A small group of General Assembly delegates met Friday afternoon to discuss a proposed change to bylaw section C-3.1 on Member Congregations. Nathan Hollister, a member of the Southeast District board, the group that initially brought the proposed amendment to General Assembly, started the miniassembly off by announcing that the board had since decided that this bylaw amendment should not be heard on the floor at this year’s GA and that they would not be moving it forward at this time.
“This amendment as written is not the best way to have that discussion this year, and we are committed to bringing something better back next year,” he said.
The proposed bylaw change read (with words in brackets being deletions and words in bold additions):
“The Unitarian Universalist Association is a voluntary association of [autonomous] free, self-governing local churches and fellowships, referred to herein as member congregations, which have [freely] mutually chosen to pursue common goals together.” (See pg. 85 of GA program.)
As the amendment was going back to the Southeast District for further consideration, Allan J. Lindrup, delegate from the First Unitarian Society of Chicago, Ill., voiced concern about the word “free” being inserted and asked that the Southeast District board consider that during their reworking of the amendment.
It was pointed out that once an amendment is on the GA agenda it is owned by the body, so even if the Southeast District does not move the amendment, another delegate could. At that point, Lindrup submitted an amendment to the current proposed language, striking the addition of the word “free.” The amendment passed.
The Rev. Jake Morrill, minister of the UU Church of Oak Ridge Tenn., asked if there was a way the miniassembly could vote to endorse the continued conversation in order to avoid wordsmithing on the Assembly floor, and delegates at the miniassembly voted overwhelmingly to show support for the District’s decision to continue the review process for another year.
UUA Moderator Gini Courter joined the conversation, saying that she would also like to see further discussion about what it means to be autonomous, what it means to be free, what it means to be mutual, and what it means to covenant.
Explaining the procedure for a situation like this, Courter said that during the plenary session she will ask for a report from the miniassembly and the first vice moderator will bring the report that the motion is not coming. She said she would then go to the microphone on the floor so that Hollister, on behalf of the Southeast District, will have two minutes to explain why they don’t believe this is the right vehicle for the conversation and to describe the group’s plans for next steps.
After the miniassembly, Hollister explained his reasoning further:
I guess the real epiphany for me personally around this when I got into more conversations here at GA about it is that the bylaws in many ways for us as a religious organization are a theological document, they’re stating how we choose to be in relationship with one another… But the bylaws are also a legal document, and one of its roles is to protect our institution legally, so I think more can be done with this amendment to push forward the discussions we want to have, to make our bylaws reflect our values better theologically, but also to not create other unforeseen problems by taking out the language. It’s not just a theological document, it’s a legal document, and that takes more consideration. It’s a really neat learning process that’s begun here, and I think it’ll make the conversation we want to have and will have around this much more robust. We want to do it right because we feel so strongly about it. We want to do it in the best way.
Delegates to the 2013 General Assembly adopted overwhelmingly a Statement of Conscience regarding “Immigration as a Moral Issue” Friday morning.
The statement, introduced to the delegates by Susan Goekler, chair of the Commission on Social Witness (CSW), has been several years in the making. In 2010, delegates voted that Immigration as a Moral Issue should be the Unitarian Universalist Association’s topic of study for four years.
For the three years since, congregations have been studying the issue and working on immigration projects. Members of the CSW drafted the SOC, with input from congregations at the intervening GAs.
The statement says that, “As a religious people, our Principles call us to acknowledge the immigration experience and to affirm and promote the flourishing of the human family.”
The SOC lays out the history of migration of peoples. And it examines current factors contributing to immigration and lack of documentation, including the search for safety, food, shelter, and better lives.
It examines the consequences of lack of documentation and legal status, including exploitation and denial of civil rights.
The SOC calls on UUs to “affirm that all immigrants, regardless of legal status, should be treated justly and humanely.”
A moral immigration policy will include: a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship; work visas; due process; and preservation of family unity, among other things, the SOC says.
It includes two printed pages of calls to action for UUs. Individuals should educate themselves and advocate for moral immigration practices. Congregations should cooperate with other UU congregations, faith groups, and secular groups for education and action. And the denomination should publically witness against violations of human dignity and rights of immigrants and advocate for moral immigration policies.
Debate lasted for less than an hour, with most of it focusing on amendments that were unincorporated by the CSW. Just one unincorporated amendment passed, adding the word “documented,” to underscore that both documented and undocumented immigrants alike can face similar struggles.
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