Friday, January 20, 2006

Fixing UUism: Member ratification of GA resolutions

Original idea by Joel Monka, CC and Fausto had input

If the UUA is going to be a representative democracy, they should make some attempt to assure that the members are in fact representing their congregations; if most congregations are going to allow individuals to sign up with no requirements or vetting process outside of a minister signing off, they should make it a direct democracy. Currently, we have the worst of both systems. After GA votes on a resolution, we should send either a postcard or an email (preferably an email as they are free and don't waste paper,) as the member prefers, asking them to vote on all GA resolutions and ratify them. If a simple majority of respondants OK something, it's in.


UUpdater said...

I would suggest removing the false/misleading information from this suggestion. It states "if they [the UUA] are going to allow individuals to sign up with no requirements or vetting process". This is quite simply wrong. The UUA does have requirements for who can vote. Specifically:

How are delegates selected?
Every certified congregation decides how to select delegates. All delegates must be voting members of the congregation.

Which, considering congregational polity, is the extent to which the UUA can set requirements for delegates.

Which is not to say that the requirements do guarentee accurate representation, but simply stating that the claim there is no requirements is false. I would suggest reowording to simply state that in the interest of ensuring fair representation a ratification process is suggested, or something along those lines.

Chalicechick said...

I changed up the wording a bit to put in some wiggle room, but honestly, the original wording reflected the functional truth of how things work in most congregations. (I joined a congregation in June two weeks before GA and the minister, who barely knew me, still signed. Her signature was the only requirement. It was nice of her, but I could have been Lizzie Borden for all she knew.)


UUpdater said...

Even if that were true of the congregations it is still not an accurate statement. If an area like Georgetown is notorious for selling alcohol to minors it is still innaccurate to say "there is no law preventing the sale of alcohol to minors", saying "the liquor store employees either do not card or scrutinize fake IDs" is totally different. The latter statement is far more reflective of the reality of the situation. To me saying there is no rules is significantly different than saying rules enforcement is a joke. The rewording is better.

So... the solution to the problem of a group of people ("GA junkies") being mostly self selective is to have their votes ratified by an entirely self selecting group ("respondents"). I don't think this idea will get my vote.

Chalicechick said...

At least joining the "respondants" group is genuinely open to everyone rather than just those who can afford it.


Steve Caldwell said...

Well ... regarding the question about delegates actually representing their congregation's interests, I can think of two classes of delegates who do represent their congregations:

** ordained minister delegates who have been called and are settled in UU congregations

** credentialed religious educator (master's level) delegates employed by UU congregations

Also, keep in mind that one person's "GA junkie" is another person's "dedicated volunteer" who is willing to attend hours of plenary as a congregational representative on behalf of his/her congregation and the UUA.

Even if you don't agree with the outcomes, you should acknowledge the time and energy sacrifice that these "GA junkies" or "dedicated volunteers" (which term that you use depends entirely on your personal point of view).

If one were going to GA to schooze and have fun, plenary isn't the place to be. There are much more fun things to do during GA than listen and participate in plenary sessions.

Chalicechick said...

The day someone going to GA actually seeks my opinion or the congregation's on what to vote for, they will earn my enthusiastic thanks.

As long as they are speaking for me politically having no idea what I think, I have to assume that they are getting to project their own opinions as mine and I'd have to say they are being fairly compensated.


indrax said...

Personally, I'm a fan of actually trying direct democracy. In the past, it could be argued that it was too difficult. With modern technology, it's barely even hard.
This way every member UU would get a vote.

Anonymous said...

I would amend this to say that any resolutions etc will be sent to the member congregations for ratifications. That way these issues would be vote upon by the membership at a congregation meeting but still meet CC's intent.

Chalicechick said...

(((I would amend this to say that any resolutions etc will be sent to the member congregations for ratifications. That way these issues would be vote upon by the membership at a congregation meeting but still meet CC's intent.)))

I don't at all mind posting this as an idea, but to do that, I need to know something.

Would the ratification of a big congregation be worth the same as the ratification of a small one?

((e.g. Linguist Friend's church is like 100 or so members. My church is like 700 or so. (To be honest, I'm making those numbers up. But they sound OK to me.) If we so with a straight count of certifying churches, (e.g. the senate, with two members from Deleware and two members from California) then the his vote in his church means seven times what my vote in mine means. If we go with weighted vote count (like the electoral college, where California gets 55 members and Delaware gets three) then small churches may bitch that their vote doesn't matter, and selling a proposal to the really big churches means more.

