Bylaws, Branding and the Bifurcation of the Unity Movement Part 1

Mark Hicks

Hi Friends -

Unity Worldwide Ministries has developed a new bylaws template for member ministries which is a revision of the of the previous Recommended Bylaws for a Unity Ministry. What is different is that the new template is no longer “recommended.” Without explicitly declaring that the new template is mandatory, UWM has declared that “This policy goes into effect January 1, 2020, and ministries will have until January 1, 2023 to bring their bylaws into harmony with the template.”

The reason all this is important is what is baked into Policy 3.2 of the Unity Bylaws policy and in Article XI of the new bylaws template to which all member ministries must their bylaws “into harmony” by the end of 2023:

  1. Paragraph 3.2 of the policy says "We also have a new policy requiring member ministries to request pre-approval of bylaws changes from Unity Worldwide Ministries."
  2. A more detailed explanation of this requirement is buried deeper into the above link which declares that "to ensure that UWM Member Ministry bylaws are in alignment with UWM bylaws and policies... All changes and/or amendments to bylaws must be submitted to UWM Member Services for review and approval prior to taking these changes to the ministry membership for a vote. Member Ministry Boards are responsible for sending proposed bylaws changes to Member Services one (1) month prior to sending them to their membership for consideration."
  3. Article XI of the new template says “ARTICLE XI – Amendment of Bylaws: Any amendment(s) to or general revision of these bylaws may be considered after approval of the proposed amendment or revision by UWM. After such approval, the proposal amendment or revision shall be adopted at any annual or special membership meeting provided that written notice setting forth the exact wording of such proposed amendment(s) or general revision has been sent by postal or electronic mail to members at least fifteen (15) days prior to the meeting at which they shall be considered. An affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3rds) of members present and voting shall be necessary to adopt any amendment(s) to or general revision of these bylaws.”

What this means the moment that a member ministry adopts Article XI into their bylaws then from that point on no change in bylaws is legally binding unless it had been previously approved by UWM. It is conceivable, and probable, that even if 100% of the membership were to vote for a change in bylaws without obtaining UWM approval, then the change would not withstand a legal challenge from UWM.

The potential risk is compounded by the ambiguity of UWM’s explanation of what all this is about. What does it mean to bring member ministry bylaws “into harmony” with the new template? Further, what will happen if a member ministry does not comply? These issues came up repeatedly at the UWM Conference Business Meeting. The answers I heard from UWM leadership dodged the questions. Their answers seemed scripted and were closely aligned with what has been published on UWM’s Bylaws page:

“Our intention with this new policy is to work collaboratively with ministries to support good governance and alignment with UWM. We believe that many request for bylaws changes will be approved easily. In situations in which requests do not support the previous stated intention, we want to work collaboratively to create bylaws that support the ministry, establish good governance, and allow us to work harmoniously together in furthering the work of Unity in the world.”

Is it true that reasonable exceptions will be “approved easily”, that UWM will work “collaboratively” and “harmoniously” with member ministries to resolve more difficult issues?

Let me share with you our experience with Unity Worldwide Ministries when TruthUnity Ministries applied for membership as a UWM ministry. I can tell you that it wasn’t collaborative nor harmonious, it didn’t support our ministry and it did not further the work of Unity in the world.

The timeline follows, but you can read the paper trail here.

  • December 2017. We applied to UWM to become a member ministry.
  • February 2018. I was informed by the CFO that the sole issue preventing further processing of our application was the “dissolution” clause. Our bylaws read “Should the ministry dissolve, all property and funds remaining after the payment of debts of the ministry shall be delivered to Unity World Headquarters.” The CFO told me by phone that “powers in UWM would never let that pass” and that property and funds remaining after dissolution would have to be delivered to Unity Worldwide Ministries.
  • March 2018. I wrote back, stating that we would comply and change the bylaws, but also stating that the change would inhibit TruthUnity’s ability to raise money because donors wanted assurance that the work of TruthUnity would ultimately benefit the Unity Archives.
  • April 2018. We never got a reply. I sent a follow-up letter to UWM leadership, which included the CFO, CEO and the board president.
  • July 2018. We got a reply stating that if we changed our bylaws then UWM would process the application. I replied that we no longer were willing to change the bylaws since it appeared that UWM and UWH were about to merge. I asked that the application be processed to the UWM board for consideration as is.
  • March 2019. We received an email saying UWM had reconsidered and now wanted to submit the application to the board. We were asked to resubmit the application and we were assured that it would be sent to the UWM board for consideration.
  • May 2019. I asked the UWM board chair if the she had any knowledge of our application. She did not know that we had applied and stated that “We only get names for final approval.” She attempted to get it approved by an electronic vote but found out that it could not be approved that way “because of the final clause in the bylaws about dissolution, it can’t be handled as an e-vote and needs to go to a board meeting. The next meeting is in July.” The incoming board chair said it would be considered in July.

Well, July 2019 has come and gone. And so has TruthUnity Ministries’ interest in becoming a UWM member ministry. Even if UWM were to approve our application today, I have no intention of adopting anything like Article XI of the new bylaws template. I’ve moved on, and over time I will be rebranding at least the website ministry as Fillmore Fellowship. More about that in next week’s post. But it's sad because, as I wrote in April 2018 to UWM leadership:

“My hope is that UWM will allow the application to move forward, for several reasons. First and foremost, as I confirmed with Carrie, TruthUnity is a ministry that strengthens the mission and message of the Unity movement by raising awareness of our teachings and history. But raising awareness does not necessarily drive transformation, nor does it foster engagement in congregational ministries. So, second, our intention is to collaborate with congregational ministries of UWM in a way that directs TruthUnity visitors to local Unity ministries. Third, as Donna Johnson has said in recent meetings, we are in a new era where flexibility and collaboration are essential. In that spirit, I intend to collaborate with UWM and Unity ministries, regardless of whether UWM accepts TruthUnity as a member. But it will be easier for everyone if we could be included as a UWM member.”

It’s also sad because we now see how an onerous, overreaching church polity policy has driven the United Methodist Church (at least the North American part of it) into a very regretful position regarding inclusivity. The lesson learned from them is that far more important than the local ministry dissolution clause is the local ministry disaffiliation clause. Why isn’t UWM addressing that issue?

Regardless, there is no conceivable justification for UWM’s objection to TruthUnity’s dissolution clause that designates all properties and assets will one day be delivered to Unity World Headquarters for the benefit of the Unity Archives. I have no idea of what the true intention of UWM may be, but it is logical to assume that the dissolution clause has become an essential component of another cash cow for UWM.

If that is so, what a business model. And what a prosperity consciousness.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

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