General Session IV, General Assembly 2017

General Assembly 2017 Event 403

Captions were created during the live event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.

Unedited Live Captioning (TXT)

Program Description

A team of board-appointed moderators preside over the general sessions in which the business of the Association is conducted.


The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.

Call to Order

Moderator: I now call to Order the Fourth General Session of the Fifty-Sixth General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Opening Words

Moderator: Sarah Dan Jones, Board Trustee, will get us centered for today's business

Sarah Dan Jones: (live caption – SINGING)

Right Relationship Team Report

Moderator: Does the Right Relationship Team have anything to report?

Distinguished Service Award

Moderator: As the Board learned hard lessons about the importance of selecting diverse people for job openings, volunteer positions, and other distinctions, we acknowledged that doing so requires a list of diverse candidates. Like our new interim hiring policies, we will make decisions when the lists are more representative of the community we want to be. It is for that reason that we chose not to present the Distinguished Service Award this year. There are many worthy recipients among us, and through education, discernment and listening, our goal will be to grow the list of nominees so that it is a more robust, colorful list!

Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee Report

Moderator: Our next report is from the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee, created by the delegates in 1995. Welcome the Revs. Wendy Von Courter and Theresa Soto.

The Revs. Wendy Von Courter and Theresa Soto: Thank you.

Twenty years ago, delegates at our 1997 General Assembly had a belief that it wasn’t enough that our faith called us to achieve a Beloved Community where all people were cherished and valued. The delegates believed that we as an association need to monitor and assess our progress on the journey. This body’s vote that year called this committee into existence for that purpose. But, on this anniversary, and given our current context, it’s important to note that the delegates did much more.

The language of the resolution urged all Unitarian Universalists to “examine carefully their own conscious and unconscious racism as participants in a racist society, and the effect that racism has on all our lives, regardless of color.”

It asked our UUA, our congregations and other community organizations to develop an ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multi-culturalism, understanding that whether or not a group becomes multi-racial, there is always the opportunity to become anti-racist. It urged the creation of racial justice committees.

The vote urged all Unitarian Universalist leaders, including ministers, religious educators, leaders of associate and affiliate organizations, governing boards, Unitarian Universalist Association staff, theological schools, and future General Assemblies to engage in ongoing anti-racism training, to examine basic assumptions, structures, and functions, and, in response to what is learned, to develop action plans.

It called for the creation of relationships of sustained engagement with all people of color with a goal of opening up authentic dialogue about race and racism and how to appropriately honor and affirm the cultural traditions of all people of color.

And it urged our UUA to establish relationships with other international and interfaith organizations that are working to dismantle racism.

Twenty years later, your JTWTC appears before you with the following reflections:

We bear witness to the undeniable fact that progress has been made on the journey. Two decades have not passed without significant contributions.

But today it is far more important that we bear witness to the facts of our failure to move far enough, fast enough, and true enough to that resolution. Or truly, to the call of our faith.

Two years ago we showed a video about the gap between the UUA experience many, many of us experience and the experience of our siblings with historically marginalized identities. The video used composite characters. Line drawings of people we created from the stories we had collected.

This year, we do not need drawings or composite figures. We have the voices and experiences of real, identifiable UUs. Thank you Aisha Hauser. Thank you Christina Rivera. Thank you Kenny Wiley.

We bear witness today and we raise the voices of these people, and others, who have paid high prices for challenging the white supremacy culture in our systems. We note the concern many have raised on social media and in person of personal costs for doing so. Of hate mail from fellow UUs. Of lost relationships. Of deeper oppression as a cost of challenging oppression. Costs paid by these courageous individuals and their families as well. We observe that just as ideals were not enough for the 1997 GA body, appreciation is not enough today. To acknowledge voices from the margins does not equal dismantling white supremacist culture. Nor does it serve the goal of centering those voices from the margins and providing pathways to power in our association. To be sorry, has never been enough.

We also bear witness to the positive movement that came in response to these events.

