12 December 2004

Open Letter to Senator Bill Frist (Investigate Abstinence-Only Programs)

Dear Senator Frist:

Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a study that proves many of the federally funded abstinence-only programs mislead teens with inaccurate information. This is extremely disturbing to me, given that funding for such programs has increased dramatically in the past three years.

It is imperative that Congress review these misleading abstinence-only programs immediately. Real sex education saves lives, and information that is wrong, too little, or too late can have life-threatening effects. Programs that are harmful to our young people should not be funded by our government - period.

As a parent of two adolescents, I think that we must ensure that medically accurate information is available to children and youth in our society. Providing accurate information are essential for fairness and justice.

Providing accurate information is also essential from a moral values perspective. The refusal to provide comprehensive sexuality education in venues such as public schools is akin to sacrificing our children on an altar of ignorance and denial. By acknowledging that all people including our kids are sexual and that this sexuality is a positive part of our humanity, we can responsibly educate them to behave sexually and express their sexuality in a positive manner. A denial of this reality causes many societal woes ... increased teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, anti-gay violence, emotional hurt caused by unhealthy sexuality, and more.

The failure of our society to acknowledge this reality and provide appropriate education is often justified in the name of religion. Sacrificing our children on an altar of ignorance and denial in the name of religion reminds me of the story and Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 ... serving our children up as an "offering" to ignorance and denial in the name of religion would qualify as fundamentally wrong. Perhaps it's time for us to listen for the "angel" that can rescue our children from hurt and ignorance and that "angel" is comprehensive and medically accurate sexuality education.

Please follow through on your promise to review these programs. Our children deserve medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality information.

[Note: the author is a teacher-trainer for the "Our Whole Lives" lifespan sexuality education program jointly developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.]

02 December 2004

An Open Letter to CBS and NBC

On Tuesday night, I read that CBS and NBC are both denying the United Church of Christ request to buy ad time on the public airwaves managed by the broadcast networks. According to a UCC press release published on Tuesday, the written response from CBS and NBC is the following:

"According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too 'controversial.' 'Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations,' reads an explanation from CBS, 'and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.'

Apparently, NBC has rejected the spot for similar reasons."

It seems that God, Jesus, and the United Church of Christ all welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. But the CBS and NBC networks are more than willing to treat them as second-class citizens and also decide what theology is "appropriate" for the public airwaves. So much for the American traditions of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite that promote justice and fairness through their journalism. Rather than serving the cause of justice and fairness, both networks are willing to serve the needs of bigotry and intolerance.

22 November 2004

My Congregation's Difficulty with Welcoming Congregation

This response from my congregation's board was sent to me in my congregation's December 2004 draft newsletter that I received today:

To: All Souls at All Souls UU Church
From: Secretary, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Shreveport LA
Subject: Welcoming Congregation

The Board wants to clarify that the exploration of the Welcoming Congregation program is offered through the Social Concerns covenant group and is an opportunity for interested members to gain information and share experiences. The Board is not attempting to move the congregation toward pursuing this program and will leave that determination to the membership and the interest level generated.

And here is an edited version of the response that I sent to my congregation's Interim Minister, Board President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer:

I'm feeling both angry and sad about this recent board action. I feel betrayed by the board's retreat from UU social justice work. Furthermore, I feel betrayed by the board's treatment of the dedicated volunteers who have given their time in supporting what was intended to be a congregation-wide social justice effort.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is the board (acting on behalf of the congregation) approved our starting the Welcoming Congregation process when John was serving on the board a few years back. If my recollection of congregational history is correct, then I'm confused by the board's recent statement. Did the board vote to reverse their previous vote approving the start of the Welcoming Congregation process when John was on the board? Why the retreat from social justice? And why do it in such a way as to hurt those asked to volunteer by the church for this work?

This statement from the board isn't consistent with the previous board actions as I understand them. Furthermore, it's pretty shitty to ask volunteers on the Social Justice Covenant Group to do congregational committee work (e.g. form a Welcoming Congregation Committee) and then kick them in the ass by saying it's not a congregation-wide effort (and implicitly say that the congregation and board really doesn't want or appreciate their efforts).

