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Unitarian Universalist president resigns amid diversity controversy

The Rev. Peter Morales at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 2009. Photo courtesy of UUA/Nancy Pierce

(RNS) The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association has resigned three months short of the end of his second term, declaring that someone else needed to address the religious movement’s diversity problems.

The Rev. Peter Morales, the first Latino president of the liberal and theologically diverse association, resigned effective Saturday (April 1) as criticism mounted over hiring practices.

“It is clear to me that I am not the right person to lead our Association as we work together to create the processes and structures that will address our shortcomings and build the diverse staff we all want,” he wrote in his Thursday resignation letter to the UUA’s trustee board.

The controversy came to a head when a white male was chosen to lead the group’s Southern region, replacing another white man who was retiring. Christina Rivera, a Latina laywoman who has served on the UUA’s board of trustees since 2014, revealed that she was a finalist for the position.

“(H)ow do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says ‘me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!’” she asked in a Monday blog post.

Later that day, Morales sent a letter to UUA staffers saying the people of color among the staff have increased from 14 percent in 2008 to 20 percent today; managers of color have increased from 5 to 9 percent. He also noted that UUA members, numbering about 200,000, continue “to be overwhelmingly white and of European origin” — as much as 98 percent.

Morales, who succeeded the movement’s first African-American president, added that no one is above criticism.

“However, I wish I were seeing more humility and less self righteousness, more thoughtfulness and less hysteria,” he wrote.

As he resigned, he apologized for his letter, saying it “made matters worse.”

The UUA’s Leadership Council, which includes top staffers, also apologized in a separate statement.

“We take very seriously the question of how our policies, practices, leadership and culture systematically center and advantage white people within Unitarian Universalism,” they said.

“We acknowledge that it is past time for us to examine more deeply than we ever have the patterns of institutional racism that are embedded in our practices of leadership, including hiring.”

Members of more than 1,000 Unitarian Universalist congregations embrace seven principles, including justice, acceptance of one another, and the belief in the dignity of every person. They include people from a variety of beliefs, from atheists and humanists to Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists.

The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s chief operating officer, has been named the senior staffer until the trustees determine who can be acting president. A new president will be elected at the General Assembly in June.

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

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