Tag Archives: Polity

direct democracy in the UUA.

20 Nov

This post originally appeared at the Lively Tradition. Please leave any comments there. 

 

Assumption #1: That we want to bring more diverse voices to the table of governance at General Assembly.

Assumption #2: What we have been doing is not working.

Assumption #3: Continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

In a previous post (both on my blog and on the Lively Traditiondemoc4), I wrote that we may want to consider moving toward direct democracy (rather than indirect) in regards to who has a vote at General Assembly. In the thought experiment I proposed, some wise folks (tbd) would decide what UUA “Citizenship” means, and then everyone who meets those requirements would get a vote.

There were a variety of different responses to the post. Some people shared they like the delegate system as it is. To those of you in this camp, please refer to the assumptions above.

Other shared that they thought that when covenanted communities are given the right to vote, that this will bring more people to the table. This may be true, but I can’t help but wonder about scalability in this situation. If a covenanted community of 10 people gets 1 delegate, then a congregation of 1000 would presumably get 100, at which point it seems as though we might as well just give everyone the franchise.

Others leaned on our history in one of two ways. First, some felt that our system is “how we have always done it” and that therefore it should not be tinkered with. This is not actually accurate. At it’s formation, and until 1900, the AUA was only an organization with individual members. But this was before the internet, so people were not well connected to one another and this made the organization weak. The Unitarian universe was given an important boost in 1900 when the AUA merged with the National Conference of Unitarian Churches, which was congregations only. When the UUA was formed, the original bylaws had language in them around “Life Members” until the last of the Life Members died and that part of the bylaws were amended, sometime in the early to mid-90s (I believe).

The second way people leaned on our history was to talk about what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. In the early 90s and into the early parts of the 2000’s, there was a resurgence of interest in congregational polity. This resurgence contained within it the idea that you can not be a “real” UU unless you belong to a UU congregation. This membership argument proposed that those hundred thousand (or more) people who say that they are Unitarian Universalist but who don’t belong to a congregation, really aren’t UUs after all. This resurgence in covenant was important, because at the time we were really struggling to shift from a focus on who weren’t towards a more positive focus on who we are. By saying that covenanted community is what makes a UU, we were finding a positive (though very limiting) way to claim our identity.

Finally, when arguing against the idea of moving toward direct democracy, some people said that before we consider moving to such a model, we would have to have a better idea of what “citizenship” in the UUA meant. What would the requirements be?

I think I have a way to satisfy both the history folks and the “need a definition folks” in one big way. If we were to move towards direct democracy, I think that we could make “participation in a Unitarian Universalist Covenanted Community” a requirement.

Please note that I am using this term in the broadest sense: congregations are covenanted communities, but so are UU summer camps, and so are online communities, professional organizations such as the UUMA, and so many more. The UUA Board (with help!) would need to figure out how to define a covenanted community – I know they are working on it already.

In this model, Covenanted Communities would be able to define for themselves what “participation” meant, just as congregations can define for themselves what “membership” means. Some congregations have a financial donation as a requirement of membership, some do not. Some covenanted communities might have “participate in outreach once a year” or “volunteer in some capacity” or “show up” as requirements. This would be left to the covenanted communities to determine.

And I don’t think it needs to be too confusing. Tracking participation could possibly use the same system we use now. Congregations are supposed to update their membership information when new members join and when old members leave. This membership information means that they get the UU World but also places them on the mailing list for other UU-related issues as well. If our system is not robust enough for this level of tracking, well then we need some major technological upgrades because we should have a robust database that allows us to do all sorts of data mining.

Would this allow all the “free-range Unitarian Universalists” to suddenly have a say at General Assembly? No, because many of them don’t participate, and won’t, in any covenanted communities. But there are certain groups of people who would: young adults who participate in campus ministry, families who attend UU Camps but do not hold membership in a local congregation, DREs, community ministers and other religious professionals who often don’t get to be a delegate but who are very invested in the present and future of our faith tradition and who are members of their professional organizations (which definitely seem to me to be a covenanted community!).

