Last week I had the honor of being part of an interfaith panel titled Peacemaking in Times of Division. The event took place at Barry Law School. The flyer says more about the context and other participants who represented Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Protestant Christianity.
In accepting the invitation to be part of the panel, I felt the need to represent not just my own perspective but that of Unitarian Universalism. This made me very appreciative to have a Statement of Conscience (SOC) from our Unitarian Universalism Association (UUA) for reference. You can read the Statement of Conscience titled Creating Peace here.
My appreciation for the Statement of Conscience made me more committed to the process by which it was derived. That process uses Congregational Study/Action Issues (CSAI) to engage Unitarian Universalists on contemporary issues. The process not only produces Statements of Conscience, but also encourages congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists to be more intentional about their actions and their participation in public dialog.
I described the process in a sermon about reproductive justice last Sunday.
First Unitarian Church of Orlando is a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association or the UUA. The UUA is an association of congregations, run democratically. One of the manifestations of that democracy is the annual gathering of delegates from the member congregations, known as General Assembly, or GA.
While at General Assembly, the delegates do a lot of business on our behalf. Among the things that they do is to pick issues for congregations to study and act on (thus the name Congregational Study/Action Issue or CSAI). Every other year, delegates choose a new topic. Those congregations that choose to, study the topic. They engage in actions. They reflect on those actions. They report back to the next General Assembly on their experiences. For each topic, this happens three times and then, if possible, delegates adopt a Statement of Conscience that is a statement that summarizes the views of Unitarian Universalists on the subject at hand.
In recent year, delegates have adopted Statements of Conscience on Creating Peace and on Ethical Eating. We are several years into a Congregational Study/Action Issue on Immigration as a Moral Issue. Last June, delegates adopted a new Congregational Study/Action Issue titled — Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling.
It can be very meaningful to engage these issues with a local congregation and then to be part of the larger conversation with other congregations. Personally, I find my perspective on the issues is clearer and deeper for the experience. Additionally, I appreciate the process itself. The process celebrates our commitment to the democratic process. It also gives us practice at engaging our differences. This was especially true with the Creating Peace Statement of Conscience.
After three years of study and action, a proposed Statement of Conscience on peace was presented to the delegates at General Assembly. Delegates concluded that it did not effectively capture the depth and breadth of sentiment with our Unitarian Universalist tradition. Of particular note for me was the reality that in our tradition “Many of us believe force is sometimes necessary as a last resort, while others of us believe in the consistent practice of nonviolence.”
The delegates, in their wisdom, sent the statement back for another year of study and action. The result was a much stronger statement that more accurately reflected our movement. It was that statement that I had to draw on as I prepared for the panel last week.
Finding our unity, while being honest about our differences, is the great challenge of collaboration with others. This is true at every level, whether in our congregations, our association, our community partnerships, or our interfaith coalitions.
In spite of the challenges, this work is important. It is through this discovery of unity and honesty difference, that together we may demonstrate the integrity needed to lead and to heal our fractured world.
The Congregational Study/Actions Issue and Statement of Conscience process is overseen by the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness (CSW). You can find more information on the commission and the process here.