The 2016 UUA General Assembly reaffirmed last year’s vote to support the Black Lives Matter movement with spirited worship services, packed workshops, and an offering of almost $90,000 to support the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) organizing collective. A rally for racial justice featured black organizers and faith leaders, as well as a public statement by the leaders of four denominations who pledged unity “in the struggle for justice and compassion.”
“That means supporting the struggle for Black Lives Matter,” added the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who was flanked by the presidents of the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Islamic Circle of North America at the rally June 23.
The featured speaker at the rally, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a leader of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement, brought hundreds of people to their feet with his diagnosis that injustice, inequality, and oppression in American society reveal a “heart problem.” “If the heart malfunctions, the whole body gets sick,” he proclaimed. Barber called upon UUs and people of faith to “stop what you’re doing” and “keep shocking the heart.” As the audience leapt to its feet clapping and cheering, he shouted, over and again, “It’s time to shock this nation!”
Delegates responded generously to a fundraising appeal from BLUU and the UUA Board of Trustees, giving $89,980 by the close of GA to the Black Lives of UU organizing collective. “Thank you for investing in black leadership,” organizer Lena K. Gardner told the assembly. “Thank you for investing in black lives. Let this be the beginning of a journey together.” Congregations and individuals contributed $31,700 toward the total before GA started. Some of the money helped to bring seventy-one black UUs to GA who might not otherwise have been able to attend; some will pay for a Black Lives of UU Convening later this year.
Signs of commitment to racial justice work did not mean that UUs had arrived in the Promised Land, however. Frustrated by “uneven progress” from UU congregations, youth caucus leaders—supported by BLUU organizers—drafted a responsive resolution demanding a multiyear report on antiracism work from the UUA. (Read the text of the responsive resolution.)
Moderator Jim Key invited the youth onto the stage, where several took the microphone. Kloie Rush-Spratt, a young adult from First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, told the assembly: “You say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but there are no black lives in some of your congregations. You are saying it to yourselves.”
Delegates approved the responsive resolution overwhelmingly, and the Board of Trustees plans to discuss its appeals over the next few months.
[Read more of UU World’s General Assembly coverage.]
Other General Assembly business
Delegates approved a business resolution, “Thanksgiving Day Reconsidered,” which calls for a period of “truth and reconciliation” regarding the English settlement of North America, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims in 2020. Unitarians trace their religious roots to the Puritan settlement of New England, and several UU congregations were established in the seventeenth century.
Delegates did not pass a business resolution that had been introduced as a divestment resolution targeting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The text of the resolution that came to the floor did not call for divestment, because the UUA in March implemented a new human rights investment screen that removed shares in the companies the resolution targeted. But the symbolic import of calling for divestment aroused strong feelings from supporters and opponents. After lengthy debate, which ran over by more than an hour, the resolution received less than the two-thirds support it needed to pass. A counted vote showed 774 delegates in favor (54 percent) and 647 against (45 percent).
The Commission on Social Witness (CSW) presented three of eight proposed Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) to delegates, and all three passed with overwhelming support: expressing solidarity with Muslims, advocating gun reform following the Pulse nightclub massacre, and affirming support for transgender people. (Update 7.21.16: The final texts of all resolutions are now online.)
Delegates also approved a one-year suspension of the AIW process for next year’s General Assembly in New Orleans, to make time available for other kinds of justice education and action. And delegates picked the next four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue: “Corruption of Our Democracy.”
This year, 3,780 people registered to attend GA, including 204 youth, with another 154 registered to participate off-site. (Update 7.11.16: A review of the official delegate count identified 1,842 delegates, including 126 off-site, and adjusted the total number of registered participants down from 3,788 to 3,780.)
GA’s public witness event—the racial justice rally featuring William Barber—had to be moved from the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to a convention center ballroom because of severe thunderstorms. Although the event lost some of its public visibility as a result, it still attracted local media attention.
Another act of UU public witness also drew media attention. When the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church announced it planned to picket outside GA, UUs mobilized a peaceful response. A dozen UU volunteers wore large white angel wings that had been used the week before to block Westboro protesters from interrupting funerals for victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Approximately 200 UUs marched with the angels to surround the handful of Westboro protesters during their lunchtime vigil.
Unitarian Universalists were in a generous mood at GA. In addition to their gifts to BLUU, GA-goers also gave $68,265 to the Living Tradition Fund (which provides assistance to ministers in financial need), $9,120 to the Katie Tyson Fund for Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and $50,800 to the Horizon Prison Initiative, which works with prisoners in Ohio. The UUA’s “Be a Friend” individual donor campaign raised $29,549.
In an uncontested election, the General Assembly elected a new financial advisor, Lucia Santini Field, and three new trustees: Sarah Dan Jones, Richard Jacke, and Elandria Williams. Dorothy Holmes and Denise Rimes, who were appointed last year to fill vacancies, were elected to full terms on the Board of Trustees. Randy Burnham, Ken Wagner, and Amanda Weatherspoon were elected to the Nominating Committee.
Additional GA business coverage: