As I said in my first post, this was the first year I came to GA as a delegate. Don’t tell my congregation, but I have not been a very good delegate. Over-committed as usual, I let some of the plenaries slide. And during the ones I attended I usually had a computer on my lap as I tried to write up one of the talks I had covered for the GA web site. I’d poke my head up now and then to see whether I needed to vote on anything, and then duck back down for fear one of the other bloggers would see me and try to hand off the live-blogging duties.

I did manage to cast my presidential ballot. The lines were long, but the guy in front of me had been a poll-watcher in Chicago; he assured me that this was a very orderly process by comparison. To pass the time, the guy behind me struck up a conversation about the revised list of UU Sources in the proposed bylaw changes; he was against them. Eventually the lines sorted out alphabetically by state, and I found myself in the Maryland-Massachusetts line behind Jack Mendelsohn.

Young campaigners at the Salt Palace
Young campaigners at the Salt Palace

The Campaign. The buttons and t-shirts and people handing out leaflets have been everywhere the last few days, but on another level the presidential campaign has been strangely easy to ignore. As I wandered through the chattering crowds in the common areas, I don’t think I ever picked up the words “Morales” or “Hallman” — other than from identifiable campaigners. The people I hang out with have been eager to talk about some workshop or their UU University track or Salt Lake City, not the presidential campaign.

By-Laws. The other vote I cast was against the by-law changes, which failed by such a small margin that I practically decided the issue myself. And that is a scary thought, I guess, because I am what the pros call a “single-issue, low-information voter”. Like the guy in the voting line, I had read the revised UU Sources and I didn’t like them.

Listening to the debate on the floor (while I simultaneously transcribed my UU University notes), I gathered that a lot of people were single-issue voters, if perhaps better informed than I was. Most of the discussion was about the Sources, and a long line of people at the microphone for procedural questions tried to come up with some way we could pass the rest of the changes and vote on the Sources separately. They failed. For good reasons, I suppose, the process governing by-law changes is very strict. So any amendments were out of order, and we had to vote up or down on the whole package.

Even as I voted to reject their efforts, I felt bad for the people on the Commission on Appraisal, which wrote the changes. I imagined them working very diligently and conscientiously, as UU governance wonks almost always do. But I don’t think they fully appreciated the role that the Sources play for the people in the pews.

The Sources are key to the way our religious diversity works in practice. Almost everyone, I believe, identifies strongly with one or two of the Sources and grudgingly accepts one or two others. The statements about what we get from each Source may seem weak. But they acknowledge a floor, a basic minimum of respect that your favorite Source deserves from your fellow UUs.

In the proposed new Sources, that floor was gone. Some Sources were described as “vital” while others (a much longer list than before) had “influenced” or “informed” UUism. What exactly we got from each of them — as well as whether the influence was good or the information accurate — was left to interpretation. I found that unsettling enough to vote no.

About the Author
doug muder


  1. Rex Styzens

    My thanks to you and the other bloggers for the firsthand reporting. You gave me a sense, as I remember it, of the feeling on the floor during the crowded days of attendance.

    My first GA was in Chicago, the first one after merger of the two separate denominations. The video was limited to onsite, but parts of it were directed by William Friedkin, at that time of WTTW, but later the Oscar winning Hollywood director of “The French Connection,” among others. As he and I were friends (my wife had worked for him), I have followed his career at a distance. He’s now directing the staging of opera, as well as some of the avant garde stories hard to tell.

    “Boston,” as many of us in the Midwest referred to the denomination’s headquarters, was a far more modest enterprise then than now. Despite the burgeoning bureaucracy, my sense of the primary significance of the local congregation has not changed greatly. The immersion in our wider diversity can be an eye-opener and refreshing.

    Yet GAs like weekly baths are mostly a matter of maintaining one’s social acceptability. I compare it to the representative town meetings I attended in the Boston area and confess to admiration and awe that any business can be accomplished at a delegate convention. At times, it is a wonder to behold. I expect on return to the local congregation, delegates share their “born again” enthusiasm. We don’t always get what we want but sometimes we get what we need–to coin a phrase.

  2. David M

    I am very glad, whether well informed or not, that you helped decide this issue. It was corporate rebranding gone amok with the Sources. Your point, that it both supports and challenges us (along with their poetry) is why they are important.


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