Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blogging from GA: Arizona!

Well, it was an interesting discussion, dear readers.

Apparently what happened in the mini-assemblies was a lot of amazing, thoughtful, and hard work.  And they crafted from those mini-assemblies a resolution that bore little in common with the original resolution to boycott Phoenix by moving our General Assembly in 2012.  The full text of it is below.  What it was, in sum, was a proposal that we go to Phoenix and have a different sort of GA with minimal business and focused on working with our allies to effect change.

With the mini-assembly process completed, only two amendments were allowable in the plenary today.  One was to adopt an included by not incorporated amendment to strike the language about doing minimal business.  The other was to strike the whole resolution that came from the mini-assemblies and revert back to the original boycott resolution. 

First, there were a lot of procedural questions.  Then there was a lot of pro and con debate, the con folks mostly wanting to go back to the position of boycott.  Then 20 minutes were added to the clock, so we could debate some more.  The UUA folks had, in their wisdom, created 20 minutes of extra time in the schedule predicting that we might need this.  And the debate went on.  On the pro side were most of the constituencies involved, which made the question easier for the gathered delegates--DRUUMM, the Phoenix minister, the youth caucus, etc.  On the con side was, however, a representative of No More Deaths, who said that she had tried, but not been given the opportunity, to speak in the mini-assemblies.  This is definitely something that happens--we run out of time for every voice to be heard.

Then came the time for amendments, and both of the allowable amendments were put up, of course.  And both were voted down by large majorities.  The first vote on this was a bit confusing for people, and it looked like they were going to vote to return to the original resolution.  Fortunately our competent moderate realized that this was because people were confused, and recognized a pro and con to help people understand, and then we voted them down.  Then we returned to pro and con on the resolution from the mini-assemblies.  This continued until we ran out of time, and people were going to expand discussion or go into tomorrow, but then when our moderator reminded people that since we had voted down returning to the boycott resolution, the only option was adopt this or do nothing and do business as usual, it was clear what needed to be done.

And so, in the end, we adopted the resolution from the mini-assemblies that called for a justice-focused, minimal-business Phoenix GA in 2012.

What do I think?  I wasn't one hundred percent certain going into the plenary, but I leaned towards boycott.  I still believe money talks, and boycotting would send a strong message.  And I worry that one more protest in the street, even if you add a few thousand UUs to it, won't make a whit of difference the way pulling out all our money, save the deposits would.  A friend was estimating that in total UUs probably spend at least 7.5 million dollars when we hit a city, and that amount of money does talk, especially when added to the other organizations also pulling their meetings out of Arizona.

But, in the end, it's compelling to heed the calls of our advocacy groups, DRUUMM and LUUNA, and the ministers of Arizona, and the local Arizona advocacy groups calling for us to come.  And because of the way this new resolution was worded, and the words of the Phoenix minister sharing her vision, I feel certain that we won't just go down there and do business as usual, which I think would have been the worst option.  There are arguments on both sides of the boycott question, and, in the end, we came together as one faith and chose a strong option in front of us, working with our allies, and focusing on the work of justice.

Hopefully, for years to come in Unitarian Universalism, people will look back at GA2012 as a key moment in our religion's history where we set aside our usual ways and did the work of justice, standing on the side of love and faith, and helped to create a deep change in our nation.


Business Resolution on Phoenix General Assembly 2012

Whereas the state of Arizona has recently enacted a law –SB 1070—that runs counter to our first principle, affirming the worth and dignity of every person; and

Whereas the Association stands in solidarity with allies mobilizing in love against this divisive and oppressive legislation; and

Whereas we have been invited to enter into an historic partnership with Puente and National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to work for human rights and against racial profiling; and

Whereas the UUA By-laws specify that the power to call and locate a General Assembly belongs solely to the UUA Board of Trustees;

Be it resolved, the Assembly hereby:

1. Calls on the UUA Board to gather Unitarian Universalists for the purpose of witnessing on immigration, racial and economic justice—a “Justice” General Assembly in which business is limited to the minimum required by our by-laws—in June 2012, to be held in Phoenix, AZ.

2. Calls on the UUA Administration to work with leaders in Arizona UU Congregations to establish an Arizona immigration ministry to partner with other groups in Arizona working for immigration reform to strengthen those partnerships in preparation for our arrival in 2012.