We hold up the leadership of Christina Rivera, Aisha Hauser, and Kenny Wiley and over 680 congregations who participated in the UU White Supremacy Teach-In.

We reaffirm the vital importance of having this committee continue its work in service to the ideals of the 1997 resolution, the reality of today, and the hope of who we yet may be.

Your JTWTC will continue to study the shift from program to ethos through the interview process of those most impacted and impactful in that shift. The shift from providing anti oppression programming to attempting implementation of a worthy, yet amorphous ethos.

We will also be providing process observation at UUA board meetings.

We are looking forward to news of the Commission on Institutional Change and will seek dialogue with that commission once it is underway.

And we add that although we are observers on the journey we are hopeful in our role. Our hope is not offered as salve to the very real pain in our system. Rather, as a continual reflection. We cannot change what is not visible. Whether we view it with our eyes or hands or hearts. The events of these recent months offer us an opportunity to connect what some have viewed as ‘work’ to our very identity as Unitarian Universalists. Grounded in our faith that calls us forward to our better selves, that we might achieve a better tomorrow, may we treat this opportunity as a sacred gift.

And we pray it may be so.

We now invite the body to join us in an affirmation of the 1997 resolution by reading it with us:

WHEREAS the 1996 General Assembly resolved that all congregations, districts, organizations, and professional and lay leaders participate in a reflection-action process throughout the 1996-97 church year using the Congregational Reflection and Action Process Guide and the Anti-Racism Assessment; and

WHEREAS our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to affirm and promote "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations" and "the goal of world community"; and

WHEREAS our history as Unitarian Universalists includes evidence of both great commitment and individual achievement in the struggle for racial justice as well as the failure of our Unitarian Universalist institutions to respond fully to the call for justice; and

WHEREAS racism and its effects, including economic injustice, are embedded in all social institutions as well as in ourselves and will not be eradicated without deliberate engagement in analysis and action; and

WHEREAS because of the impact of racism on all people, and the interconnection among oppressions, we realize we need to make an institutional commitment to end racism; and

WHEREAS the social, economic, and ecological health of our planet is imperiled by the deepening divisions in our world caused by inequitable and unjust distribution of power and resources; and

WHEREAS we are called yet again by our commitment to faith in action to pursue this anti-racist, multi-cultural initiative in the spirit of justice, compassion, and community;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the 1997 General Assembly urges Unitarian Universalists to examine carefully their own conscious and unconscious racism as participants in a racist society, and the effect that racism has on all our lives, regardless of color.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly urges the Unitarian Universalist Association, its congregations, and community organizations to develop an ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multi-culturalism, understanding that whether or not a group becomes multi-racial, there is always the opportunity to become anti-racist. Early steps toward anti-racism might include using curricula such as Journey Toward Wholeness for all age groups, forming racial justice committees, and conducting anti-racism workshops.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly urges all Unitarian Universalist leaders, including ministers, religious educators, leaders of associate and affiliate organizations, governing boards, Unitarian Universalist Association staff, theological schools, and future General Assemblies to engage in ongoing anti-racism training, to examine basic assumptions, structures, and functions, and, in response to what is learned, to develop action plans.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to enter into relationships of sustained engagement with all people of color with a goal of opening up authentic dialogue that may include, but is not limited to, race and racism. Such dialogue should also include how to appropriately honor and affirm the cultural traditions of all people of color.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly requests that the UUA Board of Trustees establish a committee to monitor and assess our transformation as an anti-racist, multi-cultural institution, and that the Board of Trustees shall report annually to the General Assembly specifically on the programs and resources dedicated to assisting our congregations in carrying out the objectives of this resolution.

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that in order to transform the racist institutions of our world, the General Assembly urges the Unitarian Universalist Association and all its parts to establish relationships with other international and interfaith organizations that are working to dismantle racism.

Thus ends the report of your Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee.


Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice Report

Moderator: I am pleased to introduce Rev. Kathleen McTigue to bring us up to date on what is happening at the UU College of Social Justice. Give it up for Kathleen.

