Monday, August 21, 2017

Lack of security contributes to UU unhappiness

Dear UU A Way Of Life:

I don't find UUs an especially happy group. If anything I find them the opposite. They seem ready to argue over every little thing and they aren't good at resolving conflict which often degenerates into passive aggressive game playing and leads to schisms. It seems to me that the reason that UU congregations are so small is that people become unhappy and then walk away. I don't know what the answer to this is for individual churches and for the denomination. I am curious what you might think given your current theme promoting the ideas that UUs are above average in intelligence and happiness.


Tom Kowolski

Dear Tom:

Your observations are accurate and the data supports your concerns. The problem, as is usually the case, is multidimensional. In other words, there is not a single answer, no silver bullet, no magic key. However, having said that, I think, we might say that the problem lies in the lack of security in UU congregations, and the lack of security comes from no clear agreed upon rules, and the lack of nerve when it comes to enforcing the rules.

In any sport, there are rules and a referee who calls infractions. The players agree in advance to abide by the referees decisions and if players or coaches disruptively object they can be ejected from the game. Without a referee and rules, professional sports could not exist.

 Unitarian Universalism suffers from a lack of accountability. Nobody seems to be in charge and so the fight is on for power, control, and dominance. UUs have been encouraged to believe that if they think it, feel it, want it, then their thoughts feelings and desires are as good as anyone else's and they should not have to defer and if they have to in the moment, they carry on resentfully, and aggrieved until they leave or a schism occurs.

The UUA has been derelict it its duty to not develop and implement accrediting standards and hold its member congregations accountable for quality operations. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the denomination and most of its churches continue to suffer like the Israelites wandering in the desert. Security comes from knowing where one stands and who's in charge. In UU, there is very little accountability and guidance and so people flounder, are confused if not perplexed, and then become aggrieved. These UUs are not very happy people, and unfortunately, the denomination is not a very functional organization contributing to its small size and dwindling membership.

David G. Markham
UU A Way Of Life


  1. David:

    Thank you for your article. I think you are on to something. Maslow had his hierarchy of needs and after the physiological needs there is the need for security and safety and only then do people need a sense of belonging, intimacy, friendship. In UU congregations the third needs can't be met until the need for security and safety are met first and they rarely are because as you point out there doesn't seem to be anyone in charge. Where are the adults?

    1. Edwin Friedman taught about the importance of differentiated leadership in churches. It seems like his lessons have been lost on UUs. Often direction is looked for and asked and is met with psychobabble rather than decisive action. If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything and the people looking for answers and guidance drift away not having found the spiritual leadership they were looking for.

    2. Robert:

      I also find Maslow's hierarchy of values a helpful model to sort out people's felt needs, and desires. Another way of thinking about Maslow's needs is his fifth level which is self actualization. so a person might ask, "What mattes the most to me in my life and how does my UU faith facilitate my achievement of that?" Discerning an answer to that question is a way of holding oneself accountable for creating meaning and purpose in one's life.

  2. You nailed it. I was in a small UU church which rolled over about 3 times in 10 years because of a small clique of people who manipulated behind the scenes. Very little was above board with this clique appearing to be supportive and acquiescent with the consensus of the congregation and then would find ways to sabotage and do things to their own liking. Machiavelli would be proud of their work.

  3. George Bernard Shaw said one time, " He knows nothing; he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career."

    And each UU thinks he or she knows everything. They will do as they please and not be bossed around. If they feel coerced or shut down they would rather just leave and walk away rather than stand up for their principles. Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Most were speechless, but Peter said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." And Jesus said to him, in so many words, "You are right, and you are a rock, a rock upon which I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." The UUs have no rock. Their church is build on quicksand, and it slowly sinks out of sight into the bowels of the earth.

  4. A few weeks ago there was an article on this blog about the attachment people have to groups and organizations and that his is enhanced by the difficulty in attaining membership. The bottom line is that membership means more to individuals when they have to work for it.

    When I asked about membership in a UU church I joined for awhile I was told all I had to do was "sign the book." No questions asked. When I left a year later no body sought me out to ask why I left nor informed me that I had been removed from the membership roles. A year after that I learned my name had been removed simply because they didn't want to pay dues for my membership to the UUA. There is no accountabiity for anything right from the beginning. I went through more to become a Rotarian, and when I was absent the President sought me out to ask me what the problem was. I felt more cared about by the Rotary than any UU church I have been associated with.

  5. Having grown up in the Catholic church, gotten married it her, and raise my children in the one, wholly, and true church, I, in my older age had "lost my faith" and after years of attending no church finally decided to go to a UU church. The pendulum of church governance in my experience had swung from the very hierarchial to the very local and centralized. I am left thinking in my old age that some church organization in the middle would be best. I don't want to be bossed around and threatened with hell for disobedience, but I don't want to be left with every person for themselves either.

    Overall, I am okay now having given up the religous enterprise pretty much completely and yet I consider myself very spiritual and love Jesus and am nourished by A Course In Miracles and Osho with a little Buddhism and Taosim thrown in with some humorous Sufi stories. My Cahtolic saints are still important to me too. Who could not love St. Francis and Dorothy Day and I get a kick out of Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and Dan Berrigan ( is he still alive). I also get a kick out of Pope Francis. Who am I accountable to? I think directly to God. I see sparkles of His grace and love all over the place.

    I also like the stuff I find here. It is a blessing. Little droplets of grace in this veil of tears.

    Blessings from Alaska


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