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.