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General Assembly narrowly rejects new ‘Principles and Purposes’

Delegates in Salt Lake City elect new president, send ‘Peacemaking’ Statement of Conscience back to committee.
By Christopher L. Walton
7.6.09

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UUs and others rally for more humane immigration policies at an interfaith event at the 2009 General Assembly in Salt Lake City. (Christopher L. Walton)

The forty-eighth annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association elected a new president and adopted six social justice resolutions. Delegates voted down an attempt to revise the UUA’s Principles and Purposes, however, and referred a proposed Statement of Conscience on peacemaking back to the commission that drafted it.

Meeting in Salt Lake City June 24–26, the General Assembly elected the Rev. Peter Morales as the eighth president of the UUA. (See related story.) Morales was installed during the Assembly’s closing ceremony, when departing UUA President William G. Sinkford gave Morales his stole and the Board of Trustees gathered around Morales’s family for the “laying on of hands.”

Although campaign volunteers for Morales and his opponent, the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, were easy to spot throughout GA with their vivid T-shirts and signs, other denominational business generated at least as much discussion as the presidential race.

The Commission on Appraisal presented a revised draft of Article II of the Association’s bylaws—the UUA’s “Principles and Purposes,” adopted in 1985—but delegates rejected it in a very close vote, 573 to 586. A final vote would have been taken at the 2010 General Assembly if delegates had approved the draft this year.

The Board of Trustees had urged delegates to vote for the new text in order to get congregations talking about the proposed revision. This would have given congregations an opportunity to become familiar with the document’s contents although no changes could be made. The Rev. Barbara Child, a member of the Commission on Appraisal, read a statement from both candidates for president urging delegates to approve the proposed text, and several organizations—the Youth Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, and UU Ministry for Earth—endorsed the new language. The Rev. Orlanda Brugnola, chair of the Commission on Appraisal, told delegates, “If we believe in democracy and believe in the collective wisdom of our congregations, and if we believe that our congregations have not had enough time to discuss the matters before, then we should vote yes.”

Several speakers also praised the proposal’s new section on “Inclusion,” which they said expressed the Association’s commitments to antiracism and multiculturalism more fully than the current “Anti-Discrimination” section.

But at a miniassembly the night before the vote, opponents of the revision significantly outnumbered supporters. Most objected to the replacement of the “Six Sources” section of the current bylaws with three new paragraphs. The Rev. Roger Brewin, minister of First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Ind., said, “What bothers me most is what’s missing—the poetry.”

Michael Hart, a delegate from First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, said the loss of specific language about “earth-centered traditions” in the Sixth Source hurt him: “As a UU pagan, it’s a blow in the solar plexus, a punch in the gut.”

Several speakers noted that many UU resources, including religious education curricula and the Singing the Living Tradition hymnal, are organized using the language of the Six Sources. The Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, a minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., referred to the performance at the 2008 General Assembly of the Rev. Jason Shelton’s “Sources” cantata. (See “The Sources sing,” UU World, Summer 2008.) “No one would ever have written a cantata” using the new text, Stanley said.

During the plenary debate Saturday morning, June 27, a steady stream of delegates approached the procedural microphone to express confusion about the bylaws’ ban on any amendments to the proposed text. UUA Moderator Gini Courter explained several times that Article XV forbids any amendments in plenary to a revision of Article II—including attempts to vote on selected sections of the proposal—and said that a new revision cannot be brought before the General Assembly for two years if this revision failed. She also confirmed that the Commission on Appraisal has finished its work on revising Article II, and won’t pursue further revisions at this time.

The vote was too close to call, so Courter called for a counted vote. When the final tally was reported, only thirteen votes separated the pro and con sides.

During the final plenary session Sunday, June 28, several responsive resolutions addressed the failure of the Article II revision. Two resolutions focused on the “Inclusion” section the Commission on Appraisal had proposed. The first asked the Board of Trustees to offer an amendment at the next possible General Assembly that would replace the current “Non Discrimination” section (Section C-2.3) with the proposed “Inclusion” section. The second called on all delegates to act on the pledge in the proposed “Inclusion” section “to do all we can to replace barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect” and asked churches to report next year on how they were acting on this pledge. Both resolutions passed.

Delegates also approved a responsive resolution that urged the board to facilitate an ongoing conversation at all levels of the Association about the Principles and Purposes until another revision comes before the General Assembly. Delegates adopted a fourth responsive resolution asking the board to review Article XV, which put such tight restrictions around the revision of Article II.


A lively debate over a proposed Statement of Conscience on “Peacemaking” on Friday, June 26, revealed that there is still no clear consensus within the UUA about use of military force. The draft document, which has been in development for three years as a “congregational study/action issue,” would have rejected war “as inconsistent with our theological principles and religious values, with the exceptions of self-defense and the use of force for humanitarian purposes.”

