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Section Banner: Choices That Matter: General Assembly 2007, Portland, Oregon: photo montage

Worshipping Together, Witnessing Together

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General Assembly 2007 Event 4002

Presenters: Rev. Dr. Paul Johnson, Dr. John Hooper, Dawn Cooley

Every morning at 8:00 a.m., the early risers gather in the General Assembly (GA) main hall for worship. The theme of the Saturday morning worship service was Social Witness.

The opening words by Rev. William Schultz set the tone: "Diversity need not mean divisiveness; and to witness to that we must hold the whole world in our hands." The opening hymn reinforced this message: "Once to every soul and nation comes the moment to decide."

Every morning at 8:00 AM, the early risers gather in the General Assembly (GA) main hall for worship. The theme of the Saturday morning worship service was Social Witness.

The opening words by Rev. William Schultz set the tone: "Diversity need not mean divisiveness; and to witness to that we must hold the whole world in our hands." The opening hymn reinforced this message: "Once to every soul and nation comes the moment to decide."

The highlight and heart of the service was Dawn Cooley's award-winning sermon "Standing at the Precipice." She described ten UUs sitting around a table, discussing growth, when someone asked the inevitable question: "Why do we want to grow? We have no urgent dictum to save souls. Isn't it enough to allow people to stumble across us?"

She was unprepared for what happened next. She was jolted out of her warm, satiated peace by a simple, succinct statement: "We want to grow because the world would be a better place if there were more Unitarian Universalists in it."

"Why do we spend so much time hemming and hawing about these issues?" she wondered. Perhaps we confuse "sharing our message" with "trying to convert." Whatever the reason, by shying away from these issues, we religious liberals are losing ground.

She quoted from the UUA 2005-2007 Study Issue "Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society." "Throughout the 1980s, religious conservatives gained credibility in politics by asserting that their religious values should be incorporated into public policy." How should we respond? In George Lakoff's terms, we must "frame" the issues our way, in our language, on our terms, to emphasize the values we cherish.

She described a vision of religious liberals standing atop a precipice at the brink of an extremely dangerous situation with disastrous potential. We have let religious conservatives create a stronghold in our society, and now we must decide what to do. In the words of hymn #119, "Once to every soul and nation comes the moment to decide."

We must frame the issues with our values, such as the "five smooth stones of religious liberalism" identified by James Luther Adams. Religious liberals have a moral obligation to establish a just and loving community. "We can't sit around and wait for the 'beloved community' to come about," she declared, "We must work to bring it about."

"We have a message!" she continued. "It is a message of inclusion and connectedness. It is a message of building bridges in such a way that reduces polarization rather than feeding into it."

"We must speak our values and not dwell on policies and programs," she exhorted. "Let us speak from what connects us and what inspires us: values."

And we have to be clear. Have your "elevator speech" ready! "We never know when we might be called upon to share our values with someone else," she warned.

She concluded, "We have a message of hope that says we can make a difference in this world: that we are connected, that we can make justice."

"May it be so. May we make it so."

Reported by Mike McNaughton, edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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