the Unitarian Universalist movement
embraces very strong affirmations of non-discrimination,
in practice many of the following forms of discrimination
do in fact still occur.
And perhaps no face-to-face organization
will ever be able to free itself from such human limitations.
an online community like FUUCI,
has much more likelihood of avoiding all discrimination
based on any of the personal characteristics listed below.
Because we communicate only by means of our computers,
most of the irrelevant facts about us
—which might otherwise form a basis for discrimination—
never come into play.
1. RACE & ETHNICITY
7. PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
9. GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION
OF YEARS AS A UU
RAISED IN ANOTHER RELIGION
OR NOT BEING A UU CLERGY-PERSON
BEING A PERSONAL FRIEND OF THE GATEKEEPER
NOT ALL VICTIMS OF
ARE MINORITY PERSONS
IT IS USUALLY VERY WELL HIDDEN
by James Leonard Park
This essay discusses the absence of discrimination
against those who would like to create cyber-sermons,
but most of these observations
also apply to all members of FUUCI.
And the following discussion of forms of discrimination
and how to avoid them
could probably be applied to many other organizations.
organizations that must deal with people face-to-face
can benefit from an exploration of the possible forms of discrimination.
The more fully we become aware of our tendency to categorize people,
the sooner we will be able to avoid or resist discrimination
in our daily face-to-face lives as well.
1. RACE & ETHNICITYThe race or ethnic backgrounds of all who propose cyber-sermons
In most cases,
the race of the author of a cyber-sermon will never be known.
And when the author's race is unknown,
no discrimination on the basis of race is possible.
Those who vote for proposed cyber-sermons
will not know the race of the proposer.
When race or ethnicity is utterly unknown,
it cannot become a basis for discrimination.
cyber-community can embrace all racial and ethnic groups
without ever identifying any individuals by race or ethnicity.
And it seems better to maintain the policy
of never asking and never revealing
the race or ethnic identity of anyone
—unless their are compelling reasons to do so.
racial or ethnic clues,
we will be open to one another as individual persons first
—and probably never as 'representatives'
of identifiable racial or ethnic groups.
worry about the social or economic standing of an author.
They might favor a social class that is often disfavored.
And/or they might favor a social class that it close to their own.
But no such
considerations are relevant in FUUCI.
We care only about the content of the thought,
not about anything in the background or current social status of the author.
Anyone is permitted to
propose a cyber-sermon.
And when the members vote on the proposals,
they know nothing about the possible social classes of the authors.
the sex of proposers of cyber-sermons are not mentioned
when the proposals are submitted to the members.
So persons of either sex have equal opportunity
to have their proposals selected.
a proposal has been selected by the members
and published by FUUCI,
then the sex of the author will probably be evident
in his or her name when that is included in the complete
description of the author of the cyber-sermon.
Because FUUCI authors have Facebook pages,
the sex of each author will usually be obvious from pictures.
But Facebook profiles do not require actual pictures of the person.
So someone who does not want to disclose his or her sex
can remain a person whose sex is not specified.
Most FUUCI authors have no reason to keep their
But we can all be content that when we vote
on proposals for cyber-sermon-of-the-month,
we know nothing about the identity of the author.
The content of each proposal is all we have:
a title, a synopsis, & an outline.
Members do not know the sex of the author
when they vote to select the best proposal.
4. SEXUAL ORIENTATION
cases, the sexual orientation
of the authors of cyber-sermons will be completely irrelevant.
There will be no reason for members to wonder
about the sex-life of the author
and no reason for the author
to disclose anything about his or her sex-life.
exceptions to this
would be cyber-sermons in which sexual orientation is an important theme.
But even there, the author need not disclose his or her sexual orientation
—again at the author's sole discretion.
sexual orientation is not known,
no discrimination on that basis can occur.
Because FUUCI is not a face-to-face community,
real, perceived, or alleged sexual orientation
need never become an issue.
age of the authors of cyber-sermons is completely irrelevant.
Very young and very old people—as well as everyone in the middle—
are all invited to submit proposals for cyber-sermons.
When the members vote for the next cyber-sermon,
they know absolutely nothing about the age of the author.
on the Internet, the age of the writer is completely irrelevant.
The content of the ideas can then come to the fore,
free of any possible prejudices based on chronological age.
6. VOICE & ACCENT
we communicate entirely by means of words on computer screens,
the voice of the author and whatever accent of English
are never noticed and hence cannot become an issue.
UU preachers present sermons in person,
how they speak often comes across
before the content of the sermon.
A pleasant or irritating voice can help or hinder a spoken sermon.
For example, someone who stutters
will probably not be hired as a preacher.
a heavily-accented way of speaking
could obscure the message.
But one's style of pronouncing words
does not come across on a computer screen.
would not have been able to succeed in his own country
because according to his countrymen,
he spoke in a lower-class accent.
But since few people outside of his own region noticed his particular accent,
he is well-known thru-out the English-speaking world.
And he is better known thru his writings, which carry no particular accent.)
of course, some cyber-sermons are actually translations
of discourses originally created in another language.
In this case, the author might have been incapable
of presenting a spoken sermon in English.
other problems of physical speaking of sermons
are missing when we depend only on written words
appearing on our computer screens all over the world.
For example, some speakers speak too slowly or
for the preferences of some listeners.
But when cyber-sermons are offered in writing on computer screens,
the reader decides how fast to read the words.
Readers can quickly move thru parts that are familiar to them
or skip sections that do not interest them.
On the other hand, they can pause and ponder
when they come to difficult or very interesting new ideas.
Readers can decide to re-read any parts of cyber-sermons they choose.
7. PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
of the way cyber-sermons are created and distributed,
what the author looks like is also completely irrelevant.
He or she could be tall or short, fat or thin,
beautiful or not-so-beautiful.
It makes no difference to the readers.
an in-person preacher is often judged by first impressions,
some people simply have little chance of ever being selected
to fill the pulpit of a local UU congregation.
Even if all of the people who know the candidate
realize that the inward person is more important than appearance,
they realize that they must please strangers who come to the church
as well as the regulars—who will soon be able to get beyond
any problems of physical appearance.
Cyber-sermons are selected by the members of FUUCI
without the voters knowing what the proposers look like.
Written words—title, synopsis, outline—are the only basis for voting.
This focuses on the content of the proposed discourse,
not anything about the author.
Once a proposal has been selected and published,
the author will be fully identified,
which includes his or her Facebook profile.
But at the critical point of selecting the next cyber-sermon-of-the-month,
where subtle discrimination might have some influence,
the physical appearance of the proposer is unknown to the members.
8. PHYSICAL ABILITY
capable of creating a cyber-sermon
is the only ability that is relevant to FUUCI.
At it most extreme, the author could have very serious mobility problems.
But as long as he or she is able to put words onto a computer screen
—by whatever means and no matter how slowly—
then that person is capable of creating cyber-sermons.
local UU congregation must necessarily take into account
any physical disabilities of a prospective UU minister.
For example, a candidate who is completely deaf
is not likely to be called to serve a congregation of people
who communicate mostly by talking and listening.
A deaf UU minister might only be considered for a deaf congregation.
But no such bodily limitations are relevant
for the process of creating cyber-sermons.
All that matters for FUUCI is the words that appear on the screen.
9. GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION
regular sermons are spoken by their creator,
normally the speaker and the listeners must be present in the same room.
(This limitation will be somewhat overcome
by greater use of various electronic means
that allow listeners to hear sermons presented in distant places.)
This means that the speaker and the listeners
must both transport themselves to the place
where the sermon will be presented.
The speaker and the listeners could walk to the place of discourse.
But in the vast majority of cases in present UU reality,
both the speaker and the listeners drive their cars to the gathering place.
is not a limitation for cyber-sermons.
Both the author and the readers can be anywhere in the world.
All that everyone needs is an Internet connection.
this geographical limitation usually means
that the minister must live near wherever the congregation meets.
But cyber-sermons can be written and read
without anyone leaving home—wherever that home might be.
geographical location is not known,
no one can discriminate against someone who is
"not from around here".
10. NUMBER OF YEARS AS A UU
should be no discrimination against people
who have only recently become UUs.
But the fact of being a recent 'convert' to UUism
has sometimes been used against candidates for UU ministry.
FUUCI does not ask any questions
about one's religious background
when gathering proposals for cyber-sermons.
All proposals are automatically accepted.
The members alone decide which ones will be published.
normally, the number of years the author
has been active in UUism will never be mentioned.
If such 'tenure' as a UU is unknown,
it can never become a basis for discrimination.
11. BEING RAISED IN ANOTHER RELIGION
it is not a demerit that the author of a cyber-sermon
grew up in some religion other than UUism.
This fact is not asked for.
And it normally would not be included
in the description of the author
at the end of all published cyber-sermons.
way this form of discrimination could be expressed
is by asking what religion one's parents were or are.
The religious beliefs of one's ancestors
does not dictate one's present religious beliefs.
The members of FUUCI are only interested in
what the author proposes to offer in this particular cyber-sermon.
Only if the cyber-sermon attempts to deal with another religion,
might it possibly be relevant to mention
that the author has first-hand experience with that form of faith.
if the author of a cyber-sermon
spent some time as a Roman Catholic nun or priest,
that is probably not relevant to the present content
of her or his proposed cyber-sermon.
And such professional involvement in another faith
will not usually be included in the description of the author.
former religious beliefs are unknown,
they cannot become the basis for discrimination.
What counts is what one has to offer here and now.
12. BEING OR NOT BEING A UU CLERGY-PERSON
may be proposed by anyone who can provide the ideas.
We do not know what proportion of proposals will come from either
people who have been ordained by a UU congregation
or people who have never been so ordained.
And being 'in fellowship' with the UUA is not a relevant fact either.
because FUUCI calls these discourses "cyber-sermons"
should not be taken to suggest that the authors are all ministers.
Lay-people are also encouraged to propose cyber-sermons.
this is such a sharp departure from expectation
that it deserves a fuller treatment:
FUUCI does have a volunteer professional staff,
but the creation of cyber-sermons is not limited to them:
a cyber-sermon has been selected by the members
(without knowing ahead of time
the clerical or non-clerical status of the author),
the description of the author might include the fact
that he or she is a UU clergy-person or not.
This decision to left to the author.
Members of FUUCI will usually be able to check
the Facebook profile of the author,
which might disclose his or her UU connections.
the clerical status
of the proposer of a cyber-sermon is not disclosed,
then it cannot affect the votes of the members.
13. ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS
people who propose cyber-sermons to FUUCI
have academic degrees and others do not.
We make no prior decision about the quality of a proposal
based on the years the author spent in formal education.
proposal must speak for itself,
without any claims to authority or legitimacy
based on the fact that the author is a clergy-person
or has such-and-such academic degrees.
with respect to each
of these possible reasons for discrimination,
what matters to the members
is the quality of the proposals for cyber-sermons
and the cyber-sermons themselves.
organizations do in fact require academic
and/or denominational credentials at least for the regular preacher.
But FUUCI has decided to take a different approach:
We do not discriminate on the basis of such credentials.
Each proposal is evaluated on its own merits,
by the members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of the Internet,
without knowing anything about the author.
14. NOT BEING A PERSONAL FRIEND OF THE GATEKEEPER
does sometimes take place
based on personal loyalties and other connections
between those who must make decisions
and those whose fate is being decided.
form of discrimination is avoided in FUUCI
by keeping the names and identities of the proposers secret
until after their proposed cyber-sermons
have been selected by the members.
be too easy for voters merely to select the work
of someone whose work they have appreciated before.
This could result in voting for the author rather than the proposal.
But in FUUCI, even the most popular authors
have their work placed side by side with unknown authors.
And the subscribers must decide
according to the sheer merit of the proposal,
rather than depending on past good experiences
with a certain author.
In FUUCI, there are no
Our direct democracy empowers every proposer equally.
And the structure of voting for each proposal separately
means that such votes are not influenced
by anything the members might know (or believe they know)
about the identity of the proposers.
can be no "old boys network" when all proposals
are given equal chance of being selected by the members.
15. BACK-CHANNEL GOSSIP
candidates are being considered for UU pulpits,
the information about them falls into two distinct categories:
(1) the facts that can be put on paper
and discussed openly by everyone and
(2) personal criticisms which are too petty to discuss
and impermissible forms of discrimination,
such as the factors discussed above.
