General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Plenary V, General Assembly 2007

General Assembly 2007 Event 4004

Moderator Gini Courter called the sixth plenary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA) to order at 8:34 a.m. on June 24, 2007.

She said, "We had a wonderful day yesterday when we had a collection to aid the UUA-UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee) Gulf Coast Relief Fund volunteer effort.

"There are two things you should know: as the person who asked folks to give money, I was and am honored to be in that conversation, and I know that a couple of times during that presentation, I used the term 'third world' to describe conditions in that area. Several folks from that area pointed out to me that that term didn't make them feel welcome.Thank you for pointing out that I can do better. $65,000 was raised in the hall for this effort which is great, but the third thing is that we didn't close the door on that fund yesterday. So if you weren't in the hall when that collection happened, you can still can go to Stewardship and Development staff booth in the exhibit hall, and they will give you more information on this program to take a collection in your congregation for this purpose."

Breakthrough Congregation

First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon

Courter then introduced the leaders of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, the third of four Breakthrough Congregations featured at this year's General Assembly. Rev. Marilyn Sewell, senior minister of the congregation, introduced the members of the congregation's ministry staff. She noted that "What sets us apart as a church is the spiritual dimension of inter-connected beings which the congregation nurtures. She said that the church is a place "where people grow spiritually, and then out of that give to the larger world." Sewell said that the congregation supports an invigorating worship program including a vibrant music ministry (the largest such program of any UU church in the U.S.) which offers five handbell choirs; two children's choirs; and three adult choirs, and noted, "these programs get at the spiritual message differently than spoken word."

The Breakthrough video portrayed a congregation that is safe yet challenging; whose core mission has been to provide a liberal religious voice in Portland since 1867. The congregation is connected with a Social service agency and has been actively engaged in public witness for many years. When the congregation's members decided to put a yellow ribbon around the church to declare it a hate free zone, for instance, the church grew by 40% in one year, attracting many socially liberal people and a significant number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The church regularly participates in Gay pride marches, peace marches, and continues its strong commitment to justice.

The congregation also values its leaders, and allocates funding in its annual budget to train them. The church continues to grow: a new education and community building to serve generations that will follow those currently in the church is nearly complete. It will provide space for religious education programming, and other programs that bring the work of the church into the larger community through the physical space.

The church currently has 1650 members, and its leadership is committed to keeping the church "grounded in the spirit, [living as] a voice for justice."

Statements of Conscience

Meg Riley, director of the UUA's advocacy and witness staff group, explained to delegates what had been done to implement last year's statement of conscience on global warming. Riley explained that an Advocacy and Witness staff team, together with members of the Association's public witness team, are charged with implementing statements of conscience at the staff level. Additionally, however, Riley reported on congregational action on the Statement of Conscience.

She noted that the documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," was shown in many UU congregations. Riley also emphasized the following action elements:

  • The UUA has committed to making its Boston headquarters more 'green'
  • The UUA, through the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, has been engaged in shareholder advocacy (in partnership with the interfaith center for corporate responsibility) which has included asking for carbon footprint reduction and adopting sustainable practices
  • We have spoken out, in coalition with other partners, to address global warming. This has included action through the Earth Day Network and the "Step it Up" campaign
  • The Association's Washington Office for Advocacy has signed on to campaigns that have pressed the world bank to stop subsidizing the oil and gas industry

Riley pointed out, however, that the real work of implementation of Statements of Conscience is done by Unitarian Universalist congregations. This action has included:

  • Educational forums
  • contacting local, state, and national officials
  • organizing lobby days
  • writing letters to the editor
  • working with the media to receive local news coverage
  • applying to be a green sanctuary congregation through UU Ministry for the Earth
  • working to reduce carbon emissions
  • fighting dumping in communities of color.

Riley emphasized that individuals interested in engaging in this action can contact UU Ministry for Earth for an Earth Action Kit and can work to support the Live Earth Concerts which will be held on July 7, 2007.

Riley also invited delegates to participate in the Witness for the Earth demonstration at GA which would take place at 12:15 PM outside the Oregon Convention Center, featuring Rev. William Sinkford, Rev. Marilyn Sewell, and other activists.
Courter then called for introduction of the proposed 2007 Statement of Conscience, on Moral Values. The motion to accept the proposed action was made by Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, the Chair of the Commission on Social Witness.