3. Recognizing people with historically marginalized identities will be exposed to increased risk and inaccessibility, instructs the UUA Board to work in accountable relationship with Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Latina/o Unitarian Universalist Networking Association (LUUNA), EQUUAL ACCESS, Transgender Religious professional Unitarian Universalists Together (TRUUST) and other stakeholders to identify measures that can be taken to increase safety and accessibility at the 2012 ‘Justice’ GA.

4. Calls on the UUA Board to direct the economic impact of our presence in Phoenix toward our partners and allies as much as is feasible.

5. Calls on the UUA Board to continue providing the resources needed to build the capacity of Unitarian Universalists to stand in opposition to systemic racism in our congregations, local communities, and in our own lives.

Blogging from GA: Meadville Lombard

We have two Unitarian Universalist seminaries in this country, Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry. Together they educate a sizable percentage, but not nearly all (or even half, I believe), of our ministers. I went to Meadville Lombard (although I attended Starr King for a semester, as well). One joy of GA is usually the Meadville Lombard Alumni Dinner, where we all get together and hear about how the school is doing, catch up with old friends, hear some wonderful speakers reminisce about the old days, and eat some good food.

This year, as we were setting out for GA, Meadville Lombard released a big announcement--one we knew was coming, but I didn't know the extent of it.  Meadville Lombard has been trying to both sell its buildings and merge with another institution, and now it is announced that they will merge with Andover Newton Theological School in Boston.  And while there is a great deal of potential in this new model, it gives both alumni and students a great deal of anxiety because what the final product will look like is still so unknown.  Of no small concern is the fact that Andover Newton looks like the bigger partner in all of this, and we're afraid our UU identity will get lost in the new identity.  It's been pointed out more than once that Andover Newton was founded in opposition to Unitarianism.

There's a lot of confusion and rumor right now.  For example, I heard one place we won't retain our name at all, and yet the press release says we will.  Another example: we're selling our buildings, yet we're remaining in Chicago, yet almost all or perhaps all of the students will be distance-learning students.  What sort of presence will we have in Chicago, and what exactly will it say on their diplomas?  This is the confusion that is still out there.  And for our entire movement, I hope you're wondering what will become of the library.  The Meadville Lombard library is the only substantial Unitarian Universalist library in the country.  It is an invaluable collection of resources and history for our faith.  Surely some other library will be taking it, but will it be safeguarded, and will it be cared about, and will it be added to?  These are the concerns we have.

I'm hopeful about Meadville Lombard's future, even in the midst of this uncertainty and fear.  I do think they're doing innovative things with their new "Touch Point" approach to theological education.  I'm going to be immersed in that myself as a Teaching Pastor.  I know they're doing a lot to bring distance learning students together through conference calls and other distance learning tools.

Meadville Lombard was in a lot of transition in my day, too.  I entered with one set of faculty and staff, and left with an almost entirely different one with only one faculty member and a few minor staff members the same.  And yet, in the midst of all that, I gained a strong education which grounded me in our faith and I also built strong collegial ties that have supported me in my ministry.  I trust that this will be true in this new period of transition, in part because it's something the seminarians themselves are seeking and helping to create.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blogging from GA: Settlement, Fear and Saving Lives

This minister skipped the morning plenary, but has learned that the following things happened:
  • We passed the Statement of Conscience on Peacekeeping.
  • We failed to choose a new Study/Action Issue. Apparently even though there was a clear favorite emerging with the understanding that immigration is the big issue right now, and the anti-slavery group throwing their support to it, no study/action issue got a clear majority, so there will be a run-off election at the next plenary session. The prediction is that immigration will sweep the run-off.
The reason I did not make it to plenary today was because I was in a series of back-to-back meetings. One of those was for UU Ministers Association chapter leaders. The exciting thing I learned there was that the new UUMA webpage creates profiles for individuals and groups (chapters are the first groups set up, but later there can be groups for all sorts of things, like study groups). Since I’ve been the webpage administrator, I’ll be involved in helping set up our chapter page information, and the Rev. Kathryn Bert is volunteering to get trained and take this over afterwards. I’m putting this here in print so she can’t back out!!! An important thing to know, ministers, is that this great website will lock you out if you let your membership expire.

