Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


When “Spiritual but not Religious” is not really enough: a Colleague’s Perspective

At the  June meetings of the UU Ministers’ Association, we had an entertaining and inspiring (as well as challenging) talk by the Rev. Lilian Daniel, a liberal Congregationalist minister from a Chicago suburb. Her somewhat snarky blog post of 2 years ago went viral. Her more recent book includes that but has a lot of other, more charming anecdotes and reflections about church community and the calling of parish ministry. Anyway, take a look:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lillian-daniel/spiritual-but-not-religio_b_959216.html

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Ministerial Installation–Chalice Lighting Words and Choreography

Chalice Lighting                  [Chalice & stand are up on the stage, over to right side near organ alcove]

[Narrated by alternating voices]

 We are people of a liberal faith assembled in celebration, this day!

As we draw inspiration from the traditions we share and affirm our common commitments, we prepare ourselves to light a chalice.

A symbol of Unitarian Universalist community.

A reminder of  the divine spark in each person: inherently worthy, infinitely gifted, inherently generous.

Each one of us part of a greater wholeness.

Each one of us a reflection of the light of love.  Let it illuminate our path!

Choreography:  Two adults  light the small candles held by four kids sitting on the aisle halfway in the back.  They carry the candles up and gather around an Adult Chalice Lighter, who will be holding a brass candle lighter.  She takes their lights together as one flame on one wick and remains standing on the steps of the organ alcove.

Narrated:

With the kindling of this flame, let us awaken our hearts and minds to the ministry we share.  All of us are leaders and learners together… in this faith, which extends love across the generations with gratitude and with grace.

Choreography:  Adult Chalice Lighter walks the flame up the steps of the organ alcove, up the steps onto the stage by an elder or a youth.  From the other side of the stage, a girl does two cartwheels across the stage and stops to stand near the chalice, then takes the candle and lights the flame.  They pause, and then after silence returns, they move down together and take their seats.



Sermon: To Extinguish Evil: Reflections on the Death Penalty and Proposition 34

Sunday, September 2, 2012                                                               UU Society of Sacramento, California

Hymns:    #298, Wake Now, My Senses; #201, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah; #108, My Life Flows on in Endless Song.

Shared Offering to Support Mustard Seed School

A Pastoral Prayer for Labor Day Sunday

Sermon:  To Extinguish Evil

Today I want to ask you to consider capital punishment from a theological perspective.  Theology deals with our relationship to God, or that which is ultimate or transcendent, with our relationship to life itself and with our relationship to one another as human beings.  Some religions oppose capital punishment unconditionally and universally.  The most persistent opponents are the Quakers, the Church of the Brethren, and the Mennonites—all referred to as the “peace churches.”  Some other opponents include Buddhists, Humanists, Reform Judaism, and the Roman Catholic Church.[i]

Unitarian Universalism does not have a doctrinal opposition to capital punishment.  Among us we have a diversity of opinions.  (Indeed, after the early service today, a member explained to me where in my sermon he disagreed with me.)  But in General Assemblies over the years, delegates from UU congregations have voted to stand against capital punishment.[ii]  Some of our forebears in this liberal religious tradition led the fight against it—with their Unitarian faith in the dignity of every human life and the Universalist belief in a divine love that will not let anyone go.

Dr.  Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the father of modern psychiatry, and an early Universalist leader.  He argued that capital punishment was state-sponsored murder.  It degraded respect for life and it was an obstacle to social peace.

Benjamin Rush said:  “To inspire a veneration for human life, and [a] horror at the shedding of human blood, let all those laws be repealed which authorize juries, judges, sheriffs, or hangmen to assume the resentments of individuals and to commit murder in cold blood in any case whatever.  Until this reformation … takes place, it will be in vain to attempt to introduce … perpetual peace in our country.”

In 1844, the Universalist minister Charles Spear founded the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment.  He published a prison reform journal called The Hangman.  He and his brother edited a book of prisoners’ poetry in 1847.

You could call our Universalist ancestors radical Christians.  By radical, I mean they took to heart the verse in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus says:  “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).

Over two centuries after Benjamin Rush made his passionate arguments, a UU church member was discussing capital punishment with a conservative Christian friend of his and with me.  He said:  “It seems to me that 2,000 years ago a man named Jesus preached that we should stop going around killing one another.  How can we stop killing one another if we keep killing one another?”

