19 May 2004

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.

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