The next meeting was bringing together Midwest leaders and interested parties to talk about the struggle that Midwest congregations have had in the last search round in finding ministers. I was there with my hat as Heartland UUMA President again. There were a lot of theories about why this happened, and a lot of suggestions for churches. Some that resonated with me (obviously chosen from a minister’s perspective):
  • Even though the Midwest is a less expensive area to live in, with many churches with a lower “geo index” than the churches on the coast, it’s helpful to consider that a minister’s spouse will have a harder time finding a job, even if they find one at all. Therefore, ministers will look to churches that pay a wage that will, by itself, support a family, and where the church expresses a supportive culture that understands that spouses may not find employment. Also, remember that student loans don’t change by geo index.
  • Similarly, incentives are allowed—a deal for paying student loans, signing bonuses, etc. And these are attractive.
  • It’s natural to look upon the idea that a minister who is excited about your geographical location because of family reasons or other reasons might not be really looking at your church for the gem it is. However, it’s also true that ministers who have that kind of support network around them will be happier, and more likely to stay for a longer tenure. I’ve personally seen several ministers who I knew didn’t like the Midwest and really wanted to be either South or West or East, and, well, they’re gone. That happened in my own church, as well, where average tenures after the locally-grown minister Ruth Smith retired became short and shorter as ministers left to “go back home.” I am home, and, well, have the longest tenure since the Rev. Ruth Smith.
  • Promote, publicize, market your church!
  • While churches’ search committees don’t know who is in search other than the ministers who’ve selected to apply, that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to look around at ministers and recruit. Using GA can be a wise thing to do—many ministers are there, and you can see them preach, lead workshops, or argue for their perspectives in plenary, and you’re allowed to talk to them! One church talked about taking this approach. One church’s members stood outside the Berry Street Lecture handing out slick cards about their church. This definitely got noticed, and in a good way!
Right now I’ve stumbled into the Fahs Lecture, an annual lecture which is really always a gem. And, to my delight, it’s about folklore, which was a previous passion of mine. And it’s highlighting some themes about why we live in a constant state of fear in our culture and how unhealthy that is that were also given by Rebecca Parker yesterday in the Murray Grove lecture. It’s one of the themes that’s emerging this year for me. The lecturer, Dale McGowan, is making the point that we think a contant state of fear protect us, but it makes us distrustful of, well, just about everything, and even shortens our lives. For example, he points out, how many of us stayed awake in fear from the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep… If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Yikes! That one kept me awake, too. Liberal religious people often experience a great deal of fear of fundamentalist culture taking over our politial system. But, as he said, after telling a story where he thought a school had a cross hanging in it until he learned what the class was studying: “It is easy to turn every lower case t into a cross, and every cross into a threat.”

Another emerging theme is this: Unitarian Universalism saves lives. More on that another time when I have time to write a lot more on it.

A New Humanism

Minneapolis, where we're holding this General Assembly currently, is really the birthplace of Humanism, or at least this modern incarnation of Humanism as it relates to our movement.  There's a wonderful all-day series on Humanism on Saturday which I will not attend because it conflicts with important plenaries, but which is a wonderful opportunity to experience and learn about Humanism here in its heart. 

But what I did get to do was go to a workshop with Greg Epstein, the Harvard Humanist chaplain, author of Good Without God.  Greg Epstein is a delight, and I say that not just because he's from Michigan and a University of Michigan grad, although that helps.  Greg Epstein is a pioneer of the "New Humanism," which stands in contrast to the "New Atheism."  New Humanism is a positive articulation of what we believe, and Greg Epstein's interpretation of Humanism is very much in keeping with interfaith work, rather than being opposed to all religion, as the New Atheists are. 

As a Humanist Unitarian Universalist, I've said to my own congregation that whatever type of Unitarian Universalist you are, as a faith we are open to new possibilites, we are not dogmatic, and we believe in working with and learning from people with different beliefs than our own.  That goes for our UU Christians, and it goes for our UU Pagans, and it goes for our UU Humanists.  This "New Humanism" is what we, at our best, are and are always becoming.  Unfortunately, of course, we don't always live up to that vision.  And that's why it's great for us to have someone like Greg Epstein articulate it at our General Assembly to a large crowd of UU Humanists. 

Books books books

One of the truly dangerous parts of General Assembly is what is found in one corner of the exhibit hall...  the UUA Bookstore.  I was very very good... the first time I went in.  I walked around and didn't buy anything.  When my ride called and was going to be 45 minutes late picking me up from the convention center, however, I was not so good.  I stuck to only the children's books, but there were too many gems...

This looks like it's going to be pretty ordinary, but it beautifully shows all the world's religion's versions of the golden rule.

A prayerful children's book about our earth.
Inside the universe is our planet.  Inside you is your heart.

Yes it is.

