16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
The One Thing Sugarloaf Can Learn from GA 2010
Presenter:Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date:Sun, 07/11/2010
At the end of June I made my annual pilgrimage to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly or GA, our denomination’s annual meeting. This meeting takes place in a different city every year – this year it was in Minneapolis – and each year thousands of UUs from across the world come together to go to workshops, shop in a hall filled with UU themed merchandise, and, probably most importantly, to do the “business” of the association, the sort of business that our denominational bylaws say can only be done by the whole body – the whole body of Unitarian Universalists.
The business meetings are not dissimilar from the Congregational Meeting that we have here at SCUU every year, where we vote on things that the entire congregation needs to vote on, not just the Board or some committee. That’s the same idea at GA, except this year there were 3800 attendees, of which I’d imagine over a thousand were voting delegates from UU congregations.
I was one of your delegates this year; Chris Hager served as your other delegate. I’ll add a plug that there is room for one more delegate each year from SCUU, and anyone else is welcome to attend, so if this process or the Assembly in general intrigues you, I’ll be reminding you all in the winter when it’s time to sign up for the 2011 GA in Charlotte, North Carolina. Keep in mind that any UU is welcome at General Assembly, and we also have room for two voting delegates from SCUU in addition to myself.
This year’s assembly had a couple of interesting new developments. First, we have a new president of our association, Rev. Peter Morales, who was elected at last year’s GA. And second, there was a lot of hubbub around where GA will be held in 2012: Phoenix, Arizona. And this sermon has to do with both of those things. This sermon is called “The One Thing that Sugarloaf Can Learn from GA 2010” – and in the end there will be only the one thing to remember, although we’ll be talking about a number of things on the way to getting there.
Well, for Peter Morales, summing up Unitarian Universalism is not rocket science – at least the part about summing up what we Unitarian Universalists DO. For Peter, if I may put words in his mouth, Unitarian Universalists have one job, one commonality: Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love. We stand on the side of love.
Now, standing on the side of love is not a new concept or slogan for Unitarian Universalism. We began wrapping a lot of our social action work under that umbrella concept a couple of years ago. And it really works to help us define what we want to do in the world.
Marriage equality? We UUs want to stand on the side of love, and allow those who love each other to express that love through legal marriage.
Health care reform? We UUs want to stand on the side of love, and help those who need access to health care to get that care.
Global warming? It’s even easier to stand on the side of love there, since if we love ourselves we might want to work more on that front before we melt or drown or get buried under random snowdrifts or suffocate in endless heatwaves.
But these were not really the main topic at General Assembly this year. The main topic, as you may have heard, was the increasingly, alarmingly shabby treatment of immigrants that our nation has been witnessing over the past few years. Specifically, the General Assembly was up in arms, because of where fate and the GA Planning Committee years ago arranged to hold GA in 2012: Phoenix, Arizona – which is, at this moment, the hotbed of anti-immigration sentiment in our country.
Now, “Standing on the Side of Love” is not only a useful slogan for UUs as they operate in the world outside. It’s also a useful slogan for when we deal with each other, because UUs are smart and they are analytic and thoughtful and committed, but sometimes they need some help being nice. Peter Morales did well to set Love as our standard for the Assembly, because UUs from across the country had already been fighting with each other over this GA 2012 issue.
But they weren’t arguing because they disagreed on the basic point. Regardless of what you think about folks entering our nation without proper documentation, Arizona’s SB 1070 is a hateful law. It pits people against each other – police versus citizen, to start with; documented versus undocumented; latino versus other races, because Latinos will bear the burden of “appearing” to be undocumented; employers versus employees; Arizona versus the neighboring states to where immigrants, both legal and illegal, will flee – and this names only a few of the potential conflicts.
Pitting groups of people against each other is always problematic. And the fact that this law looks so much like the way Germany looked when it began its march to Auschwitz and Dachau and the “Final Solution” ought to give us tremendous pause. The Holocaust was not so long ago; we have people sitting in this room who likely could tell us very clearly how it all began, and it began by requiring behavior such as that also required by SB 1070. We don’t want to put a first line down in our own dreadful poem:
So, as I said, the debate at General Assembly was not whether not the Arizona law 1070 was alarmingly bad. It was, rather, whether or not we should boycott that city and move our 2012 General Assembly somewhere else. More on that in a minute, including what decision we came to.
