Live your Unitarian Universalist values out loud. Make your year-end gift today!
Reported for UUA.org by Lisa Presley, reporter; Deb Weiner, editor.
UUA Moderator Gini Courter introduced members of "Dirty Laundry," a social justice group who explained how they "air dirty laundry" and how congregations can use this project as a social justice vehicle. The group explained their current campaign against Victoria 's Secret as an example of their work.
Courter, noting the extension in time for this session precipitated by continuing debate on the proposed Statement of Conscience, called the Plenary session to order at 1:48 p.m. She said that "we are going to strive to be able to walk out of the hall with all our business done by 7:00 p.m., and if we can do it by 6:00 p.m., that's better yet."
The first item of business to come before the Plenary was a set of proposed amendments to Sections 7.1, 7.2, 7.14, and 10.13 to establish the Audit Committee as a committee of the board of trustees. Linda Friedman, chair of the Planning Committee, made the appropriate motion and the Rev. Will Saunders, (New Hampshire-Vermont District) board of trustees member, gave the position of the Board.
Saunders said that standing committees of the board are those that are named in the bylaws, as opposed to other committees which are not so named. It seems important to the board that, in the light of the various financial scandals and Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the U.S. Congress, the Audit Committee, first created in 2003 and whose job it is for oversight and financial responsibility, be created as a permanent committee. There being no discussion, Courter called for the vote, and the motion to amend the bylaws to make the Audit Committee a standing committee of the board carried.
Discussion then shifted to a proposed amendment to Section 6.5 which would define "full term" as it relates to the terms of trustees. Friedman made the appropriate motion to admit the item for debate. Trustee Paul Rickter (Mass Bay District) presented the board's position.
Rickter said that this bylaw amendment would clarify the maximum length of time a trustee can serve as two full four year terms. For trustees who end up completing another person's term, any service longer than two years would count as a "full" term, thereby limiting them to one additional term. This has been the practice of the board, and this amendment would codify that practice. There being no discussion, Courter called for the vote on the motion to more clearly define "full term" and the motion carried.
Courter told delegates that each year we have one of our theological schools offer a major presentation. Last year, Starr King School for the Ministry presented a panel discussion on religion and politics, and this year Me adville/Lombard will present a "Call for a New Reformation."
The Rev. Dr. Lee Barker, president of Meadville/Lombard Theological School [LINK http://www.meadville.edu/] said that we need to be engaged in conversation about the world and liberal religion's place in creating the world. This is an issue which requires honest assessment of where UUism is theologically, and it requires bold new action.
To begin the "conversation," a silent play was offered where one person opened the "box of UU" and brought out a chalice to help warm and guide two persons in need. These people looked inside the box, and found it empty. When offered the chalice, one of them removed the paper flame, tore it in two to share with the other person, and then they each torn their portion up and blew it away. All three were then still cold and alone.
The box, Barker said, is the old way of thinking that we are trapped in. Thinking that religion can be categorized as right or wrong, that the main goal of religious life is to persuade others that ‘I am right and you are wrong,' is not what the world needs. Unitarian Universalism might be perfectly poised to usher the world past this stance.
Barker posed questions for the delegates to consider:
Barker suggested, "Through no individual fault, UUism is not providing adequate moral and religions leadership in this strife filled world, and we are not living up to guiding the world." The irony, he said, is we are limited by our very success. Often strengths and virtues limit us from ushering in new ways.
Barker suggested that "our virtue of freedom of language in religious expression leads to the limitation of being unable to communicate effectively with others. The virtue of belief in religious pluralism where all can state their own believes leads to the limitation of ineffectiveness and passivity in leading others. The virtue of a variety of beliefs leads to the limitation of claiming other truths that aren't ours and being "spiritual grazers" not leading out of our own authenticity. The Reformation of five hundred years ago no longer can lead us, and we need a new Reformation."
Barker then introduced Mike Hogue, Ph.D., professor of theology at Meadville/Lombard. Hogue said that we need to reimagine a public theology that is historically faithful and historically relevant. We have become dysfunctional, our commitment to freedom of conscience and conviction have taken an inward turn. We must face our loss of theological literacy—we have escaped myth and symbol and have dismissed the wisdom of genealogy. We have embraced fractious individualism where being a UU means almost nothing without significant qualification.
