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Monthly Archives: April 2008
Donald O’Bloggin correctly guessed that the UUA has never held a Special General Assembly, although the procedure has been on the books for decades and it would only take 50 congregations to do so. The equivalent of a Special General Assembly has been held further back in denominational history, for example by the Universalist Church of America.
We discussed Special General Assemblies earlier. They are General Assemblies called in addition to the annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Today’s question is very simple:
How many Special General Assemblies have their been?
Most attendees of Unitarian-Universalist churches are converts. And if we take a longer historical perspective, the number of people whose families have been involved in Unitarianism or Universalism for 100-200 years is truly tiny, though not utterly nonexistent. Compare this to people who are Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish: chances are good that their family has been part of their tradition for hundreds, even thousands of years.
In this situation, how much right do all these newer UUs have to claim the mantle of Unitarianism and/or Universalism? Who are their real spiritual ancestors: Channing, Murray, Ballou, Emerson, or are their actual ancestors Christian and Jewish figures of the past? Does conversion to UUism wipe away all the karma of generation after generation of Christianity/Judaism? Do such converts no longer have any responsibility towards their former faiths, or the victims of their former faiths? Do they take on the responsibility of the karma created by Unitarianism and Universalism, and owe debts to the victims of these religions that were racked up before they were born?
Unitarianism was organized congregationally, but almost no one in UUism today is descended from the people who put that system together. Do modern UUs therefore owe it to these foreign fathers to maintain this system? Why? Can that change? If UUs are not beholden to the religious ideas of the past, why are they rigidly responsible to the religious structures of by-gone days, created in earlier times? Is the demand to hold on to structures an attempt to stave off the losses created by not holding on to historic theologies?
Does it matter what the Puritans were like, if only a portion of them ended up as Unitarians and almost none of their descendants are with us today? Did the UUs continue a tradition in 1961, reboot, or start something altogether new?
When does someone gain the right to speak for UUism, especially in a historical sense? Is it when Belief-o-matic suggests they’re 100% UU? Is it when they start attending a UU church? When they sign the book? A year after signing? Ten years? Never?
Various open questions for a Wednesday morning.
“To that throne Love is the only way.”
–Rev. Martin J. Steere, Footprints Heavenward; or, Universalism the More Excellent Way. Boston: James M. Usher, 1862: iv.
A UU College Student correctly guessed that the UU Holdeen India Program is a social justice program that provides funds to a wide range of activities in India, supporting the work of women, outcastes, and other oppressed groups. Hundreds of millions of dollars are delivered annually. The UUA administers the trust, and receives income from this activity. Jonathan Holdeen, the original creator of the fund, was neither a UU not an Indian, but he was concerned for other people’s welfare and was convinced by Rev. Dana Greeley, the first president of the UUA, that the UUA would be a good match for his vision of ongoing commitment to helping the needy and the disenfranchised. More information about the partner activities that are funded by the Holdeen India Program can be found here: http://www.uua.org/aboutus/professionalstaff/advocacywitness/holdeenindia/partners/index.shtml
The UUA is usually thought of as a more-or-less American organization. But of course it has connections around the world. In fact, one of its most important programs is based in India. It’s the subject of today’s quiz:
What is the Holdeen India Program?
“Good works are not the cause, but the effect of salvation.”
–Rev. Pitt Morse, Sermons in Vindication of Universalism. Watertown: Woodward and Calhoun, 1831: 10.
Donald O’Bloggin correctly answered that a Special General Assembly can be called by a mere 50 congregations (less than 5% of the total congregations of the UUA). They only need to give 60 days notice, and the business of the Special General Assembly is as binding as that of an annual one. However, it takes the involvement of at least three districts, as no more than 20 congregations can be from any one district.
In the debate (going on, for instance, here and here) over the disassociation of former Independent Affiliates (FIA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association, there is some question as to whether the FIAs met the requirements of the UUA. Most often highlighted is the issue of serving congregations, in keeping with the UUA’s trend toward a strictly institutional understanding of its work. It may be helpful to review the actual UUA Bylaws and Rules pertaining to Independent Affiliates in order to determine how well or poorly the FIAs fit the bill.
Bylaws Article II Section C-2.2 describes the purpose of the UUA:
“The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”
The UUA, and by extension its official affiliates, should therefore be engaged in some of the above activities. These are serving congregations, organizing new congregations, extending and strengthening UU institutions, or implementing the UUA principles (inherent worth and dignity of every person, free and responsible search for truth, etc). It is clear that an affiliate should not be expected to do all of the above, as it is pretty absurd to think of IAs organizing new congregations. Therefore we might at a minimum expect that an IA will extend and strengthen UU institutions (the nature or level of formality of these institutions is undefined), or at least implement the principles of the UUA.
Bylaws Article III Section C-3.8 states that the criteria for admitting an IA is that it is independently operated and that its “purposes and intentions” are “in sympathy with the principles of the Association,” i.e. inherent worth and dignity of every person, free and responsible search for truth and meaning, etc. There is no mention of what sort of relationship, if any, they should have with UUA member congregations. The principles themselves only mention congregations twice, saying that there should be acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in congregations, and that the right of conscience and the democratic process should be promoted in them. We can infer, therefore, that an Independent Affiliate should sympathize with the promotion of such things in UUA congregations.
Designation of Independent Affiliate status lasts for one year, and may be renewed. To qualify, IAs must make a $100 donation, place the UUA on their mailing lists, submit an annual report that includes such information as number of members, names of officers, and when official board meetings were held, and agree not to discriminate against people. In its initial application, it must disclose its finances and tax status and the purposes of the organization. And perhaps it must make a statement.
This is covered in UUA Rule 3.8.1. A new organization seeking IA status must make a statement that shows 1) how its “purpose, mission and structure models interdependence through engagement with our member congregations, coordination or collaboration of effort and resources,” and 2) how “the organization supports the transformation of institutions and our world to be aligned with those values expressed in our Principles.” It is unfortunate that the English grammar of requirement A is incorrect, obscuring the meaning of this important clause. As best as can be discerned, the UUA seeks to know either how the IA interdependently engages with congregations and coordinates/collaborates with them in terms of effort and resources, OR it wants to know how it models interdependence through either engaging with congregations or coordinating/collaborating in some unspecified way over efforts and resource. Thus there is either a requirement that first-time applicants engage in some manner with congregations, or a requirement that they at least model interdependence in their coordination of their efforts and resources. This cannot be fully clarified due to the poor wording of the rule.
However, and here is a big issue for the former Independent Affiliates and their supporters, there is a second, clearer and more important (such that it was given its own Rule rather than buried in a list with other criteria) qualification: according to Rule 3.8.7 the organization must be of “substantial benefit to the Unitarian Universalist movement.” The movement, not the congregations. Here where the meat of the issue is finally reached, the congregations truly drop out of the picture, and the Board is enjoined to consider whether an Independent Affiliate will benefit Unitarian-Universalism as a whole, not whether it will benefit the UUA congregations specifically.
This review may not settle the issue, but hopefully it provides some context for the decisions of the Board and the reactions of the FIAs.