Carlsson-Bull, reminding the delegates that this issue was selected two years ago by the General Assembly for study, suggested that the Assembly could practice in debate what the action calls for, and that we should "challenge ourselves to behave with respect and civility as we consider amendments before us and move through the process that gives us the text to vote on as perspective statement of conscience on which we are challenged to act." Carlsson-Bull explained that a Statement of Conscience (SOC) is used as policy which grounds our public statements. She reminded delegates that at Thursday's mini-assemblies, proposed amendments to the Statement were considered, and that the Commission on Social Witness (CSW) examined those proposed amendments and gave special attention to those which were proposed by groups of congregants who had been studying the proposed issue for some months. Carlsson-Bull reminded the delegates that the statement would first be debated as whole, with unincorporated amendments being considered as well, followed by a vote on the entire proposed statement.

Courter called for debate to begin, and as no debate on the whole statement was forthcoming, debate moved to proposed amendments. An amendment changing the name of the Constitution as stated in the proposed language from "American" to "U.S." was carried. A motion made from the procedural microphone, to refer the proposed statement back to the CSW for another year (requiring a 2/3 vote for passage), failed. A question, posed by Kay Aler-Maida of Asheville, North Carolina, asked whether the Association already has grounding in place to speak on this issue. Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, said that indeed the Association does have other statements in place which speak to similar elements as those carried in this draft Statement. Aler-Maida then reintroduced the motion to defer action on the proposal for another year. Another delegate, at the procedural microphone, asked if the motion could be referred for twenty-four hours. Courter responded by asking how many congregations had studied this issue during the year. Very few delegates raised their hands. She asked how many delegates had attended a mini-assembly on this proposal and again, very few raised their hands. She said, "We cannot fix that lack of attention today, nor should we. Could we vote? Sure, now that I've poisoned the well." Instead, Courter asked the delegates to take a moment and breathe, and consider where we are in this process. Moving to the vote, the motion to refer the motion to the CSW for twenty-four hours, so that another mini-assembly could be held, failed.

Other clarifying questions were asked. An amendment, made by Elissa Doss, First Unitarian Church of Houston, Texas, sought to change the proposed text to define morals differently (in lines 13-28 of the proposed text). Debate ensued, with a motion to extend debate on the amendment by fifteen minutes carried during a vote.Those in favor of the amendment supported it because it articulated the seven principles; those opposed suggested that it was important to retain clarity and brevity in the language. Time was exhausted for debate, and the proposed amendment carried on a clear majority vote.

Two amendments, one changing language in line 8 back to its original wording and another adding several words, were carried.

After a song break (during which time debate on amendments was frozen) a delegate moved another amendment to lines 29-33, stating that the language of the statement needed to be expanded to make clear its focus on not just Unitarian Universalists, but also society at large.

Lengthy debate ensued, with a motion made to call the question. Debate on the amendment ended, and a vote on it failed. Another amendment to replace lines 34-37 with different text, also failed. A third motion to refer the draft statement to the CSW for another year, failed.

Courter then moved the delegates to a vote on the Statement of Conscience as amended; it passed.

Report of the Right Relationship Team

Petra Aldrich, chair of the team, expressed concerns which had been brought to the team. She noted, "Several people came to us with concerns about worship services. Worship means different things to different people, based on identity and experience. Respect doesn't mean the same thing either. Traditionally white and upper class models or respect and worship are seen at GA; this is not terribly surprising. But worship in Unitarian Universalism can and should reflect the full diversity of UU belief and practice.

Aldrich also noted that there have been a string of thefts around GA, and security at the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) has been increased. People have lifted up the fact that UUs of color have been targeted by such action. The GA office is working with the Convention Center Authority to ensure that their protection of UUs is extended to all people."

Aldrich also recognized that the OCC's lack of gender-netural bathrooms has an impact on transgender or queer UUs. Finally, Aldrich shared an incident that had occurred the previous night, in which people on the Light Rail system had observed one of our religious educators helping an individual in a wheelchair. They assumed that because of this, she was a personal care attendant. More painful, the religious educator reported, was that no one said anything to those who had made that assumption. Aldrich reiterated the contact numbers for the Right Relations Team and ended her report.

As the plenary was significantly over its allotted time, Courter announced that the report of the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation would be moved to another plenary.

Consideration of Actions of Immediate Witness

Rob Keithan of the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy came to the podium to discuss the ways in which Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) are implemented. He said, "The purpose of an AIW is to help us understand issues of importance. We think about grounding, accountability, fit, and opportunity in understanding how these actions can best be carried forward." He said, "You can make a difference [in this process]. Before you leave GA or at the very least on your trip home, make a clear plan for how these actions will be carried into your congregation. Think about what you personally will do and then what your congregation will do. Visit the social justice section of the UUA website; only you can put the action in action of immediate witness."

