Wednesday, May 16, 2007
(Thai Women Praying - picture taken by Kaleema H. Nur)
International Relations, Congregational Polity and the Unitarian Universalist Association
by Qiyamah A. Rahman – March 16, 2007
"In all the activities of our vocation, we seek to be present at those points at which the sacred discloses itself among us, those points at which the brokenness of life is most pressing, those points at which creative and restorative power is operating in behalf of the whole being. Our task at those points is to become part of the action, to encourage it, to draw the attention of others to it and to engage them in it with us, to interpret its meaning in the perspective of liberal faith, and to cultivate ever-fresh means of celebrating the image and activity of the spirit among persons and in the events of history."
Unlike many other issues relevant to congregational polity, no specific policies appear to guide congregations in international relations. Thus, the purpose of this essay is to begin a preliminary exploration of Unitarian Universalists international relations and to determine what policies, if any, have guided congregations and the Unitarian Universalist Associations international relations over the years. From such an investigation this researcher anticipates being able to more definitively determine whether formal (written) or informal (unwritten) policies exist that perhaps guide congregations and the UUA in their decisions about internationalism. Additionally, this essay will include brief descriptions of the primary international organizations historically associated with the UUA and UUism.
An Understanding of the Theological Groundings of Internationalism
Many religious scholars maintain that religion functions for the well being of people. Rob Eller-Isaacs, Unitarian Universalist minister, defines the purpose of the church as helping, “engender the holy in people’s lives so that they might blossom into compassion and grow souls.” Eller-Isaacs suggests that Unitarian Universalist congregations are called to “transform suffering in their midst and in the world.” Similarly, Roger S. Gottlieb asserts, “authentic religion must be an activist transforming presence in the political world; that the moral and psychological insights of religion are of enormous value for those seeking progressive social change.” Gottlieb, maintains that religious voices are needed to “achieve the goals of justice, community and a rational society.” Furthermore, Roger S. Gottlieb, contends that authentic religion must be a transforming presence in the world. One can extrapolate from Gottlieb’s contentions that in order for religion to be a transforming presence that they must be effectively engaged in the world, hence, internationalism could be viewed as an effective approach to UUs providing a transforming presence in the world. Virtue ethicists embrace the belief that our actions reflect who we are. Thus, they endorse public witness as a way to reflect values. Religious institutions by virtue of their faith and calling should be engaged with public issues as a moral authority, the voice in the wilderness, that prophetic voice warning of grave dangers – that is, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. They can provide the early warning signs through their prophetic messages.
James Luther Adams, UU theologian, contends that there are two types of religion: prophetic and pietistic. Prophetic religion finds meaning of life in social responsibility and emphasizes collective responsibility as well as individual responsibility. Pietistic religion tends to focus on one to one relations between persons and between the person and God. Interest in pietistic religion is concerned with what goes on in small groups while prophetic religion is focused on the larger world. At its best, Unitarian Universalism is outward focused and would easily be viewed as prophetic rather than pietistic.
A conceptual framework that helps to explain the appropriate context for internationalism is the covenantal process that undergirds congregational polity. The covenant referred to calls Unitarian Universalists into relationship with one another. The exodus narrative and the Sinai narrative from the Hebrew Bible form the foundation for understanding covenant in the early church. In the exodus narrative, God frees the Israelites from bondage with their Egyptian rulers. Not only does God free the Israelites but confers the title of “chosen people” on the Jews with these words, “I will be your God.” God in turn, claims the Tribe of Israel and contends, “You shall be my people.” Essentially an historic covenant was then formed between humans and God. This unprecedented act furthermore, established expectations for human moral conduct. The exodus experience conveyed to the Israelites awareness of what it meant to be God’s people. God hears the cries of the captive and suffering slaves and “entered human history to bring deliverance and freedom.” Thus the people of Israel personally experienced the love, grace, and mercy bestowed upon them by their God. Modeling compassionate and liberating actions, God conveyed the message that the helpless and hopeless are precious priorities and worthy of our attention. In turn, the Exodus narrative taught the people by example of God’s compassionate nature. The Sinai narrative serves to teach how people of God live and conduct their lives. For it was at Sinai that God instructed the Israelites how to live in the world as people of God.