What does reformation entail, Hogue asked? It requires an historically faithful and culturally relevant public theology, inward examination, and recover of theological literacy. It entails listening to life's depths, what moves life and makes it possible. It requires open revelation, common language, and an organic holistic approach. It entails living a good life with responsibility with and for others. We need to become reacquainted with the history of our tradition and look at the wisdom of all our sources. We need to hear the past, present, and future of our lives with all its fullness and life. We need both theism and humanism in service to the Spirit of Life, theism and humanism mutually qualified, a theistic humanism against the idols.
Our task, Hogue said, is not to present to the world a universal religion, but to provide language and embolden ways of life that honor humane and life-giving dimensions of religion, while rejecting what is inhumane and life-protecting.
The presentation ended with the group of actors putting the chalice back in the box, and then moving to the chalice on stage, lighting it with a real flame, and then warming themselves beside it. Barker invited all to remain in dialogue with us as we join with all UUs to name a new theology capable of ushering in the new world.
Musicians appeared on the stage to lead the delegation in singing " Thula Klizeo," a South African piece found in the UUA's new Singing the Journey hymn book supplement. The history of the song was shared—as well as info rmation that, in the language of the Zulu people, singers would stomp their feet to show how strong they were. It could feel like an earthquake and sound like thunder when they were together, said the leader, Jan Chamberlin. Chamberlin pointed out that under apartheid, stomping was made illegal, and the Zulu then created a "silent stomping." The creator of this style, Joseph Shabalala, went on to found the singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When they left Africa to perform, they became political refugees, missed their country, and wrote this song to say, "O God, Even here, I can be happy."
Immediately following the singing of the piece, which was offered by a ‘chorus line' of singers, Tamara Payne-Alex, a member of the UUA Board, was recognized at the Procedural Microphone. She voiced concern that from an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and multicultural lens, it was important to use music in ways that feel as if it is in right relationship with the roots of the music. Acknowledgment of the history of the music helps, and yet there was no acknowledgement made of the privilege we have to perform music, and to take music from other cultures where it means something more than what we can take out of performing it.
Courter thanked Payne-Alex for the observation.
Courter digressed from the plenary agenda and told delegates that at the Ware Lecture held the previous night, some GA attendees arrived without their name badges, and the ushers had been instructed not to let people in without badges. The ushers had been well trained before GA, Courter said, "and they were doing their job following the process they had been taught. Other individuals, with power, intervened, and some people were admitted without badges."
Later in the evening, young adult volunteers who had not had the benefit of the same level of training were working at the dance. One young woman of color, "a friend of mine," said Courter, was physically stopped, "perhaps accidentally by another friend of mine, a white woman. Prior to that, white youth were allowed in without name badges." Courter said, "this is all about power and privilege and trying to do the right thing. At the dance, there was no one of power who intervened to allow the young woman to enter. It is easier for Board members to intervene than it is for youth leaders. At some level it is about ageism, and also about racism.
"When things are hectic, we often make judgments that we might have chosen to do differently. This is the first year that we are trying to provide a level of safety and security by requiring badges for admission to all events. In hindsight, we didn't train people well-enough, and that will be remedied. We should have focused on the youth dance, and I wish that we had not intervened on behalf of people who already have power and privilege." I think, she said, that "any woman over the age of forty knows what it is like not to be heard in a room of men, and anyone who can get in touch with their teenage years remembers what it is like to not be heard when young. People of color have been trying to be heard in this Association for a long time, and we need to ensure that that happens more easily. For anyone who was treated unfairly, you have my personal apology," said Courter. "We will go forward and we will do this well." Courter also said that "for this evening, we will be fair. You must have a name badge to come to the closing ceremony, and you must have a name badge to attend the dance."