Kathleen McTigue: The College of Social Justice grew out of a longing for the UUA and UUSC to collaborate more closely on the issues we all care about so deeply. The goal was to inspire and equip spiritually grounded activists. The strategy was to offer direct experience, training, and face-to-face encounters that would lead to long-term commitment.

None of us could have predicted five years ago that we would find ourselves in this political moment: a government that would deny climate change and support the most polluting industries; one that enacts willful, conscious racism, from voter suppression to mass incarceration to phobic hostility toward migrants; a national leadership hell-bent on widening the gulf between the ultra-rich and everyone else.

We did not anticipate this moment. And like most of you, we had some weeks of angst right after the November election, wondering what we are called to now in response.

As we regained equilibrium, we realized that our mission is more relevant now than ever before. Those entwined malignancies of racism, economic injustice, a broken immigration system, and the impacts of climate change were of course already with us. We did not anticipate this political moment, but the College of Social Justice was created for it: to help our people see more clearly what we face, imagine more boldly the ways we can act, and live our values more radically and courageously on the side of justice.

One way we’ve done this is through focused attention on our leadership. Our dynamic programs are possible only because of the skill and commitment of the people who lead them. Of the 21 CSJ Program Leaders this year, half identify as people of color; fourteen are religious educators, ministers or seminarians; and eight are Spanish speakers.

It’s because of these leaders that we have succeeded in bringing the lens of racial justice to every one of our programs. It’s through them that we ground each program in spiritual practices. And it’s because of them that the immersion learning we offer has so often been characterized as “life changing” by those who participate.

Over the past five years, we have led immersion-learning journeys to India, Haiti, Tanzania, Guatemala, and, within the United States, to Lummi Nation in Washington, to New York to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery, to the border lands of Arizona, the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida, and the devastated mountains of West Virginia. We are expanding our newest programs in Nicaragua, with amazing grassroots partners working for women’s rights, land rights, and climate justice. These partners remind us not to become isolationists, in our distress about our own country, but to keep one hand out for international solidarity.

We are expanding other programs as part of the Love Resists campaign. An example is our border witness journey. Even when participants think they know how warped and unjust current US policy is, immersion learning kicks things into a higher gear. It awakens us to the reality that this policy is not just wrong, it is literally murderous [SLIDE #9]: many hundreds of people die in our deserts every single year. Their desperation is no less than that of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean – just less visible.

Our program brings home the truth that this is not happening on the Arizona border with Mexico, or the Texas or California border: it’s the Massachusetts border with Mexico, the Illinois border, the Louisiana border: it’s ours. Once we wake up to that truth, we can’t go back to sleep. We have to pour ourselves into the struggle for justice.

There are other kinds of immersion learning. Our Activate! programs. for high school youth are week-long dives into immigration, climate, or racial justice, grounded in our faith. We have collaborated with other branches of our UU family on new iterations of the Goldmine leadership training for youth, and on the UU-UNO spring seminar, strengthening the justice thread in each. We’re making sure that the Love Resists campaign brings along our youngest leaders and activists.

GROW – the Grounded and Resilient Organizers’ Workshop – is our program for young adults. Just this week, right here in New Orleans, our latest iteration of GROW Racial Justice brought together over thirty racial justice activists, two thirds of them young adults of color. In separate caucus groups, participants explored their racial and ethnic identities, and then came together for worship, community, and organizing skills. In this political moment – of both our wider world and our religious movement – it’s hard to imagine a more essential program to support bold, grounded young leaders for racial justice.

We have a wide range of summer-long internships for college age young adults, in organizations around the U.S. and overseas. By the end of this summer we will have given nearly 70 young people a deep dive into a justice organization that in some cases will change the whole trajectory of their lives.

The immersion programs we’ve developed have one more incarnation: skilled volunteer placements. In our most robust of these programs, the College of Social Justice has organized more than sixty volunteers to work in San Antonio, TX, for one to eight weeks, supported with home stays through the amazing San Antonio UUs. These volunteers engage in literally life-saving work with women and children refugees who are in danger of deportation back to the violence they have fled.