Some might argue that these folks could/should just go join the CLF. For some, perhaps, this is a viable workaround. But it isn’t for everyone – and certainly not for religious professionals (for whom we have inadvertently created a second class of ministry). The UU Chaplain who works in a town without a UU congregation does not necessarily get to be a delegate if she joins the CLF, though other ministers who are serving or affiliated with congregations are still granted the franchise.

So, to summarize: I was originally proposing a move from indirect democracy to direct democracy as a thought experiment. While I am still open to considering alternatives, I am finding myself more and more excited by the possibilities. And I am deeply disappointed that this option was not discussed at all on the current “Re-Imagining UUA Governance” survey.

We have a history of allowing individual members, and the internet and social media are wonderful correctives to the disconnection that the AUA struggled with (and was weakened by) in the late 1800s. By requiring “participation in a covenanted community” as a requirement of UUA membership for individuals, we address the concern of the centrality of covenant to our relationships with one another, as it is in covenanted communities where we grow into our best selves and search for truth and meaning in our lives. These communities are where we worship, grow, share meals and serve together. They are where we explore and live our our values. Shouldn’t all Unitarian Universalists who have found such a community, whether it is a traditional brick & mortar congregation or in an emerging online covenanted community, be able to have a say in the direction of our faith tradition?

 

This post originally appeared at the Lively Tradition. Please leave any comments there. 

removing barriers to participation in governance.

21 Oct

Join me on a thought experiment, won’t you? In this blog posting, I want to explore an idea, not advocating a particular pathway; to think outside the box and see what happens.

Imagine with me that there is an organization called the Evolution Society. They have an important message about evolution that they want to share with as many people as possible – to really get it out there. They initially appeal to institutions of higher eduction, which join as members and provide funding. But other people want in – people who are not affiliated with the institutions of higher eduction. Some of those people have money they want to give to fund the expansion of the message. Some want to join because they want the snazzy brochures the Evolution Society puts out. Some live in areas where the Creationist Society is dominant and they want to keep in touch with people like them. These folks want in!

Credit: barebente

Credit: barebente

Now let’s say that some members of the Evolution Society really don’t want it to evolve. They want to keep their membership limited to institutions. They have agreed to expand the types of institutions that can join them, but these new types of institutions won’t be able to vote or participate in the governance of the society. And they encourage free-range members to join an institution, preferably a university or college. They are afraid of what might happen if they open membership up, and besides, doing it this way has worked for them for decades.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Evolution Society is struggling and exists only on the campuses of a few colleges and universities. They have become fringe. Instead of closing their doors, the Evolution Society lingers, slowly shrinking in both membership and relevance. Pretty soon, they are serving a bare minimum of folks and their message is not on the cultural radar. They are virtually extinct.

Meanwhile, the Creationist Society has been much less picky about who they let in. They they have established strongholds not only in the places where the Evolution Society already exists, but have expanded across the country and world. They have small groups, coffee clubs, and even bird watching groups that spread their message.

 

So here is my wondering: Is the UUA like the Evolution Society?

Yes, for a long time we have been the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

But a look at the cultural landscape tells us that that fifty years from now, religious life will primarily be lived outside of congregations. It might be lived in coffee houses or living rooms. It might be lived with smaller groups of people, seeking deeper and more intentional spirituality. It might be lived in yoga classes or birdwatching groups that connect their faith to the work they do to preserve songbird habitat. Congregations will, hopefully, continue to exist, but the number of people who feed their religious and spiritual needs that way will be small in comparison to the number 50 years ago.

So it was with interest that two pieces in the current UUA Board packet caught my attention. The Emerging Congregations Working Group submitted a proposal for the creation of Covenanted Communities, which are defined as claiming UU principles and sources, furthering UU values in the world, committed to being in covenant with the larger UU movement, etc.

I am excited about this idea, as it is a new way of addressing the Beyond part of Congregations and Beyond. At this time, the Working Group recommends that these Covenanted Communities not be member congregations – meaning they will not receive voting privileges. I understand why the Working Group made this recommendation – there will initially be vast amounts of confusion between what the difference is between”related organizations” and “covenanted communities.” By not giving Covenanted Communities voting rights (which related organizations also do not have), they are not privileging one group over another.