I believe we should abolish the death penalty for a number of reasons.  First:  A costly part of our criminal justice system, it does not reduce crime, is not an effective deterrent for murder.[iii]  Also, it makes all citizens of the State responsible for a killing.  Nearly every other Western democracy has abolished the death penalty. So have Brazil, Israel, Mexico and the Philippines.  The United States belongs to a shrinking club of death-penalty countries, including Iran, Iraq, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Yemen and Afghanistan.

In the United States, capital punishment falls disproportionately on ethnic minorities.  It falls even more heavily on the poor, the uneducated or the illiterate.  Those who are rich or well connected usually avoid it.

Finally, it is statistically not possible to avoid executing some innocent people.  If, on the other hand, we sentence a person to life in prison, we leave open the door to catch mistakes that could not be reversed if we kill someone.

For me to be ethically honest, if I claim to value reason and fairness, I cannot support capital punishment.  Yet part of me finds it appealing!  Most of the prisoners on death row have carried out disgusting and heartless crimes.  If anybody deserves execution, most of them do.  I won’t mourn them.

Moreover, if I had to prepare a list of people deserving execution, I would want to include even more names on it.   To the ranks of the cruel and stupid I would add the names of many people who never even got charged with a crime.  I would add human traffickers and drug lords, tyrannical heads of state and those treasonous officials whose lies have caused the devastation of people and communities here and in other lands.  In the most angry and vindictive parts of my brain I fantasize about helping them feel the consequences of their actions with my own hands.

My fantasies are not rational, of course, and I don’t think I would act on them.  But it seems to me that capital punishment appeals to a much deeper part of us than our reasoning capacity.  Think about executions from the perspective of an anthropologist or a sociologist of religions.  Even in societies with non-religious governments, like ours, public rituals have religious dimensions.  Public rituals of all kinds help us to organize our impulses and channel our energies.  And execution is a ritualized process, starting with trials, sentencing, and the appeals process.  As an execution draws near, we hear of dramatic courthouse appeals and the jailhouse ceremonies, like the last meal. Tension rises and can be released only by a definitive result.

In the sentence of death and the eventual killing, we may achieve communal catharsis.  We try to purge an evil one from our midst, and extinguish evil from our world.  We strive also to purge our emotions of disgust and rage.  I think this is why the death penalty appeals to so many of us.  Yet I think this drama is a distraction.  It distracts us from the many ways that we can protect one another, ways that are much less visible or dramatic than executions.

What we need is more attention on the investigation and prosecution of crimes.  We need to devote more resources to catching criminals in the first place and caring for victims.  We need to devote more attention to crime prevention.  Crime prevention is painstaking work, and largely invisible.  The work of building safe and healthy communities is quiet.  We don’t notice when it’s working, because it’s not dramatic to be safe.  Murders are dramatic; so are executions.  An execution can make us feel that we are doing something.  We may feel exhilarated after an execution, or relieved, or sad, or outraged, but we feel something.  Crime reduction is, at its heart, ordinary work, with few eye-catching moments.

As a young minister years ago, I was having dinner with a parishioner and a business acquaintance of his.  Somehow I found myself in a conversation with this stranger about capital punishment.   His opinion was that that we are “too easy on criminals.”  When someone commits a violent crime, we shouldn’t have a trial, we should just take him out and shoot him.  I said that this would lead to the execution of many innocent people.

He said, “No, I mean when we know they did it, when someone saw them do it, we should kill them right away.”

I responded, “This is what we did through most of our history.  It’s called lynching.  Groups of people would be certain that someone was guilty of a crime, even without evidence.  Sometimes they would be sure they saw the crime, sometimes they would lie.  Or they would believe what others told them, or what ever they wanted to believe.  Then they would gang up on someone.”

In the early years of the Protestant Reformation, a Spanish physician named Michael Servetus was killed by a government in front of a mob of pious people.  A genius of many talents, he discovered the pulmonary circulation of the blood.  Loving religious argument, he opposed baptism of infants and the doctrine of Original Sin.  Among his controversial books was one entitled On the Errors of the Trinity.  This title might not make a big splash these days, but in 1531 it was scandalous and subversive.  Protestant reformer John Calvin went after Servetus for his dangerous heresies.  Servetus would not give up his arguments, so Calvin convinced the civil authorities of Geneva, Switzerland, to convict him.  They sentenced him to death—burning at the stake, with his books bound to his waist. At the time, the good leaders of Geneva thought they were doing the right thing to kill an evil heretic.  Now, of course, a memorial to Servetus the martyr stands in Geneva.