In the coming year, we’ll have new volunteer placements. As part of Love Resists, we hope to channel volunteers toward voting rights in a few key states, so if you have some time to give, stay tuned: we may be looking for you!

I am so grateful for our exceptional Program Leaders, for our small but mighty staff, for the incredible generosity of the donors who have supported us in these first five years, and for the many hundreds of you who opened yourselves to transformation through our programs. The UU College of Social Justice is yours. It’s the place to turn to when you want new ways to harness your passion for justice. It was made for this political moment. Come join us!

Consider Statement of Conscience

Moderator: the Commission on social Witness is made up of 5 members, three elected by the General assembly and 2 appointed by the Board of Trustees. The mission of the CSW is to discern and craft a vision for the Association in pressing social issues as a reflection of the values of our faith and voices from our congregations. This years Statement of Conscience, “escalating Inequality,” was selected by delegates in 2014. Each year since then, the call has gone out to congregations and others, soliciting ideas. Here to take introduce the statement is the chair of the CSS, Dr. Susan Goekler.

Susan Goekler: Moderator Key, the Commission on Social Witness verifies that the required number of congregations voted in the Congregation al Poll to add to the final agenda consideration of a Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality. The CSW conducted a mini-assembly on Thursday and accepted suggested amendments. We have reviewed those suggestions and incorporated some, which are noted in the CSW Alert as either strikeouts or underlines. Suggested amendments that we did not incorporate are at the end of the statement in the Alert, with an explanation of the reason for our decision.

On behalf of the CSW, I make the following motion: The 2017 General Assembly of the UUA adopts a Statement of Conscience on Escalating Inequality.

Passed as amended (PDF), with minor typographical fixes.

Collection to Benefit Standing on the Side of Love

Moderator: Each year, we take a special collection for. Social justice effort that is near and dear to us. This year, we honor Standing on the Side of Love with our collection. We welcome Elizabeth Nguyen and Nora Rasman.

Elizabeth: When my brother and I were little kids, like so many families, my parents were searching for a spiritual community that would fit our multiracial, multicultural family. That would honor my parent’s roots in the catholic church and in Vietnamese Buddhism and give us a place to call home. They found home at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I was a college student learning about community development in the Volta region of Ghana when my mom called me to tell me there had been a shooting at TVUUC. I remember standing under the big starry sky, trying to make sense of this world and how it breaks us and heals us. Through many hands and hearts, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign was born as a response to that shooting and over the past eight years has tried be radical love with teeth, speaking to a vision of our justice work, not aiming to reflect a consensus of Unitarian Universalists, but instead to offer a platform for us to practice risk, courage, flanking of movements led by those most impacted.

Nora: This year, in this denominational and political movement, we are being tested. We are being asked to show up differently than we have before. We are asking questions about what it means to answer the call of love in the face of an unpetitionable government, and the ongoing criminalization of our families, loved ones and communities. We are asking questions about what it means to commit to our own transformation in the service of creating a faith community that unapologetically vows to dismantle white supremacy within and beyond our congregations. How can we best organize on the side of love, pray on the side of love, show up on the side of love, leverage our resources on the side of love? And how can we do that work, grounded in love and faith?

We want to use this time to talk about gratitude: something we understand to be the ground on which our spiritual fortification and salvation rests. We want to begin with gratitude for the voices that, from the campaign’s inception, called us to account about our language. They said that to name a justice campaign Standing on the Side of Love, is ableist, limiting, harmful and not aligned with the way we believe none of us are free until we are all free. Thank you to those who named that and those who have continued to lift this important reality. We know the time to shift this language is past due. I have a deep desire that the times we find ourselves in as Unitarian Universalists will call us into our fuller selves - to take care with our framing, language, and indeed with one another.

Elizabeth: We’re hungry for gratitude that is not based on how we want to be seen, not based on wanting to be cute on Facebook, but based on acknowledgement of leadership, recognition of mistakes, relationship repair and authentic commitment. We invite you to turn to a neighbor and share your name, your pronouns if you’d like and something that you are grateful —forand what that gratitude could lead you to risk, to change.