Perhaps, down the road, these groups will get the right to participate in our governance. I trust that the UUA Board and leadership will work through the complexities involved in making this happen.

But when I read the 2009 Fifth Principle Task Force Report, also included in the Board’s packet this month, it gave me pause, and I started to wonder.

Don’t get me wrong, the 5th Principle Task Force did an amazing job analyzing and laying out the issues with our current General Assembly process. Their conclusions advocate for a smaller, less frequent General Assembly, with fewer delegates but whose registration and room and board are paid for. Yay! This is great!

As an aside: They also express concern that “Substantive linkage and distant delegates participating through offsite voting are initially a clash of values” and so advocate that technology being used for learning and for observing, but not participating in the actual governance. As someone who was an off-site delegate this year, I disagree. It was such an amazing experience to be able to participate in our General Sessions from afar.

But getting back to the issue at hand. One might argue that both these reports seem to want to continue to put up barriers to participation in our governance, when perhaps we may want to consider the exact opposite. What it would look in the future if, instead, we opened up governance up to all Unitarian Universalist “citizens”?

I have heard the argument that one must be a member of a congregation to be a Unitarian Universalist, because we are a covenantal faith and you must be in covenant in a congregation in order to be a part of us. But people are demonstrating left and right that we can be in covenant with one another in ways other than through congregations. This means that requiring membership in a congregation has become a barrier to participation for many people who consider themselves Unitarian Universalist but are not members of a congregation. If we are looking to remove barriers to participation in our governance, might we want to look at opening the possibility of participation up to even more people, rather than further reducing it?

In this model, certain important elements would not change. We would continue to need a very strong Board of Trustees. We would continue to have an Administration and Staff that work to achieve the ends of the Association. The UUA would still provide strong support to congregations and other covenanted communities. I am only suggesting that we look at who can vote, and imagine what it might be like if we considered opening it up instead of locking it down.

We would need to work out some details, such as how to determine UUA “citizenship” – but that is an exploration for another time. I trust that our great minds can figure such a thing out.

I believe that we need a robust Unitarian Universalist Association that can serve stakeholders that may or may not belong to a congregation. A UUA where all who meet certain “citizenship” requirements are able to participate, whether or not they are affiliated with a congregation. We have more free-range Unitarian Universalists than we do congregation members. Many of these folks were raised in our congregations. Might we want to allow them to have a say in the future of our faith tradition?

I understand this sounds like heresy. As I said, this is a thought experiment. It seems to me that if we want to achieve our governance goals of greater and more diverse participation, direct democracy is going to be more effective than indirect (which is what we have now).

Culturally, younger people favor direct democracy. In addition, particularly as our technology continues to allow more and more off-site participation, more people would be able to participate. Direct democracy also gives privileges to marginalized voices – people who may not be their congregation’s delegate but whose lived reality adds important depth to the conversation.

We are moving into a post-congregational era of our cultural history. We see the signs all around us. Congregations won’t die out, I don’t believe that, but we won’t have as many as we have had, and more and more people who identify as Unitarian Universalists won’t belong to one. I want Unitarian Universalism to evolve with the times, and this means looking who we are.

What do you think? What are the pros/cons of direct/indirect democracy? And with these questions in mind, how might we best live our global end of “A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace in a manner which assures institutional sustainability”?

 

Unitarian Universalism’s relationship to Christianity, part 3.

15 Oct

In the first part of this post, over on the The Lively Tradition, I argued that whether or not we are Christian (which varies depending on how you define Christian), we are part of Christendom and that by saying we are not, we lose some of our power. In the second part, which I posted on this blog, I worked on some of the “so what?” issues.

All that being said, I also think Unitarian Universalism is moving toward something, as was mentioned in the comments on the original post.  Perhaps it is like cell mitosis, only instead of being an exact replica of the original cell, we are evolving into something different.