I want to first share some of the comments that came from that debate about the importance of looking at this law. Arizona is far away, it’s a southern border state, and it would be easy to think that the situation there doesn’t have much to do with us or with the nation as a whole. But I encourage you to not be lulled into complacency by that notion. As was said in GA, we are all Arizona. Prince William County, in Virginia, is not far away at all, and that county has already passed laws very much like SB 1070. Laws like SB 1070 are cropping up in Nebraska and New Jersey, in Utah and Oklahoma and South Carolina, and more. And we here in Germantown should be particularly concerned, because outer ring suburbs like this are home to many immigrants, many Latinos, and many of them are undocumented.
How will we treat them, when the question comes to us? When we are asked to be afraid, to divide, to shut out, to label and stereotype, what will we do? This is where the one thing that you can learn from GA 2010 can be of help. Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love. Whatever the situation, whatever the need: Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love.
It’s interesting that our congregation is the home of so many government workers. It’s quite possible that some of our own members work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the federal body charged with maintaining our borders. It’s quite possible that members of our congregation spend their days trying to keep undocumented workers out of our country, and find them and send them back if they are already here. I can guarantee that there are many such ICE employees in UU churches around the Beltway, if there aren’t any here at SCUU. As I said in the beginning of this sermon, I think there is room for thoughtful UUs on both sides of the immigration issue. You could believe that the borders should be shut and that undocumented immigrants should be deported, and still be a good UU. The question, for me, is how that is done. Do we create a climate of fear, do we pit neighbor against neighbor, do we ask for certain races or cultures to be treated with suspicion whether they are “illegal” or not?
I think a faithful UU says “no” to that behavior, even if a faithful UU could say yes to either side of whether to allow freer immigration in the first place. A faithful UU stands on the side of love in all cases. And so I ask, for those who are working close to this topic: What is the loving response, the loving solution to the immigration crisis in our country? Can we create laws and structures that protect us when we need protecting, and close our borders when they need closing, and still stand on the side of love? I believe that can be done. And, what’s more, I believe that it is our job as UUs to do it – that is, to be always asking no matter what the task, “what is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?”
There was a strong contingent of UUs who wanted to send a message to Arizona by boycotting it and moving General Assembly somewhere else. This would deprive the state of a significant amount of our money, but would also cost the denomination around $600,000 in cancellation fees.
Those initially joining the push for boycott were those leaders from our UUs of color, who expressed an extremely reasonable concern for the safety of our Latino and other UUs of color who would attend GA in Phoenix under such a law.
Strikingly, the Unitarian Universalists of Arizona were strongly against the idea of boycott, claiming that the hotel and restaurant workers would be gravely affected by our lack of business and also that by attending, we UUs could add a strong voice to the debate that is ongoing there. UUs in Arizona are working closely with partner organizations in the Latino community and they all spoke with one voice: Come, come to Phoenix for General Assembly and stand on the side of love with our immigrant workers.
Debate raged at GA this year. If you’re particularly interested in the parliamentary procedure around how we came to a decision, then please feel free to speak to me after the service or check out the reporting on uua.org. I also have a copy of the resolution that was eventually passed, if you’d like to see it. For most of us it will suffice to say that we eventually came to a compromise, one that I think most of the delegates are really excited about.
Unitarian Universalists will still hold our General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012. But it won’t be a regular GA, with our typical workshops and our decisions around which bylaw to tweak this year. Rather, GA 2012 will be a Justice GA, where we do only the minimum business required by our bylaws and we spend the rest of the time engaged in justice activities relating to the status of undocumented immigrants and our desire to stand with them on the side of love. We may hold rallies and informational workshops. We’ll hear from the folks who are at work on the ground. We may take trips to the border to learn more about who is coming across and why.
It won’t be business as usual, although we’ll still bring our business to Phoenix. It will be more of a witnessing, an occasion for thousands of Americans to come together and say that we want to work together for justice and equity. We want all human beings to be safe. We want a nation grounded in compassion and not in fear. We remember the mistakes of the past and we want to avoid having them happen again. We will go to Phoenix to stand on the side of love.
But who knows what the climate of this nation will be by the time we get to 2012. Who knows if this law will be a non-issue of our past, or if laws like it will have spread far and wide, so that we have whole communities of people who have to carry documentation and make themselves available for search and questioning? And that’s why it’s certainly not enough to wait until GA in Phoenix to remember the one thing that Sugarloaf needs to remember from this year’s General Assembly.
Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love. That’s what we have most in common and it’s the most important message we can share with our world. Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love – in matters big and small, in matters at home and at church and at work, in matters local and global. We stand on the side of love.
May it be so.