Saturday, June 24, 2006

Making up for lost time (Sean)

It seems like I am making up for not posting until today by posting three times in one day.

Plenary this afternoon involved a fairly contentious vote on what amounts to a complete restructuring of the way we create, agree upon, and act on statements of conscience. I will not duplicate here the text of the bylaw changes or amendments thereto, as they either already are or soon will be available on the UUA web site.

The gist of it all is that several years of introspection, analysis, and work have culminated in a recommendation to move from a process whereby a study/action item is adopted each and every year, then follows a two-year trajectory leading to resolution by the assembly as a SOC of the UUA, to a process whereby study/action items may be adopted at most once every other year, each then following a three-year trajectory to resolution. The overall intent is to involve the congregations more fully in the process, and one manifestation of that intent is to also require a full quarter of all congregations (vs. previously only one tenth) to ratify any such issue before it can be resolved in assembly.

An amendment was proposed early in the debate to lower the ratification requirement back down to 10%. Many passionate arguments were asserted both pro (that is to say, in favor of amending the original bylaw change proposal so as to lower the 25% threshold down to 10%) and con. The synopsis of the pro argument is that participation by more than 10% of any general demographic is difficult (at best) to achieve, and that UUA policy, not unlike civil law, is crafted, adopted, and implemented by those who care most (or, as it was worded, "those who show up"). The synopsis of the con argument is that, as people of faith, we must have real commitment to the principles which we are adopting -- in short, if 25% of congregations can not, in the new extended time frame, get charged up enough by or involved enough in any proposed statement of conscience, then such a statement is unlikely to result in any meaningful action by the movement as a whole. I strongly agree with this latter argument and voted accordingly.

The vote on whether or not to amend the motion to change the bylaws to reflect the lower threshold was extremely close -- so much so that the moderator asked for a re-show of voting cards. In the end in failed by a small margin, leaving the assembly to continue debate on the original motion. (As a sidebar I will note that perhaps a number higher than 10% but lower than 25% would have been a better compromise. No such motion was made. If the 25% hurdle proves insurmountable as things move forward, some future assembly can always take up the matter of lowering it as appropriate.)

Again, passionate arguments were advanced on both sides. My own, necessarily abbreviated summary is that the con camp felt that there are many pressing issues of social justice upon which we, as a movement, should be taking stands, and that reducing the number of such stands below at least one per year, and/or extending the time frame from proposal to "implementation" of such stands beyond the current two years was unacceptable. The pro camp generally felt that the process by which we currently take such stands is inherently hurried and thus flawed to the extent that congregations hardly have time to wrap their arms around the issues, and, once adopted, the pressure to "move on" to the next stand precludes the possibility of meaningful internalization and subsequent action on stands already adopted. The pro camp also felt that the existing Action of Immediate Witness process, which will continue, remains available for important stands that are urgent, time sensitive, and do not necessitate as great a level of congregational involvement.

While I am a relative newcomer to the faith, it has been apparent to me for some time that the current process does not seem to result in fruitful, meaningful change within the denomination or even in the individuals who are so passionate about the issues in the first place. That is to say, people who are already passionate about an issue of social justice remain so, and people who were not already passionate do not become energized by a mere written position paper being somehow formally adopted by the association. Sure, there are certain specific times when designated representatives of the denomination, for example, President Sinkford, have been able to cite these positions at opportune times when circumstances called for a well-documented and agreed-upon stance. But, really, is that all we want from our Statements of Conscience? Are we not, as brothers and sisters in solidarity, called upon to internalize, actualize, and apologize these values in our own lives?

I voted my conscience -- that we need to own these issues at the congregational level and that, if we can not even do that, we have no business formalizing them as statements of conscience of the entire denomination. Apparently, a majority of the delegates felt the same way, as the motion to amend the bylaws passed by a clear (but by no means unanimous) margin. Moving forward, we will have a new process for adopting statements of conscience, and I hope it will prove to be more spiritual and holistic for the entire community. I also hope that CLF will accept the challenge to find a way to integrate this process into our own diverse and widespread congregation and to be a full and active participant in the new, congregation-centered process.

In other news, we also attended the annual donor appreciation reception this evening, as both Friends of the UUA and members of the Legacy Society. Much wine was poured -- make appropriate allowance as you read the foregoing. Perhaps it won't make sense to me in the morning either.

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