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Plenary V, General Assembly 2005
General Assembly 2005 Event 4004
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Moderator Gini Courter called the fifth Plenary of the 2005 General Assembly (GA) to order at 12:20 p.m. with the song "Lonely, I'm feeling lonely." Courter pointed out that although the General Assembly program correctly listed the Plenary as beginning at 12:15 p.m., the Business Agenda book incorrectly listed the Plenary as beginning at 12:45. So, she said, we will move some of the business around so that "nothing important will be voted on until 12:45."
Report of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee
Courter called on Phyllis Daniel, Chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC), to present the Committee's report. Daniel reported that the MFC has exclusive jurisdiction over ministerial fellowship, makes rules governing ministerial fellowship subject to approval by the Board of Trustees, adopts rules related to classes of fellowship including full and associate status, and may suspend or terminate fellowship for unbecoming conduct or other specified cause as well as reinstate or readmit ministers to fellowship. Candidates for fellowship must have an undergraduate degree and Master of Divinity degree or their equivalents, a career assessment, a unit of clinical pastoral education, and an approved internship before being admitted to fellowship. They must also be sponsored by a UU congregation before their interview. Most candidates will also have had an interview with a Regional Subcommittee on Candidacy, and after December 31, 2006, all aspirants must first be granted candidacy status by the Regional Subcommittee.
Daniel stated that the MFC interviewed 65 candidates this past year. Over half of them graduated from historically non-UU seminaries; 11% attended Harvard Divinity School, 28% attended Me adville/Lombard Theological School, and 9% attended Starr King School for the Ministry. More women than men were candidates (66% women, 34% men).
Daniel explained that once admitted to preliminary fellowship, the minister is then in a probationary period for a minimum of three years, at the end of which time the minister may be admitted to final fellowship. Evaluations are received and reviewed, and 35 ministers received final fellowship this past year.
The MFC has also been evaluating the concept of categories for ministry. Over the past few years, ministers were granted preliminary fellowship in parish, religious education, or community ministry. Starting in September, 2005, the MFC will grant preliminary fellowship in UU ministry. When a minister is admitted into final fellowship, they may be admitted with or without specialization, depending upon where they have worked as a minister. At the present time, Daniel said, the MFC will recognize specialties in parish ministry, ministry of religious education, and community ministry. This plan, she said, recognizes specialized expertise and experience and the increasing complexity of overlapping forms of ministry, while honoring all ministries.
The MFC is also committed to ensuring that candidates have demonstrated experience with anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural work. During the past year, candidates wrote an essay on their analysis of these issues as reflected in their ministry. This work will continue in the future, aided by the UUA's Transformation Committee. A portion of each MFC business meeting is now open to observers. The work of the six Regional Subcommittees has been useful, and they provide early feedback to candidates, hopefully long before they have incurred great debt. Daniel introduced the other members of the MFC: The Revs. Mark Belletini (vice chair), Jory Agate, Stephan Papa, Carolyn Owen-Towle, Wayne Arnason, Ken Reeves, Geoff Rimositis, and James Zacharias; and Betty Bobo Seiden, Abbey Tennis, James Brown, Susan Stukey, and P.D. Wadler. She also thanked the Rev. David Hubner, who serves as Executive Secretary; the Rev. David Pettee, Ministerial Credentialing Director; the Rev. Dr. Michelle Bentley, Professional Development Director; Griffith Bell, MFC Administrative Assistant; and Christine May, Ministerial Credentialing Administrator.
Report of the Religious Education Credentialing Committee
Moderator Courter then introduced Liz Jones, chair of the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC), to deliver this committee's report. Jones explained that the RECC, now in its second year, is appointed by the UUA Board. The members are Steve Lynn, Sue McGovern, Kathryn Warrior, the Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland, the Rev. Betty Jo Middleton, and Gail Forsythe-Vail. The committee is also joined by the Rev. Beth Williams, Religious Education Credentialing Director, and the Rev. David Hubner, Director of Ministry and Professional Leadership.
The RECC, Jones said, is responsible for credentialing religious educators. The UUA Bylaws have established three levels of credentialing:
- Credentialed Religious Educator, Associate Level requires at least 75 hours of relevant training, at least two years of paid experience of at least quarter time or its equivalent, and the completion of a portfolio demonstrating competency.
