Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Are we part of a larger movement? GA Access

This post started out as a way to generate discussion around some way of providing recognition to organizations with UU values that identified them as part of a larger UU movement - whether or not they were an Independent Affiliate (former or not). That discussion still needs to take place, but I am finding much of the "Sturm und Drang" of this discussion centers around General Assembly, its delegates, and the meaning of congregational polity.

Do (the former) "Independent Affiliates carry the vision and the work of UUism into the world, and to a larger pool of UUs at GA, in ways that congregations cannot" as the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald points out in his response to an earlier post? Or do they have "the undesirable of effect of creating pseudo-congregations, groups who had influence on the governance of the Association without having a degree of accountability equal to the member congregations" as Keith Goheen asserts in a November 23 post to the UU Historical Society chat list.

Does the IA presence provide a valuable education service to GA attendees, or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on governing an association of congregations?

What we are talking about here is access to several thousand attendees at GA. In other circles this would be referred to as lobbying. Having been one on Capitol Hill in a previous life, I never identified with Jack Abramhoff, but rather thought of myself as being a valuable resource on a complicated topic that was not well understood by the senators, representatives, and staffers who were making legislative decisions about that topic - and that my presence helped prevent what could be some serious mistakes based on lack of information. Others viewed it as a not so subtle attempt on the part of special interest groups to influence legislation. And while I can already hear the cries of "we are not special interests, we are the embodiment of UU values!" I would point out that many (legislative) lobbyists feel exactly the same way.

Does the [special interest lobbying] presence provide a valuable education service to [Congress], or does it divert them from what should be their primary role in focusing on [policy making for the United States]?

Now imagine that taxpayer money was used to subsidize the workshop and meeting space for these lobbyists while Congress was in session and you may have a sense of the indignation expressed by some UUs over what Goheen described as "the World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism...[rather than] a council model wherein thoughtful church
leaders assemble to reflect on and devise means by which the congregations
improve their individual and collective health."

I empathize with both views. Delegation selection is a haphazard and apathetic process in far too many congregations. Given a choice between a plenary session and a great workshop, even some delegates vote with their feet. If we really think we are going to be governed by congregational representation, we need serious change. Perhaps shifting the focus at GA from special interests to thoughtful discourse will do that - but I doubt it. I think it means that even fewer people would attend GA, with fewer of us talking to ourselves.

This "World's Fair of Unitarian Universalism" has inspired more first time (and multi time) UUs than "thoughtful reflection" could dream of. Particularly for us "comer-inners", GA provides a cacophony of sounds, sights, joy, diversity, conflict, and meaning that opens up the world. If we are to survive, we have to walk the line between inspiring a larger community of UUs and what may feel to long-timers as a sacrilege of our historical roots.