#44 | Judith Barisonzi | UUA Serves Congregations

Submission 44
Judith Barisonzi
Blue Hills UU Fellowship (Rice Lake, WI) 8426

What is your suggestion or idea?

My proposed amendment relates to section C-2.1, Purposes. I would like to add the following sentence: ““The Unitarian Universalist Association is accountable to its member congregations, which it exists to serve.””

What is the reason for your amendment idea?

The UUA was created to serve its member congregations. It is thus accountable to them. It is incorrect to state or imply that individual members or congregations are accountable to the central authority of the UUA. This is a misunderstanding of the concept of free religious assembly.

Have you discussed this idea with your congregation or other UUs?

My congregation has intensively discussed the proposed revisions to Article II. We have not yet examined specific suggestions for amendment.


Yes, that’s the UUA that my congregation joined, and if the UUA wants to renege on the agreement to serve our needs, then that’s a real problem


@Judith Barisonzi
The current UU bylaws read: “The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.” Would that suffice? Or would you propose changing that?

It seems to me that the Article II commission has had trouble clearly articulating why we really need to change the bylaws so drastically right now. They wrote this as their justification in their FAQ:

Unitarian Universalism is a living tradition that learns and adapts to meet the needs of each generation. It’s been nearly 40 years since a comprehensive review and revision of Article II. The digital age has shifted our interactions with community and truth. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our interdependence, and where individualism falls short. There is a rise in global autocracies and attacks on democratic institutions, and climate catastrophe and mass extinctions threaten the delicate balance of the web of life. These are just a few of the major struggles our living tradition must face today and in our future. With the articulation of our shared UU values, we can be better equipped to make values based decisions in facing these new and evolving realities.

None of this seems to clarify (to me at least) exactly why one would make each of the many changes that they made nor why each of them seemed necessary nor why the existing structure seems so insufficient to address issues today (except for very specific issues such as changing “men and women” to “people”).

I don’t personally feel strongly either way but I suspect that in the midst of confusion one often turns to changing words… because we can.

A carpenter I knew used to say to people who talked smack to him, “Now you’ve done the easy part” (meaning the talk part as opposed to the hard part: backing up the words with action).

It seems to me that in the face of many challenges organizationally, societally, interpersonally, and within congregations, many of us instinctively want to “do the easy part”. Yet, whatever wording UUs choose, the “hard part” of actually embodying diversity, combatting systemic oppression, and dismantling racism, classism, heteronormativism, ableism, specieism, the addiction industrial complex, ecological devastation, militarism, and patriarchy, all remain. We’ll find no quick fix regardless of the wording we choose (or exclude).

For the heck of it, I figured I’d link here to a non-exhaustive list of a variety of posts that have (more or less) called to scrap the revisions altogether:
















































(And no, I cannot explain why more people did not consolidate same or similar proposals under one topic rather than introducing them as new ones. But it does indicate that a sizable portion of the participants on this forum outright oppose adoption of the Article II revision in anything like its current form …or at all).

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I would hope the UUA serves its members and member congregations! This whole process has felt very top-down and rushed, and has made me question what the UUA is about.
(We all posted our thoughts on the feedback form, which were then put up here. We weren’t given the chance for the threads to grow organically and be consolidated.)


@AmandaP Thank you Amanda for clarying that. One would think then that the forum organizers could have potentially facilitated, after the fact, sub-topics themes for people to subsequently categorize which labels they would file their proposal under? (current tags, for example, do not make it easy to find those voices which opt to scrap the revisions altogether).

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There are other posts. The ones I submitted on 4/28 have not appeared yet, and I would suspect there are others as well. I’m in full agreement with your amendment.

I sense a lot of frustration in so many of these posts (some of it coming from me!)

I keep coming back to both the CHARGE to the Commission from the UUA and how the Commission INTERPRETED that charge.