- Credentialed Religious Educator requires a bachelor's degree or its equivalent, and an additional seven structured learning experiences beyond the hours required for Associate Level, as well as at least two years paid experience of at least half-time. Candidates at this level meet with the Credentialing Committee for an interview.
- The highest level, Credentialed Religious Educator, Master's Level, requires a master's degree or its equivalent as well as graduate level work in specific academic topics. At least three years of at least half time paid experience is required as well as an interview with the Committee.
Jones said there are currently 27 individuals credentialed through the program, one at the Associate Level, nine at the Credentialed Level, and seventeen at the Master's Level. Many of these seventeen were transitioned to the Masters status from the former Religious Education Landscape Program. There are 44 individuals in process working toward credentialing. The RECC is currently working to address issues of anti-racism/anti-oppression work, and has addressed this and accessibility issues at their meetings.
Financial Advisor's Report
Financial Advisor Larry Ladd presented his final report (PDF, 28 pages) to the General Assembly. Ladd organized his report around three themes: growth and congregational resources, financial results, and retrospective and advice.
Ladd said that comparing data over time is complicated by the fact that many Canadian congregations no longer belong to the UUA. He then provided data for U.S. congregations only, as well as for all congregations. Membership growth continues, but at a slow rate of.3%, or less than 500 members per year. Some individual congregations are growing substantially, whereas others are not, or are in decline.
Religious education (RE) enrollment decreased by 1.7% in the U.S., and Ladd said that this is an important issue for all congregations. They must ask how they are providing support for families with children. Four to five years ago RE growth was good, but it has slowed, and this is the second year of decline.
When one combines the adult and RE numbers, overall growth has decreased slightly. The high point of UU congregational membership was in the 1960s, and numbers from that time were somewhat inflated since congregations were not assessed fair share giving based on membership numbers. But despite that, it is clear that we grew substantially in the 1960s and then shrank in the 1970s, and our congregations have been growing a bit since then.
Our "market share" of the population is about the same,.08%. And although church budgets have decreased a bit since 2003, overall budgeted spending has increased about 48% since 1994. Whatever is happening with membership, church budgets keep growing.
The financial results, Ladd said, are that the UUA budget has been balanced, and that Beacon Press is on plan and likely to be more financially stable than in the past. The UUA's investments returned a higher percentage return than average portfolios. The Audit Committee is fully functioning, and they have appointed a new auditor for the UUA, the firm KPMG.
Ladd then turned to the retrospective part of his report. During his eight year tenure:
- The UUA conducted two capital campaigns, Handing on the Future ($13.5 million), and the Campaign for Unitarian Universalism ($32 million).
- Two buildings (53 Beacon Street and 8 Mt. Vernon Street, both in Boston) were sold, and a new one obtained (41 Joy Street, Boston).
- The budget has been balanced seven of the last eight years.
- A preferred vendor for church insurance, Church Mutual, was selected.
- A single pension plan for church staff is available to all congregations.
- Financial reporting was strengthened, with a new system in 1999 and a new full-time manger of financial reporting.
- Transparency has improved, with the creation of the Financial Advisor's web page in 1999, offering copies of reports to the Board and General Assembly.
- There is a tentative and struggling link between budget and planning for the Association.
- The Endowment Committee has revised the endowment structure, providing congregations an opportunity to invest their funds through the UUA, and the Committee now has investment professionals on it.
- The Audit has been on time for the October Board meeting starting in 1998.
- A just financial agreement was reached with the Canadian Unitarian Council around its separation from the UUA.
- There is a focus on socially responsible investing (SRI) with the establishment of an SRI Committee, and we are now engaged in shareholder activism. This, Ladd said, is one of the changes of which he is most proud.
Ladd reported that although the UUA can act on some shareholder issues, the Association does not have relevant resolutions on excessive executive compensation and forcing increased disclosure of financial information by corporations. At this point, the Rev. Sydney Morris appeared at the procedural microphone, and was recognized by Moderator Courter. Morris expressed interest in SRI, and wanted to know if it would be in order some time during GA to bring a resolution that would enable the action to which Ladd referred. Courter replied that this would be possible at the last plenary, when resolutions responsive to the reports of officers are always in order.
