GA Delegates to the Proposal
to Revise Article II of the UUA Bylaws
Excerpt from “A Multicultural Future,” UUWorld, Vol. XXIII No. 3, Fall 2009.
DELEGATES TO THE 48TH GENERAL Assembly, which met June 24-28, considered a variety of proposals for transforming the UUA. Former UUA Moderator Denise Davidoff introduced the work of the Board-appointed "Fifth Principle Task Force," which will propose sweeping changes to the General Assembly itself next year. She said the current system is not truly democratic, with self-funded and often self-selected delegates who may not hold leadership roles in their congregations. "We should get serious about governing ourselves democratically;” Davidoff said, "or I will move in 2010 that we rescind the Fifth Principle until we can prove we are democratically represented."
Among the changes under consideration: a biennial GA with fewer delegates (no more than four per congregation) who are fully funded and who are authorized to speak on behalf of their congregations; moving GA from June to August; providing childcare and communal meals; and setting up non-business conferences during alternate years. The task force will present its final report to the Board of Trustees in April 2010, and delegates at next year's GA in Minneapolis will vote on the changes.
The Board of Trustees is also proposing changes to the way the UUA elects its president and moderator. If the 2010 GA approves the board's proposal, an elected presidential nominating committee would select two candidates to run for a single six-year term as president; the board would nominate a candidate for a six-year term as moderator. Candidates currently seek both offices without a nominating committee and can serve two four-year terms. The board placed the necessary bylaw amendments in the 2009 Business Agenda so delegates could discuss them, but the proposals won't come up for a vote until next year.
Delegates resisted some of the changes that did come up for a vote this year, however. The Commission on Appraisal's proposal to revise Article II of the UUA Bylaws (the "Principles and Purposes") failed by only thirteen votes. The commission had drafted a new version of Article II after a three-year review that generated more than 3,000 comments about the merits and weaknesses of the current Principles and Purposes. Its new version would have to have been approved by two consecutive General Assemblies for adoption.
Several organizations—the Youth Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, and UU Ministry for Earth—endorsed the new language, and the Board of Trustees urged delegates to vote for it in order to get congregations talking about the proposed revision before a final vote next year. 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.
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, Indiana, 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, Colorado, referred to the performance at the 2008 General Assembly of the Rev. Jason Shelton's "Sources" cantata. "No one would ever have written a cantata" using the new text, Woodliff-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 at GA to a revision of Article II - including attempts to vote on individual portions 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 initial vote was too close to call, so Courter called for a count. The motion to adopt was defeated 573 to 586.
After the Article II revision failed, delegates adopted several responsive resolutions during the final business session on June 28 in an effort to resolve what had happened. One resolution asked the Board of Trustees to review Article XV, the section that forbids delegates from amending proposed revisions to Article II. Another invited congregations to embrace the proposed "Inclusion" section by working to replace barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories, and to report on their actions before next GA. Another asked the board to place the "Inclusion" section on the agenda of a future GA. And still another asked the board to consider facilitating an ongoing discussion about the proposed changes until a new revision comes up for a vote.
The Rev. Barbara Child, who chaired the review process for the Commission on Appraisal, said she wasn't especially surprised that delegates declined to approve the changes. “As an interim minister, I’ve seen lots of reluctance to change,” she said, but added, “The longer Article II goes without change, the more likely it is to be treated as a creed.”
On the last day of GA, Moderator Gini Courter, who was elected to a second four-year term, told GA participants they should prepare for making increasingly complex decisions” in the years ahead. “The folks who gather here should be leaders…because the kinds of things that will be voted on in the next few years are going to change the basis on which we gather, change the basis on which we elect officers, change the size of your representative board. This is some of the biggest business…since the consolidation of Unitarians and Universalists. In fact, some of it is the business they were afraid to do forty-eight years ago.”