I have just heard that two members of our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly Planning Committee have resigned. The article is here.
I’m going to comment on this issue from the perspective of a clergyperson who cares about the work of our General Assembly but who neither knows, nor intends to intensively research, the extreme specifics of our planned 2012 “Justice General Assembly.” My semi-ignorance is intentional: it is because I deeply believe that insider politics are the scourge of the institutional Church. I believe that very few people care about insider politics, or have the privilege of enough spare time to stay current with the e n d l e s s conversation it generates. My observation is that the vast majority of participants in any faith tradition desire the church (in this case, the Unitarian Universalist Association of independent congregations) to be community of love and service, prayer and study, and the nurturing of all souls.
Hence, I will keep my observations brief and, I hope, fairly simple.
The individuals and congregations devoted to immigrant justice issues in Arizona are admirable, and I fully support their good works.
However, given that the purpose of our General Assembly is to do the work of the Association, and that the “work of the Association” can only interpreted by the most creative institutional contortions as “spending the week partnering with local Arizona organizations in the work of immigrant justice,” this gathering should stop calling itself a General Assembly. The commitment to having 2012 be a “Justice GA” (a new animal for our tradition) was voted on last year by the GA delegates, which makes it legitimate by congregational polity. What has subsequently happened, however, is that the other congregational-polity aspects of this General Assembly (most specifically, the role of the General Assembly Planning Committee, a group elected by the delegates) have been eroded by what is being perceived as a take-over by the UUA Board.
So this is a polity mess that is unfortunately being played out as a personality and identity issue, with accusations of power abuse flying from one side and accusations of bad faith (eg, people who don’t support this “Justice GA” aren’t good, faithful Unitarian Universalists because they are obviously not committed enough to justice work and witness) flying back from the other side. That’s really a shame.
I think it would have been far wiser had the GA of 2010 voted to suspend General Assembly for 2012 and to converge on Phoenix en masse for an act of group witness, worship and collaboration with local justice organizations. No need to call it a GA. It isn’t a General Assembly. What should have happened is that the leaders of the organizational structures devoted to the General Assembly should have been approached by the, say, “Witness and Justice 2012 Task Force” (I just made up that name; no such body exists), and ASKED IF AND HOW they would like to work on the Arizona project.
Right? Because God does occasionally create something new under the sun, right? And in this case, quite literally under the sun? And wouldn’t it have been possible for UUs to have discerned this, and responded to this sense of calling recognizing the need for a new structure that would make liberal use of existing structures (no need to re-invent the wheel here)? There may be by-law reasons that this had to be called General Assembly (I suspect there were- probably financial reasons), but holding onto the name and the concept is causing a lot of chaos.
So it is that tremendous resources of time, money and mutual good will are being bled over the organization of this new thing under the sun, this non-GA (my God, all this Sturm und Drang for four or five days?), with long-ranging polity implications and worst of all, the loss of devoted lay volunteers who were charged to do the work of planning our GAs and have now resigned in frustration because they feel they are being steamrollered by the board.
God of community, Holy One who calls us out of the comfort of our old ways and into frightening frontiers, gather my people and guide them.
Where we are closed, break us open. Transform our anger to courage, bring our hearts and minds together to discern our calling in this moment. Be with us as a creative spirit, help us to include the talents and gifts of all in our vision, help us find el camino, the way.
Dios nos concede la sabidurÃa. Grant us wisdom. Amen.