FROM THE PULPIT -- SUN MAR 13
Our congregation is in process toward adopting a resolution of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (See the resolution: CLICK HERE.) Our Board of Trustees, on Wed Mar 9, has approved a special congregational meeting on Sun Apr 17 to vote on that resolution.
Our congregation has taken a number of social justice actions over the years, but we have not taken a stand, as a congregation, on an issue of social advocacy. Back in 2005, this congregation earned the designation “Welcoming Congregation,” through a process laid out by our national denominational headquarters. That meant the congregation as a whole had made a commitment to being welcoming to the LGBT community – but not a commitment of public social advocacy.
Today we have a number of Social Justice teams, and our various teams have taken and are taking a variety actions. They address environmental protections, hunger and homelessness, LGBT issues, Economic inequality and poverty. Most of us feel proud of the actions of these teams, and most of us support what they’re doing. None of those actions, however, involves taking a stand as a congregation.
We encourage people to live their faith -- to be active in social causes. We also recognize that our members have diverse opinions -- indeed, we cherish our diversity. While I have never seen it happen, I can imagine that someday it could happen that there might be Unitarian Universalists gathered at a street corner carrying signs, "UUs in Support of X" -- while on the opposite corner there are other Unitarian Universalists carrying signs, "UUs Opposed to X." (What might be a plausible example of X? Perhaps nuclear power could become such an issue. Some Unitarian Universalists do feel strongly about the need for power sources that don't emit greenhouse gases, while other Unitarian Universalists feel strongly about the dangers of nuclear power.) Both groups would be living out their interpretation of our principles, and being active in the social arena, as our faith encourages them to be. But which group would represent their congregation as a whole? Neither! Each group represents only the sub-group of the congregation that it is. As their minister, I would be pastorally supportive of both sides, and encouraging of each side in being involved and expressing their faith in the way they see it leading.
All the actions we have taken so far represent only the sub-group that takes the action. If the actions are widely -- or even unanimously -- supported by the congregation, that support has been informal. No team or group or committee of the congregation may claim to speak on behalf of the entire congregation -- unless the entire congregation has voted its agreement with what is said.
This is how we have to do things if we want to value diversity of thought, as we do, and at the same time encourage public expression. For all of the actions that our congregation’s various social justice teams have taken, the congregation as a whole has never taken a stand on an issue of social advocacy.
In the case of Black Lives Matter, however, the Social Justice Coordinating Council and I agreed that the time had come. This was something unlike the other social issues. This was, at this time in our nation’s history, more important. This, at last, was an issue so crucial that it was time for the congregation as a whole to take a stand.
Here was an issue worth cranking up all the apparatus of process leading to a special congregational meeting. We have cranked up that apparatus before -- though not in order to take a stand on an issue of social advocacy. Two years ago that apparatus of process led to adoption of a mission statement. That process, as you may recall, took much longer than our current process to take a stand in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. We passed the mission statement in January 2014 -- at which point the congregation had been at work on it for a year and a half -- and rather intensely for the previous 5 months.
We would have been able to do the current process faster if not for simple scheduling difficulties. I did want us to hear from a speaker from inside the BLM matter movement before the vote. King Downing has extensive experience on the inside of that movement. I wanted us to hear from him. I had hoped he could speak to us on Sun Feb 28, but he turned out to be unavailable at that time. Then Sun Mar 6 was already locked in for Rev. Rob Gregson to guest preach. So Mar 13 was the soonest we could get Mr. Downing -- and I was so happy to have him with us that day.
Then Sun Mar 20 and 27 are part of the Easter break. And Sun Apr 3 we have a brunch after the service that we couldn't move. So that takes us to Apr 10 for discussing and considering amendments to the resolution, and April 17 for voting.
Our neighboring Unitarian Universalist congregation in Mt. Kisco approved a resolution of support a couple weeks ago. Our neighboring UU congregation in Croton won’t have their vote until June. So we are somewhere in the middle.
To take a stand as a congregation will require a supermajority vote of 80% of the members present.
Let me remind you, if you’re not a member, you have until March 18 to join in order to vote on April 17. We stand at an important moment in the history of our congregation – a moment when our courage can empower us to make a difference in the world, a difference in the lives of so many of our neighbors.
POSTSCRIPT -- WED MAR 16
Our congregational process makes taking stands extraordinary -- difficult and drawn-out, by design. Does such a design seem wrong?
While taking a stand as a congregation is extraordinary, social action taken by a group within the congregation with informal nods of encouragement from the congregation-in-general is our ordinary, normal -- and usually must faster-response course. This is the system that UU congregations generally (and many non-UU congregations as well) have worked out to allow for action to go forward while also honoring diversity of opinion within their ranks.
You might understandably feel that, while diversity of opinion may be fine when it comes to things like opinions about energy policy or taxation rates, there are some issues that are so basic that there ought to be instant and unanimous support for them, and CUUC's policies and procedures ought to allow for instant action to express that support. I understand the longing for that kind of community, but, for better or for worse, that's not who we are.
What we are is a diverse collection of people. For some of us, support for the BLM movement is absolutely essential. For others, it's simply a very good idea and the right thing to do. For still others, expressing congregational support for a movement may be OK, but isn't very important. Maybe for a few, it seems like a bad idea. Our covenant is to stand by one another, whatever our disagreements.
Our congregation contains much of the range of attitudes and viewpoints that the general population around us contains, albeit not in the same proportions. Our best hope, I believe, is to model how a diverse community can also be a learning community. We are not a people who automatically and intuitively know what racial justice requires, but we are a people who can learn. There is certainly great need for learning both in our nation and in our congregation. Learning takes a while. I've learned a lot myself since Trayvon Martin's 2012 death in Sanford, Florida, not far from where I was then living. I've learned more in the last year. And still have much to learn.
Transforming the world also entails transforming ourselves. Our mission recognizes as much when it says, "engage in service to transform ourselves and the world." Maybe sometimes you'd like CUUC to already be transformed. Sometimes, so would I. But our ministry to and with each other is ever to work with who we are, stepping, falteringly, toward dimly perceived possibilities of what we may be. If it were quick, it wouldn't be real transformation.
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On the need for this action, please see these posts of mine from The Liberal Pulpit:
BLM & UU
Part 1: UUs and BlackLivesMatter
Part 2: White Supremacy is a Spiritual Wound
Part 3: Afflicted or Comfortable? Yes.
It Must Be Said (Black Lives Matter II)
Black Lives Matter I
Part 1: 'Just Mercy' Reading
Part 2: Death Penalty and Race
Part 3: Progress. So Slow.
Part 4: In the Light of the True Narrative
The Arc of the Moral Universe
Part 1: Bending Toward Justice?
Part 2: A Powerful Perception
Part 3: Unconscious Bias and Moral Imagination
The Spirit of Truth
Part 1: The First Balm
Part 2: Divide and Keep Conquered
Part 3: Explaining Some Mysteries
Part 4: Journey Toward Wholeness
Ferguson (reflection on the Grand Jury's non-indictment in the slaying of Michael Brown)
Intercultural Sensitivity is Hard!
Part 1: Juneteenth
Part 2: Unknown Freedom
Part 3: A New Approach
Part 4: Denial, Polarization, Minimization
Part 5: Go 90
Nonviolent Social Change
Part 1: To Hear Each Other With Compassion
Part 2: The Essence of Violence Is in the Heart
Part 3: Social Change Through NVC