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Article II: Moving Forward: Assembly on the Proposed Covenant for the UUA Bylaws

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General Assembly 2009 Event 3014

Led by Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter. UUA Commission on Appraisal: Rev. Orlanda Brugnola, Chair; Rev. Thomas Owen-Towle, Vice Chair, Chaplain; Rev. Barbara Child, Project Manager; Jacqui C. Williams, Treasurer.

At a special assembly held Friday in Plenary Hall, delegates to the 2009 General Assembly (GA) of the UUA shared their thoughts about the proposed changes to Article II of the UUA bylaws. The 35 or so delegates who spoke expressed strong feelings about changing the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Purposes & Principles contained in the Article. The proposed revision wording is the result of two years of study by the UUA Commission on Appraisal and is on the agenda to be voted on at a plenary session on Saturday. The vote on Saturday is not on whether to adopt the changes; it is a vote for or against a year of study and conversation about the changes, and would put the proposal on the agenda for possible adoption at GA 2010.

A bit of background: UUA bylaws state that the Purposes & Principles must be reviewed every 15 years. The last time changes were made was in the mid-80s. “The 15-year rule is there to ensure that nothing becomes accidentally creedal,” according to Gini Courter, the UUA moderator. The Commission on Appraisal explains their charge this way: “Those who instituted the bylaw mandating review every fifteen years clearly knew what they were doing.  By 2006, when this review began, the world had changed, and Unitarian Universalism had changed. The Commission’s task has been to reflect these changes in ways that will sustain this Association of Congregations for at least the next fifteen years.” Changes to the bylaws are subject to a two-year process (overriding the Robert’s Rule that says a vote can be postponed for only one year), and the bylaws also state that the wording of the revision cannot be amended. Therefore, the vote at Saturday’s plenary is an up or down vote to put the new wording on the 2010 GA agenda, to be considered for adoption at that time .

The changes are summarized below. A side-by-side comparison of the current and proposed language can be found online: UUA Bylaws: Article II Revised (PDF) and Color-Coded (PDF).

Purposes: The current section on Purposes is changed to refer to the “association of free yet interdependent congregations” rather than “the Unitarian Universalist Association.” It changes language such as “serve the needs of its member congregations” to “supports the creation, vitality, and growth of Congregations.”

Sources: The current Sources section starts with “The living tradition which we share draws from many sources” and continues with a bulleted list including Jewish and Christian teachings, words and deeds of prophetic women and men, wisdom from the world’s religions, Humanist teachings, spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions, and direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures. Each bulleted item has wording describing the particular contribution of that tradition which Unitarian Universalism values; for example, the Humanist tradition now reads: “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of mind and spirit.”

The proposed language replaces the bulleted list with paragraphs explaining our two religious heritages of Unitarianism and Universalism. It then goes on to say that, as an evolving religion, Unitarian Universalism draws from the world’s religions and names Humanism, earth-centered spiritual traditions, and Eastern religions, but leaves out the verbiage describing their contributions.

Principles: The language of the Principles remains largely the same, with two exceptions. In the 5th Principle, which currently reads, “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large,” everything after “democratic process” is dropped. In the 7th Principle, “Respect for the interdependent web” is changed to “Reverence for the interdependent web.”

Inclusion: A clause previously titled “Non-discrimination” is replaced by new wording titled “Inclusion.” The new clause acknowledges barriers that have existed for “persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories,” and pledges to try to “replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect.”

Freedom of Belief: Wording is changed in this paragraph from “individual freedom of belief” to “congregational freedom.”

The mood of the delegates who spoke was largely negative about the changes as a whole, although many thanked the Commission for their work and said they appreciated much of the new language, especially the addition of Unitarianism and Universalism as sources. The fact of the new wording being non-amendable was debated by several who had worked on amending the wording in the mid-80s, but Gini Courter said that they had spent a lot of time with the parliamentarian and the board discussing the bylaw wording on that point and had concluded that the assembly must vote on passing along for study the wording as proposed. She also said she was not sure at this point whether the bylaw had changed, or just its interpretation.

Numerous people who identify with the earth-centered tradition felt that changing “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature” to simply “earth-centered spiritual traditions” was a great loss. Similar comments were made by Humanists, about the proposed change to that section (see above).

Some people felt that the removal of the descriptions and the bullets in the current Sources was tantamount to losing the Sources altogether. One speaker capsulated his feeling by saying: “What’s missing is the poetry.” This sentiment was echoed by another who said he was thinking about the Sources Cantata, a significant musical work that was just performed in Denver. He said, “No one would ever have written a cantata based on this new language.” A self-proclaimed "card-carrying UU" lamented that the new language would no longer fit on a card as the current Sources does.

The last to take the microphone was a delegation from the Youth Caucus. They had discussed the changes and came out in favor of them. One said, “We think it is long overdue.”

Reported by Dee Ray; edited by Bill Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Friday, July 22, 2011.

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