This recent action make me question our congregation's and our board's commitment to UU social justice work and our shared UU principles. And perhaps I'm in the wrong congregation if this is how congregational volunteers are treated by the board when asked to do social justice work for the congregation.

I'm confused, angry, and hurt. I would like a phone call or conversation on this matter from someone in a leadership position who can answer my questions and concerns.

... And I'm waiting for that phone call or conversation.

03 November 2004

An Electoral Haiku
by Jay Hipps (from Salon.com)

Gullible Red States
You know not what you have done
Too bad for the rest

... and I think that sums it up for now.

24 October 2004

Our Whole Lives and Unitarian Universalist Influences on Liberal Protestants

This post is in response to a discussion thread on Philocrites blog regarding Unitarian Universalist influence on liberal Protestant thought.

I'll disagree that Unitarian Universalism isn't in the vanguard of liberal religious thought today when it comes to one of the most important religious education topics we cover in our congregations. There's one area where we have led the way and blazed the trail for Protestant denominations.

Back in 1967, deryk calderwood was the LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) Fall Conference theme speaker.

In 1968, deryk and a team of curriculum developers were later asked by the UUA to create a sexuality education curriculum for use in UU congregations in response to requests from parents in our congregations. They wanted resources to educate our youth on a potentially emotionally charged and delicate subject. They also wanted a curriculum that reflected UU values. In 1971, the UUA had a curriculum for early adolescents called About Your Sexuality or AYS. AYS was used for many years and revised three times before going out of print in 1997.

Some background history on UU involvement in sexuality education can be found here:

"Sex Education and Religious Liberty" by Rev. Dave Weissbard

and here:

Our Whole Lives Interfaith Roots

You're probably asking yourself .... "Steve, what does this have to do with liberal Protestant thought?"

Here's my answer:

In 1992, Gene Navias (UUA Religious Education Department) and Faith Johnson (United Church of Christ's United Church Board for Homeland Ministries) started discussions that led to the creation of Our Whole Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith. OWL and Sexuality and Our Faith are a lifespan curriculum series for grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and adults that can be taught in UU, UCC, and secular community settings.

Since most UU adults were not raised as UU (and didn't have the opportunity to take AYS or OWL as adolescents), they now have an opportunity to participate in Adult OWL and discover how UU sexuality education engages the mind, body, and soul. It also respects us as complete persons with our sexuality as a major component of who we are.

From our initial ground-breaking work in late 60's and early 70's, we moved to partnership with the UCC in the early 90's. And in Summer 2004, this partnership has expanded to include the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Rev. Kaye Edwards (Disciples of Christ Director Of Family and Children's Ministries) was recently trained to be an Our Whole Lives K-1/4-6 trainer. I'm looking forward to seeing more interfaith cooperation in religious sexuality education in the future.

23 October 2004

Essay on Unitarian Universalist Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Our Future As a Faith Community

This afternoon while web-surfing, I discovered an essay ("YRUU, UUYAN and the Future of Unitarian Universalism" by Jim Sechrest) that is worth checking out. Here's a few brief selections from James essay:

"Currently, there is still a young adult gap in our churches. Most of our high school graduates never return to the denomination as active participants. The young families that we do see joining our congregations are mostly new UUs. However, the desire of young adults to participate in Unitarian Universalism can be seen in the grass roots development of the Continental UU Young Adult Network in recent years. Many young adults have felt alienated from our denomination because of past intergenerational conflicts or because churches often lack stimulating (or familiar) worship services or other young adults. Most individuals who have been raised in our congregations have had little experience with our church worship services or the content of their sermons. The type of spirituality found in our youth groups (as well as the incredible amount of peer support found there) is not often nurtured by our denomination for individuals of college age (or for older young adults).

