General Assembly vote endorses divestment, but allows for shareholder activism.
Delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 53rd General Assembly approved divesting the UUA of most of its investments in companies that produce or process fossil fuels, including oil, natural gas, and coal.
The June 28 vote in Providence, R.I., was held after 30 minutes of debate, but the resolution had overwhelming support. A wave of yellow voting cards rose when Moderator Jim Key asked for votes in favor of the business resolution.
The divestment resolution was carefully crafted over the past year and had the support of environmental activists, including the organization UU Ministry for Earth, as well as the UUA administration and Board of Trustees.
The resolution permits the UUA to keep some fossil fuel stocks in companies with which the UUA is engaged in shareholder actions seeking environmental justice. “The UUA has a long-standing history of fighting for our environment,” President Peter Morales said in a statement after the vote. “I am proud that we are going to put our money where our values are on this issue.”
At a mini-assembly about the resolution on Friday, June 27, the Rev. Peggy Clarke, minister of First Unitarian Society of Westchester in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., did propose one amendment, but it was defeated. Clarke asked that the UUA not be allowed to keep any fossil fuel investments. She said she didn’t believe that shareholder activism would work with this issue. “We’re not talking about asking a company to make a minor modification. We’re talking about the core of the industry. No activism will work in this case.”
Terry Wiggins, a member of First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, led the crafting of the agreement over the past year, along with the UU Ministry for Earth, the UUA Socially Responsible Investing Committee, and Treasurer Brennan. “We, private citizens and the private and nonprofit sectors, need to take matters into our own hands,” Wiggins said, “and use every strategy we can to convince the government and public at large of our planetary emergency, and that we must act now.”
The General Assembly in Providence—the UUA’s best-attended GA since 2007—drew 4,754 people, including 1,920 delegates from 579 congregations in all 50 U.S. states. More than 300 youth registered.
Delegates chose a new four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue, on rising economic inequality, and endorsed three Actions of Immediate Witness. The AIWs express support for the “Pray for Relief” Faith Summit on Stopping Deportations, affirm congregational commitments to prevent gun violence, and promote efforts to rescue victims of GLBT persecution in Uganda.
The General Assembly also completed the two-year approval process that adds a new “Inclusion” clause to the UUA bylaws. A related motion, to amend the UUA’s “Non-Discrimination” G-Rule, added “gender expression, gender identity, and sex,” replaced race with “racialized identity,” and inserted “family and relationship structure.”
Delegates approved other bylaw changes in response to the creation of an LLC to own the UUA Common Endowment Fund and to the creation of the Mid-America Region by three UUA districts that voted to dissolve last year.
The General Assembly’s programs this year were organized around the theme “Love Reaches Out.”
For Saturday evening’s public witness event, the UUA sponsored Providence’s WaterFire public arts festival, which is attended by thousands of local residents. President Morales and Moderator Key carried torches from the convention center to the river as hundreds of Unitarian Universalists in “Standing on the Side of Love” shirts followed on foot or on scooters. At the river, Morales and Key passed the flame to torch-bearers on boats—including UUs Ben Gabel, Isabelle Marshel, the Rev. Clark Olsen, and Jennifer Toth—who lit pyres in the center of the river. UUs mingled in the crowd, answering questions about their yellow “Love” shirts or gathering at a stage near the illuminated spire of First Unitarian Church to hear UU musicians including emma’s revolution.
The General Assembly gave a raucous ovation to Sister Simone Campbell, a Roman Catholic nun and activist, who called on UUs to “walk towards trouble” in the Ware Lecture, GA’s keynote address.
In his sermon at Sunday morning’s worship service, which was open to the public, the Rev. Mark Stringer said his congregation had to overcome squeamishness about other people’s religious beliefs and practices in order to participate in interfaith social justice work. “We are no longer known as the people who don’t pray or aren’t sure why we are a religion,” he said. “We are known as the people who show up.”
“Let’s choose to be the religion we are called to be,” Stringer said: “the religion whose love reaches out.”
The General Assembly raised $24,000 for Standing on the Side of Love, in honor of the public witness campaign’s fifth anniversary; $71,000 for the Living Tradition Fund, which provides aid to ministers in need; and approximately $500,000* through the “Brave Souls: UUs Pledge Over the Edge” campaign, which on Friday sent scores of UUs rappelling down the side of the convention center.
UU World’s complete General Assembly report will appear in the Fall 2014 issue.
Photograph (above): Cindy Davidson, a board member of UU Ministry for the Earth, spoke in favor of divesting from fossil fuel companies during the 2014 UUA General Assembly (©Nancy Pierce/UUA). Additional reporting by Sonja L. Cohen and Elaine McArdle. For additional General Assembly coverage, visit UU World’s General Assembly Blog and Twitter stream. Video and transcripts from major events are available on the UUA website.
Clarification 7.1.14: The final amount raised by the Brave Souls: Over the Edge fundraiser has not yet been released. Click here to return to the story.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
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