Opening Words from Sun. April 14 by Scott Wright

Good Morning. My name is Scott Wright, my pronouns are he & him, and am I currently serving as the President-Elect of the Board of Trustees for the Ethical Society of St. Louis

I apologize in advance to visitors this morning, as these opening words will be primarily inside-baseball, so I’ll try to keep things brief.

One of the Board’s strategic goals for this fiscal year has been to “explore our relationship with the American Ethical Union (AEU).” The AEU is the national federation of all Ethical Societies in the country to which we are historically, culturally and financially affiliated. Financially, we help to support this organization through quarterly payments known as “apportionment,” which is estimated to be approximately $33K in total over our next fiscal year, or 4.8% of our annual budget. Last month the Board held a 9:45 forum to solicit member input on our relationship with the AEU and to collect feedback on your preferred paths forward.

The survey we shared laid out three options. Option 1 was to disaffiliate completely from the AEU, and provide 0 apportionment. Option 3 was to maintain the status quo with affiliation and full apportionment, and Option 2 was to maintain affiliation but provide less than full apportionment with named conditions for how much apportionment we would provide based on particular outcomes moving forward.

Of nearly 50 total respondents, 20% voted for option 1 (disaffiliate), 15% voted for option 3 (status quo) and 65% voted for option 2 – a compromise position of some kind.

Looking at the results from this healthy sample of our population, two things seem clear enough to me. A majority of our members are not satisfied with the current status quo, but neither is there a majority consensus in favor of full disaffiliation.

At our last Board meeting, I proposed a path forward that will require your assistance.

The next annual AEU Assembly will take place from July 26 to July 28. It is at this Assembly each year that member societies are able vote on official proposals impacting AEU policy and programming. Each Society is granted a number of voting delegates roughly in proportion to their membership. Having the largest membership among all Ethical Societies in the nation, St. Louis wields a significant voice at these Assemblies. A voice we’ve been hesitant to assert in the past.

I am proposing the formation of a new task force of member volunteers, focused on identifying specific matters of AEU policy and programming that would be sufficient to restore our confidence in the AEU as an institution. We have the next 2 months to research, generate and submit our proposals for the consideration of the AEU assembly. The theory here is that the success, or lack thereof, of our proposals at the national level, will be crucial and telling information about the compatibility between our vision for a national ethical culture movement, and the AEUs capacity to fulfill that vision.

After the Assembly in July, armed with fresh information and clarity, we will then look to hold a formal vote in the Fall to solidify our stance on affiliation and apportionment.

This will not be an easy task, and I will require your help to accomplish it. I am looking for a minimum of 5 volunteers willing and able to help put our best foot forward in communicating our needs and repairing our relationship with the AEU in the upcoming Assembly. If we cannot identify at least 5 volunteers for this effort, that in itself is a significant statement about our commitment to repairing and maintaining this relationship, and our Board will reconvene to pursue some alternative course of action in that event.

The details will be ironed out in the coming weeks, but the level of effort will involve contributing to bi-weekly zoom meetings for the next 3-4 months, with potential research, writing and editing tasks to be accomplished between meetings. The Assembly itself will be a hybrid event held in Minneapolis, MN. I plan on attending in person, but that will not be a requirement of the members of this task force.

I want to zoom out here at the end to frame the narrative playing out. This is an opportunity. Not only is this a practical opportunity to redefine the nature of our relationship with the AEU and the wider Ethical Culture movement, but also this is an opportunity to use the tools that our Interim Director has been helping us develop over the past year. This is a moment in time for us to display our capacity as a community to work together across a diversity of perspectives towards shared goals and values for our mutual benefit. And I think it is important to emphasize here: If any particular path is not working for us, we retain the right to reconsider our needs at any point, and forge a new path in a more fruitful direction.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged in our many efforts to solicit member feedback over the past year, especially to the members who took the time to complete our straw poll last month. We cannot achieve our goals without your engagement.

If you are interested in joining this new task force, or would like more information before committing – please email board@ethicalstl.org by next Sunday, April 21 so we can get the ball rolling as soon as possible! I look forward to working with you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.