Anyway, somebody make the call on that issue and write up a paragraph on Congregational ratification and I'll happily put it up.

former grad student in Urban and minority politics who once considered writing a PhD dissertation on vote dilution.

UUpdater said...

CC - the "Delegate" group is not intended to be open to everyone. It is not necessary for a person to go, it is necessary for a congregation to ensure they have good representation.

Which is why I still dislike this idea. If the problem is that the GA delegates are non representative, then this suggestion is not a fix, but rather an additional measure to limit the "damage" that can be done by a non representative body.

Perhaps this should be a differnet e-mail but it would seem logical to me that you either try and fix the problem by taking additional steps to ensure accurate representation by delegates, or remove the resoltutions from the GA/delegate process and make the resolutions voted on by members directly without going through GA first.

Ratification adds complication without truly attempting to "fix" anything.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC rejected the proposed reforms to the current social justice resolution and GA business procedures that are being considered by the UUA Board this weekend. It's very likely that these reforms will be approved in 2006 and that will change how we do this GA resolution thing starting in 2007.

Her concerns were:

(1) It wasn't my idea (not that I claimed it as my own, giving full attribution to the UUA Commission on Social Witness volunteers responsible for the proposed reforms).

(2) Since it's probably going to happen anyway, it really doesn't matter what the blogosphere thinks about it.

So ... I will do what CC has suggested and post the proposed reforms as a separate reply to this thread.

Steve Caldwell said...

This isn't very "dramatic" or "flashy" but it has a very strong chance of being implemented by the 2006 General Assembly and actually happening in 2007. The proposal is not my original work -- it comes to us from the hard-working volunteers on the UUA Commission on Social Witness.

I've prepared a summary of the proposed revisions to the current General Assembly Study/Action Issue process using the Commission on Social Witness materials found online.

The source documents for this summary can be found in the January 2006 UUA Board Meeting Pre-Packet (freely available online for all interested UUs to review). There are two documents related to the proposed revisions online:

Proposed Model for UUA Social Witness Process

Recommendations for Proposed Bylaw Changes to the UUA Social Witness Process made to the UUA Board of Trustees, January 14, 2006

The biggest changes in the proposed revision are the following:

(1) A new Congregational Study/Action Issue (what was formerly known as "Study/Action Issue) is selected every four years (instead of the current process where an issue is selected every two years).

(2) Only one Congregational Study/Action Issue will be in the study process at any given time (instead of the current process where multiple issues are considered simultaneously).

(3) Quorum requirement that 25% of all certified congregations participate in the congregational ballot before any proposed Congregational Study/Action Issues can be placed on the General Assembly agenda and that this quorum be applicable to all items placed upon the ballot.

And here's a summary of the benefits of the proposed revisions as provided by the UUA Commission on Social Witness:

(1) Sufficient time after General Assembly delegates have selected a new issue to allow for the formation of an expert panel -- consisting of not only topical experts but also educators, facilitators, and liturgists.

(2) Specific lifespan faith development course materials, small group ministry resources, and worship materials in the Congregational Study/Action Issue Resource Guide to facilitate and encourage meaningful congregational engagement with the issue.

(3) A full year dedicated to the use of the study guide including substantial programming at the following General Assembly on best practices and study outcomes.

(4) Another full year continuing the study process and focusing on actions including substantial programming at the next General Assembly on effective action, networking, and coalition building.

(5) Drafting of the UUA Statement of Conscience a year later than in the existing process and voting on the UUA Statement of Conscience three years after selection of the issue.

(6) An additional year of focused implementation completing the cycle and culminating in an assessment of our collective efforts at the General Assembly that concludes the four-year cycle, which is the same General Assembly at which the next Study/Action Issue is selected.

(7) The quorum requirement promote greater participation in and ownership of the social witness process by the UUA member congregations.

I'll acknowledge that this is a compromise that will not fully satisfy everyone's interests.

Fausto and other who want no "condemnatory resolutions" won't get that with the Commission on Social Witness proposal. But they will get 1/4th as many statements of conscience due to the revised timetable for considering issues and creating statements of conscience.

