14 July 2007

But John ... if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.

You're Jurassic Park!
by Michael Crichton

You combine all the elements of a mad scientist, a brash philosopher, a humble researcher, and a money-hungry attracter of tourists. With all these features, you could build something monumental or get chased around by your own demons. Probably both, in fact. A movie based on your life would make millions, and spawn at least two sequels thatwouldn't be very good. Be very careful around islands.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

06 July 2007

I really don't understand the aversion to polyamory in Unitarian Universalist circles

I'm really puzzled by some of my coreligionists.

Recently on the Unitarian Universalist Minister Rev. Tom Schade's blog (The Lively Tradition), there has been some discussion on the lack of transparency surrounding the recent decision by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Board to reduce the number of Unitarian Universalist Independent Affiliates.

There's a lot of excellent commentary on the lack of openness and transparency -- you can read the most of this blog discussions using the following links:
I'm not blogging about the lack of transparency ... my concern is the aversion to polyamory that I'm witnessing.

Part of this discussion has been speculation on the potential role of polyamory and Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness in the recent decision to reduce the number of affiliates.

We really don't know the UUA Board's thinking here and I don't want to speculate any further than I already have online.

In the most recent blog post on Tom's blog, the blog conversation explored polyamory and asked what stand our religious movement should take on polyamory.

Fausto of The Socinian blog replied with the following about polyamory:
"As to the narrower question of polyamory, is there or is there not room at the table for a good-faith argument that polyamory is morally and spiritually dangerous, both to its practitioners and to their children, and that it therefore should not be presumptively entitled to the same societal or religious acceptance and blessing that we freely extend to monogamous unions?"
We can evaluate danger when it comes to mental health, physical health, and other empirical measures. Polyamory can be evaluated for its impact on mental and physical health. This is a social sciences question that can (in theory) be asked and answered. I'm not aware of any research on poly families.

However, "morally and spiritually dangerous" concern is something that we probably can't find common agreement on beyond agreeing that we should minimize the possiblity of harm to others and self.

However, some individuals may look at factors other than harm to others and self. This aspect of sexual morality is covered by Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Faye Flam in her column "What fuels the hatred of homosexuality?" Here's an excerpt from this column:
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wants to help liberal types like me understand why some people condemn homosexual relationships as immoral.

As an exercise, he says, imagine that a neighbor has installed a sign in her front yard reading Cable television will destroy society. You ask her to explain, and she responds: "Cables are an affront to the god thoth. They radiate theta waves, which make people sterile."

Now imagine another neighbor, with another sign. This one announces Gay marriage will destroy society, and she justifies the statement by saying that homosexuality is an abomination to God and will undermine marriage.

If you're a liberal, you may view both neighbors as equally out of touch with reality (though the woman with the theta-wave theory is more original). That's the way most academics would traditionally see it, too.

But Haidt, who works at the University of Virginia and specializes in issues of morality, says the conservative viewpoint isn't just theta waves - it's based on a moral compass that points in dimensions liberals simply don't perceive.

"There's been this enormous change in how scientists are thinking about morality," he says. He outlined the new view recently in the journal Science.

In Western societies, secular and liberal-minded people base their moral beliefs on fairness and the avoidance of harm. That explains why, in previous columns, I wrote that I saw nothing immoral about premarital sex, homosexuality or sex toys - except, perhaps, for nonrecyclable batteries.

Dozens of horrified readers quickly blasted me as disgusting.

Which Haidt says is exactly the point. Most people set their moral compasses based on their sense of disgust. This is an additional moral dimension, which he calls purity/sanctity.
I suppose one can speculate on health, relationship stability, and other "danger" aspects surrounding polyamory. The problem here is we've got a lot of speculation and very little information to base our decisions. When that happens, the potential for basing one's moral decisions on disgust instead of reason becomes very likely.

Fausto later wrote the following on this blog thread:
"When I talk about moral objections, I'm thinking instead about the often unappreciated but nevertheless very real potential for deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage that can so easily occur in polyamorous situations despite all precautions. Not only to the consenting adults (if indeed they are giving their fully informed and free consent, which is another significant question), but especially also to their children or prospective children, who need to grow up in a stable and secure environment."
The issue that I have with this line of thought is we really don't have any data to answer any of the concerns raised. Are poly relationships more dangerous? If so, are they so dangerous that we should strongly discourage them? Are poly relationships so unstable that we should discourage them in order to prevent harm to children?

To the best of my knowledge, we don't know the answers to any of these concerns. All we have with respect to poly questions are anecdotal evidence. And the plural of "anecdote" is not "data." And the collection of anecdotal evidence often is distorted by a "confirmation bias" (a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs).

Tom Schade then replied on this thread:
"Poly panels, which I have seen, are a exercise in propaganda. They are arguments from 'best-case anecdotes.' The persons who are participated in the panel are currently happy in their relationships and will willingly testify to the joy of their lives."
I'll agree that guest panels are often the "best-case anecdotes" ... We do the same thing with sexual orientation guest panels that are used in the Our Whole Lives and Welcoming Congregation programs. I've never heard of a sexual orientation guest panel including an "ex-gay" person who has undergone "reparative therapy."

Is that one-sided propaganda or just a reasonable limitation on the information that we wish to present in our congregations and other religious settings?