A delegate from the procedural microphone said that he was gratified to learn that prior to GA, the Planning Committee contacted the St. Louis Police Department, explained who we are, and that the Chief followed through with the law enforcement personnel to the point of ensuring that we had a direct line to him in case of any difficulty. He expressed gratitude for the efforts of the Planning Committee and the city police.
A delegate moved to suspend Article 4 that limits the number of Actions of Immediate Witness that may be presented. Moderator Courter advised that it is not possible to suspend the bylaws.
Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office, explained how Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) are dealt with. AIWs represent only the views of the General Assembly that passes them, and they are not policy of the UUA itself. An AIW is a public statement made by the General Assembly, rallying people around a cause too urgent to be addressed by Study/Action Issues. They are used by staff only when there are no other resolutions available. Staff are accountable to our congregations in general, not to a particular GA. The responsibility for implementation lies primarily with the delegates who pass them. Keithan said, "if you care deeply about the AIWs being presented, you would be well advised to make a plan of action at this GA about what you will do to implement them."
AIW#1 was moved for discussion. Arguments made in favor of the AIW included:
Those opposed to the AIW cited these reasons:
During the debate, two procedural items were addressed: clarification that the Department of Peace is a Cabinet level position, and the information was shared that an AIW articulating the same position was passed in 2002.
Courter called for the vote on AIW#1, and told delegates it requires a two-thirds vote for passage. The motion to adopt AIW#1 failed.
This AIW was presented, with the correction that there was a typographical error and that it is 700 miles of rivers that are damaged, not the 70 indicated in the original AIW text. One person spoke in favor of the AIW pointing out that bit by bit, whole mountain tops are being blown away with the same chemical mix as was used in the bombing of Oklahoma City. This waste buries streams, and causes severe damage to the environment in the area.
There being no one at the con microphone, Courter called for a vote, and the motion to adopt AIW#2 carried.
A motion was made to adopt AIW #3. Pro speakers spoke of the work done prior to the war in Iraq to prevent the war, and the need to make a very firm and clear expression of solidarity with those speaking out against the war. Another pro speaker said that she was reading the words of a UU in the military who felt that they could not speak out publicly. That person said that when we first invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he thought it would be a quick victory, but instead we are losing our brightest and best, as well as many innocent Iraqis. If UUs don't stand up to oppose this war, military involvement and occupation, then who will? Con speakers said that although they agreed with much of what was said, they feared an abrupt pullout would cause more chaos and destruction as happened in Korea once the ceasefire had been set.
With no others waiting to speak on this issue, Courter called for the vote, and AIW#3 carried.
UU musician Sarah Dan Jones led the delegates in singing the chorus of a song, published in Singing the Journey and titled, "When I Breate In," that she wrote in response to the attacks on the U.S. of September 11 th, 2001. The words, "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace; when I breathe out, I breathe out peace," echoed throughout the hall.
Moderator Courter then returned the Plenary to consideration of three more proposed Actions of Immediate Witness.
AIW#4 was admitted for discussion to the Plenary. A delegate rose in support and cited the irony of some of those who call for birth at any cost and will not allow pre-life to be used to enhance and save the lives of individuals through stem-cell research and application. Another person pointed out that we all know someone who could be cured soon if money could be used to fund stem cell research. One person approached the procedural microphone and stated that there may be some parents who are not named in the AIW, notably the adoptive non-biological parents.
An amendment was proposed to change the word "loosening" in line 184 with "removing," thereby strengthening the AIW. The amendment carried.
A delegate who noticed there was no one speaking against the AIW felt that it someone should point out that stem cell research is not where our health care money should be going. Instead, that money should be going toward basic health care to the children who don't have access to any health care.
Seeing no one at the Con microphone, Courter called for the vote, and AIW#4 was carried.
After moving AIW#5, debate began. One delegate stated that the U.S. has already undermined the work of human rights by voting against, and then declining to run for, a seat on the Human Rights Council.
Another delegate approached the procedural mic, wanting to know what nations were members of the Council. The answer was not immediately available, and he went to the con microphone to express a concern that in the past the biggest abusers of human rights have sought seats on human rights bodies to protect their countries from investigation. The names of 47 nations involved in the Human Rights Council was supplied, and debate continued. Another delegate informed the assembly that this particular Human Rights Council is mandated to investigate every country for their human rights records, and that membership on the Council does not exempt them from scrutiny.