And saving the best for last...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blogging from GA: Clergy Sexual Ethics

At the UUMA Annual Meeting this year we voted in a new code of conduct.  It reads:
I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any minor child or unwilling adult.

I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior in potentially exploitive relationships, including with any person I am counseling, with interns, and with any staff person I supervise directly or indirectly except my spouse or partner.

I will respect the relationships of those to whom I minister, and not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any married or partnered client or member of the congregation, agency or enterprise I serve, or with the spouse or partner of a client or member of the institution.

If I am married or in a committed partnership I will not engage in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with any person whom I serve professionally except my spouse or partner.

In pursuing any special personal relationship of friendship or romance with a client or member of the congregation, agency or enterprise I serve, I will recognize the potential negative consequences for my ministry and/or the institutional system and I will consider the advice of colleagues.
This is pretty controversial, because there are a lot of compelling reasons why it should be more strict, less ambiguous, about sexual relationships between ministers and members of their congregations.  We all know of ministers who have behaved unethically and people who have been very badly hurt by those unethical actions.  We all know of congregations which have struggled in the wake of clergy ethical misconduct, as well.  The damage that has been done should not be underestimated.

But there are also compelling reasons why the UUMA body did not vote in stronger language.  We also all know of situations where single ministers did date someone in their congregations, and did so with great precautions and attention to the ethics, and those relationships led to healthy, happy marriages with no seeming damage to individuals or congregations.  Those relationships which were entered into with the knowledge and advice of colleagues, with a relationship that was not a secret hidden from the congregation, and where neither party was married at the time the relationships were entered into, well, it's a hard thing to ban two consenting adults from entering into this type of relationship.

Personal relationships wouldn't be allowed if we were doctors, or therapists, but clergy are neither of those things.  We are involved in being leaders of religious communities, and as such we can't be entirely separate from the community in the way that a doctor or therapist can be from his or her clients.  And for those clergy in isolated locations, it may be that just about anyone with whom they would be compatible are members of the congregation.  And for ministers of large congregations, there are members with whom they have very little relationship with at all, honestly.  There are just too many members to think that the minister can be counseling all of them, and some members hang on the edges of congregations, only coming to worship and not being involved in the other programs or committee work of the church.

In the end, this is a good code of conduct which is much more specific on this issue than previous editions.  We need to keep talking about this, of course, and the last point of the code calls us to be in communication with our colleagues about our relationships.  And of course, the flip side of this is that, as ministers, we must all be willing to confront colleagues acting unethically, as well.  And any code that encourages ministers to talk to their colleagues about their thorny ethical situations rather than encouraging them to keep those relationships secret because they know they're violating the code, is ultimately going to produce more healthy behavior. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Makes Us Human

I've been thinking about Bladerunner (aka Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick) lately.  In Bladerunner, there are androids ("replicants") which look fully human.  There's one way to really tell if someone is human or android, and that's to subject them to a specific test.  The test measures emotional responses to questions about animals--eating animals, wearing animals, animals in pain.  Here's a link to a scene showing it from the movie with Harrison Ford (embedding disabled). 

Why have I been thinking about this scene so much?  Seeing the images of the animals in the Gulf Oil Spill (like these from the Boston Globe):
It seems to me that our response to this situation is a test of whether we're human or not.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sarah Palin Provokes Me to Ask: What is Feminism?

I was strangely attracted to this Newsweek article this week on "Saint Sarah," which says:
Palin has been antagonizing women on the left of late by describing herself as a “feminist,” a word she uses to mean the righteous, Mama Bear anger that wells up when one of her children is attacked in the press or her values are brought into question.
 and also says:
In her speech to the SBA List last month, Palin derided the old feminism as a relic of “the faculty lounge at some East Coast women’s college, right?”—even as she wrapped the label around herself, channeling the pioneer wives who “made sacrifices to carve out a living and a family out of the wilderness.” Hers is a “mom of faith” movement, a “mom uprising.” It’s an emotional appeal, unfettered by loyalty to the broader policy agenda of traditional feminism. (Palin will praise suffragettes, abolitionists, and Margaret Thatcher, but not the early feminists who arguably paved the way for the 96 Republican women running for House seats in 2010.)
And this leads me to ask: What is feminism?

I've been calling myself a feminist since the 80's, and I did my D.Min. dissertation on Feminism in the UU ministry (a whole other issue is the quote in the article from a Harvard professor that says, "You hate to say it, but mainstream feminism has had an antireligious bias for a really long time").  So I ought to be able to give you a working definition of feminism.  I'll leave the deciding whether or not Sarah Palin is one to you.

