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GA will vote on Ethical Eating statement, board reforms, more

UUA’s 50th General Assembly will tackle bylaw changes and food and environmental justice statement.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
4.11.11

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Delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C., will vote on several controversial bylaw issues, including eliminating Actions of Immediate Witness from future GAs. Also under consideration are several social witness actions, including a vote on a draft Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating.

This year’s meeting is the UUA’s 50th General Assembly, the denomination’s annual convention and business meeting, and marks the 50th anniversary of the Association. More than 4,300 Unitarian Universalists, including delegates from many of the UUA’s 1,022 congregations, will gather June 22 to 26 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C. Business plenary sessions are being held Friday morning and all day Saturday and Sunday. Although all GA attendees are welcome and encouraged to attend plenaries, only certified delegates can debate and vote.

GA delegates will consider a draft Statement of Conscience entitled “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice.” If adopted, the statement would officially encourage individuals and congregations to commit to using organic, fair-trade, and ethically produced foods.

The Commission on Social Witness developed the draft statement with input from congregations as part of a four-year Congregational Study/Action Process approved by the 2008 General Assembly. The four-page draft statement defines ethical eating and issues calls to action for individuals and congregations. It can be amended—a mini-assembly will meet Thursday, June 23, to propose amendments—before being presented for a vote. Approval requires a two-thirds vote. The assembly may also, by a two-thirds vote, refer the statement back to the Commission for an additional year of study. If the statement is adopted, congregations, districts, and UUA staff will carry out a year of implementation.

The draft statement calls on individuals to purchase food that minimizes the pain and suffering of food animals, is organically produced and/or responsibly farmed, requires a minimum amount of transport, supports a fair-trade organization, is healthy and does not lead to obesity, and is from organisms that are low on the food chain.

Congregations are called to provide and sell organic and fair-trade food when practical; organize members to work for food justice; support the UU Service Committee and UU United Nations Office in their work to alleviate world hunger; provide programs on food justice, nutrition, and community gardens; participate in community supported agriculture; and become Green Sanctuary certified, among other steps.

Delegates will also consider several bylaw or rules changes.

One bylaw amendment would broaden the definition of the word “congregation.” Under the change, the words “churches and fellowship” would be replaced with “congregations” in three sections relating to membership in the UUA.

Another bylaw change would permit off-site delegates to vote at GA. A trial is underway that would allow up to 200 offsite delegates to participate in the 2011 GA, although their votes will not be counted. The plan is that this year’s trial will provide enough information so that in the following year, at GA 2012, off-site delegates will be able to participate fully from home, including voting and having their votes counted.

Several proposed bylaw changes clarify the procedures for the Religious Education Credentialing Committee in either revoking or suspending the credentialed status of a religious educator. The changes would create language that is similar to the language governing the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.

A change to Article VII could modify conditions for appointment to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, allowing more than 14 members and eliminating the obligation to have members of the Board of Trustees on the committee.

The tentative agenda also calls for a vote on the elimination of Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) from the General Assembly agenda. AIWs are social justice resolutions that GA delegates introduce by petition. If the 2011 GA approves eliminating AIWs, it would remove a process that takes several days and action at two plenary sessions from the General Assembly’s business. Because delegates last year voted to minimize denominational business at the “Justice GA” in Phoenix in 2012, the Board of Trustees has been seeking ways to ensure that minimal business will need to be conducted.

At press time, it was uncertain whether a second AIW-related resolution would also appear on the final agenda. The GA Planning Committee—in consultation with the Commission on Social Witness, which manages the AIW process at GA—agreed to put another bylaw amendment on the 2011 GA agenda that would restore AIWs as a form of social justice resolution after 2012. The board discovered that the bylaw amendment was placed on the agenda improperly, however, because a bylaw change approved by the General Assembly last year removed the Planning Committee’s authority to put resolutions on the GA agenda.

The board agreed to consider at its April meeting whether to create a bylaw amendment for GA that resembles the one that had been submitted by the Planning Committee to restore AIWs in 2013. Another option would be to postpone a vote on restoring AIWs until 2013, which would mean there would be no AIWs until at least 2014. A third option would be for the board to rewrite the AIW proposal it has already placed on the agenda—which would remove AIWs entirely—and create an omnibus bylaw that would also reinstate them in some form after 2012.

The last bylaw amendment on the tentative agenda would amend Article XV of the UUA bylaws, which outlines the procedure for changing other bylaws. The revision of Article XV is closely tied to the revision of Article II, the UUA’s Principles and Purposes. Their periodic review—at 15-year intervals—is mandated in the bylaws, but delegates voted down the most recent proposed revisions because they were not able to amend the revisions or vote on them in sections.

The new process would retain the current process for amending Article II, with a study commission followed by votes at two GAs. The new process would let the first GA propose amendments to the study commission’s Article II language using a miniassembly process similar to the one used for many other business actions. Revisions would not be allowed at the second GA.

At its April 14–16 meeting, the board is expected to add a bylaw amendment to the Final Agenda that would reduce the size of the UUA board to 13 members from its current 25 members. The amendment would also end the election of a UUA trustee by each of the UUA’s 19 districts. In February, the board signaled that it would endorse a final draft of the proposed bylaw changes at its April meeting.

The Final Agenda for General Assembly will be published by the end of May.

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