Seeing no one else at the microphones, Courter called for the vote on the motion to adopt AIW#5, and it carried.
After making the appropriate motion, debate began on AIW#6. Pro speakers cited the following reasons for their support:
Speakers at the con microphone stated the following:
One delegate spoke from the procedural microphone on a matter of personal privilege. He said found the language people were using to be highly offensive. There is, he said, "no such thing as an illegal immigrant, since there is no such thing as an illegal person. They may be undocumented, but people cannot be illegal."
An amendment deleting lines 272-3 which support the creation of an accessible and timely process to obtain residency and citizenship, was moved. The maker of the motion said that denying undocumented workers benefits is unconscionable, but securing for them citizenship is not appropriate in an AIW. Rather, this should be addressed by a Study/Action Issue. A delegate spoke against this amendment, quoting from the poem on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor": It is essential, the delegate said, "that we say it is important for people to have access to the process of citizenship."
A delegate moved the extension of time by five minutes, primarily since his was the next amendment to be considered. The extension of time was carried.
Courter called for the vote on the amendment to delete lines 272-273, and the motion failed.
The delegate moved amendment b to delete lines 286-287. He stated his concern about the implied necessity to publish all documents in all the languages of the nation, and said he did not believe that bilingual education has been proved to be helpful. Other pro speakers stated concern from personal experiences living in nations with multiple languages and the difficulties they have witnessed. Those opposed to the amendment said that they appreciated people needed to speak their own language as they learned English, and that this would not cause the problems others envisioned. Time for debate expired, and Courter called for the vote on the amendment to delete lines 286-287. The amendment failed.
Courter then called for a vote on AIW#6, as presented, and the motion carried.
Courter began addressing the delegates by making reference to a scene in the movie " A League of Their Own" where one player was leaving because "It's so hard." The coach tells her, "Of course it's hard; the hard part is what makes it great. If it was easy, anybody would do it." Courter said we are involved in a whole lot of things with differing levels of difficulty. She knows how hard it is to build the beloved community, and yet how important it is to do so.
Earlier, she said, "I rose to talk about some instances of privilege and power, and following that conversation our youth and young adults of color and their allies wanted to bring a list of what they would like me to tell you. I realized they needed to have their own voices, because they are delegates, and they are a part of our Assembly, part of our community. Some of them are afraid to talk with you, and let me tell you why."
Courter said the youth and young adults are not afraid there will be verbal or physical violence, "that you would punch or throw them, but they are afraid that you would not hear them, and that we would hug them whether they want you to or not, and then think that this makes it okay." Courter invited delegates to listen to the words of these people "in a spirit of deep learning." She asked delegates to honor her request that, from the point where these people begin to speak until the end of her report, there be no applause.
Courter introduced UUA Trustee-At-Large Julian Sharp to introduce the two speakers. He encouraged delegates to listen to their voices, "let them challenge and inspire us to live out our values, and let us struggle together." He asked that after the presentation we do not approach these people or others who join them on stage. "We have youth chaplains and adult chaplains who would love to talk with you, and there is lots of programming available for delegates to learn from," he said.
Hannah Eller Isaacs read a list of comments gathered from her conversations with people, including:
Zarinah Ali then offered a separate list of concerns:
Courter stood at the podium in silence, and then began by saying that one thing she has realized is that never in the history of the UUA has there been a Study/Action Issue or Statement of Conscience that says that we need to study racism in our congregations, and this appears something that is difficult for us. It is, she said, "at some level, about leadership, and this is not the Moderator's report I intended to give.
"One thing we learned during UU University was that the way you change is to be very tolerant of pain. In my business life, I am an IT professional, and there is a saying that in order to build good systems, you need to put the pain in the right place. For too long, it hasn't hurt some of us very much, and we have been unknowing, and probably not caring, but being okay with being in another place. And yet, our children are in pain, and we have not taught them, as well as we wish, how to be together. Our adults of color are in pain, and we haven't taught ourselves how to be together. This is the business of this GA, the business of a movement facing a new dawn. It is about leadership, and you need to want to learn more."