I believe the temptation to kill others for moral purposes comes from a desire to extinguish evil from the human community.  Evil actions are undeniably real—from cruelty to animals, to atrocities against enemies, to sadistic violence against random victims or familiar ones.  It’s tempting to think we can separate out the bad guys and extinguish evil.  But we need not look far to find examples of good folks doing evil acts against others.

I am human.  Therefore, nothing that any human being has done is beyond possibility for me.  Half a century ago, Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? [iv]

Proponents of execution say it gives emotional closure to the loved ones of the murder victims.   This may be true in some cases.  However, as I understand grieving, it is not something with a door you can open or shut.  Grieving and healing is a process that takes a long time.  I have not lost a loved one to murder, fortunately, so I can’t say for sure.  But this is how it seems to me:  An execution might give us a sense of release or of safety, but it cannot end the grief or stem the anger.[v]  Moreover, in those cases where the killer is a relative, the family’s agony at the murder is compounded by the killing of another family member.  And this agony is drawn out by the Constitutionally-guaranteed legal steps that must precede all executions.[vi][vii]

Now back to theology.  An important theological dimension is the question of repentance.  Repentance involves accepting responsibility for a wrong and turning away from evil.  Repentance involves a genuine request for forgiveness.  So long as a criminal is alive there is the chance that he will repent.  But if the State takes that person’s life, it cuts off his chance to repent.  By executing someone the State is assuming to know more than God does about that person’s potential for repentance.

The view of religious humanism is equivalent to this, even though it does not base this on a reference to belief in God.  In the terms of religious humanism, an execution says that a convict’s life no longer has any worth, no potential for any improvement, no chance for doing any good.  But there are stories about such changes.  Some violent criminals use their life in prison to become educated and make a difference in society, even though they are behind bars. Some write or speak to young people to scare them off the path of criminal behavior.   Some convince fellow inmates not to return to the dangerous spiral of crime when they are released.  Such stories are signs of hope for the potential in any human being.  An execution is a surrender of hope in that potential.

You may argue that a murderer has already surrendered that hope.  He has forfeited the right to repent and the right to turn his life around.  After all, a murderer has stolen from his victims the freedom to live and grow and give to the world.  Why should we preserve his right to life, if he has valued life so little?

This point of view is understandable.  But there is a very important exception to it.

That exception is this:  not all of the people whom the State would execute are guilty for the murders for which they were convicted.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid convicting some people who are innocent.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee, said this in 2001:  “If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.”  She also noted that many of the lawyers appointed in death cases are inadequate.  She said we should consider setting minimum standards for such lawyers to meet, and better pay to make it a more competitive job.[viii]

Inadequate legal representation and unjust executions no doubt hit the poor and the uneducated more than the rich, clever or privileged among us.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, said:  “I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on [the] eve-of-execution . . . in which the defendant was well represented at trial.  People who are well-represented at trial do not get the death penalty.”

For the past few decades, governors and legislators in most of our states have not had the will to change a system that is arguably cruel, clearly unfair, and probably racist.  Many politicians have not summoned the compassion to spare the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, or even adolescents from execution.  Most elected public prosecutors could not get re-elected if they admitted the flaws of the death penalty process.  For example, since December, the California Supreme Court has reversed six death sentences.[ix]  Last Monday the court found prosecutorial misbehavior in the case of a murder in San Jose.

Only recently has it become possible to evaluate the human DNA taken from crime scene evidence.  By comparing this DNA to that of a convicted inmate, scientists and lawyers have freed numerous innocent people.  Without the DNA evidence and the hard work of some lawyers, some innocent people would have died.  Because this technology is so new, it is certain that many innocent people have been put to death in the past.

In the late 1990s, George Ryan, the Governor of Illinois (my former home state), responded to the findings of a state commission on the death penalty.  Since 1977, the State of Illinois had executed 12 people.  However, in that same period, 13 death-row inmates had been exonerated and set free.  The Governor said:  “We freed 13 innocent men who were nearly strapped to a gurney in the state’s death chamber so that fatal doses of poison could be injected into their blood streams.  That is the ultimate nightmare.”

