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General Assembly agenda includes contentious issues

Delegates to vote on Ariz. boycott, election reform, and ‘peacemaking’ Statement of Conscience.
By Jane Greer
6.21.10

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General Assembly 2009 Salt Lake City

General Assembly delegates participate in a vote. (Nancy Pierce)

Delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2010 General Assembly will vote on several contentious issues, including a proposed boycott of Phoenix, Ariz., as the site of the 2012 GA; major changes in the way the UUA president and moderator are chosen; and a Statement of Conscience on peacemaking that delegates sent back for revision at last year’s GA.

General Assembly is the UUA’s annual convention and business meeting. More than 3,500 Unitarian Universalists, including delegates from many of the UUA’s 1,052 congregations, will gather June 23–27 at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Business plenary sessions are being held Friday morning and all day Saturday and Sunday to minimize conflicts with workshops and other events. Although all GA attendees are welcome and encouraged to attend plenaries, only certified delegates can debate and vote.

The issue that has generated the most controversy is the Board of Trustees’ business resolution that would pull the 2012 General Assembly out of Phoenix in protest of Arizona’s strict new anti-illegal immigration law, Senate Bill 1070. The resolution would ask the General Assembly Planning Committee to select an alternative site for the 2012 GA, and would ask congregations to raise $615,000 to cover cancellation fees the UUA would owe convention hotels and an equivalent amount to fund pro-immigrant rights initiatives in the state.

The board endorsed a boycott of Arizona on May 6, initiating a heated conversation among UUs about the merits of the state’s law and the best ways to challenge it. UUA President Peter Morales has urged UUs not to pull the 2012 GA from Arizona. In a letter released June 10, Morales said, “I dream of a GA where we reflect theologically upon what it means to be a faith that can cross the borders of race, class, and culture.” The UUA also released a letter from Puente Arizona and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, two immigrant rights groups that have been challenging the state’s new law, which invited UUs to transform GA into a “convergence for human rights in Arizona.”

UU ministers and other religious professionals in Arizona unanimously oppose a boycott, but three prominent antiracism groups in the UUA have raised significant concerns about holding a General Assembly in the state or have called for an outright boycott.

The resolution endorsing a boycott will need a two-thirds majority to pass when it comes up for a vote on Saturday afternoon, June 26. According to the bylaws, however, the UUA board has the ultimate authority to determine the time and place of General Assembly, and could, in theory, override the delegates’ vote.

Bylaw amendments and rule changes

The General Assembly will vote on a number of proposed bylaw and rule changes. The most significant of these would transform the election process for UUA president and moderator.

The proposed changes would create a Presidential Nominating Committee that would select at least two candidates for president; the amendments would also empower the Board of Trustees to nominate at least one candidate for the position of moderator, who chairs the board and the General Assembly. Other candidates for president or moderator could run by petition.

Tamara Payne-Alex chaired the board working group that wrote the proposed changes in 2009, when she was a trustee-at-large. “Congregations are not present in the current process,” she told UU World in April 2009, because self-selected presidential candidates begin the process of seeking endorsements and fundraising largely behind the scenes. “Congregations find out who the candidates are only after the slate has been presented,” she said. “We wanted to make it more like a ministerial search process. We want to use this as an opportunity to energize and engage the electorate.”

Delegates will also vote on changing the terms of office for the president and moderator from one four-year term with the possibility of a second to a single six-year term. The elections-related bylaw amendments will be debated and voted on Sunday morning, June 27. (See “Board proposes changes to UUA elections,” uuworld.org 4.27.09, for more.)

Another proposed bylaw change would give the board the responsibility to prepare and approve the General Assembly agenda. The change would make the bylaws consistent with current practice, although the bylaws currently identify the elected GA Planning Committee as the agenda-setting body.

Other bylaw and rule changes include one that would authorize the UUA to electronically distribute statements from candidates for at-large elective positions rather than printing and mailing them; two adding the possibility of removing board and committee members for “good cause”; one that would remove the word “continental” from bylaws and rules related to the social witness process; and one providing more flexibility in notification for draft Statements of Conscience.

This year’s bylaw changes, which will be considered Saturday morning, June 26, need to be approved by a two-thirds vote. No “C bylaws,” which require votes two years in a row, are on the agenda this year.

“Creating Peace” Statement of Conscience

Delegates will vote Friday, June 25, on a draft Statement of Conscience entitled “Creating Peace,” one year after the General Assembly sent an earlier draft back to the Commission on Social Witness for revision. The statement calls UUs “to the work of peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peacekeeping,” and promoting “a culture of peace through a transformation of public policies, religious consciousness, and individual lifestyles.” The draft presented to the 2009 General Assembly drew criticism from both pacifists and just war advocates.

A Statement of Conscience is the last step in a four-year “congregational study/action” process. A statement must be approved by a two-thirds vote.

Delegates will also choose a new four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue, from among five proposals:

  • CSAI 1, “Energy, Peace, and Justice,” examines the policies and issues surrounding the availability and distribution of energy;

  • CSAI 2, “National Economic Reform: A Moral Imperative,” deals with deepening economic inequality and its effects on communities and the environment;

  • CSAI 3, “Immigration as a Moral Issue,” looks at the plight of immigrants who are living without legal status and without access to social services or the protection of civil rights;

  • CSAI 4, “Ending Slavery,” will consider ways to combat modern-day slavery worldwide;

  • CSAI 5, “Revitalizing American Democracy,” deals with ways that Americans can be motivated to use the existing system of government to counter corporate and financial interests.

Actions of Immediate Witness

Actions of Immediate Witness are resolutions drafted and added to the General Assembly agenda by petition at GA itself. No more than six Actions of Immediate Witness can be approved at a General Assembly.

Proposals for Actions of Immediate Witness must be received by the Commission on Social Witness by 5 p.m. on Friday, June 25. Advocates for each Action will then make a short presentation at the Saturday morning plenary. Two-thirds of delegates must vote to place an Action on the final agenda for a vote. Delegates will debate and vote on Actions of Immediate Witness on Sunday afternoon, June 27.

The following three Actions have already been proposed: “Divestment from UUA-Invested Companies Found to be Complicit in US-Backed Israeli Occupation of Palestine”; “End the Occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan”; and “Withdrawal from Afghanistan Now.”

Delegates will also consider a business resolution Sunday morning, June 27, which calls on UU congregations to become “Green Sanctuaries” and to support the UUA’s work for environmental justice, in honor of the Association’s fiftieth anniversary. (The UUA was founded in 1961, when the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America consolidated.) The Green Sanctuary program was developed by the UU Ministry for Earth (formerly the Seventh Principle Project) in 2002 to help congregations educate themselves about environmental issues and implement measures to reduce their impact on the environment; the UUA now manages the program. As of March 2010, 128 congregations have been certified as Green Sanctuaries. The resolution asks the UUA president to report at the 2011 GA on the Association’s progress in environmental stewardship.


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