Courter then told delegates that for many folks, and speaking specifically to the youth of color in the hall, "it seems often that I sprung before you a fully formed anti-racist, and nothing could be further from the truth. When I joined the Board of Trustees, one of the first things I did was rebel against the anti-racist training I received, and I led a movement to get something different." Yet her colleagues on the Board "loved me into a different way of being," she said, and she came to realize that "even though the training wasn't perfect, until we knew what perfect was, we could not be complacent. They were afraid that we would give up because the work was hard," Courter said. Yet, Courter explained, "there are many ways to do the work, to bump off the rough edges, and that's what they did for me." Increasingly, she said, the people who teach me tend to be white UUs, and "that gives me great joy as we are developing the sophistication to do the work, not just lip service.
This is a learning process, and a soulful process. I recommend that if you want to change your spiritual life, you give consideration to doing significant reading and having significant conversations around race and racism, age and ageism, accessibility and ablism. There is a myth that there is only one way to do this, that there is one UUA curricula and approach, but this is not true. You are inventing the way to do this in your congregations. There are videos to watch—three listed in the GA program—to watch and talk about. Have those conversations," she said, even if everyone in the room is white.
"When we come together, we are gathered in one strong body as an association of congregations. Diversity is real with us, and we are a faith that speaks to all people of all ages. Part of setting the welcome table is making it real. Dealing with racism is about leadership and pain, and if you are feeling weird or funny, then that's the place where we learn.
Some, she said, "may be feeling we spend way too much time on issues of race and racism, of how to be in community together." She urged delegates to get in touch with the part of themselves that feels that way, and figure out why that is—"this might save your soul."
Courter said she is honored to serve as Moderator of the UUA, of this Assembly, and as Chair of the UUA Board. The reason this is true, she said, is that she states "with complete confidence that, if there is a community that will be a beacon on this continent and in this world about how different people can be together—across ages, races, ways of being, and speaking—then we are it. We are the best hope there is, none better, and it is almost a holy trust and a sacred piece given only to us. It is time for a new revolution.
"The last time that we spoke and cared deeply about what it means to be a democracy, we created the country we live in today. This is our work—to create a democracy and be with that in this hall, with these delegates, with these people."
Courter went on to recognize a few other people in this hall. She loves chairing the UUA Board, and asked delegates to thank them for their work. She also thanked one group charged with "bringing things to birth over and over again—they don't get to watch the child grow, but instead create new children every year"—the UUA's Commission on Social Witness. "At times this week," Courter said, "their work has been disrespected in this hall. They have been fine leaders carrying out arcane legislation and putting things in the best way possible."
Courter also took time to thank and recognize the members of the GA Planning Committee "who spend all year worrying and working toward making sure that this Assembly works well. Their passion and obsession is that this Assembly be the best it can be each and every year."
Courter said that normally her reports are not this somber, but that this was what was needed today. She then introduced her father, and reminded delegates that she told them the other day that her Dad taught her to love the church, "but he didn't mean this one. But still, he seems to think it's okay. I am honored," Courter said, "to have him here as we struggle with things important to us and our souls." She thanked delegates for their kind attention to her Dad.
Patsy Sherrill Madden and Kim Hampton told delegates about this year's GA service project, Lift for Life. In a city where the graduation rate is only 40%, Lift for Life has a graduation rate of 90 percent. This is done without government funds, and for those who were not able to donate on Sunday because they were late, they can still donate. The Sunday service collection will contribute $31,886 to Lift For Life's programs. Founder Marshall Cohen thanked delegates for their generosity.
One delegate moved a resolution in response to UUA President Bill Sinkford's report, on the Gulf Coast relief. The resolution urged member congregations and their members to work and advocate for:
After one delegate spoke in favor of the resolution, Courter indicated that a responsive resolution requires a two-thirds majority, and then called for a vote. The motion carried.