Ladd concluded his report by saying that the UUA should focus on mission, not governance; should look outward, not inward; should focus on generosity, not scarcity; and be worthy of the respect of our youth. Our youth will not stay because we ask, Ladd said, "but only if they respect us." Ladd said that he learned "everything about money in the UUA in the late 1960s when the Rev. Jack Mendelsohn said that money was an instrument of our values." It was then that Ladd decided to go into money management, he said, "to make money an instrument of UU values."
Ladd's final report was greeted with warm and enthusiastic applause as he left the stage.
Courter introduced Jon Bloomberg, president-elect of the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, which had been selected as the GA's third Breakthrough Congregation, for a presentation on the congregation.
Bloomberg, following a video presentation, reviewed the growth history of WBUUC. RE attendance and membership are roughly parallel, and the budget line is growing at a rate slower than membership, which means that there is not as much stress on finances as there could be. The congregation has grown exponentially greater since the events of September 11, 2001, and their well-timed staffing and program decisions have led them to this spot.
Their next steps, Bloomberg said, are staffing and building. This year they will add a director of congregational life to the staff, and the congregation has just completed a successful capital campaign that will allow them to stay ahead of their growth by expanding into a new meeting room and into more RE space.
Janet Hanson, Director of Religious Education, shared the congregation's core values:
- A strong sense of intimacy and connection
- Financial health, making choices that optimize opportunities and resources
- A sense of identity, who they are as a faith community
- Commitment to solid democratic process
- Services to the broader community
- Support for intellectual, spiritual development of all ages
- Participatory church climate
- Respect for the earth
The entire congregation plays an active role in nurturing and educating youth. Ellie Rogers, Chair of the Youth/Adult Committee, talked about the congregation's work during the Iraq war. The youth created a project, the Axis of Peace, where they folded peace cranes, and raised money for Doctors Without Borders, protested in the streets, and led the church service the Sunday after the bombing began.
The Rev. Victoria Safford continued the report by saying that the people of White Bear "have chosen again and again, courageously, and sometimes at some risk, to open the door wide enough so that those who want and need to come in can find a welcome place. They say," Safford said, "We're so glad you're here. Before you came we were a little less whole, a little less robust, a little less in general. We're glad you've come." The congregation, she said, "has never courted growth, but it has always met its moment with gladness and intention."
Safford said that every week they use these words from the Rev. Rebecca Edmiston-Lange: "Come in, with all your vulnerabilities and strengths, fears and anxieties, loves and hopes, for here you need not hide, nor pretend, nor be anything other than who you are and who you are called to be." They add these words, which Safford said is an invitation people are longing to hear, "Come into this place where we can touch and be touched, heal and be healed, forgive and be forgiven. Come into this place where the ordinary is sanctified, the human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected."
Voting on Bylaw Amendments
Moderator Gini Courter asked the delegates to turn their attention to the bylaw amendments printed in the final agenda. The first, Sect. 8.9, stipulates which committees the President is not on. The intention is to add the newly created Religious Education Credentialing Committee to the list. This action parallels the construction of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Since the President is not on the MFC and credentialing is not a role for the President, the same logic exists for the Religious Education Credentialing Committee.
There being no discussion on the issue, Courter called for the vote, and the Amendment to Bylaw Section 8.9 carried.
Courter then asked delegates to turn to the proposed amendment to Bylaw Section 4.8 which governs delegate status at General Assembly. This amendment would give delegate status to Credentialed Religious Educators—Master's Level, on the same basis as ministers affiliated with congregations.
The Rev. Wayne Arnason, UUA Secretary and Trustee-At-Large, presented the Board's position in favor of the motion. For a number of years, Arnason said, accredited directors of religious education (DRE) were awarded delegate status. Since the UUA no longer accredits but instead credentials, this would recognize the new equivalent, the Credentialed Religious Educator, Master's Level.
Debate ensued and a vote was taken, resulting in an affirmative action that amended Bylaw Section 4.8.
Courter then asked delegates for help in shaping the General Assembly's closing ceremony. She said, "What kindled your flame? What flame are you taking home with you?" While delegates reflected on the question, Sarah Dan Jones, music director of the Georgia Mountains UU Fellowship, came to the piano and performed her composition, "Meditation on Breathing."
