If you want readers to immediately abandon your article, start with, “I want to talk about bylaws.” Hopefully, you are still reading. Your attention is needed on two UUA committees that are laboring away to revise our Association’s bylaws. These efforts have the real potential to change the nature of the Association and UUism substantially.
We are sharing this information with the hope that you will be motivated by concern, curiosity, or love of UUism. This board-sponsored work is moving forward without input from you or your congregation. Although the Association’s primary purpose is to serve its member congregations’ needs, it is unclear what need is served by these Boston-centric efforts.
Entire Rewrite of the Bylaws
The first committee is revising the entirety of the Association’s bylaws. This committee has already progressed through the first eight of 15 articles. A preliminary report reveals that the committee is taking wide license. One recommendation changes the Association’s underlying organizational structure.
To be clear, our national leadership has a poor record when it comes to modifying the Association’s governance structure. In 2009 the Fifth Principle Task Force made recommendations to fix the structural inadequacies of General Assembly. The Task Force’s recommendations were never implemented. Two years later, in 2011, the board sponsored the consolidation of the Association’s 19 districts into five regions and eliminated national trustees with direct accountability to their constituent districts. If anything, our Association has become less and less aligned with the democratic process.
There is little expectation that the third time will be the charm. We are “a voluntary association of autonomous, self-governing member congregations, which have freely chosen to pursue common goals together.” This structure has roots in our heritage denominations and has been a bedrock of the UUA for six decades.
The preliminary report does not mention any deficiencies of this organizational structure. The rationale for the change comes from the question, “Does limiting membership and delegate voting congregations stifle innovation?” Given the crisis of relevance of our Boston leadership team to UU congregations, the question is vague and lacks any sense of compelling purpose to the work. A better question to ask may be, “What changes can we make to our bylaws that will engage more UUs in the democratic governance of the Association?”
The proposal to expand Association membership to individuals, professional groups, identity groups or potentially to other non-congregational groups continues the decades-long erosion of congregational governing authority and only serves to memorialize the shift to top-down governance under the influence of interest groups.
This rewrite again illustrates that our leadership operates under the mistaken assumption that they “own” the Association. We saw this mistaken assumption in 2017 with the declaration that the Association is allegedly based on white supremacy culture. That declaration led to the 2020 adoption of the flawed Widening the Circle of Concern report as well as the flirtation with creedalism based on liberation theology. Our UU leadership team did not seek input or consent from our congregations on those decisions. The same is true for this bylaws rewrite.
The committee acknowledges that they have no direct authority to carry out their work. Instead, with a bit of sleight of hand, the committee self-authorized their work as part of the revamping of UUism based on Widening the Circle of Concern. This bootstrapping of the revision of bylaws to a report commissioned and adopted by an unelected board does not bode well for democracy or UUism. We may ask, what is our leadership commitment to our Fifth Principle or to any of our Seven Principles?
Article II Study Commission
That question segues to the second board-sponsored committee, the Article II Study Commission. That committee was given sweeping authority to revise Article II that contains the purpose of the Association, our Seven Principles, Six Sources, Inclusion, and our Freedom of Belief clause.
We will publish another Discussion when more information is made available from these committees.
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