Ryan issued a moratorium on executions in Illinois.  Later he commuted sentences of death to life in prison for all prisoners on the State’s death row–159 men and four women.  Ryan said:  “If government can’t get this right, it ought not to be in the business of passing such final, irreversible judgment.”[x]

Governor Ryan was no softie and no saint—a conservative Republican, he was later convicted of corruption and put in prison.  Yet even with his ethical blind spots, he could not turn his eyes away from an unjust system.   A few years later, their Democratic governor was convicted of corruption and put in prison—Illinois is bi-partisan that way.  His replacement, the current governor, signed legislation outlawing execution.

Without the death penalty, the highest punishment possible is a life sentence without the possibility of parole.  This means that if convicted and sentenced, you will die in prison, but the people of the state will not execute you there.  Seventeen of our states do not have capital punishment, and California voters have a chance to end it here on November 6, when we vote on Proposition 34.

Many (but not all) crime victims’ families have come out against the death penalty, saying that killing the killer of their loved one won’t change anything, saying they don’t want more violence to follow the violence they’ve already had to face.

This is a tender topic.  Thinking about it calls for listening and compassion.  First, compassion for people who are bereft because killers have taken their friend or loved one.  Compassion for those with grief and rage who feel that nothing less than execution will suffice.  Compassion for those who are able to begin taking steps toward mercy and forgiveness.   I heard the story of a woman who began to made a prison visit to see the young man incarcerated for his role in the death of her own son.  She wanted to understand how it happened, and see who he was, this child who took her child.  She met him, and then visited again.  She began making regular visits.  Eventually she told him that she did forgive him.  Because his conviction was for less than first-degree murder, due to the circumstances of his involvement in it, this young man’s sentence was completed, and he was released.  He had no family support, no where to go.  She invited him to stay with her.  He moved in.   She let him sleep in the bedroom of the son that he and his friends had taken from her.

Our idealistic Universalist ancestors would be heartened by this account, but not shocked.  I am not sure I can live up to such an example of courage, but I am humbled by it.  Thinking about this topic calls for humility.

We have so many choices in life.  People of conscience and faith wrestle with so many decisions, wrestle with doing the right thing.  When we vote, when we make choices on a paper ballot, we again wrestle with decisions of high significance.

I close with these words from former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.  He said this:  “Let the states that still use the death penalty stay their hand, lest in time to come they look back with remorse knowing it is too late to redeem their grievous mistake.”

This is my prayer:  Let us stay our hand.

So may it be.


[v] In the Judeo-Christian tradition, murder is a harm against people and a sin against God.  “Thou shall not kill” is a commandment of God, not of human beings.  The purpose of Judeo-Christian laws regarding punishment was to eliminate blood feuds, to stop the cycle of revenge killings.  Biblical punishments now seem grim, but they were invented to restrain our lust for revenge.  What this means in a secular democracy is this:  a crime may be a harm against a person, but it is a crime against society, a crime against the common good.  Legal punishment is society’s way of gaining justice for a violation of society’s standards.  Punishment is about justice, not revenge.

[vi] From the ACLU to the NRA to Tea Party Patriots, we hear of the sacred importance of our U. S. Constitution.   This is the document that says we do not do not hold people in jail without charges, do not convict the accused without a fair trial, do not condemn criminals without due process.  This is why a death-penalty convict has appeal rights.

[viii] “Across the Nation & Around the World.”

[x] “Illinois may spare 163 on death row,” by Ralph Frammolino, San Francisco Chronicle, March 5, 2002, p. A#.

For More Information:  See “Facts about the Death Penalty,” from the Death Penalty Information Center.  http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf



#1: Phoenix General Assembly and Ministry Days 2012, June 19-24, 2012

 

Monday

Brisk walk from home to Yolobus near Capitol, $2 ride to Sac airport Monday morning.   Caught a Phoenix cab to our rented house (thank God cabbies now have GPS) along with newly called minister to large River Road Church in Maryland/DC burbs.  She’s an amazing younger minister; her professor hubby just published book Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters.

