Rev. Meredith Garmon takes this post to make his case for a change in the CUUC By-Laws
Article 1, section 2 (b) of the CUUC By-Laws currently reads:
All members 16 years of age or older shall be entitled to introduce or amend motions and to vote on all questions being considered at an Annual or special Meeting of the Church; and nonmembers sixteen years of age or over who have been more than occasional attendants at the worship services and who have made a recorded contribution to the financial support of the Church during the preceding year shall be entitled to vote on approval of annual Church operating and capital budgets. [my italics]I urge the congregation to approve deleting the italicized words above.
My basic argument is this: membership means responsibility to make, by vote, the decisions of the congregation. Anyone may choose not to join, of course, but choosing not to join means choosing not to have a vote. The integrity of our organization is compromised by granting votes to nonmembers.
#1. There is no rationale for keeping this provision. It is highly unusual: in a lifetime of being a UU, I had never heard of such a provision before coming to White Plains, and none of the District Executives, Regional Staff, or other ministers I have consulted with had ever heard of any other congregation having such a provision. If we didn’t have it, no one would be arguing for instituting it. That the provision has lasted this long is a case of “but we’ve always done it this way” thinking.
#2. If people making a contribution feel they should have a say in what is done with the money, then why not allow them vote to on Board members? After all, Board members create the budget and make adjustments to it throughout the year. Yet we do not allow nonmembers to vote in electing Board members. For the same reason, we should not allow nonmembers to vote on the budget either. If they want a vote, they can sign the book. Our leadership is accountable to our membership – to those people who have made the commitment to CUUC represented by signing our membership book. Our leadership is not and should not pretend to be accountable to nonmembers.
#3. The provision introduces needless and hopeless subjectivity. Someone – generally it has been the Board Secretary -- must make the determination each year which nonmembers have been “more than occasional attendants at worship services.” How many attendances constitutes “more than occasional”? Is once a month for 9 months a year “occasional” or “more than occasional”? Our Secretary has no definitive way to answer that question. Moreover, we do not keep records of attendance. Even supposing that we specified that X attendances in a year counted as “more than occasional” (which we have not), we have no way of knowing whether a given nonmember has attended X times or not. (There would seem to be a built-in bias in favor of large nonmembers with a penchant for bright clothes – more likely to be noticed when they attend.) The provision depends entirely on the Secretary’s subjective and probably quite variable determinations.
#4. Allowing nonmembers to vote undermines the point, value, and meaning of membership, which, being a covenantal relationship, requires some minimal clarity about who is in the covenant and who isn’t. The practice of self-governance in covenant is a crucial part of the Unitarian Universalist path of spiritual growth. Allowing nonmembers to vote undermines that important function of membership. Members have the sacred responsibility of voting. We dilute those votes by counting nonmember votes.
#5. I requested the removal of this provision in 2013-14, and brought it the board’s attention again in 2014-15. At those times, a partial explanation involved sympathy for nonmembers who, due to Jewish ties, found it personally difficult to be a member of a “church.” Now that we have changed our name to “Congregation,” then we no longer have even that excuse for confusing and weakening the meaning of membership by allowing nonmembers to have a vote on one thing and not others.