Distinguished Service Award
Judy McGavin, Trustee from the Pacific Northwest District, introduced this award, explaining that each year the Board chooses a person to receive its highest recognition, the Distinguished Service to Unitarian Universalism Award. This year the Board chose the Rev. Eugene Navias. Navias has been a minister, teacher, mentor, administrator, historian, generous contributor, and friend to the movement. He has given his gifts of song, humor, and drama wherever he has gone.
In accepting the award, Navias said that his work with the UUA allowed him to meet thousands of wonderful UUs who care deeply for this association. "You have taught me so much," said Navias. He thanked his parents, Louis and Adelaide Navias, "because they found the world of Unitarianism before I was born." He spoke with enthusiasm of this year's Gay Pride March in Boston, which saw 41 UU churches involved, with 50 ministers, and 800 or more people gathered for worship in the Arlington Street Church. "The big surprise," Navias said, "was seeing that not only had the march been televised, but that the announcers read the name of every single church and read every banner." Navias said that "At that moment, my hopes for the world began to be restored... That this remnant could make its voice heard and make its voice for freedom and justice be heard."
Beacon Press Report
Helene Atwan, Director, presented the report from Beacon Press. She reiterated the fact that Beacon Press had exceeded the financial goals set in its three-year plan, and thanked the UUA, the UU Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and all who bought Beacon books. Atwan reviewed their mission to live out liberal religious values, such as justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; the goal of world community; and inherent worth and dignity by reviewing the Press' offerings and upcoming books. She pointed to evidence that Beacon Press is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-denominational. Atwan said that books in the spring of 2006 will voice values for a pluralistic society, and that two will offer real insights about Islam and give voice to Muslim women in America. They are also publishing books that deal with issues historically important to Unitarian Universalists. She encouraged people to continue to buy Beacon Press books.
Actions of Immediate Witness Admitted to the Final Agenda
Moderator Courter explained that Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) are admitted to the agenda by a vote of body. Each AIW will be presented, admission requires a two-thirds vote, and admission is not debatable. All six presented AIWs can be admitted to the agenda, and anyone seeking to amend them must attend a mini-assembly to be held later on Sunday to offer such amendment.
- AIW 1: United States-Sponsored Torture Must End. The presenter asserted that torture debases both the tortured and the torturer. It feeds anxiety, and does not make us safer. Torture is illegal according to the Geneva Convention, and is morally reprehensible and worthy of our action. The motion to admit AIW 1 to the agenda carried.
- AIW 2: Support of the United Farm Workers' Boycott of Gallo Wines. The presenter, a guest of the UFW, stated that it is the responsibility of the afflicted to ‘afflict the comfortable,' and this is one case that needs that. Those who pick grapes need to be provided with health care and respect on their job. "This boycott is only 12 days old, but we have been trying to get a contract for nearly two years," she said. The motion to admit AIW 2 to the agenda carried.
- AIW 3: Support for the Millennium Development Goal One: Ending Extreme Poverty. The presenter stated that 1.2 billion people live in poverty, on less than $1 a day. To cut this by 50% in the next year, the U.S. must be involved. We can work with other religious communities and other groups. It was stated that this work can be done, when minds meet hearts, and then we can find our own mandates. This is a way that we can create a sustainable world. The motion to admit AIW 3 to the agenda carried.
- AIW 4: End Crimes Against Humanity in Darfur, Sudan. The presenter said that the genocide in Darfur has unleashed systematic violence against people, with fire bombs, murder, torture, and rape. Hundreds of thousands have died, 2 million are displaced, and 3.6 million will require food aid this year. The international community and the U.S. government have not taken action to end the violence, and we must act. The motion to admit AIW 4 to the agenda carried.
- AIW 5: Defending Freedom of the Airwaves. The presenter said that there is nothing more necessary than free diverse broadcasting. PBS is under attack, and there is already too much monopoly in broadcasting with six conglomerates controlling most commercial broadcasting. The motion to admit AIW 5 to the agenda carried.
- AIW 6: A Call For Support and a Fair Trial for Dr. Sami Al-Arian. The presenter talked of Al-Arian's life, how he had met Martin Luther King, Jr. at age 11 and vowed to become a human rights activist. In 1975 he came to the U.S., and has five U.S.-born children. He was in the final stages of citizenship application when it was denied. He has been imprisoned since 2003, and has been treated in less than humane ways. The motion to admit AIW 6 to the agenda carried.