Amazingly, our denomination raises its own children in a religious environment that not only differs in the way our adults have been raised (mostly in other churches) but also in a different way than our adults practice Unitarian Universalism. Our children and youth are raised in an atmosphere that teaches appreciation of all of the religions of the world without any of the dissatisfaction that their parents express for their former denominations. As UU children grow up, they don't often develop the same uneasiness towards other denominations that their parents have. (It is not difficult for many young UUs to adapt to other religions to suit their marriages.) Our youth are spiritually inquisitive and interested in exploring spiritual matters which many of their parents dismiss. And, very little secular humanism is emphasized in the religious education of UU children or in youth worship circles, although it is a common viewpoint among the older generations of our denomination. Most interesting, much of the emphasis that has been placed on a rational perspective of religion throughout the history of our denomination is not often emphasized in youth and young adult worship circles or workshops. In a way, UUism is not made up of one "church" but two. There is an adult church (of mostly intellectual professionals) and another, closely related but distinctly different church, made up of their own children, youth and young adults. For the young adults, the adult church is not (currently) a substitute for the UU youth group that inspired them as youth. Many UU young adults simply don't feel much meaningful relevance in the adult church when they age out of the UU youth group. It has been this way for decades. Most of our young adults drift away from the church whether they become involved in another denomination or not. Perhaps this is to be expected in a denomination without the type of dogma found in other churches."

"It's appropriate that we find differences in worship styles and discussion topics between different age groups in our denomination. In all circles of our faith, however, we need to become more in touch with our use of reason in religion and our awareness of our spirituality during worship. To have reason without spiritual depth would be to accept a future for our denomination which is spiritually dead. To proceed without embracing the use of reason, we risk cultishness and, to some degree, dogmatism. The interconnectedness which we create in our sanctuaries (and our coffee hours) as professional adults needs to be interwoven with the interconnectedness created in the worship circles and discussions of our youth and young adults. We have much to give to one another and a deep responsibility to ourselves to extend ourselves to one another. We can strengthen our faith by becoming more united across generations. Let us consider the future of our denomination."

For many older adults, intergenerational learning is simply older adults imparting "superior" wisdom to youth and young adults. There's an ageist assumption to this attitude. As an older adult, I've learned so much from working with youth and young adults. I would hope that intergenerational learning in UU settings becomes more multi-directional and less uni-directional.

19 September 2004

Disappointment Over Louisiana Constitutional Same-Sex Marriage Ban (An email sent by me to one of the Louisiana legislative sponsors for this recently passed state constitutional amendment)

Dear Rep. Jane Smith,

I suppose that you're happy that Amendment One passed yesterday ... if nothing else, it will certainly help your political career in Louisiana and the Republican Party.

However, I'm sorry that this uninformed and mean-spirited amendment passed. This will hurt heterosexual and homosexual citizens, families and children -- including people I worship with at my church (All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church).

Last week, you said the following statement during the forum at Centenary College:

"Whether you are a person of faith or not, the Creator created marriage between a man and a woman," [Jane] Smith said (as quoted in the Shreveport Times, 14 September 2004).

Your statement doesn't reflect the theological diversity on this issue in Shreveport, Bossier City, and the rest of the United States. My church has blessed same-sex couples for many years and we believe that a loving creator would not deny equal treatment and justice for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transcended neighbors. I personally believe that Amendment One is yet another example of evil and oppression by humankind against humankind. This is something we will be ashamed of in the future and yet another sin that we will need to atone for as a state.

You also talked about how marriage has been unchanged as an institution for years and allowing same-sex couples would radically change this institution. This statement is a result of ignorance or it's a lie. I assume that you would not lie to your constituents and I'll chalk this up to ignorance. As a former educator, you understand that ignorance can be cured. Here are some resources that you should read before you make any future public statements on same sex marriage and the changes that have happened to the so-called "unchanging" institution of marriage over the past 5000 years along with some religious viewpoints that affirm and welcome the diversity already in our communities:

What Is Marriage For? by E. J. Graff

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell

CHANGES IN MARRIAGE: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE (from the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance Web Site)

At Issue: Marriage Exploring the Debate Over Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples

Marriage Resources (United Church of Christ denomination's resources on same-sex marriage)

Freedom to Marry, for all People (Unitarian Universalist Association denomination's resources on same-sex marriage)

Rather than speaking in ignorance about the history of marriage and its changes over the past 5000 years, you now have access to resources that will cure your ignorance. However, this now means that any future statements you make that are unsupported by facts are now lies and not simply ignorance.