Tom Schade then replied further on this thread:
"And, by restricting the 'moral' argument to these best case examples, they discount all negative experiences elsewhere. The stories about 13 year coerced brides in Utah are not relevant in those discussions, because that is bad patriarchy and we are only talking about good polyamory."
Tom ... these stories are not relevant because we're talking about consenting adults and coerced adolescents are not consenting adults. This is a "red herring" fallacy.

Tom Schade then replied further on this thread:
Regarding OWL: the guidelines you quote refer to specific sexual relationships -- not social policy and the witness of a religious movement in the cultural circumstance in which it finds itself.
Actually, the values in the curriculum go beyond the interpersonal. We need to avoid double standards in providing ministry to families. We need to promote justice and inclusivity.

Tom Schade replied again on this thread:
BTW, many of the poly panels at which I have been supposedly trained, include the testimony of someone who argued that they had numerous problems with adultery until they "came out" as a poly, realizing that they were just incapable of being faithful to one person.
Would it be better for a person to have this self-knowledge before attempting to live monogamously? One possibility with this self-knowledge is this person would know that any monogamous relationship that he or she enters will be a challenge. Another possibility would be this person would use this self-knowledge to attempt to live non-monogamously and ethically.

The danger here is assuming that everyone has the same needs and the same relationship type can meet the needs of every individual.

04 July 2007

Congregational Goal-Setting -- All Souls Board and Council Retreat

Last Saturday (30 June 2007), I attended my congregation's annual "retreat" for the Board and Council. Here are my notes from today's Board and Council Retreat.

The word "retreat" is in quotes because only Unitarian Universalists would take a word that usually means an event where "one takes time away from everyday life, often in order to reflect or meditate" and use it to describe an all-day working meeting.

On Friday night (29 June 2007), the departing and newly elected board members met without the council members. Their group process included "SWOT analysis" where the board members brainstormed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the congregation:
Top Five Strengths
1. Physical Building and Grounds
2. Innovative and Substantive Programming
3. Religious Education
4. Sense of Freedom
5. Caring Community

Top Five Weaknesses
1. Financial Shortfall
2. Diffuse/Confused Identity
3. Membership Retention
4. Small Membership
5. Religious Education

Top Three Opportunities
1. Response to Violence
2. University/Artistic/Professional Communities
3. Religious Alternatives

Top Three Threats
1. Downturn of Local Economy
2. Negative (or Non-existent) Community Perceptions
3. Out-migration of Youth/Families
Next, we looked at our congregation's mission statement:
Mission Statement
We, as a loving and caring spiritual community, resolve to:
  • Promote diversity through free expression of ideas and beliefs
  • Encourage intellectual and spiritual growth, and
  • Provide an environment for social activism and community service
We believe the search for truth is a journey, not a destination. In this spirit, all are welcome. -- (Written by the All Souls Congregation on 25-27 January 2002, approved by congregational vote on 17 February 2002)
The "top rank objective" in our mission statement is " to encourage intellectual and spiritual growth" -- this should explain why we are here as a church and the other objectives in our mission statement are the "how" that help us achieve this intellectual and spiritual growth.

Here are the goals that came out of the board's discussion on Friday night:
1. Sharpening the profile and identity of All Souls as a religious alternative

2. Membership
  • Recruiting from University / Professional / Artistic communities
  • Retention of Members
3. Balance the Budget

4. Develop a Response to Community and International Violence
On Saturday, the group facilitators talked about items 2 and 3. During the discussion, we decided that they were "means" and not "ends" that our goals should be "ends" that we are working towards.

The Saturday discussion was to re-examine the long-term goals of the congregation and to categorize them into the following two categories:

1. Product Development

2. Organizational Maintenance and Development

The following discussion resulted in the brainstorming of sub-goals that would fit within these two major goals.

1.0 Product Development Goals

1.1 Inspiring Sunday Worship That Transform Lives

- support and enhance music in worship

- lay reader skill development

- encourage reverence

- continue diversity of worship services

- minimize "business" on Sunday mornings (e.g. active recruiting of volunteers) -- see UUA Drive Time Essay on this topic

1.2 Focusing, Refining, Embracing, Our Common Identity

- sermons, classes, other content on our commonality

- covenant of right relationships

- enhancing connection with wider denomination (connections, resources, etc)

- appreciation of our heritage

- build more denominational bridges

- increase denominational event involvement

1.3 Nurturing All Souls Community

- Healing on Welcoming Congregation issue and other tough issues

- Creating a "Calm" Committee

- Reconstitute Food/Folks/Fun Committee

- Small Group Ministry and Covenant Groups

1.4 Continue Ministry and Service to Community

- Develop a response to violence to community and international violence (Alternatives to Violence Project would be a good start for this)

- "Give Away the Plate" on second Sunday of the month

- Division over social justice issues -- goal 1.3 would offer solutions for this

- Interfaith involvement - World Religion Day, other interfaith groups addressing racism and other issues in our community

- Build relationships with sister churches/organizations (Zion Community Ministries)

2.0 Organizational Maintenance and Development

2.1 Membership Growth and Retention

- Continue orientation meetings

- RE class for new members

- Establish plan to target university, artistic, professional communities

- Find strategies for creating engaging youth programming

- Add sexuality education info to the web site as a marketing strategy

2.2 Fiscal Stability

- Improve planned giving efforts

- Strengthen fund-raising strategies that require minimum investment of member time and also draw funds from outside the congregation

- Implement "steps" pledge drive program

This discussion summary is not the official record of the retreat. Eventually, our congregation will have the complete info posted on the congregation web site.