Members of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC, came to the stage to offer the fourth and final "Breakthrough Congregation" presentation. The members explained how the congregation's membership has been through dramatic increases and losses over the years: in 1998, 160 people attended and now there are over 500. The congregation "chose to change to meet the background of their parishioners." Music and other elements reflect the members' Latin American and African American roots. The congregation has the Jubilee Singers and the Washington D.C. Children's Choir, composed of members from the church and neighborhood, sings regularly. The momentum of worship builds as lay worship associates ask congregants to greet each other, preferably someone they don't already know. A cantor leads music and the prayers.
"If worship brings you," the presenters said, "it is the ministries of connection that keep you there. They know that people need to find a home within the larger congregation or they don't stay very long." The congregation has many opportunities to connect with others, to the spirit, and the holy. They run a six-week new person curriculum, "Roots and Wings," and this past year 232 people participated in the congregation's 28 adult religious education classes. The congregation also offers many cross generational opportunities such as the KUUMBA players theatre group that presents works of justice, equity and compassion.
After the departure of a minister in 1998, the congregation had deep wounds and divisions. They sought to help heal the wounds, said Meredith Higgins, by listening and caring for each other. They prepared each other to be partners in shared ministry. They received help from the UUA and from GA, conferences and workshops. Facilitators met to help resolve conflict and dismantle the racism present, and to help them keep open minds. The congregation listened to the interim ministers who showed them how to love again, and who led them to smoother governance in the congregation.
They listened in dialogues on race and relationships, and created affinity groups, pastoral care, and a softball team, the "All Souls Survivors." They listened to each other's dreams for the congregation. It took almost three years after that divisive departure to be ready to call a new senior minister, times during which they transformed themselves from broken relationships to new healthy relationships with a new minister.
The congregation's senior minister, the Rev. Rob Hardies, said that "prophetic ministry has always been central to All Souls' history. The congregation was first built from contributions across the country to create a flagship church to speak for progressive religious values in the nation's capital. They bear witness to values in a city whose values are being threatened. This was true in the aftermath of September 11 th, and during the March for Women's Lives last year." Last June, Hardies testified at the House and Senate briefings against the Federal Marriage Amendment.
In the end, everything that All Souls Unitarian Church does is inspired by vision, a vision inherent in their name: All Souls. They are a church where "all people are welcome, where divisions disappear, and where we recognize ourselves as one human family." Their mission is clear: to create a diverse spirit-growing, justice-seeking community, true to the dream of All Souls.
Faith Based Community Organizing
Moderator Gini Courter called upon Susan Leslie, Director of the UUA's Office of Advocacy and Witness, to report on faith-based community organizing.
Leslie began by saying that in Texas, 25% of the UU congregations are involved in congregation based community organizing (CBCO) work—higher than in any other part of the country.
CBCO's core mission is building democracy. Leslie said that "it brings communities of different faiths together and bridges divisions of race and class, giving voice to those at the margins and building power." Labor unions, schools, and other community groups are also involved in the networks. These faith-based networks operate in 33 states and the District of Columbia, and most of them are affiliated with one of four major national training and organizing networks: Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Direct Action Research and Training Center (DART), the Gamaliel Foundation, or the regional Inter-Valley Project in the Northeast.
Leslie said that a recent study made the crucial point that faith-based community organizing differs dramatically from the faith-based initiatives which emphasize compassion and service but avoid any political engagement with the institutions and bodies that leave troubling numbers of people without food, health care, homes or work. Faith-based community organizations are not government funded, but rely upon congregational membership dues and foundations.
The Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness, headed by Leslie, supports congregational engagement in CBCOs by helping them learn about them, and how to get involved. This information is available on the website and copies of the last year's videotape about First UU Society of Albany 's work in their CBCO are also available. At last count, Leslie said that 102 UU congregations were members of CBCOs.