My former intern and her minister husband like to find house rentals and avoid hotels for GA, and I’m one of the privileged.  We are in historic Encanto/Palmcroft neighborhood in a Spanish villa with a pool, TV room, wine chiller, and four bedrooms.  Wanna see it?  Click here.  With nine of us it’s cheaper than a hotel.  Two ministers made a grocery trip:  lots of chocolate bars!  A Florida minister made us a nice veggie dinner, which we enjoyed with reminiscences from seminary days.  Then a few of us did a run through of a readers’ theater play we will give at a workshop at GA on Friday.  We all turned in early.  Today’s temp was 112.  My roommate here has been a minister 24 years.  He did his seminary internship in our church 25 years ago!  Now serving in a co-ministry with his wife on an island in Washington state.

 

Tuesday

Today is Day one of the two Ministry Days (UU Ministers’ Association).  Got up at 5:30; the east coasters got up first.  Coffee by the pool after two folks swam, conversation about ministerial pensions and UUA fair compensation standards.  Half-hour bus or light rail ride to convention center; week’s pass only $17.  Hi-carb breakfast at the center, hello all around to familiar faces and a long conversation with a colleague in his 8th year in a southeast church of 650, just now getting a second minister!

 

Opening worship featured Susan Frederick Gray, minister in a Phoenix church, about the experience of serving in AZ with the police-state rule of Sheriff Arpaio here and the law known as SB 1070.   Powerful sermon, with prayer by my colleague from Milton, MA, who is on the UUMA Board.  Offering to support AZ Interfaith Worker Justice organization.

 

Coffee break led to more catching up with several folks and then a great presentation on social justice activism paradigms by Starr King School for the Ministry president and scholar from UC Riverside, and panel with UUA President, UU Legislative Ministry (California) Senior Minister, and African American minister from Arlington, VA.  Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.  Each presenter ended with a question we should discuss with folks near to us in groups of 2 or 3.

Chatted with CA pals on way to lunch room, then lost them.  Had long lunch visit with my first UU minister (from 1985!); a great listener!  Workshop on interfaith social justice activities with a panel of AZ rabbi, Methodist minister, Episcopal lay leader.  Coffee with senior colleague Doug and an accumulation of 5 other Pacific Central ministers at Starbucks sitting outside in 108 heat (thawing out after the AC morning).  Was approached by a few seminarians trying to find a church to do their internships.

 

Attended the Q&A with UUA denomination president Peter Morales.  In a past career he worked for the State and lived in Sacramento.  Went for a long walk outside to drop a greeting card off at a colleague’s hotel room to mark her 25 years in the ministry.  (Those marking 25 and 50 years in our ministry will be honored Wednesday morning, as well as those  ministers who have died in the past year.)

 

My eyes were dry, my lips were dry, my new tennis shoes may have been melting on the sidewalk, though a posted sign said it was only 108.

 

For dinner, met up with ministers from Hayward and Walnut Creek (CA) and central PA and Virginia/DC suburbs (both of them used to be in our district).   We dined outdoors, with ceiling fans and mist-ers; when the wind was blowing right it even felt chilly under the mist.  I found my way to light rail and the 15 minute walk home, with dry eyes again.  At the house, folks are watching the Seattle Mariners play the Arizona Diamondbacks.  I had seen crowds walking from light rail to the ball park downtown.



YOu know how much I hate to brag… but Adult Programs at my church are worth crowing about

Associate Minister’s Annual Report, Part 1

We have a congregational meeting this Sunday, May 20.  In anticipation of that, I’ve been talking with folks and thinking about a summary of some of the many changes we have experienced and made happen at UUSS.  My areas include Child/Youth Religious Education,  All-Ages Community Building, Management of Administrative and R.E. Staff (including facilities and finance-related matters), New Member Orientations and support of our great Greeters/Ushers, and Adult Enrichment.

Here is a list of the many adult programs we have hosted in the past 12 months, give or take.  Since I am going to Boston for meetings of the grants panel on which I serve, I may not be able to add other reports before Sunday.

Continuous Classes and Groups

UU Readers Book Discussion (monthly)

Poetry Circle (monthly, no longer meeting)

Fencing (semi monthly, no longer meeting)

Tai Chi

Easy Yoga

Chair Yoga

Saturday Meditation (monthly, no longer meeting)

Prayer Circle (drop-in, starts June)

Strangers’ Feasts (circle suppers, starts again in fall)

Documentary Film Club (monthly, no longer meeting)

Women’s Group  (semi monthly)

Gen’X Boomers Fellowship Group

Walkers and Talkers (weekly)

 

Time-Limited Courses and Series

Immigration as a Moral Issue

Health Care Reform

Vegetarian Cooking

God and Consciousness

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (2 series)

