993 at the Charlotte GA with the “Thomas Jefferson Ball”.

      I think had the controversy happened later in the “history” of the UUA (say 1980 or later), it’s impact would have been different—it might not have happened at all.

      That’s the thing about trauma…it has to be addressed. And the controversy is just now starting to be addressed. Which is why I believe that if we reframe traumatic events we can still talk about them in a way that brings everybody into the story. That’s the only way trauma can be healed.

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