Dr. Fred Seidl, retired Dean of Social Work from the State University of New York at Buffalo, is a volunteer CBCO consultant and organizer for the UUA who spent much of 2004 working with congregations in voter registration and Get Out the Vote drives. Seidl profiled several congregations active in CBCO work: the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston with their after-school achievement program for which they raised $3 million, and First and Second Unitarian Churches of Omaha, Nebraska, which belongs to another IAF affiliate, helping increase funding for libraries, funding for a youth enrichment program, funding for a youth diversion coordinator, and other projects to benefit residents.
Leslie introduced Sister Pearl Ceasar, the lead organizer for the Dallas Area Interfaith group. Ceasar said that too often, people in need learn to be passive and dependent, to be helpless, and what CBCOs do is help people learn how not to do this. "Everyone needs to be treated as citizens," she said, "and they need to be taught how to be active in their own lives. By working through CBCOs, people learn these skills and can then transform their lives and their communities."
At the conclusion of her report, Leslie presented the James Bennett Award to First Parish Unitarian Universalist, in Sudbury Massachusetts, for their "Take It To the World" program. The congregation's social action program includes work at a homeless shelter, working for a single-payer health care, supporting gay/straight alliances in the high schools, and other projects. The representatives of First Parish said that their congregation will augment the monetary prize so that they can give $250 each to the UU United Nations Office, UUs for Just Economic Community, and the UU Service Committee.
Panel Discussion on Faith, Politics and Family
Moderator Courter reminded delegates that last year Meadville/Lombard Theological School made a presentation at GA on the language of reverence. This year, Starr King School for the Ministry offers a panel discussion on faith, politics, and family. Courter then introduced Starr King's president, the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker.
Parker said that their school is named after the Rev. Thomas Starr King, who was accused of abusing the pulpit for preaching politics. He believed that people were obligated to do the most good they could, through the ballot, money, and good works. Parker said that the highest priority at Starr King is to strengthen the public voice of the progressive religious voice. She then introduced George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science and logistics at the University of California at Berkeley. Lakoff is most famous for his ideas about the centrality of metaphor to human thinking and society. He is particularly famous for his concept of the "embodied mind". In recent years he has applied his work to the realm of politics, and founded a progressive think tank, the Rockridge Institute.
Lakoff said that in 1992 he was watching the Republican Convention "out of civic duty to see Dan Quayle's acceptance speech, partly because of who the speech writer was." He found, much to his embarrassment, that he could not understand Quayle—he didn't see how the pieces fit together. This same experience happened in 1994 with the ‘Contract With America.' He realized that he had no idea what a conservative was—how could they be against abortion and for the flat tax—how were they related? How did guns and tort reform fit together? Then he realized that he had exactly opposite views as those he was hearing, and he wondered how those went together.
So Lakoff did research. He collected metaphors, interviewed conservatives and progressives, and not surprisingly, discovered that both sides thought the other was irrational: pro-life and anti-death penalty, and vice-versa.
What Lakoff realized, he said, was that "two independent world views were at work, and that these views dealt with metaphors about family." Family, he realized, "is the operational metaphor for this nation." Lakoff realized that the two metaphors were, in essence, the ‘strict father family' and the ‘nurturing parent family.'
The strict father metaphor states that a strict father is necessary because ‘evil is out there, and somebody has to stand up to the evil and protect the family.' "There is competition in the family, and someone has to be a winner and someone else a loser. Kids are born bad (they do what feels good, not what's right), there is an absolute right and wrong, and fathers have to teach morality since mothers are not strong enough to protect the children or competitive enough to win. The only way to teach children right from wrong is punishment painful enough so that they will want to avoid it in the future, and will learn to internally discipline themselves to avoid external discipline. As they do this, they learn morals, and they become prosperous, thereby bringing prosperity and morality together. If you are good, you will be prosperous, and vice-versa. Therefore they are against things that take away initiative to pursue profit. This means that all social programs are immoral because they take away incentive, and make people dependent. The father is the boss, and there is no back talk. There is also a correlation between morality and power, and moral people should be in power. You know what morality is by watching the powerful people."
The other model, that of ‘nurturing parent' where empathy and responsibility are taught, is the exact opposite of the strict father family. He said, "What follows from that is progressive values of protection, such as environmental, worker, and consumer protection with safety nets, that you treat people fairly and equally, and that you are fulfilled in life. If you are unhappy, or unfulfilled, you won't be empathetic, so it is our moral responsibility to be happy and fulfilled. It incorporates cooperation, trust, and openness."