So here goes:

What feminism is not:
  • Sadly, it's not a mandated stance on other isms, like racism and heterosexism.  It'd be nice if these things went together, but it's not mandatory.  You can be a racist feminist and you can be a sexist anti-racist.  Understanding the interlinking nature of oppressions is secondary.
  • It is also not, in my opinion, a mandated stance on abortion.  While for many it is required that you believe in a woman's right to control her body in order to be a feminist, I believe you can be a feminist and still believe that abortion is murder and that trumps a woman's right to choose.  I don't believe this, but I think it's a legitimate stance within feminism.
  • Feminism is not the same as just being a woman and interested in our own self-interests.  
What feminism is:
  • Feminism is definitely believing that a woman can do any job, hold any office.
  • Feminism is believing that women can also choose to stay home with families, and that women who choose this should have support.  This includes societal support for motherhood.
  • Feminism is believing that women should live lives free from rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.  Feminism is against all violence against women.
  • Feminism is believing that women should have the means to plan their pregnancies and to not have children if desired. 
  • Feminism is believing that women should not have to use their sexuality or their femininity for economic security or workplace advancement.
  • Feminism is believing a woman's work should be equally valued with a man's work -- equal pay for equal work.
  • Feminism is believing that it is not true that men's experiences are normative and women's experiences are other.
  • Feminism is against all forms of discrimination against women.
  • Feminism values women's experiences and artistic expressions. 
  • Lastly, feminism is a social movement that has the goal of bringing about change that creates situations for women that are equal to men's situations.
That's feminism.  Now, what is Sarah Palin?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Geeking Out Today: Theology and Science Fiction & Fantasy

Now for a break from UUA politics...

It's no secret that I'm a big nerd.  And like many other nerds or geeks, I love science fiction and fantasy, in movies, television, and books.  And as a minister geek, I love how there's so much in the genres of science fiction and fantasy that explores religion in really interesting ways, such as the complex religion that emerged in the Star Trek universe in Deep Space Nine, or the way Orson Scott Card took the hero's action of Ender in Ender's Game and turned it around and Ender became the Speaker for the Dead; or the way Philip Pullman takes on religion in the His Dark Materials series.  One of my favorite scifi books that creates a wonderful religion is The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  It's very rich--God is change.  One of my favorite movies is Cosmos, which I know a lot of people who loved the book didn't like, but I really liked the way it dealt with religion and didn't make it oppositional to science.  And of course there's always the obvious example of "the Force" in Star Wars.  There's a lot of over-simplistic religion as evil stuff in science fiction, too, but once you get past that, there's a lot of interesting explorations of possible world with different and interesting cosmologies and theologies.

This interest really started for me as a child, reading and re-reading the Narnia series, even though I didn't realize the Christian allegory in it at the time.  And at some point in high school or college I read A Canticle for Liebowitz.  And then, just as I was starting to explore Paganism, I read The Mists of Avalon.  A few years ago I started collecting recommendations from what is a fairly large group of similarly scifi-interested UU ministers, and as a result read The Sparrow and Children of God by Maria Doria Russell, and Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

And so I'm excited that in my minister's study group we're exploring popular culture this year, and one of the papers will be on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  There's a lot of interesting stuff in Buffy about the nature of the soul and what makes someone good or evil.  The series starts out with things fairly straightforward: Vampires and demons have no soul, and that makes them evil.  Then, as the series progresses you have some of the villains being humans, with souls, and a vampire without a soul starts helping Buffy, and some demons prove to benign, leading to greater questions about what makes good and evil. 

But what I'm really focused on right now, having completed my re-watching of Buffy about a year ago, and abandoning my re-watching of Angel mid-series, is Battlestar Galactica.  I avoided watching this for a long time, but now that the series is complete, I've been watching it on video.  It's hard for me to stick with a regular TV program, because of my irregular schedule.  I abandoned trying to keep up with Lost after two or three seasons. 

Battlestar Galactica is about a spaceship, the Galactica, that survives, along with a number of smaller non-military ships, the complete destruction of the 12 colonies of humans by the cylons, an race of andriods which were originally created by humans.  I'm still watching the final season, but what has fascinated me is the religions themes in Battlestar Galactica.  In Battlestar Galactica, the humans are polytheists.  They believe in the Roman/Greek gods and goddesses, such as Athena and Hera and Zeus/Jupiter.  Polytheism is the accepted and logical belief in their world, although many people take the religion fairly metaphorically and not literally.  The cylons, on the other hand, are monotheists.  They believe in one and only one true God.  This religious divide is part of what pits the cylons and humans against each other.  Monotheism, in the human world, is heretical and dangerous.  For the cylons, the humans are denying the true God. 