Another delegate moved a responsive resolution about health care, the text of which reads:
WHEREAS, too many ministers and staff who serve our congregations either have no health insurance or are underinsured,
WHEREAS, the UUA Board of Trustees has approved a self-funded health insurance plan for our congregational staffs,
WHEREAS, the availability of health insurance for those who serve us is a matter of inclusivity, accessibility, and economic justice,
THEREFORE, we, the delegates of the 2006 General Assembly, urge delegates to carry this message back to their local congregations, and to advocate for their congregations' participation in the UUA Health Insurance Plan.
Courter called for a vote on the responsive resolution on health care, and the motion carried.
Another delegate proposed a responsive resolution to the Moderator's report:
Be it resolved that the delegates of the 2006 GA are grateful for the deeply respectful, caring, and intelligent guidance and leadership of our Moderator, Gini Courter. Her humor and skill have infinitely increased our experience as delegates and we applaud her spirit, skill and leadership.
The motion carried. The delegates responded with applause and a standing ovation.
Courter told delegates that the debate on the proposed Statement of Conscience (SOC)—Threat of Global Warming—would continue where it was left off with amendments that had not yet been proposed. She pointed out that if delegates want the discussion to go quickly, "one way to do that is not to line up at the microphones."
Courter thanked the delegates for working through these amendments quickly. She then asked whether the delegates were ready to vote. A youth delegate appeared at the procedural microphone, expressing concern that due to a procedural motion, youth were not able to present their opinion. The delegate at the pro microphone yielded his space to the Youth Caucus, and an extension of time for ten minutes of additional debate was made and carried.
The Youth Caucus representative urged delegates to support this SOC. "This is a global problem that needs a global solution, and who better that the UUA to propose solutions? This is about respect for the earth and each other and restoring the web of life. All young people, and our planet, are endangered." The Youth Caucus delegate urged delegates to "give our generation a viable home."
One delegate spoke against the SOC saying that although he does not support global warming, and is not pro-pollution, this statement has too many absolutes that cannot be voted for such statements. Other delegates said that "we need to be honest with ourselves and that if we pass this, we must advocate for the issue, and work to support it." Another delegate, pretending to be an oil company, urged delegates to vote against this to increase his profits.
A delegate moved to call the question. The vote to call the question carried, and Courter then asked delegates to vote on adopting the SOC. The motion to adopt carried.
A delegate representing the UU Ministry for Earth thanked Courter for finding ways to enable better discussion and process on the SOC.
A delegate asked for permission to present another responsive resolution to the officers' reports. She moved that each congregation carry out one program to address racism or classism in the next year, that congregations be asked to report such efforts (or lack thereof) on their annual certification form, and that the results of those reports be shared with General Assembly next year. It is, she said, "imperative to work on this process, and having a single program is a very low bar, and very serious work to do."
The delegate stated that she wished to make the ability to attend GA as a delegate dependent upon this action, but she was advised by the Moderator that this was not possible—bylaw changes cannot be carried out as part of a resolution. Courter asked for a vote on the responsive resolution, and it carried.
One delegate expressed appreciation to both the parliamentarian and the Association's general counsel for their work on behalf of the UUA. Another delegate urged distribution of scientific information on global warming. Another person mentioned that many people had already left the plenary hall when the responsive resolution on engaging in anti-racism programming had been moved, and urged that someone communicate this information to the congregations. The Secretary of the Association, Paul Rickter, said that this would be done, and Courter added her own thoughts that "if we fail on this, if we let this slip between the cracks, we are in deep trouble." Courter then remarked, "You can't know when the real business ends, can you?"
Courter then introduced Judi McGavin, former UUA trustee from the Pacific Northwest District and local chair of GA 2007, who encouraged delegates to attend General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, next year, from June 21-24. Portland has been named America's "Best Big City," she said, and it has "unmatched beauty, good dining, and easy access to the convention center."
Courter introduced UUA Secretary Paul Rickter for the final credentials report. Rickter reported that there were 2010 delegates representing 623 congregations from all fifty states present, and that the total registration was 4398, making GA 2006 the third largest GA in UUA history.
There being no other business to come before the assembly, the Planning Committee moved adjournment of the meeting.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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