Lakoff pointed out that conservative and liberal Christianity follow these two models of the family. "Conservative Christians believe in the strict father God where if you don't follow him, you will go to hell. Jesus is there to help mediate between us and the punitive God the Father. Liberal Christians believe in the nurturing father God, God as unconditional love. You need to be close to God to receive grace, but it is not something you earn—you must accept it."
Lakoff asked whether the delegates thought this was right, and what more there is to being a spiritual progressive. The spiritual practice of spiritual progressives, Lakoff opined, is progressive community service. It is deeds that make you spiritually progressive, not just thoughts. He said, "you can't be religious without being politically active."
From the beginning, Parker said, Unitarians and Universalists have critiqued the family values of traditional Christian theology. We have had a different image of the family, a different doctrine of love, and different social agenda. We replaced the punishing father God by reimagining God as a gentle nurturing parent. Even in Theodore Parker's time, he called God "father and mother" to associate the then stereotypes of gender with the holy.
Feminists clearly and keenly understood the relationship between political hopes and religion. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote "His Religion and Hers" in 1923, citing birth as the most important event we know. She saw God's work as newborn, unfinished, and calling for our continuous service to grow up. God is life giver, teacher, provider, and protector, not a proud angry jealous vengeful deity of men.
Channing reimagined humanity—each of us was born good, and imbued with the image of God in the soul. The purpose of life for Channing, Parker said, was to unfold and direct the power of the soul to grow in likeness with God. Citing other early religious Unitarians and Universalists, Parker pointed out that Elizabeth Peabody established kindergartens with a humanist vision of children where, when nurtured and respected, would unfold like seeds in good soil; Horace Mann, who created free public education because every child, not just those of the wealthy, should discover strengths and unfold the powers of their being; Channing and others who brought moral pressure to bear on slavery; women's right workers and those advocating for families.
Today, Parker said, the old theology of God as strict punishing father is reasserting itself, and we need to work against that. The old god was steeped in violence—a model that emerged in the 11 th century based on Imperial Rome, and that fueled the first crusades. This thought pattern curtails the use of reason.
Parker said that the time is now for progressives to step forward, and take up more space in the public square. She said that on July 4 th, she will gather with the Parker family and sing the words of her mother's favorite song, "Not alone for mighty empires, stretching over land and sea, not for battleship and fortress sing we God our praise to thee. But for triumphs of the spirit, for the home, the church, the school, for the call to love our neighbor, in a land the people rule." This is our country, said Parker. "Let us love it for all we are worth and do everything in our power to save its soul from the follies of bad theology."
Rita Nakashima Brock then spoke. Brock, who co-authored Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us with Parker, said that when she was six and moved to the U.S., she switched languages, culture, and religion. She learned skepticism from her father, a declared Methodist. Brock attended a fundamentalist Baptist Church in high school, and learned that a good ministry is needed for families when things go wrong, which happened in her family when her father returned from Vietnam, changed for the worse. The best kept secret is that for Baptists and fundamentalists, separation of church and state was important.
Brock discovered the scholarly study of liberal religion with the civil rights, feminist, and anti-war movements. She turned to activism full time. Religious progressives, she said, have the passion to commit to love and care, neighbor to neighbor, parent to child, partner to partner, person to community, and citizen to country and to all the earth. Love increases and sustains two other important values—truth and fullness of life.
Love is expansive, the more love and truth, the more life is full for us all. She and Parker are in their second book project, "Saving Paradise," in which they reframe the Christian idea of salvation to love, truth, and fullness of life. They discovered, Brock said, "that for those in the first millennium, this world was paradise. With all of its ambiguities and joys, tragedies and pleasures, this was the place where the spirit dwelled everywhere. The people called this spiritual power love. Through love, there was a new way to live committed to resistance, to lift each other up, and to struggle to live with wholeness, integrity and joy.
"We lost this sense of paradise," Brock said, "with the rise of violence. Yet virtually every religion has a story of life being a good thing." Progressive religious people must take Lakoff's advice to heart and frame life in positive values, not negative ones. We need to affirm our commitments and resist war against our love of each other and the world. We need to think about our work as being engaged in saving paradise.
Moderator Courter then moved the Plenary into recess.