Joel Monka, Chalicechick, and Fausto may want congregational endorsement of resolutions. A step in that direction would be a requirement of a minimum level of congregational approval through the quorum process before a proposed issue or draft statement of conscience can be placed on the General Assembly Agenda for consideration by congregational delegates at GA.

And I think that providing our congregations with more time to review an issue will mean that congregations who explore the proposed study/action issues (like my former congregation in Rapid City, SD) will do a better job with this exploration.

By looking at fewer issues for a longer period of study and dialogue, the overall process may be improved compared to the current-day process with greater opportunities for congregational involvement in the process at the local congregational level.

Chalicechick said...

Thank you!


Chalicechick said...


I consider it a case of having a check and balance between the activist parts of the church and everybody else.

I don't completely disagree with Steve's assertion that there is something to being willing to spend the time and money to go to GA. These people are committed and that they are willing to make that sacrifice may indeed entitle them to have more power than those who do not.

That said, their power to set the agenda for everyone shouldn't be absolute.

If you have a plan for making sure delegates are informed and/or qualified, please, write it up and send it to me.


Anonymous said...

frankly in this day of telephones and email, I fail to see why important business like voting is held in a party -- :-)
-- something important needs to have time to be reflected on --

maybe all items to be voted on at GA are to be issued at least one week prior to vote time -- while I see some
problems with that - then all elections held at GA be ratified afterwards... (so that folks can think about what they voted for in haste).

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
"I don't completely disagree with Steve's assertion that there is something to being willing to spend the time and money to go to GA. These people are committed and that they are willing to make that sacrifice may indeed entitle them to have more power than those who do not.

That said, their power to set the agenda for everyone shouldn't be absolute."


Strictly speaking, the delegates at GA don't "set the agenda" for GA for most business by themselves. So your concern that GA delegates are setting the GA agenda by themselves is a groundless fear under the current GA business procedures.

See section 4.12 of the current UUA bylaws:

*SECTION 4.12. UUA Statements of Conscience

As you can see, there are provisions for local congregational inputs to this process that don't require CC and others traveling to GA.

Under the current Statement of Conscience system, the origin for Statements of Conscience is congregational meetings. Each UU congregation is authorized to propose one Study/Action Issue for potential consideration at the next GA. These proposals can also come from a district business meeting as well.

The Commission on Social Witness (volunteers where some are elected by GA delegates and some are appointed by the UUA Board) takes all of these suggestions from congregations, combines similar suggestions together, and selects up to 10 suggested issues for congregational consideration.

Congregations (either through a congregational meeting or through their elected board representatives) votes "yes" or "no" on this list of 10 suggested issues. The top 5 issues are selected for consideration on the GA ballot.

These five finalist issues are voted on at GA by congregational delegates. The issue selected must receive a majority of the votes -- if no issue receives a majority of the votes, a runoff election between the top two issues is used to decide the next Study/Action Issue for the next two years.

For the next two years, the selected issue (which is chosen through a combination of local congregational involvement and GA business) is discussed in local congregations.

Congregational and GA inputs are both used in the creation of a draft Statement of Conscience for the selected issue.

The final approval of the draft Statement of Conscience where it becomes "official" UUA policy that shapes the work of UUA staff requires a two-thirds vote for approval.

Under the current Study/Action Issue process, the agenda and the discussion of the issues doesn't just happen at GA. It can (and should) happen in local congregations as well.

Having only belonged to two UU congregations (Black Hills UU in Rapid City SD and All Souls UU in Shreveport LA), I can only compare my experiences in these two congregations.

The Rapid City congregation intentionally participated in the Study/Action Issue process. We would have opportunities for members to learn about the issues and we provided our inputs to the process in worship services and adult RE workshops.

The Shreveport congregation has shown very little interest in the process. The elected board of trustees does vote on the issues that should be considered as potential Study/Action Issues each spring using the "Congregational Directives for General Assembly Action Poll" each spring.

The entire Commission on Social Witness process is summarized here:

I suspect that the current Study/Action Issue process (and the proposed reforms being proposed to the UUA Board this weekend) do work well in congregations that have a strong sense of connection to the wider association. Congregations without that sense of connection just don't participate.

I suspect the reason that one hasn't seen libertarian or conservative proposals for Study/Action issues is the congregational or district vote required to submit issues for consideration.