Introduction of proposed AIWs then commenced.

AIW 1: Support for the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Introduced by Darcy Rowe, First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, a member of the staff of the UU-United Nations Office (aka UU-UNO).

She said, in part, "The elimination of all forms of discrimination against women is the most comprehensive agreement on discrimination against women and girls. This treaty is the essential tool for women to lobby their governments to reduce violence, assure that they have legal access to education and healthcare, and address injustice. The U.S. remains one of eight member states which have failed to ratify the convention, placing us with Iran, Sudan, and Mali, among others. Jimmy Carter signed this legislation in 1980, but it was later tabled. If the U.S. wants to regain moral leadership in human rights it is imperative that we adopt this AIW." The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

AIW 2: Support Immigrant Families: Stop the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Raids

Introduced by Marla Sharp, First Unitarian Church of San Jose, California.

She said, in part, "We are asking that GA call for an immediate halt and moratorium on all raids and deportations. We want to urge all UU congregations to offer support and solidarity to those seeking recognition and dignity in the U.S. We are not asking for particular law changes, but for immediate halt of the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) raids. Can you imagine leaving your country of origin to make a decent living, only to work at a minimum wage job at a packing plan in Oregon, and suddenly ICE shows up and you are trapped. You worry that your kids won't have anyone to pick them up after school, that you won't be able to get a lawyer for your case, that you will be deported. We have an opportunity to use our collective voice here in Portland. The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

AIW 3: Support Comprehensive Sexuality Education at Home and Abroad

Introduced by Robin Garling, Church of the Younger Fellowship.

Garling said, in part, "I am a trained OWL facilitator and know that our OWL program is grounded in our values. Right now the federal government funds only abstinence-only programs. One third of our funding abroad goes to such programs which don't meet the needs of children and youth. As the proposed AIW shows, they disproportionately affect women, children, and youth. I affirm sexuality as a sacred part of every individual. We must strive to end the AIDS pandemic. Right now is an important time for us to make this statement as Congress is determining the Federal Budget so that women and children will have the opportunity to make informed decisions that will save their lives." The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

AIW 4: Stop U.S.-Sponsored Torture: A Religious Call to Action

Introduced by Linda Gustitis, River Road UU Church, Bethesda, Maryland.

Gustitis serves as national president of the interfaith organization National Religious Campaign Against Torture. She said, "Human Rights groups have documented over three hundred cases in which U.S. personnel are credibly documented as being involved in torture. We know of eight people in U.S. custody who have literally been tortured to death. The U.S. government disappears people, takes them off the streets, and tortures them or sends them to another country country to be tortured. Torture violates the basic dignity of people, it corrupts the society that sponsors it, it is immoral. We need to state our opposition to torture without exception. The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

AIW 5: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Introduced by Joan Darrof, Mount Vernon UU Church, Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Darrof is a retired Navy Captain who served on active duty for 29+ years. She said, "I am gay. Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) discriminates. When I went to work I wondered each day if I would be outed and fired. On September 11, 2001, eight minutes before the flight that slammed into the Pentagon, I was in the rooms that were hit. My colleagues were killed. Had I been killed, my partner would have been the last to know, if I had dared to list her name as a contact for me. DADT undermines military readiness by discouraging talented Americans from serving in the military. Repealing DADT isn't about supporting the war. It is about respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all Americans." The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

AIW 6: Pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Presented by Stephanie Abelar from the UU Church of Berkeley, California.

Abelar said, "If we are called to support the inherent worth and dignity of each person, don't you think that we should support policies that don't discriminate? GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) people have been discriminated against for too long. ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) is currently pending in Congress. We can put the same weight of the UUA behind ENDA by voting for this item. Only twenty states have such a law; about 100 cities and counties also have this legislation. The religious right is against ENDA and they are spreading fear and discrimination against it. People here today and in our congregations need this legislation. This is a choice that matters." The AIW was admitted by vote to the final agenda.

After announcements about groups developing responsive resolutions who were meeting in the back of the hall to develop language for the resolution, a song led by GA Song Leader Sarah Dan Jones, and announcements by UUA Secretary Paul Rickter, Courter declared that the plenary would stand in recess until Saturday evening.

Reported by Lisa Presley and Deborah Weiner; edited by Deborah Weiner.

Rob Keithan at General Assembly.

Rob Keithan, Director of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy, spoke at this plenary on implementation of Actions of Immediate Witness.

Linda Gustitis presented one of the proposed Actions of Immediate Witness.

Meg Riley

Rev. Meg Riley, Director of Advocacy and Witness, discussed implementation of Statements of Conscience at this plenary.