What this could be is a simple and familiar repainting of religion as bad and evil, since the cylons are evil, at least in the beginning.  However, since the humans are not atheists, but rather polytheists, their religion is, in the eyes of the viewer, less logical than the monotheism we see around us all the time, believed in by the majority of people in our country and Earth.  Because the cylons speak a more familiar language, and appear human, the audience starts to identify with them more, despite their quest to wipe out humanity.  It makes the relationship between the cylons and humans much more complex.

As the series progresses, the relationship between the cylons and humans becomes more complex, and so do their religious views.  We see that the things written about in the humans' scriptures are also in cylon legends, and turn out to be true.  We see cylons trying, clumsily, to create some sort of relationship with the humans, and how both humans and cylons are capable of betrayal, inhumanity, and evil. 

I haven't finished watching yet, and am pretty sure I'll be disappointed by the end of the series, but for now, it's great viewing.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arizona: Summing Up Where We Are So Far...

I don't know about you, gentle readers, but I'm having trouble keeping track of what's happening with the debate about whether or not to move the UUA General Assembly out of Arizona in 2012.  So for my clarification, I'm going to try to search it all out and sum it up here.

Calling for Boycott:
Against a Boycott:
  • The Valley UU Church in Chandler, AZ, wrote an open letter in opposition to moving GA2012.
  • The Arizona/Las Vegas cluster of UU religious professionals opposes boycott.
  • The Priestley-Kingsbury Chapter of the UUMA believes, with dissenting voices, that boycott isn't the best answer.
  • I believe there are other UUMA and LREDA groups which have stated opposition to boycott, but can't seem to find links for them.
  • The (admittedly newer) Facebook Page "Keep GA in Arizona - Phoenix 2012" has 74 members right now.
Individual ministers and bloggers and other individuals have taken stands on both sides.  And the UUMA remains neutral and supportive.  The Central Midwest and Ballou Channing chapters call for a re-examination of the GA situation, but don't call outright for boycott.

And then, the Rev. Michael Tino has proposed an alternative, that we have GA 2012 at another location and at another time, but that we hold an event of solidarity and justice in Phoenix at the time GA is currently scheduled for. 

And then, after all this, UUA President Peter Morales has issued a new letter.  We've been invited by Puente Arizona to come to Arizona during our GA 2012 time: "We invite you to transform your General Assembly scheduled for June, 2012 in Phoenix into a Unitarian Universalist convergence for human rights in Arizona."  The Rev. Morales concludes, "I believe we are compelled morally to accept this invitation. I recognize that the decision on where to hold GA belongs to the UUA Board of Trustees, but I believe we are called to go to Phoenix and create a GA like no previous GA."  

The Rev. Michael Tino has already outlined some problems with the proposal from the Rev. Morales.  Chief among them, to my mind are that the business of our association ought to be held at a place where all our delegates can come, and many UUs have expressed concern for their personal safety and have said they will not come to Arizona.  Secondly, he argues that it is pretty impossible to legitimately transform our General Assembly into a time significantly focused on this justice work, when we have all the business of our association to contend with.

Right now, I think the Rev. Tino makes a good case.  Our UU groups which represent people of color in this situation are largely on the side of calling for boycott.  I have a hard time believing that it's the right thing to do to hold a General Assembly, where we hold the votes on the business of our association, in a place many people feel legitimately unsafe in going to.  In fact, some people I have talked to in my own area have expressed their own concern with traveling to Arizona under this new law. 

And I hear that it's important, too, that we go to Arizona and protest, and that we've been issued an important invitation to do so.

Which leaves us at something very like the Rev. Tino's proposal of doing GA somewhere else, and going to Arizona with the purpose of working with our allies there to advocate for human rights and reform of this broken system.  If the event we have in Arizona is connected with a General Assembly, it will have to be a General Assembly dramatically reformed.  It will have to include ways for people to vote, on all issues, from out of the state.  It will have to include the setting aside of our usual GA culture and doing interfaith work and justice work instead of the usual workshops and exhibit-hall shopping.  We'll have to spend less time in plenaries highlighting one program after another so that we can spend more time on the streets.