Here’s the CHARGE as I personally interpret it and agree with it:

“Enable us to be a relevant and powerful force for spiritual growth, healing and justice, now and into the future, while honoring our historic roots. Include the following: Love in action, All beings, the 8th Principle, and more and/or broader Sources.”

And then I try to come up with Amendments that do that - but with emphasis on honoring our historic roots.

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Thank you for pointing that out.

I found the charge here and, as I read it, you gave a great concise summary of it.

Now, I signed up too late it seemed for the forum to allow me to submit a new topic/amendment but, if I had submitted one, I hear a lot of people wanting to stick with the current 7 Principles so I would try hard to make a revision that:

(a) makes as few changes as possible.
(b) makes changes in such a way that allows for people to vote on each change rather than an entirely new revision (this way, people at GA could more easily vote “yes” or “no” to specific changes on a piecemeal basis rather than make the revision an all-or-nothing proposal as I now understand it).

Subsequently, I think I would fashion a version of Article II that looked something like this (with each proposal and sub-proposal identified to enable votes on each addition/change of words or phrases):

Section C-2.1. Principles.

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

[Proposal 1]: The inherent worth and dignity of all life [1a], regardless of race [1b], class [1c], sex [1d], ability [1e], sexuality [1f], or species [1g];

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

[Proposal 2]: Active [2a] appreciation [2b] of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

[Proposal 3]: The goal of world community with peace and liberty as well as economic [3a] and racial [3b] justice for all;

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

[Proposal 4]: Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil (including racism [4a] and other system oppressions [4b]) with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;

[Proposal 5]: Wisdom from the world’s religions (including Asian [5a], African [5b], and Native American [5c] traditions) which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

[Proposal 6]: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

I feel curious as to whether or not those who prefer to retain the current 7 Principles would find this a sufficient compromise or not. Any thoughts?

Hi Anthony,

I like how few changes you make!

The reason I made more changes is maybe because I have a different sense
of what it would mean to “meet the Charge”? I think the most
challenging part of the Charge is “to enable UU to be a relevant and
powerful force for spiritual growth, healing, and justice, now and in
the future.”

It’s difficult to define relevance. Some of the ways I see UU struggling
for relevance are related to: the general decrease in people attending
religious/spiritual services of any kind; the despair about climate
change; the despair about polarization in general and polarization
around race & culture in particular; and the increased awareness of how
use of language impacts different people differently.

I certainly don’t know how to address all of those, but I want to be
actively engaged with others who are thinking about them.

And I also want to meet the Charge to “honor the historic roots” of UU.

I agree we should be able to vote on the smallest “chunk” possible. I
guess UUA’s approach for the Proposed Revision does that to so extent:
first we vote on Amendments, then we vote on the Amended package. But
maybe we could ask that we be allowed to vote on each Section?

Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Kara
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I agree with voting on each section. We can’t know until the amendment process plays out all the way, of course. But I think an up or down vote on the whole proposal ensures that one (probably large, though I have no statistics) group of UUs is going to be dissatisfied.

I still see this more as an overall timeline than an up or down vote that settles things. If we affirm the proposed revisions, there is still a year to see how well they work for us and even for amendments to be added, though harder. If we vote them down, we can’t return to these issues for “at least two years,” but I think we should not lose momentum and should continue with the process we have begun (not wait another 15 years). It is clear to me that some kind of change is needed, but will it happen in a way that truly advances our shared purposes and maybe even brings us closer together, or not?

Voting on each section could allow people to feel more assured that we are achieving agreement on the readiness of each part of Article II. If some need to “go back in the oven,” this to me just means that they will get folded in to the other Bylaw revisions process, which is probably a good thing for some sections.

I personally think we could get to agreement on the Sources, unless the numbers of people (delegates) really opposed to listing them and the numbers of people adamant about retaining them with no changes really are much greater than people seeing value in the combining/reconciling process that a number of amendments here propose.

Voting on each section separately to me would be a compromise and a call for reconciliation in many ways. It acknowledges that we are in this together and want to hear all voices and be democratic, but believe that our principles or values oppose us just trying to drown out minority opinions by going with a straight “majority prevails” vote. It allows each “side,” inasmuch as there is polarization, to seek middle ground with the other side rather than a more political approach of trying to “win.”