This may change with the proposed reforms:

"Affiliate organizations deemed by the Board of Trustees to serve as havens for persons who have been historically marginalized be eligible to propose Congregational Study/Action Issues, though a delegate must propose the issue to
the General Assembly."

I think one could make a case that the Conservative Forum for Untarian Universalists could be considered a "havens for persons who have been historically marginalized" in UU congregational life.

Other than the drug policy reform Study/Action Issue a few years ago, I haven't seen any Study/Action issue that could be approachable for libertarian and other conservative UUs.

Chalicechick said...

To be honest, I don't think I could tell you which of five social action issues a plurality of members would go for in any UU church I've ever been in.

I don't have a problem with diehard GA-attenders getting a little extra power, I just thank a ratification process on top of this would help us clarify which issues were truly most important to everybody.


fausto said...

CC asks:

Would the ratification of a big congregation be worth the same as the ratification of a small one?

You could require ratification by a quorum of congregations, or a quorum of individual UU members, or both. You could weight the congregations' votes by number of members (or number of years in existence or average per capita pledge or any other factor you might want). Each approach has pros and cons.

To my way of thinking, if we're serious about our congregational polity, each congregation's vote ought to have equal weight, regardless of the size of the congregation. We're a covenanted association of covenanted faith communities, not a one-person-one-vote assembly of individuals. It's a federal or confederal system, with not quite the same polity as a strict democracy.

Anonymous said...

I'd ask people to try to identify the implicit assumptions that their statements and proposals here rest on.

My own congregation is notoriously disinterested -- as a congregation -- in the associational activities, be they district or at the UUA level. There's some effort to alter that... but it's hard to imagine it becoming seriously involved.

But it's one place that the movement is growing... we show a pretty steady 5% growth per year over the last six years... and it appears to be trending upward. And we're not just signing them in, CC; the hurdle for membership has been raised in recent years, at least twice. Our intake in the last 90 days represented more than 10% of our membership (we've had people move away, a number of people die and a handful drop off the rolls, which is why annual growth isn't above 6%), despite having only allowed them to sign our register after an extended meeting with the minister and president of the board, and with a very strong preference for having been around for a while...). We cut slack for people who are already UUs who've shown up (more than once...) and have decided they're ready to join this congregation, but that's not our typical new member.

Yet we only filled half of our lay delegate openings for GA. On the flip side... people are responding positively to the call to explore and seek to articulate moral values for/in a pluralistic society. And the congregation is engaged in serious social justice work that's taking a lot of time and money.

I think that both for modern reasons and for historical ones, some means of seeking the ratification or confirmation of SAIs would be a good thing. This would ensure that the broader movement would remain in control at its base, able to rein in or reject an SAI, and equally able to affirm and support it. Asking each congregation to put the matter to a congregational vote would re-affirm both our polity and would engage it. If we want congregations to embrace SAIs, to study and act on these issues... then having the members confirm or reject the proposal will certainly get more enthusiasm and result in more people being informed and educated about it.

The UUA-wide voting scheme need not be overly complex. We already have the certification of membership showing how many members each congregation has.

I'd skip quorum calls, because so much has already gone into these efforts and they've already received substantial support at GA. If congregations don't participate, they don't participate; I'm loath to allow apathy or disorganization to result in unwitting rejection. The point of this is not to power the uninterested, it's to empower the larger body.

Confirmation should be a simple majority requirement defined as follows:

Of those congregations that vote, more than 50% of them must register votes in favor (abstention not counting for or against), AND that vote in favor must represent a majority of the certified membership (of the congregations voting).

I'm not in favor of a pure democracy; extreme systems have led to extremes and there's a profound wisdom in checks and balances. But I think that the above would ensure that there is a broad approval for a given SAI, since it would have the support of a majority of the voting congregations and that enough members were clearly in favor that this would not represent some sort of railroading of large congregations by the small ones.

I think taking SAIs out of the GA entirely would be an abominable idea. The current one succeeded, in my view, because the Youth Caucus stepped up and articulated its profound importance to them (and us) after it was orphaned. And I believe they were right. A similar thing could really not have happened in a dispersed SAI selection scheme.

As to setting requirements for delegates... I think that's a very dangerous proposition. I'd want to see something to suggest that delegates really don't typically represent their congregations and UUs in general before opening that can of worms. It would be all too easy to establish requirements that were either onerous or really window dressing. Neither would be beneficial.