Nora: Thank you. As we have tried to model, however imperfectly, gratitude must be rooted in our willingness to be transformed. Gratitude transforms us when it is emerges from our commitment to personal and collective change. Ongoing assaults continue --by the state and between individuals-- against those of us who are People of Color, Muslim, queer and trans, lesbian and gay, women and femmes, disabled, poor. When people in those communities call us to action, we can show gratitude for their leadership not just in word, but through our deeds and actions. Today we find ourselves particularly grateful for the ways our work has been an experiment in creativity and risk.

We are grateful for the many ways we have been able to offer technical assistance to movement partners, letting go of needing to be given credit or visibility for that work; we are grateful for the leadership of Caitlin Breedlove as director, who left the campaign in March and whose impact lives on the Organizing on the Side of Love online course, in the previous and our upcoming second season of Fortification podcast, and the Revive Love tour by shaping so many of our understandings of the role of institutions in movement building. I am proud to announce that she and I will continue to collaborate on a second season of the podcast Fortification, which explores the spiritual lives of movement leaders.

Elizabeth: These are revealing times. Today we are being asked to grapple with some of the key questions of this time:

  • What is the role of people of faith and moral courage to flank, fortify, participate in movements?
  • What spiritual qualities are required of leadership in these times?
  • What practices of prayer, song, silence, altar making, ritual can we bring to the daily challenges of low morale, lack of focus, and uncertainty that we face in justice work?
  • What stories do we have to unlearn if we are to be of use in this moment?

Love resists in many ways - in congregations expanding sanctuary beyond four walls, changing background check policies to meet the needs of undocumented UUs, providing housing to Water Protectors over long legal battles...and so much more. This is the work we do as Unitarian Universalists and our challenge is to do it with even greater courage, less ego, more skill, less cowardice. We are grateful; ready for whatever comes, whatever shape this campaign takes, this forward leaning, risk-taking piece of our Unitarian Universalist Association. Join us in gratitude to give generously, on the side of love.


Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Report

Moderator: the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, or UUSC advances human rights through grassroots collaboration. In more than a dozen countries throughout the world, UUSC fosters social justice and works toward a world fee from oppression. Their innovative approach and measurable impact—in promoting economic justice, bolstering environmental justice, and protecting rights at risk—are grounded in the belief that all people have inherent power, dignity, and rights. Join me in welcoming Tom Andrews, president and chief executive officer of UUSC.

Tom Andrews: If there was ever a time for Unitarian Universalists to unite and act on behalf of principles and values that are fully under siege, it is now!

Good morning. It is an honor to join you on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

What I am about to say may come off as politically partisan to some of you. It is not meant to be –UUSC is a strictly non-partisan organization.

And to be transparent, I personally do not belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.

But while UUSC does not take sides in elections, we do take sides when our values are undermined and innocent men, women, and children are under siege.

I think it is fair to say that we are all concerned about developments in Washington DC and in State Capitols across the U.S.

What we care about deeply is endangered when political leaders, starting in the White House assert:

  • That global warming is a hoax;
  • That tens of millions of Americans should no longer have health insurance;
  • That undocumented immigrants are “criminals” and “terrorists” who should be deported immediately while those of the Muslim faith should not be allowed into the country at all; and
  • That the LGBTQI community should be demonized and stigmatized for asserting their humanity and denied equal protection under the law.

When xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and attacks on people with disabilities are not only ok, but useful political weapons.

My message to you this morning is straightforward: I cannot think of a time when the principles and values of Unitarian Universalism have been more important nor when it has been more necessary to transform them into vigorous and sustained action.

From our founding in 1940, UUSC has sought to speak truth to power through words and, most importantly—action.

We unite and act with and for people facing horrific conditions and brutality not because of anything that they have done, but because of who they are. We unite and act with and for those who are the most marginalized, threatened, and forgotten.

And what UUSC does turns out to be a revolutionary thing—we ask communities in crisis what they think and what they believe is most needed. Then, we become their partners in addressing not only the immediate crisis, but the source of the crisis.