Palestine/Israel Study Group

Atheist Spirituality

Prayer Circle

Health Care Action Study

Photo Magic for Dummies

Journal and Journey

Soulful Sundown

Global Garden of Unitarian Universalism

God, Consciousness, and Spiritual Literacy

Discussion of “The Power of Now” (starts in May)

 

One-Time Discussions/Presentations

Introduction to the Mormon Religion (June 3)

Summer post-sermon discussions

Unitarian Universalist Heritage and Identity (August 5)

1568 to Today:  Unitarians in Transylvania  (May 29)

Slide Show and Conversation about UU churches in the Philippines

Related Activities to Appreciate,  but not Organized by Adult Enrichment

Newcomers’ Orientation to Membership (3 series/year)

Betty Ch’maj Event with Meg Barnhouse & Kiya Heartwood (April 28)

Alliance Program (monthly, September through May)

Social Responsibility Network:  Beyond these Walls (monthly speakers)

Spiritual Grounding for Leadership (application only)

Congregational Conversations (first Sunday of every month, September through May)

Sunday Soups (twice monthly, winter months)

Theater One performances (two plays yearly, plus one summer worship service)

CUUPS Labyrinth Walks

CUUPS Pagan Holiday Ritual Celebrations

Interweave’s Facilitation of a UUSS presence at LGBT Pride Parade and Fair (June 2)

Attendance of Staff, Lay Leaders and Minister at District Assembly (Pacific Central District, UUA)

What did I leave out that you remember from the past year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Politics and Policy Advocacy and Religious Communities–questions about church/state separation

A member recently asked about materials displayed at our Social Responsibility Network table after church.  The question:  What about the separation of church and state?

A good and important question.  The constitutional prohibition has to do with restricting government rather than religion.  The government can neither interfere in the free exercise of religion nor establish or support any particular religion.   The restriction on religion in this regard is that it cannot get the government to favor its theology or promote its message.

Churches, and all other not-for-profit organizations, are prohibited from using tax-deductible funds from advocating for candidates for office, political parties, or any partisan political issues.  They may, however, raise awareness about civic issues and governmental policies, including explicit advocacy for or against particular policy actions:  abortion rights (pro or con), gay rights (pro or con), civil liberties (pro or con), capital punishment, funding of military aid to Israel or Colombia, budgetary priorities regarding food or medical care, and the many, many ballot initiatives.

Hence, our Social Responsibility volunteers legally may gather signatures at church for a proposition to end the death penalty, raise taxes, etc.   The church bylaws do make it clear that this must be in the name of the committee and not in the name of the church–unless and until the proper procedures have been followed for taking an official stance.  On some issues, our denomination’s General Assembly delegates have debated and taken specific positions, and often a church will get involved in that issue, such as immigrant justice and marriage equality.

A limit:  The amount of a church or other not-for-profit organization’s budget that may go toward policy advocacy is limited to a small percentage of the total budget.   If spending goes above that limit, then the organization risks losing its nonprofit 501(c)3 status.

I think this limit is now 15%.  Our congregation and our denomination spend well below 5% of resources on policy advocacy.  We spend most of our budget on personnel, who spend their time serving the needs of our members and friends, holding Sunday worship, hosting a community garden, paying utilities, playing music… having fun!

To learn more, check out The Real Rules.



Some folks still aren’t sure what to expect at the upcoming General Assembly in Phoenix

from the
Unitarian Universalist Association
General Assembly June 20-24, 2012

There will be something for everyone at this GA, no matter where you may be in the spectrum of social justice work.  Whether you’re a seasoned activist or a beginner, there will be educational and preparatory programming and other opportunities for you to have meaningful involvement.

There will be community events outside as well as work done indoors. Phoenix will be hot, but you will be able to limit your exposure. GA housing is very close to the Phoenix Convention Center, and there are many food options within the Center. There will be an exhibit hall – the Justice GA Expo – with social justice exhibitors and resources. GA programming will be focused on justice issues, including topics such as the spiritual foundations of justice work, the theology of social justice, as well as a more tactical focus on organizing.

There will be Plenary sessions for governance, as well as programming and worship such as the Ware Lecture and Service of the Living Tradition. A preliminary schedule of events is available.

Much more information about the upcoming Justice General Assembly is available at www.uua.org/ga.

UUA General Assembly
 www.uua.org/ga