But I don’t believe we can move healthily in any new direction until we make peace with where we have come from.  Unitarian Universalists have had so many folks who came/come to us wounded and accepting “all religions except Christianity” for so long that, now, as our congregations embrace a more spiritual or theistic humanism it can look/feel like we are going backwards. But I truly don’t think we are – we are healing, which is absolutely necessary for us to move forward with strength and power.

Albuquerque UU, taken by Denis Paul.

Albuquerque UU, taken by Denis Paul.

A Universalist message of loving the hell out of the world is powerful.

A Humanist message that it is our responsibility to do so is powerful.

A Unitarian message of not having to think alike to love alike is powerful.

A Pagan message of we are all connected is powerful.

We need all this, and more.  Not one over/above another.  And not “all except this one…”

Indeed, if we look at our congregations, we see how they vary. Particularly if we break it down geographically, we find vast differences in how our message is incarnated in our congregations.

How wonderful that different aspects of our message appeal in different contexts, geographies, and congregations!  This flexibility, this fluency in a variety of different ways of being religious, gives us strength and power. It makes our faith tradition both unique and highly relevant to contemporary life.

a possible new approach for congregations to organize around their mission.

25 Aug

I have read quite a bit about congregation dynamics, organization, and governance in the past few years in addition to serving an historic, urban congregation. As our world and culture changes, so too must our congregations. We cannot keep doing things the way they were done in the 1950s. So what do we do, and what might that look like? Here is a model I have been tinkering with.

It is in our congregations that our mission and vision is best incarnated. It is through our congregations that we change ourselves, our communities and our culture. Please note that I am not using the traditional definition of “congregation” here, but am expanding it to include any community of faith. For these purposes, a congregation might be a covenanted community or other emerging organization that does not fit the traditional definition.

I propose a 6H Approach for congregations to use to serve their mission:

  • HEALING those participants who are spiritually wounded and struggling, providing resources (such as pastoral care and counseling) to those in spiritual need who choose to participate in the life of the congregation. So many people come to us desperate for our message of love and acceptance. And so many of those already with us have crises in our lives during which we need a community of love and support. Before any of the other steps can take place, people need to be spiritually rejuvenated.

  • HOLDING participants in care through providing opportunities for them to make connections with others in the congregation; and through worship and religious education opportunities that help them deepen their faith. This step must continue through the rest of the process, as it grounds participants in the congregation and its mission.

  • HEARING and honoring the the stories of participants, recognizing that each person and each story is unique and brings something to the table. An important part of this step is to create space to encourage participants to discern how they are called to minister to each other and to the world. There are deep discernment and spiritual direction components to this step.

  • HELPING participants to gain the skills/training/experience necessary to live out their ministry. It may mean saying “This does not fit with our mission” and returning to the HEARING phase. Provided the ministry does fit into the mission of the congregation, it may mean connecting them with an existing ministry. It means holding participants accountable and helping them create a plan for the ministry. It means helping a participant to learn/discover the risks/cracks in their plans. In this step, the congregation might provide leadership training, or grant writing training. Or perhaps the congregation would help connect participants with others in the local/extended community who are interested in or already doing similar work.

  • HANDING OFF the mission to the participant(s). Provided the ministry fits with the mission of the congregation, the congregation needs to trust the participants and not micromanage every level of detail of their ministry. The congregation should give the participant(s) access to the resources of the congregation (newsletter, facebook page, copy machine, etc.) with clearly defined policies, limits, and expectations.

  • HOMECOMING provides the essential accountability and ongoing connection between the congregation as a whole and the various ministries in which participants are engaging. Is the ministry effective? Does it continue to fit with the congregation’s mission? What might need to be updated? What is working that other ministries might be interested in replicating? This phase is also a time for people to review and renew (or change) their connections with different ministries – perhaps an individual will want to re-enter the Hearing phase for additional discernment.

With the 6H Approach, congregations could structure themselves around these different steps. There would still need to be strong governance of the congregation, but this would help organize the congregation’s ministry around its mission. In this way, with the mission at the forefront, congregations can better be about the work of transformation.

In the interest of transparency, I haven’t yet tried this out in a congregation but I hope to have a conversation around these lines with my congregation when I return from sabbatical.

I welcome feedback and thoughts/suggestions.

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