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Taking Action as a Congregation: Guide for Congregational Resolutions & Social Justice Statements
- How to Pass a Congregational Resolution
- Examples of Congregational Resolutions
- Suggested Guidelines for Processing Controversial Issues
Considering a Congregational Resolution?
When considering whether or not to pass a congregational resolution on an issue, there are several important questions that can help discern if and how to go about it.
The first thing to keep in mind is that anything done in a congregational setting can be divisive if done poorly. As faith communities, it is important to take a stand on the side of justice in a way that nurtures community. Hopefully, within the context of the congregation, people are willing to be emotionally and spiritually open; to take the risks and share their personal stories necessary for understanding, grieving, healing, and transformation often required when taking action. Ensuring that the congregation remains a safe space for this openness is critical to the success of whatever decision or project is being considered, especially if it is something that is controversial or will be a long-term project or has long-term ramifications. This does not mean that “controversial” issues should be avoided—just that they should be addressed thoroughly and thoughtfully. Space needs to be created so that if there is a minority in disagreement they still feel part of the community.
An important question when considering a congregational resolution is to ask how it helps reach a goal? Often, congregational resolutions are viewed as an end, rather than as a means to an end. In terms of strategic planning, a congregational resolution is a tactic, not a goal. Examples of goals are changing a particular public policy, changing the position of an elected official on a given issue, or preventing or requiring a certain type of action.
Goal-based planning has several important benefits. First and foremost, it leads to greater effectiveness. Biblically, this might be summed up as “Without vision, the people perish.” Without a clear vision and goal, the congregation’s attention and focus goes into the tactic of passing the resolution, rather than planning for advocacy and organizing needed to achieve the goal. Passing a congregational resolution will not change public policy. But if it’s part of an overall strategy, it could be an effective way to build awareness and participation in action by the congregation.
The process of passing a resolution can lead to greater understanding, stronger community and transformation in the congregation itself. It can lay the basis for authorizing clergy, staff, and members of the congregation to join interfaith and advocacy coalitions on behalf of the congregation. If the resolution is sent out as a press advisory or brought to a press conference that announces actions along with the resolution it can become news and help call others to action.
In the context of a discussion of goals, passing a resolution necessitates a process of deeper discernment that has myriad benefits. It requires critical thinking and analysis of power structures and resources. It also allows for spiritual and theological development to play a greater part in the conversation, as participants reflect on how our Unitarian Universalist (UU) history and theology informs perspective and goals on a given issue. It may encourage research into what’s already happening in the community, which can help build relationships and avoid re-inventing the wheel in terms of action planning.
When linked to goal based planning, working on a resolution can help prioritize the work. Taking the time to do a serious, goal-based planning process at the beginning of a campaign will save significant time and energy in the long run by creating a clear sense of where the congregation is going (goal) and how to get there (tactics). For more on goal-based planning see Inspired Faith, Effective Action (PDF, 31 pages).
Another question to consider is whether or not the resolution reflects the congregation’s identity. Sometimes the issue is one that the congregation has a long history of active engagement with. Or it may be an issue that a majority of the congregation feels strongly about and wants to be known for publicly.
Essentially, a congregational resolution is appropriate if:
- There is a compelling reason for doing so that serves an articulated long-term goal that isn’t sufficiently served through action by a social action committee or subgroup of the congregation. Being able to articulate reasons for this can be helpful in bringing the idea of a resolution to the congregation.
- There is a plan for how to use the resolution after it’s passed including how to communicate it to the media, to potential organizational partners, to elected officials, etc. The process of passing a resolution should be viewed as an organizing tool, building support and momentum for action. Again, being able to articulate a plan can be helpful in creating buy-in for a resolution by the congregation.
- There is a willingness to commit to a multi-month process of education and open discussion that allows differing opinions to be shared. While some folks may oppose any congregational action that they don’t agree with, most won’t hold the process hostage so long as they feel that they have been heard.
- There is a demonstrated grounding, history, and identity of the congregation with the issue that makes passage likely. In this case, a couple of post-worship meetings and telephone trees within the course of a month may be all the time required before holding a vote.
- There is a deep felt need by historically marginalized groups for the congregation to stand with them in solidarity.