The content of this second category will never appear in a resume.
But it is sometimes more important than the up-front facts.
no such back-channel gossip has any place
in the process of selecting cyber-sermons for FUUCI.
Since members vote on the proposals
without even knowing the names of the authors,
there is no way that gossip can influence their votes.
16. NOT ALL VICTIMS OF DISCRIMINATION ARE MINORITY PERSONS
often notice and discuss discrimination
as it has been practiced against people who belong to disfavored groups.
With each of the forms of discrimination mentioned above,
it is usually self-evident which people most often suffer discrimination:
race & ethnicity; sex; sexual orientation; age; voice & accent;
physical appearance; physical ability; geographical location;
number of years as UU; being raised in another religion;
being or not being a UU clergy-person; academic credentials;
not being a personal friend of the gatekeeper; back-channel gossip.
because UUism is such a liberal and progressive religion,
we have sometimes 'bent over backwards' to avoid discrimination.
But the easiest mistake in attempting
to avoid discriminating against a disfavored group
is to give special privileges to member of that group
because of past discrimination against members of that group.
climate of such 'politically correct' thinking,
it is sometimes actually an advantage
to reveal that one belongs to a usually-disfavored group.
This will get you extra points
among simple-minded opponents of discrimination.
But putting anyone at a disadvantage because of group identity
is not a cure for discrimination.
It merely substitutes one form of discrimination for another.
FUUCI does not do this.
Neither one's membership in the majority group nor a minority group
is an advantage because no such group-memberships are disclosed.
a disfavored group happens to gain special power
within any organization, it may then begin to practice discrimination
that is as evil as the discrimination that was used against them
when they were an oppressed group.
People who have suffered group-discrimination in their own personal lives
may be very sensitive to anything that may have even a hint
of negative comments about members of their own group.
Formerly-oppressed minorities have to work especially hard
to avoid inflicting harm on people they identify with their former oppressors.
even such 'reverse discrimination' is not possible
in the process of selecting the next cyber-sermon-of-the-month.
Authors are not identified by any of the categories
which might otherwise give rise to discrimination
—or 'reverse discrimination'.
17. WHEN UUs DISCRIMINATE, IT IS USUALLY VERY WELL HIDDEN
UUism draws together
some of the most intelligent people in the world,
and because we are committed to non-discrimination,
whenever we do in fact discriminate,
we usually disguise the process discrimination
by offering some other explanation.
these explanations are plausible,
which is no surprise since very intelligent discriminators
can quickly think of some acceptable reason
for rejecting an idea or a person,
even when the real reason is one or more
of the impermissible 'reasons' discussed above.
intelligence can be used against intelligence:
When we perceive that the presented 'reasons'
are very weak or very technical ('picky'),
it might be reasonable to suspect
that some form of discrimination is taking place.
is the form of human intelligence
that must be exercised by every judge
called upon to decided a case of discrimination:
Of course, the discriminator will claim some valid reasons
for the action being disputed.
But the judge must be able to see thru these rationalizations.
And the wise judge will be able to separate
genuine cases of discrimination
from cases in which a person was justly dismissed
or not promoted for completely rational reasons.
Some cases of alleged discrimination are groundless.
named and described the possible reasons for discrimination,
we can now apply our minds to all cases of alleged discrimination
with fresh perceptiveness.
When is impermissible discrimination taking place?
And when are the presented reasons the real reasons?
In some cases, both valid reasons and impermissible discrimination
will be present at the same time.
We UUs can use our discrimination-detectors
to make explicit every possible form of discrimination.
The better we understand every kind of discrimination,
the better we can avoid them.
Now that we have articulated these many possible forms of discrimination,
we should be better equipped to prevent and/or correct any discrimination in FUUCI.
forms of discrimination avoided in FUUCI
and other relevant observations
can be added to this essay at any time.
your comments, questions,
and suggestions to the webmaster:
James Park, mailto:PARKx032@TC.UMN.EDU
1-21-2001; revised 2-25-2001, 3-4-2001,
3-18-2001,12-13-2007; 1-25-2009; 10-9-2010; 5-16-2012; 4-30-2013
Closely related to the above themes of discrimination
are the principles for organizing meaningful responses to cyber-sermons.
These are articulated in the
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