My biblical storytellng professor tells the whole Gospel of Mark. Which is impressive. It takes around two hours or so. And if you see her perform the whole Gospel of Mark, you’ll notice that so muh in the Gospel of Mark happens IMMEDIATELY!  

Immediately! Jesus and the apostles are always going here or there immediately. There’s an urgency to the word. Now I’ve been at the Unitarian Universalst Association’s General Assembly for the last week, and after visiting the Action of Immediate Witness Process once again, I have to wonder if we really uderstand the concept.  To paraphrase Inigo Montoya – we use this phriase a lot. I’m not sure it means what we think it means. And when things become contentious, that’s a particular shame.

Let me sum up.  Or…I have some time here…let me explain.  To begin with, our polity is congregational in nature. That means that the power comes from the poeple. The congregations elect delegates to the assembly. The assembly elects the board, the officers, and the President of the UUA. The assembly votes on by-laws. And the assembly – the whole assembly – votes on statements of conscience that speak for the whole association. A statement of conscience takes years. It has to be a study action issue. It goes back to the congregations — for study — before coming back to the assembly to be voted on as a statement of conscience.  Of course individual congregations are free to speak for themselves, but if we are going to put the force of the whole association behind something – if the President is going to speak for us – we need to vote on this as an assembly.

Sometimes in our world, there are issues that come up so immediately that there is no time to go through the normal process. Sometimes we wish to be able to speak out about something while we are at the General Assembly – because something is happening right now.  Enter the Action of Immediate Witness – or AIW.  Here’s the thing about an AIW – it’s non-binding one General Assembly is over. It has no teeth.  

The way the AIW process currently works is that people garner signatures on petitions to put AIWs before the assembly. They do this for a few days early in the assembly. Then the assembly has to vote on admitting up to three AIWs to vote on in the session. So by the time we get to actually voting up or down on the actual AIWs that have been admitted for consideration, that is, before we vote on whether or not we’ll adopt the AIWs – it’s the final day of the assembly. 

Today was the vote on the AIWs. This afternoon, in fact. The assembly was scheduled to be adjourned at 4:30 in the afternoon.  The AIW that was under consideration was Black Lives Matter. 

Now, for all intents and purposes, the UUA has already been solidly behind Black Lives Matter – under the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. But OK, I get why, emotionally, people wanted to pass an AIW about this given recent events. I get that. Here’s what I don’t get. I don’t get why this debate today got nasty and contentious. I don’t get why people were getting so freaked out about wordsmithing a document that was going to have power for another 30 minutes. I don’t get why we ended up alienating each other and falling out of covenant so that we could make sure that we said that Black Lives Matter in just exactly the right way in a document that no one outside this assembly will ever see. I really don’t understand that.

Four years ago, in Charlotte, (I think it was in Charlotte, but it might have been five years ago in Minneapolis), we came close to eliminating AIW’s all together.  We were planning what Justice GA was going to look like in Phoenix, and we wanted to keep the business of the assembly to a bare minimum so that we could mostly do justice work. And there was a motion to eliminate AIWs all together. The point was made that they have no teeth. The point was made that we waste a lot of time and energy crafting and debating these, and that many of them aren’t even immediate. Many of them are about long-standing issues that are pet causes for people. We almost eliminated them. But not quite. In the end, we had a compromise, and we suspended them for the Justice GA only. And then they came back.

Today we behaved badly. We were out of covenant with each other. And in the end it was all so that we could pass an AIW that allowed the assembly to speak with one voice for 30 minutes. Until the assembly was adjourned. This was not our finest hour. 

This is what I would like to do immediately. I would like to do away with AIWs for good. I’m sure we can imagine a better way to allow our President to speak for us during the assembly should the need arise. This is what I’d like to do immediately – but it’s too late for that. The assembly has been adjourned until next year.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


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