UU Voices Gain in Public Arena
by Jane Greer
The voice of the Unitarian Universalist Association is gaining new volume in the world. The Rev. William G. Sinkford, UUA president, appeared on a recent Boston-area public affairs TV show to discuss his administration's goals. The Rev. David Hubner, director of ministry and professional development, was part of a panel discussion on a law opposing same sex marriage, reported in the Boston Herald. The Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama, featured a story on UU ministers returning to Selma to revisit the site of watershed civil rights events. The Rev. Forrest Church was a guest on the nationally syndicated radio program "The Connection."
Sinkford, elected in June 2001, made UU visibility an important part of his campaign platform. Since his election, major articles featuring UU views have appeared in scores of newspapers including the New York Times and the Boston Globe, plus the Associated Press, Jet, Christian Century and the Religion News Service. This commitment to a larger public presence is further reflected in the creation of a new staff team for Advocacy and Witness, headed by the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA's Washington office.
The appearance of the UU voice in print, as well as in other media, is part of a renewed UUA commitment to public witness. Public witness, according to the UUA director of information, John Hurley, "is a way to try to make justice in the world. Public witness, as we practice it, involves working to identify issues where we have an authentic voice and where we can effect change." Because of this commitment, UUA positions on such issues as stem cell research, homosexuality and the Boy Scouts, and the September 11 incidents have been part of the public conversation.
How does the UUA arrive at its official positions? Many of the stances adopted by the Association have been decided by resolution at the annual General Assembly. Each year a number of issues are presented to the gathered delegates that if adopted, become Actions of Immediate Witness. Thus, when a reporter calls for the UUA's position on an issue, a UUA spokesperson will refer to the body of decisions made through the resolution process.
Decisions are also based on counsel offered by the UUA Public Witness Team. The team is an interdepartmental group of eleven UUA staff members meeting regularly to consider issues of importance, such as racial reparations in Tulsa and a denominational response to the Middle East crisis. Some of the issues have been referred to the team by the Socially Responsible Investing Committee, which monitors the Association's investments, and which joins with other allies to exert pressure on corporations for just practices (see story on page 45). Just recently, the UUA joined forces with the Equality Project, a coalition of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered shareholders, to pressure Home Depot to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation. They scored another victory in May when they received 23 per cent of a preliminary vote from Exxon shareholders to include sexual orientation in the written equal opportunity policy.
"Public witness is a way in which UUs can live out their religious values," says Hurley. "It ensures that UUs will have a place at the table where issues of social justice are discussed and debated."
Jane Greer is associate editor of UU World.