Monday, February 27, 2006

ExcomUUnication? (Sorry.)

The Fred Phelps discussion on the UU theology mailing list has progressed to one about the nature of freedom and who is and who isn't welcome in a UU church.

One guy wrote:

Creed: A formal statement of religious belief
Covenant: A formal agreement between two parties with each assuming
some obligation(s).

We (UU's) do not have a Creed.

But we do have Covenant's between our congregation's and the UUA and
between our local church's and ourselves.

Slavery would be a violation of my local church's covenant of
membership and of "most" UU churches.

The result would be not a Vatican style "excommunication", but a
democratic boot out of the UU family for being a "promise

To violate the covenant, would be to violate membership at my local
UU church.

Is this true? Can UU churches do this?

I guess what I'm asking is "when congregational polity fights creedlessnesss, who wins?"

The political view I hold that I think would be most abhorrent to the average UU is that I don't believe in hate crime legislation.

I don't strictly believe in reducing punishments because of motive. (E.g. Jury nullification. If Janie comes home and says "Daddy, the man next door just raped me" and Daddy get his gun and kills the guy, I do think that it is still second degree murder, first degree if Daddy waits awhile. I doubt a jury will agree with me, but I still think so.) That said, this isn't the hill I would choose to die on.

(I do make an exception for insanity or people so mentally retarded that they didn't know what they were doing. There trying to figure out what was in their heads is fair enough.)

But in dealing with someone of normal intelligence and capabilities, I ABSOLUTELY don't believe in adding additional time for hate crimes. I'm sorry, when it is the judge's job to figure out what a person was thinking, then we are effectively giving people additional jail time for what they think. At that idea is pretty disgusting to me as a UU, an American and a child of God.

I don't think any church would collectively find this view so disgusting as to kick me out, but if they did, would I have any recourse?

Just curious.



Paul Wilczynski said...

For me, expressing the opinion that one were in favor of slavery wouldn't be grounds for being voted out of the congregation, although it would be grounds for some appalling glances.

Practicing slavery *would* be grounds.

Obijuan said...

If it's going to be a creedless covenant, the agreement between parties would have to be based more on behavior than belief. A belief alone should not be enough to warrant ejection (if we believe in the progress of the human soul, we want to aid in that progression). However, if your belief leads to action that is unhealthy for the covenanted body, a process for reconciliation or removal should be in place.

UUpdater said...

Recourse to what ends? Cngregational polity dictates that congregations o have the final say on membership. If the congregation wants you out I don't know of any outside authority that could reinstate you as a member.

Of course the congregation has no authority to bar your membership elsewhere.

Chalicechick said...

Good point, UUpdater.

I guess what I was looked for was soembody to say "Gee, it was wrong of them to do that."

Paul's post made me smile and Obijuan's makes a lot of sense.

Great responses.


Steve Caldwell said...


The UUA bylaws restriction on creedal tests for membership is the only restriction on congregational polity that I know of within our current bylaws:

"SECTION C-2.4. Freedom of Belief.
Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test."

Other than this "freedom of belief" clause, UU congregations are pretty much free to establish whatever membership rules and policies that they desire.

Here's the bylaws section on congregational polity:

"SECTION C-3.2. Congregational Polity.
Nothing in these Bylaws shall be construed as infringing upon the congregational polity or internal self-government of member congregations, including the exclusive right of each such congregation to call and ordain its own minister or ministers, and to control its own property and funds. Any action by a member congregation called for by these Bylaws shall be deemed to have been taken if certified by an authorized officer of the congregation as having been duly and regularly taken in accordance with its own procedures and the laws which govern it."

We often overlook this, but many UU congregations often exclude individuals from membership for reasons that have nothing to do with the ability to maintain covenantal relationship. For example, my congregation restricts membership to persons age 18 and older (age 16 is OK after minister approval).

A 14 or 15 year old youth can belong to a covenantal community like YRUU at the district level. A 14 or 15 year old youth can legally serve on my district's board or the UUA board. But this same youth is restricted from congregational membership in my town.

This lack of desire for recruiting youth as members is due in part to the UUA's Annual Program Fund.

Each voting member in one's congregation costs the congregation $51.00 per member during the 2005/2006 fiscal year.

If 14 year old youth were making $100,000 a year and tithing 10% to the UU church, I suspect that nearly all objections to youth membership would evaporate in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

As to convicting someone for what they are thinking -- it's pretty difficult in our courts -- usually it's for actions like shouting hateful prejudicial epithets while beating or killing someone. This makes it obvious that it is a hate crime.

PeaceBang said...

My experience is that very, very few people get "excommunicated" from UU churches. Mostly there's a long process of trying to establish some kind of sane boundaries before anyone goes to an individual and says, "Look, you can't come anymore." It's an impossible thing to enforce, also.

I see a lot of interest in "behavioral covenants" these days, which strikes me as a misguided, if well-meant, twist on the original notion of covenant. You'll all just have to wait for my doctoral thesis to get published to learn way. I'll get back to you in, like, 2011 or so.

indrax said...

Polity wins, but I would say that any congregation that votes someone out becuase of their *beliefs* is not a UU congregation, no matter what those beliefs are.
Then the question is: Can the UUA vote out a congregation?

Robin Edgar said...

Um CC. . .

Don't you think that I was excommU*Unicated from the Unitarian Church of Montreal for what I think?

And in more ways than one. . .

Allah prochaine,

The Dagger of Sweet Reason


Robin Edgar said...

Dear Indrax aka Brother Boot Knife of Qiet Reflection,

AFAIAM The Unitarian Church of Montral most certainly IS a U*U congregation and this is clearly reflected on my most recent picket sign slogans. . . ;-)

Allah prochaine,

The Dagger of Sweet Reason


Chalicechick said...

No, Robin, I don't think your excommunication was about what you think.

I think the original problem you had might have been, but your excommunication was all about your behavior and your reaction to that problem.