There is an amazing power in being able to control the agenda, be it in a congregation, in the U.S. Congress, and even (and perhaps especially) at General Assembly. I have usually in my Articles from GA talked about the day in order, but I’m going to first talk about the decision of the General Assembly to go to Phoenix Arizona in 2012, do the minimum business there required by our bylaws, and then spend the rest of the event in social justice work and events on immigration.
First, let me state my own “skin” in this game. I voted for the resolution to go to Arizona under these restricted conditions. It is not completely what I had hoped for (I wanted GA business to be suspended completely and for our time in Arizona to be fully focused on social justice). I also voted to make immigration reform our new Congregational Study Action Issue for the coming four years (which passed)… so we will be half-way into exploring the issues in a systemic and institutional way when we go to Arizona. I believe the compromise resolution that was worked out by the UUA Board, the Allies for Racial Equality and others represented a good choice… a better choice than the original resolution for a boycott and a better choice than doing nothing at all. If I am still within the continental United States in June of 2012, I will go to the Phoenix GA. I hope to be involved in events in that area even before then.
So, while I supported the new Board Resolution, I was still amazed by the amount of framing that the UUA Moderator, the UUA Board, the Commission on Social Witness, and others presented prior to the debate. I was amazed that that framing seemed to me completely one-sided. For over and hour (almost two, I think, but at least one) we were presented with the voices of individuals who were for the new board resolution. Two mini-sermons, a video from the Phoenix congregation, four prayers in a row, comments from the Board of Trustees, and quite a bit more that I cannot remember. All of it in support of the new board resolution.
So much so that even I, a supporter of the new board resolution, began to feel a little uncomfortable at how much framing was happening. Now, I admit, it is important that someone get to frame the agenda… but I want to ask the question… Do the persons who have the power to frame and set the agenda, in a people who value democracy, have a responsibility toward equality of position in that framing?
Pastorally, I can guess why the framing was so one-sided… there was a lot of anxiety about what was going to happen in that debate. Debates over such issues in the past have at times become personal, and have been destructive influences upon our movement. We are still living with the wounds from some of those debates during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and we are intentionally understanding this immigration reform commitment as the Civil Rights movement of our time. In that light, this GA felt historical for us, and standing in the realm of living history can be anxiety producing all on its own.
So, I’m conflicted. There is a part of me that wants to salute a masterful job of framing the debate so that what I think was the best outcome possible in the moment was what occurred… and another part of me made uncomfortable by how focused that framing was. It’s okay… a little discomfort is good for the soul.
What I will probably remember about this day at the Minneapolis GA however will not be my discomfort with lead up to this debate on going to Arizona, but rather that, in an event for the roll-out of the new UUA Military Meditation Manual “Bless All Who Serve”, I took my oath and was accessioned into the U.S. Army Reserve as a Military Chaplain. It was a small event, and Chaplain George Tyger flung the old Chaplain Candidate (Staff Specialist) insignia across the room as he pinned a bright and shining new set of silver crosses upon my uniform. Afterward, it was wonderful to have friends make fun of me, because my titles now consist of more words than my actual name… Chaplain First Lieutenant the Reverend David Glenn Pyle.
Just wait till I finish a Doctor of Ministry, so I can sound even more pretentious! Thank you George for issuing my accessioning oath, and to the UUA Stewardship team for allowing us to do this at your event. And, if you have not checked out the book, I urge you to buy a copy, or if you are a veteran or service member, contact the Church of the Larger Fellowship for a free copy (while they last).
It was also wonderful to have a member of the UU Fellowship of Midland Michigan, where I will be next year’s interim minister, present for the ceremony… and she brought a great camera! Pictures to follow. And it was wonderful to have lunch with her. Thank you Heather.
The last thing I want to comment on about Ware Lecture Day at GA 2012 is the Ware Lecture itself. This year’s Ware Lecturer, Winona LaDuke, is a Native American activist on issues of justice from the protection of indigenous peoples to the environment. She was witty, challenging, and someone who had made profound changes in her community and in the world, and was challenging us to do the same. She represented my favorite kind of leadership style, the person who moves into a challenge and dares others to follow her. She had an obvious appreciation for some of our strengths and weaknesses as Unitarian Universalists, and tailored her message to that understanding. I was impressed with her, and when I next have a place to live with land, will see what I can do about my own garden.
That being said, she did make one comment that I and a friend take issue with. She stated that we in the United States have a train system that even Bulgaria would be ashamed of. That is probably true, Bulgaria would probably be ashamed of our railway system… because by all reports I know their trains are wonderful, some of the best in Eastern Europe, thank you very much!
All in all, it was a full and wonderful day, one that re-affirmed my realization that, on issues of great importance, it is the tendency of the leadership of our religious movement to attempt to frame the debate in ways that, while they may lessen anxiety and lead to less conflict, may detract from the democratic nature of our faith governance and be more than a little conflict-avoidant. I get the history of why this is, and there is a part of me that is thankful for it (as I said, I’m conflicted). But I want to name this as a growing edge for us, that we need to continue to build our faith in one another that we can have more honest and equal debate without some of the negative experiences of our past.
May it be so…
Yours in faith,