The toxic use of fear and xenophobia are by no means limited to the U.S. At [Slide #5] UUSC we are working with communities under siege all around the world. Among them, the Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority of Burma.

More than one million people have been stripped of their citizenship, forced into heavily guarded villages or imprisoned in squalid isolation camps. I’ve seen the building blocks of a genocide in Burma with my own eyes.

How has UUSC responded?

  • By partnering with local Rohingya organizations and human rights advocates.
  • By building bi-partisan support among Members of Congress through public hearings and one-on-one appeals; and
  • By mobilizing thousands of you—our members and friends—to call on the administration and Congress to support a UN resolution authorizing an international investigation of the systematic, brutal attacks by military forces against innocent Rohingya villages.

What happened? Despite a State Department in chaos and an administration not known for defending human rights, the US not only supported the UN resolution, it became a co-sponsor! The resolution passed and an international investigation is moving forward in Burma.

In other words, by engaging the power of deep listening, grassroots partnerships, strategic advocacy, and your active support virtually anything is possible!

Our values call us to make a meaningful difference in the lives of vulnerable and marginalized people here and abroad.

They call us to unite and act with and for those who are the greatest victims of environmental injustice. Through dynamic working partnerships, UUSC is supporting marginalized communities in Alaska and the South Pacific who are losing everything to rising sea levels.

It is an unacceptable truth that those who have had the least to do with the devastating effects of climate change are those who are suffering the most from its consequences.

Our values call us to unite and act with and for those who are working for economic justice. Why we believe that a living wage is not only a key ingredient to a strong economy, but a moral imperative.

And our values demand that we speak truth to power – the world does not need more walls to divide us but bridges that connect us.

It is why we are working with the UUA to build a wide, inclusive, community of justice-seekers and action-takers through “Love Resists”, a campaign that unites and acts with and for those most at risk from the politics of xenophobia, bigotry and fear. Thousands have already taken the first step by signing our Declaration of Conscience. If you are not yet among them, I invite you to join the campaign at the UUSC booth!

Finally, our values call us to recognize, support and celebrate one another. We will do so tonight at the UUSC gala where we will honor the work of Linda Sarsour, National Co-Chair of the Women's March on Washington, an activist leader of the Muslim community who unites and acts with those who are committed to racial justice and civil rights. I invite you to join us tonight and then join us tomorrow on our journey to transform the values we share into robust and sustained action.

Growing up I was inspired – and drawn to the idea of social and political action – by the late Bobby Kennedy. He spoke these words (that I have paraphrased slightly) to a group of students in Cape Town during the dark days of Apartheid South Africa:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.

Each time a man (or a woman):

stands up for an ideal;

or acts to improve the lot of others; or

strikes out against injustice,

He (or she) sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

But as we join together, let’s not just make ripples as Bobby Kennedy suggested, Let’s make WAVES!

Consider Bylaw Amendment Article II, Section C-2.1. Principles, Line 12, changing person to being

Moderator: (live caption) (tabled)

Consider Bylaw Amendment Article II, Section C-2.1.1 Principles, Line 26, Changing Women and Men to People

Moderator: (live caption) (passed with a four-fifths vote)


Moderator: Now its time to call on the Secretary of our Association, Rob Eller-Isaacs, for any announcements.

Rob Eller-Isaacs: (live caption)

Moderator: Thanks Rob.

Process Observation

Moderator: Natalie, how did we do on our process today?

Natalie Jeffers: (live caption)

Closing Words

Moderator: Lucia Santini Field, our respected Financial Advisor, has today's closing words

Lucia Santini Field: (live caption)


Moderator: There being no further business to come before us and in accordance with the schedule set forth in your program book, I declare that this General Session of the General Assembly shall stand in recess until Sunday, June 25 at 12:30 p.m.

Two of GA 2017's Trimoderators: Gregory Boyd and Elandria Williams (along with Kathy Burek) moderated this year's business discussions.

2017 GA Photo Album