As a religious minority in Shreveport-Bossier City, putting any citizen's equal treatment before the law up to a popular vote frightens me. Yesterday, the citizens of Louisiana further entrenched discrimination against bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transcended citizens into the state
constitution. My question -- who are we going to legislatively harm next? As a religious minority in a state the promotes intolerance for minority religious and sexual viewpoints, I have reason to be afraid of what my fellow citizens will do next. As a parent, how do I explain this
intolerance to my children?

Thanks for your time,
Steve Caldwell

02 July 2004

Review of The Bridging Program: Workshops and Guidelines by Colin Bossen and Dawn Star Borchelt

Basic Facts: Flexible 2 to 4 workshop series for transitional age range youth and young adults (ages 17-23) from diverse backgrounds, 5 to 15 participants.

Includes suggested resources for Bridging Ceremony worship services.

Can be used in congregational, cluster, weekend camp and conferences, weeklong camp and conferences, and campus ministry settings.

Cost: $15.00.

Ordering information: call 1-800-215-9076 or go online to the UUA Bookstore.

Why This Is Important: In 1989, I learned something about Unitarian Universalism that surprised me. For the first time, I met an adult who was a third-generation UU.

I discovered that it’s possible for our children and youth who grow up in our congregations to have a home in them as adults.

Until that Sunday, all UUs that I had met were adult converts. The only pathway for becoming a UU that I had known was leaving another faith tradition and becoming a UU as an adult ... this has been a common unspoken assumption for many UU adults.

As a parent of one toddler in 1989 and a parent of two youth today, the impact of having only 10% of our members in UU congregations being life-long UUs troubles me (this statistic comes from the 1998 UUA’s Fulfilling the Promise Survey Results). It looks like most of our children raised as UU end up leaving our faith and do not return. As a parent, religious educator, and youth group advisor, I want our children and youth to know that we welcome them to stay with us when they move into young adulthood.

Colin Bossen and Dawn Star Borchelt’s The Bridging Program is an essential element in letting our children and youth know we welcome them into UU adult community.

Colin and Dawn Star have created a flexible workshop series designed for UU youth from diverse backgrounds – youth whose primary experience has been YRUU, youth whose primary experience has been in congregations, and youth who are new to Unitarian Universalism. The workshops sessions focus on these topics:

UU Gifts and Identity – What does it mean to be a UU? What gifts has this faith community given to me?

Dangers and Potentials – What are your fears about growing up? What are your dreams for the future? What does it mean to be an adult?

Courage, Commitment, Claiming Adulthood – What does it take to become an adult? How do you know when you’re an adult?

Preparing for the Bridging Ceremony – Reflection on the Bridging Program and each participant writing a short commitment speech in preparation for the Bridging worship.

The Bridging Program also provides suggestions and resources for planning a worship service that includes youth, religious educators, professional ministry, the social justice movement, and those adults who have participated in earlier Bridging Ceremonies. The bridging worship allows the wider community to celebrate this important milestone.

Colin and Dawn Star write: "Offering the Bridging Program is a concrete, explicit, and nonthreatening way to publicly state your intention of welcoming youth into the adult Unitarian Universalist Community that you serve."

Let us make these words come to life in our congregations and the wider UU community.

21 May 2004

Update from the SW UU Conference Web Site on Texas Tax Issue

The SW UU Conference (aka "SW District") has an update on this issue online.

And here's some words from our district executive on what the courts have said on this in Texas:

"1. Our folks in Denison are not feeling besieged. Dan Althoff, president, wrote me last week that after Red River UUC was invited to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of the Ethical Society of Austin, two attorneys in Austin have been consulting with them about the fact that they have been denied a franchise tax filing exemption by the Comptroller of Public Accounts in Texas. That denial is still in force, but may soon go away. "The Board of Red River UUC voted a resolution of thanks and appreciation to" Jeremy Wright and Rob Wiley of Austin at their April 21st meeting. "We have definitely had some good legal representation, (and) it was entirely donated," Dan said.