And in my vision, this would acknowledge that a truly living tradition must develop organically, even if shepherded and prompted by processes and deadlines. I feel this might help turn aside some of the pressure of recognized logistical limitations of GA and encourage relief and excitement. For me, as messy and as imperfect a process as this may have been, the worthwhile goals and really astonishing devotion of volunteer and community time over these past few years is something to celebrate and nurture.

Nurturing forward movement may mean laying aside set expectations and trying something in the spirit of generosity and growth that we seek to encourage.



Thanks! I can relate to your ambition.

Part of the dilemma (I suspect) seems to reside in the charge itself.

Enabling relevance comes primarily through what UUs do, not what UUs say. But we often tend to that which seems easiest (relatively speaking) and that seems like changing our words and hoping that will help “fix” our actions.

However, the intended chain of causality may not function any better than putting up new wallpaper to fix widespread mold in the framing of a home. And we tend to think of the bylaws as the framing but, I would presume, it sooner lies in the grassroots relationships within and between congregations and their respective relationships to non-UUs.

But maybe we could ask that we be allowed to vote on each Section?

Exactly. And the less changes, the easier one could do that.

(I would guess that radical revisions don’t even allow for piecemeal input at the level of general voting because they imply too many alternatives—presumably already reviewed and consolidated by working groups by that point, right?).


Thank you for your very helpful thoughts.

I agree that the process can seem messy and yet, at the same time, inspirational. And I feel glad to hear that you feel that voting on each section (and presumably its components) could ostensibly facilitate a compromise toward a unifying middle ground.

I confess that, after several re-reads, I did not understand this sentence. If me, then maybe you could clarify. If a typo, then maybe you could re-write/edit your original post?

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It does sound a bit self-contradictory. I mean that we want to hear all voices and follow a democratic process, but not to the extent of just ignoring or discarding minority views. So I guess I left out a middle step and will edit the post later, thanks!

My idea is that being open to the possibility of accepting proposed revisions piecemeal and saying that some might need more time is more likely to give all voices a chance to be heard and perhaps integrated than would a straight up or down, strictly “democratic” vote on the whole enchilada all at once.

As I work with the Study Commission’s proposal, I have fewer more specific changes. So I am counting myself among those that are looking to vote to continue considering the Article II revisions.

I like the sentence amendment by this suggestion.
““The Unitarian Universalist Association is accountable to its member congregations, which it exists to serve.”” It might be in the bylaws, but a restatement in purposes is a good idea as most members are more likely to read the purposes than the bylaws. By adding the amendment “serve” sentence is a positive framework. I reworked the words, hopefully increasing the odds that this amendment is included.

The moderator might find that it’s not necessary to add “and ongoing” below. I agree, with the originator of this suggestion, that the “and ongoing”, or something similar, needs to be added as the injustice is occurring in the present. Also the second sentence of the first paragraph sentence on “primary purposes” feels awkward with the second paragraph (single sentence) - also about purpose. “Further” could be the verb needed.

The Unitarian Universalist Association exists to serve its member congregations and does so by will devoting its resources to and using its organizational powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. Its primary purposes are to assist congregations in their vital ministries, support and train leaders both lay and professional, to foster lifelong faith formation, to heal historic and ongoing injustices, and to advance our Unitarian Universalist values in the world.

The further purpose of the Unitarian Universalist Association is to actively engage its members in the transformation of the world through liberating Love.

Note to authors and proponents of amendments that weren’t prioritized or presented: This forum is closing for comment tomorrow, but our lay-led public Facebook group, Blue Boat Passengers, will remain open for another few weeks for commenting (and still be viewable after that). Folks who want to find others to coordinate about the 15-congregation amendment process may use the group to do so while it is open.

Please read both the rules and the pinned post before posting or commenting there.

Thank you.

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