Monday, June 28, 2010

Sunday report (Sean)

Yesterday was another overfull day. In fact, we never made it to closing ceremonies; I raced home after the final Plenary, which ran a few minutes over, in order to walk the dog before what was sure to be a late night, with no chance for dinner until perhaps 9:30. Louise, meanwhile, actually had to leave Plenary fifteen minutes early in order to make the final choir practice. We had not yet finished voting on Responsive Resolutions.

About fifteen minutes after I got home, she called me. "I'm coming home." What? I already knew that choir this year had been a frustrating experience for her, although I thought they sounded great at Sunday morning worship. But after a day that started for her at 7:45 for the last pre-worship practice (meaning she had to leave here at 7:15), had no opportunity for breakfast or lunch, and only a few minutes for a snack before Closing Ceremony, she realized she was just not going to make it through the whole day to 9pm. Of course, once you're seated on the dais, there's really no graceful way to bow out. So she decided to drop out of choir before it even started. Thus it was that we skipped closing for the first time in our GA "careers."

In addition to the choir, worship was excellent as usual. I did think that Reverend Morales ran a bit long in the sermon, which was a reiteration of many of his campaign assertions regarding membership numbers and what brings people into (or drives them away from) our faith community. In any case, I did not feel energized by it, and would have preferred something a bit more inspirational for morning worship.

A presentation by Dan Aleshire, Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools was actually the highlight, for me, of Plenary VI. A business resolution entitled "The Green Revolution in Religion" passed handily, as did a raft of changes to the Bylaws that were essentially proposed and supported by the Board.

The afternoon's session included a report on transforming governance by the District Presidents' Association, which echoed many of the findings of the Fifth Principle Task Force, and talked about moving forward on that path. The presenters read a list of statements made by either district presidents or their constituents, and we both found many statements disturbing. By which I mean, some of the statements wandered far enough from our core principles as a movement that we wondered to each other whether they were made by congregational leaders (we hope not) or random congregants (better, but still worrisome). I did not write them down; I hope they will appear on-line in due time.

The secretary's report on the progress made by congregations to last year's responsive resolution on Power, Privilege, and Oppression was equally disturbing. While the report highlighted some very good results from exactly two groups (a congregation in Kent, OH, and a district in New York), congregations as a whole have overwhelmingly refrained from responding to this.

While I do think that, in the case of this particular resolution, this is a shame, I think this result reinforces what I have been saying here for some time: It is all too easy for a room full of delegates, swept up in the emotions of the moment, to pass resolutions that charge congregations to heap more work onto what are often already over-full plates. I often wondered whether every delegate with a voting card in the air is going to return to her congregation brimming with enthusiasm to pass along the new charge and get to work right away. I need wonder no longer: Secretary Loughrey's report has answered my question.

We moved on to debate on the Actions of Immediate Witness for this GA, which I will discuss momentarily. Before we finished with them, however, the moderator had to suspend debate, complete with stopping the motion clock, to accommodate a distinguished guest, introduced by CLF's own Meg Riley (in her role as UUA Director of Advocacy and Witness). That guest was none other than Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who was met by rousing applause.

Senator Franken spoke for an unusually long time (IMO, under the circumstances). He spoke about his own faith background and shared with us a story about his father that actually moved him to tears at one point. A side of Al Franken that I had never seen in either the comedian or the distinguished gentleman from Minnesota. I did not write any of it down, but more is here on UU World. It was one of the high points of my day.

Afterward we resumed debate on the AIWs. You can read about the AIWs and how the vote (and debate) went elsewhere, suffice it to say that protracted debate was held on only a couple. The AIW to End the Blockade of Gaza and Growth of Israeli Settlements [in Palestine] was defeated by a narrow margin. I believe it had a majority but not the required 2/3 majority. Arguments on both sides were strong, and this blogger voted against the resolution on several grounds:
  • As delegate Denny Davidoff said, we "have a lot of chutzpah" to think we can control the government of Israel. IMO, this AIW calls congregations and individuals to futile action.
  • While I may question their tactics at times, I do not question Israel's right to defend itself from the unending flow of weapons to Hamas. If U.S. soil was rocket-bombed daily, would we be content with leaving our defense to "an international inspection" of cargo heading into enemy territory?
  • Why does this resolution unilaterally target Israel, without making mention of the culpability of those who would see her destroyed? For that matter, as many speakers brought up, why is Israel singled out, among all nations who have transgressed even against Palestine, for action by our movement?
  • Most importantly, it is clear to me that, for the most part, the delegates can not possibly have enough information or insight into the actual state of affairs in that part of the world to make an informed decision about taking these actions. I know I, personally, do not, and I would venture a guess that my own education and experience on the subject is reflective of no fewer than 50% and more like 80-90% of the delegates. This is just presumptuous.
All of that said, I think there would have been little disagreement, myself included, on the portion related to Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. But the elements were not separated nor really separable as the AIW came to us.

The discussion on ending the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan also saw a great deal of discussion and was similarly defeated. Here I think things were a bit more clear-cut, with the room dividing along traditional "all war is wrong" and "just war" lines, with the twist that even some die-hard pacifists realize that you can't start a war someplace and then just walk away without picking up the pieces.

Once again, this delegate voted against, principally because the resolution left no wiggle-room for necessary (IMO) peacekeeping forces and an orderly transition. The "immediate" nature of the proposal was, well, too immediate. I suspect many delegates felt the same way and this is why the AIW failed.

The remaining AIWs passed, and, as usual, I (or we, in some cases) were in the small minority opposed to some. In particular, I thought the notion that we could somehow immediately stop using off-shore oil expressed in the Gulf Coast Environmental and Economic Justice AIW was quaint and unachievable. As one delegate said, passing knee-jerk unachievable resolutions makes us look like cranks rather than the well-reasoned people we proclaim to be. The ultimate goal of the resolution is laudable, but the language and timetable was unreflective of scientific reality.

The remaining bylaw changes, postponed from an earlier Plenary, passed with little drama, and the final credentials report reflected 1,957 delegates representing 581 congregations and a grand total of 3,880 attendees. Sadly, not that many delegates remained in the room when the Responsive Resolutions were brought forward. Again, I will let you read about these elsewhere, with two exceptions. First is that the responsive resolution on ENDA passed by a landslide without the text of the resolution, or even what report it was a response to, ever being presented to the delegates. I have to confess that we were among the guilty here, even though I had a niggling sense that we had not heard all we needed to. Only after the vote did a delegate ask this as a point of personal privilege, prompting the moderator to have to ask the floor if anyone needed to then change his vote.

The last resolution turned out to be a marriage proposal, which while perhaps a slight abuse of the rules of procedure, was well-received by the assembly. The flabbergasted recipient of said proposal asked the assembly what we suggested, at which point the moderated called for a show of voting cards; I do not think there was a single nay or abstention.

I think that will about wrap up my coverage of Sunday, and my next post will attempt to go back and fill in the blanks I left in my Friday and Saturday coverage.

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