Saturday, March 8, 2008
Responsive resolutions: Spontaneous plenary business.
I've wondered how many people skip the final plenary session at each summer's UUA General Assembly in order to avoid the spectacle of the debate on Actions of Immediate Witness. (AIWs are social justice resolutions submitted by petition at GA.) Maybe the hundreds of empty chairs were vacated by ministers who had to get home a day early, or by exhibitors who needed to help take down their exhibit hall booths, or by people who desperately needed a nap, but then again, if comments from friends of mine are any indication, maybe the process strikes many people as tedious and inconsequential. (Disclosure: Although I've attended eleven General Assemblies since 1995, I've never been a delegate. Since 2001 I've attended GA as a journalist. So I may be a bit jaded.)
But in the last few years, AIW resolutions have been joined by the new and unpredictable spectacle of "responsive resolutions," which have emerged as a way to do denominational "business" more or less spontaneously at the very end of the Assembly. This year, a responsive resolution rooted in the controversy about the future of YRUU and C*UUYAN may make the final plenary session especially lively.
In theory, groups of congregations, individual district assemblies, or large groups of individual church members (from at least 25 congregations) can introduce "business resolutions." The Board of Trustees, its executive committee, and the Commission on Appraisal can also introduce business resolutions. But the last business resolution was adopted back in 1998. (The business resolution process is defined in Bylaw Section 4.11, Rule G-4.18.2, Rule G-4.18.3, and Rule G-4.18.4, although there may also be other relevant sections. Alas, I'm not aware of a simplified guide to the process.) Organizing a business resolution probably seems like a time-consuming and complicated way to engage the General Assembly, and I suspect that few congregational leaders can imagine what worthwhile thing they could accomplish by introducing a business resolution.
But if the lengthy, formal, theoretically congregationally-accountable business resolution process hasn't captured people's attention, the do-it-yourself responsive resolution process certainly has. The General Assembly has adopted responsive resolutions every year since 2000 (except 2003) — and the number of resolutions has been going up. There were two in 2005, four in 2006, and six in 2007. At least one has been a rejiggered Action of Immediate Witness that the Commission on Social Witness had turned down. The process is astonishingly straight-forward: A delegate may introduce a resolution "in response to a substantive portion of a report by an officer or committee reporting to a regular General Assembly." A two-thirds vote is required for adoption. (See Bylaw Section 4.16.c.) Voila!
I can't recall any debate on any of the responsive resolutions presented to the General Assembly — nor is it easy to imagine how a debate could emerge. The resolutions aren't (usually) circulated in advance, and unless someone shows up at the Con microphone almost immediately after the resolution is introduced, the delegates vote without further ado. It's the quick and easy way to get the General Assembly to approve something.
This year, some folks are planning their responsive resolutions in advance. Victoria Mitchell and Kimberlee Tomczak are circulating a resolution for district assemblies and for this summer's General Assembly reaffirming the ideal of "youth empowerment" in response to news about changes in the UUA's relationship to the youth organization YRUU and the young adult organization C*UUYAN. (See UU World's coverage of the YRUU story and the C*UUYAN story for background.) The Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution is available on Mitchell and Tomczak's new blog, which also provides some personal background on the matter. (Mitchell writes that Daniel O'Connell encouraged the resolution idea, which is interesting because O'Connell has written about districts submitting General Assembly business resolutions at his UUA Politics blog.)
Because they're planning this resolution in advance, it will be interesting to see how (or whether) different models of youth ministry are discussed at GA — and whether this particular resolution generates meaningful discussion during a plenary session rather than simply a perfunctory vote affirming youth. In many respects, this resolution looks more like a business resolution than a responsive resolution, although its funding and staffing recommendations are fairly general. Will delegates see it as an affirmation of the board and administration's new vision of youth ministry, or will they see it as a rebuke?
Don't go home early this year: We might get a lively debate about how our Association does its work at the very end.
Update 5.6.08: At its April meeting, the UUA Board of Trustees placed the Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution (as revised) on the General Assembly agenda as a business resolution. This means that delegates will get to see it in advance, and increases the likelihood that the resolution will be discussed rather than simply being adopted.
Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 8 March 2008 at 12:14 PM