Some delegates found the statement too permissive and argued that the UUA should never endorse war. Others said that requiring U.N. authorization for humanitarian intervention would make intervention almost impossible. (China, which has a veto on the U.N. Security Council, for example, has strong ties to the government of the Sudan, where the genocide in Darfur is taking place.) Other delegates argued that the statement still did not express adequate support for UUs who work for the U.S. military and in defense-related industries.

The Assembly voted to refer the draft statement back to the Commission on Social Witness for refinement. The Commission on Social Witness will be distributing new information to congregations this fall and inviting additional input into the text before introducing a revised version at the 2010 General Assembly.


In other social justice resolutions, the General Assembly endorsed several pieces of pending federal legislation and spoke up on behalf of victims of human rights violations in several countries. Delegates passed all six Actions of Immediate Witness that were introduced by petition at GA:

  • “Advocate Pending Legislation Toward Clean, Honest, and Fair Elections in the United States,” which endorsed three election reform bills in Congress: H.R.2894, H.R.1826, and S751-752;

  • “U.S. Ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” which urged the Senate finally to ratify a treaty signed by the United States in 1996;

  • “In Support of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act,” S799/H.R.1925, which would protect 9 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Utah;

  • “Support Bolivian UUs Struggling for Justice and Human Rights,” which offered support for Bolivian UU leader Olga Flores Bedregal, who has been calling on her government to provide information about victims of disappearance by the country’s military government, and asked UUs to write to the Bolivian ambassador urging the country to establish a truth commission to investigate human rights violations;

  • “U.S.-Sponsored Torture: A Call for a Commission of Inquiry,” which endorsed the National Religious Coalition Against Torture’s call for a commission of inquiry; and

  • “Oppose Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity–Based Violence in Iraq,” which called for UUs to lobby the U.S. government to work with the United Nations to protect sexual minorities in Iraq.

A responsive resolution introduced on the final day at GA also urged the UUA to ask the State Department or other U.S. agency why UU women from Africa were denied visas to attend the International Convocation of UU Women while UU men from Africa were granted visas to attend the General Assembly.

Delegates rejected two responsive resolutions. One would have asked the UUA to delay implementing the “Mosaic Project” report on the grounds that it mandates segregated racial identity in UU programs for young people, a claim the Youth Caucus denied. Another resolution asked the board to work with an ad hoc volunteer group in continuing to refine the Commission on Appraisal’s revision of Article II.


Unitarian Universalists walked from the convention center to a rally for immigrant rights with members of Utah’s interfaith community on Friday evening, June 26. The rally’s theme, “Standing on the Side of Love with Immigrant Families,” marked the public launch of a new UUA visibility campaign, “Standing on the Side of Love.”

Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Unitarian Universalist leaders spoke against a new Utah law that makes undocumented immigrants significantly more vulnerable to deportation, but the rally focused especially on the impact of current immigration policies on families.

Larry Love, a leader in a Spanish-speaking Mormon congregation in Salt Lake, told the crowd how current immigration policies are affecting his family. Love’s wife, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala sixteen years ago and applied for asylum three times, was arrested March 18 and is currently scheduled for deportation, even though she has three children who are U.S. citizens.

Love emphasized the financial and emotional toll that current immigration policies inflict on families. He said their family depends on both parents’ incomes, and that his wife’s health insurance policy is significantly less expensive than the one available from his employer. Yet, although she has worked and paid Social Security taxes throughout her time in the United States, and although being an undocumented alien is only a civil offense—“it’s like a speeding ticket, not like robbing a bank,” Love said—their family is about to be torn apart.

UUA President William G. Sinkford, speaking at his last public witness event as president, told the crowd, “We know that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] raids are not the solution to this broken system. We could not deport 12 million people even if we wanted to.”

“We must call for an immediate end to ICE raids and call for just and comprehensive immigration reform,” Sinkford said.

Volunteers with the UUA’s new “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign handed out postcards inviting people to pledge to stand on the side of immigrant families.

Later that night, an intense thunderstorm tore the UUA’s 70-foot “Standing on the Side of Love” banner off the glass entry tower to the Salt Palace, the site of the General Assembly, shattering several panes of glass. No one was injured, and volunteers with the Standing on the Side of Love campaign cut the banner into pieces to hand out to delegates the next day.

Other banners with the campaign’s logo hung throughout the convention center, and volunteers in campaign T-shirts promoted its website, standingonthesideoflove.org.


UUA Secretary Paul Rickter reported Sunday afternoon that 1,991 delegates attended the General Assembly this year, including 1,545 member delegates, 416 ministerial delegates, and three credentialed religious educator delegates from 582 congregations. The total registered attendance was 3,385, including 145 youth.

The General Assembly also raised $29,726 to support Salt Lake City’s Pride Center, which provides services to the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.


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