2. Since the Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, ruled for the Ethical Culture Fellowship of Austin and against Carole Keeton Strayhorn, and since their ruling was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, only an appeal to the US Supreme Court remains open to Strayhorn. Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas Law School has said he would be "very surprised if the Supreme Court takes this case." He also said, "For now, the judgment of the Court of Appeals stands," and should our Denison church be forced to file a lawsuit, as the Ethical Society did, he believes "such a lawsuit should be very easy with this precedent in place."

3. Ron Suiter, an attorney and a leader of our Pathways Church in Keller, has read the opinion of the Third District Court of Appeals in the Ethical Society case (which was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court and is, therefore, likely to stand as Texas law) and he says it is "a very well thought-out opinion." That opinion finds, in part, that "the Comptroller's reliance on a Supreme Being litmus test to determine whether an organization qualifies as a religion for purposes of the tax code is constitutionally infirm."

I believe that is legalese for "dead in the water.

-- Bob Hill, District Executive, SWUUC/UUA"

19 May 2004

Excellent Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Resource Online

"Children of a Different Tribe - UU Young Adult Developmental Issues" by Sharon Hwang Colligan is now available online.
Steve's Defense of Strategic Thinking in Unitarian Universalist Congregations and Other UU Settings

On the widely read UU blog "Philocrites" written by Christopher L. Walton, he writes "In praise of strategic thinking" as part of the discussion on how the wider Unitarian Universalist community should respond to press coverage on UU polyamorists. There are several posts on how we UUs should respond to potentially difficult issues like polyamory.

I would like to present an example of "strategic thinking" within my congregation.

On 7 December 2003, my congregation considering a proposed revision of our bylaws as part of our path towards eventual Welcoming Congregation status. Below is a copy of the proposed bylaws revision that was presented for consideration at a congregational vote (see page 4 of the congregational newsletter):

"Article lll: Non-Discrimination
Section 1. All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church affirms and promotes the full participation of persons in all our activities, including membership, programming, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals, without regard to race, color, gender, gender expression, physical ability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin.

Section 2. The Church shall offer congregational and ministerial support for services of union and memorial services for all evolving definitions of family."

As reported in the following month's newsletter on page 3, Section 1 passed unanimously, while Section 2 was tabled for further discussion.

Although the church already provides such congregational and ministerial support including holy union services for same-sex couples and will continue to do so, the sticking point for many members was that the language of Section 2 was "too vague." Others believed that the intent of Section 2 would already be covered by Section 1, rendering Section 2 unnecessary.

What I read as one possibility in the Section 2 of the proposed bylaws revision was our congregation might find us someday being asked to provide religious union services for polyamorous relationships.

Hearing the concerns from our congregation about the vagueness of the proposed Section 2 and also knowing that my congregation wasn't really ready to have a discussion on the possible implications (including the possible celebration of polyamorous relationships), I suggested that our main focus as a congregation was satisfying the requirements for Welcoming Congregation status.

I stated that all that is required for Welcoming Congregation could be satisfied by the Section 1 language alone. The Welcoming Congregation action steps for congregations provide the following guidance for bylaws requirements:

"Adjust congregational bylaws and other relevant documents to include an affirmative nondiscrimination clause concerning membership, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals."

The proposed Section 1 language would satisfy the Welcoming Congregation and we could table the Section 2 language for further study and possible consideration in the future. This strategic postponement is what we did. We looked at our strategic goal (Welcoming Congregation) and concentrated on that alone.

We still have a few members who voted against the Section 1 language and also had problems with the entire Welcoming Congregation program ... " ... being hijacked by 'lifestyles'" was one pointed comment.

Since my congregation hasn't offered Our Whole Lives for Adults nor has the congregation done any other Adult RE sexuality education where sexuality, values, and future possibilities for family diversity are discussed yet; we weren't ready for a congregational meeting where we could discuss the possibilities inherent in the Section 2 language at this time.

And that's my example of "strategic thinking" from my congregation.
What Role Does Adult Erotica Have in Promoting Healthy Sexuality?

Dr. Carol Queen wrote an opinion column for the 16 May 2004 San Francisco Chronicle that comments on the recent HIV outbreak in the adult video industry ("Porn industry's HIV outbreak holds a lesson in safe sex: Monogamy's not retroactive -- and it doesn't work when one partner is infected").

According to Carol's column, only 1% of heterosexual porn video producers require condom use while making videos. This is in stark contrast to the gay male porn video producers who have 20+ years of experience in both normalizing the use of condoms and making safer sex a normal part of erotic experience. Here's what Carol writes to porn fans who consider condom use in videos to be less erotic:

"Extremely risky acts are safer when condoms are correctly used. To porn fans for whom the sight of a condom is pleasure-squelching, I say: Get used to it. The (heterosexual) adult industry has for 20 years shirked an opportunity to help normalize condom use. This doesn't just put its own talent at risk. It puts viewers and their partners at risk as well.

On the gay side of the industry, this is well-understood. Gay Men's Health Crisis 15 years ago suggested that watching explicit safer sex movies taught prevention comfort and skill more effectively than any other method. In a land of suppressed sex education, many turn to porn out of curiosity to see how sex works. The heterosexual side of the industry should step up to the plate and show fans how safer sex works."

The attitudes about HIV risks commonly held by heterosexuals are often ones of denial and it always happens to "outsiders" and not to "us":

"If there is a lining to this dark cloud, it might be manifested as a body blow to that denial, which is as common outside the porn industry as inside. Sexual contact between people can transmit HIV if one of them has it. Neither monogamy nor heterosexuality is a protection. The virus likes mucous membranes. Unprotected penetrative sex puts one at risk."

The rest of Carol's article is worth reading ... so is a related article on HIV and risk in the adult video industry by Tristan Taormino that was published on 30 April 2004 ("Porn Faces Reality: HIV outbreak in California porn industry highlights risky business"). Tristan talks about the educational opportunity available to the adult video industry and the unfortunate fact that very few video companies are using this educational opportunity.

One can only hope that this trend in heterosexual porn changes.
Our Whole Lives for Adults: What Does It Say About Polyamory and Non-Monogamy?

On 28 April 2004, I had a request from a Unitarian Universalist religious educator to summarize what Our Whole Lives (OWL) for Adults says about polyamory. I shared this info with Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness using their email list.

And today, I'm sharing this info with you in light of the recent news coverage in San Francisco, the UUA response to this story, and the UUPA response.

Polyamory isn't addressed by name, but non-monogamy in long-term committed relationships comes up in Session 8 ("Sexuality and Committed Relationships" on page 133). The questions come up in the "Relationships Troubles" activity.

Adult OWL doesn't say "poly is good" or "poly is bad" ... but it does raise the following questions in the discussion and provide a safe and supportive space to discuss polyamory and other alternatives to monogamy:

** What is extra-relationship sex?

** Must all extra-relationship sex be destructive to the commitment component of love? What about "open relationships"? Can consensual affairs work?

** What values does extra-relationship sex violate?

** Does infidelity inflict spiritual pain? Do love and commitment have spiritual dimensions?

** How can the problems caused by extra-relationship sex be overcome?

The other potential area where non-monogamy or extra-relationship sex comes up in OWL is in the SUDS activity ("SUDS" = "Sexually Uninhibited Dramatic Sequence"). SUDS role playing can be used in Session 6 ("Sexual Attraction and Early Relationships," pages 93-94), Session 7 ("Sexuality and Developing Relationships," pages 120), and in Session 8 (page 135).

The SUDS characters are listed in Session 6 on pages 110-112 (Handout 20). In this handout, some of the individuals are in marriages or other long-term partnerships and some are unattached. The possibility exists in the SUDS role playing that a single and partnered person or two persons in existing partnered relationships may discover a mutual attraction and pursue it.

In the SUDS activity in Session 6, each small group draws two names out of a hat and comes up with a dramatic role playing situation in which the two persons meet in a social setting and discover an initial mutual attraction and agree to meet again in the future. In Session 7, the two characters in each Session 6 small group have dated 10 times since their first meeting. In Session 8, the SUDS couple has decided to have a committed relationship.

Here are the values questions that might be related to polyamory, extra-marital sex, and non-monogamy that come up with SUDS in the curriculum:

Session 7 SUDS
** Discuss the appropriateness of the [sexual] activity described. Is it OK for a couple at this stage of a relationship?

** List the various relational and moral issues that have come up in the course of this discussion.

Session 8 SUDS
** Determine the nature of the couple's lifelong relationship. Is it marriage? Something else?

When I co-facilitated OWL in the extra-relationship sex discussion in a nearby UU congregation, opinions were diverse .... ranging from "I can't see this working" to "wow ... that's something new to think about." I had also brought some books and other resources including UUPA literature for people to browse before and after the relationship session where extra-relationship sex is discussed to promote awareness of where the future might lead us.

I would say that Adult OWL is probably a good starting point for UU congregations and our wider culture to examine widely held cultural assumptions about relationships, marriage and monogamy. Since this topic is new for many UUs, I think this gentle introduction is necessary if we are to have a successful dialogue.

04 May 2004

Unitarian Universalism, Congregationalism, and Congregations
My first "real" post here will look at congregation life, how we form our religious communities, and how we govern ourselves. Given our strong congregational roots, what I suggest below might sound like Unitarian Universalist heresy.

While how we form church communities and govern ourselves may be an extremely dry topic for some, there are some social justice implications surrounding congregationalism. I'll state up front that congregations are essential for long-term stability and continuity in Unitarian Universalism.

But I'll disagree with the suggestion that the only way one can be a Unitarian Universalist is in a congregational setting. And I'll suggest that the reason we have some non-congregational UU groups may be a sign of failure within our congregations in that we are not always welcoming to all persons who desire to live within a covenental religious community.

If our congregations were fully welcoming to all who sincerely desire to join, there would be less need for special non-congregational UU affinity groups for Christians, people of color, BGLT folk and their allies, conservatives, polyamorous folks, young adults, youth, etc.

In chapter 5 of the UUA Commission on Appraisal's report on membership, the authors write about "The Ideal of Pluralism vs. The Reality of UU Congregations":

"Our conversations made it clear that numerous people who identify with Unitarian Universalist principles and values do not find strong support or welcome in their local congregations. It is now apparent to the Commission that many who resonate to UU theology or beliefs do not identify their congregations
as their primary connections with the movement. One person with whom the Commission talked spoke for many: 'It's hard for me to sit in our congregations. I feel so completely invisible, calling myself a member is problematic. I cannot be fully who I am in a congregation.'"

So ... instead of getting upset that some UU groups with no obvious congregational grounding can now ask for "a place at the table" using structures and processes available to both congregations and non-congregational groups, perhaps we should ask why our congregations are failing some UU individuals who are joining non-congregational affinity groups. What pastoral needs are being met non-congregational groups and can our congregations learn to meet the needs currently being provided for by non-congregational groups?

For those of us within congregations, an exploration of the needs being met by non-congregational UU groups is an opportunity for congregational growth ... both incarnational and numeric growth ... that seems to be overlooked by those in congregational leadership positions and those who promote congregational life as the best, ideal, or only way to be a Unitarian Universalist.

Rather than complaining about non-congregational UU group, perhaps those of us in congregations should be asking some hard questions about how we can create more welcoming congregations that can meet the ministerial needs currently being met in non-congregational UU groups.

Disclaimer: In addition to being a member of All Souls UU in Shreveport LA, I'm also a member of some non-congregational groups as well ... LREDA, Interweave, and UUPA.

01 May 2004

Hello, I'm Steve Caldwell and this is my new blog. My interests include Unitarian Universalism (UU) in congregations and in non-congregational settings, lifespan faith development (formerly known as "religious education), and UU lifespan sexuality education.