As former slaves the Israelites knew first hand the mercy and grace of God. As God’s people they were expected to act in a spirit of God consciousness, a shining example of righteousness and justice. From the earliest days of their writings, the prophets linked social justice and righteousness as qualities of “Gods people.”. Amos 5:24, a scripture quoted and made familiar by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in his I Have a Dream speech, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” As people of God the prophets emphasized social justice, an integral component of the Christian mission. The Prophet Isaiah in 58:2-4 poignantly conveys the interconnected relationship that exists between “people of God” with these inspiring words, “Our very well being depends on how we treat others.” The concept of righteousness is so essential that Micah denounced those that failed to show compassion for the helpless (Amos 5:7, 6:12). Furthermore, Prophet Micah communicated the primacy of righteousness and justice with these words, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
While this writer has solely addressed the theological grounding of internationalism from a theistic perspective, it is equally applicable to a non-theist perspective utilizing Aristotilian philosophers and later the Stoic philosophers. These philosophers sought to identify a core of shared moral principles to unite the diverse peoples and customs of their times. Thus, one can approach congregational polity from a theological perspective, and a philosophic or humanist perspective to understand the ethical dimensions of international relations and how it intersects the principles of Unitarian Universalism. The researcher will now provide a brief overview of congregational polity, followed by a historical overview of Unitarian Universalism.
Congregational polity is a governance process that originates in the local congregation and grants autonomy to its members, in contrast to institutional polity. The Catholic Church is an example of institutionally based polity in which the clergy are appointed by an ecclesiastical body that serves as the decision making body. Unitarian Universalists, Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ are examples of congregationally based polity, that is, the laity is autonomous and elects its own officers, determines membership, confers the power to ordain and call their ministers and to replace them. In congregationally based polity clergy are called rather than hired, therefore they are not employees in the usual sense. A Letter of Agreement is negotiated by the Board of Directors and the minister which serves to bind them one to the other. Unitarans use of congregational polity was formally documented in a now historic event referred to as The Cambridge Platform. The Cambridge Platform had its origins through an ecclesiastical council of congregational representatives that gathered in Boston, Massachusetts in 1648 and produced a detailed organizational chart including specific roles and responsibilities for various offices within the congregation. Deeply rooted in the values of religious freedom, self determination and egalitarianism congregational polity has long served as a hallmark of Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists over the years.
Congregational Polity and Internationalism
Congregational polity has continued to be a mainstay in Unitarian Universalist congregations since the1600s. However, congregational polity possesses both strengths and weaknesses. At its best, congregational polity is the standard bearer of true democracy that places ultimate power in the hands of the congregation as a reminder that it is these individuals that have gathered and covenanted to be together. Thus they know and depend on one another to make decisions in their best interests using a democratic process. While in theory this is a good concept and one to be celebrated and cherished what we know is that who in fact was at the table were property owners, that is, the wealthy and those allowed in the inner circle of Puritans and later Unitarians. Having noted that discrepancy, this fact alone does not detract from the democratic process but is more importantly a recognition of the racism and classism so prevalent then among Puritans and that is still prevalent among Unitarian Universalists today. Taken to its extremes, congregational polity can become very inward focused, fostering a suspicious community of individuals that are guarded of others, including their own denominational/associational bodies. It is this version of congregation polity that tends to “circle the wagons” in an “us and them” syndrome that then denies opportunities for accountability and precludes rich connections to other UUs. This distorted version of congregational polity often restricts any financial support for necessities such as theological education, denominational support, ecumenical outreach and community social service because they are so insular.
The paradigm shift from independence to interdependence, from individualism to relationalism noted by the Commission on Appraisal points to a more flexible and dynamic approach to congregational polity. This more inclusive model of congregational polity approaches polity not as a principle of local autonomous congregations which purportedly disempowers UUs. Instead, this model of congregational polity emphasizes a “community of autonomous congregations”. This approach is more empowering and consistent with the spiritual vision of who UUs are and what UUs seek to become. Furthermore, it avoids the duality of total autonomy that is, an all or nothing tension characterized by the earlier model. Additionally, there is an invitation and expectation to be in relationship with other congregations since that is the norm integral to the paradigm shift. It is therefore not an option for a congregation to be a lone ranger. Additionally, this model does not cater to individuals but encourages collaboration and partnerships.
The history of Unitarianism and Universalism’s internationalism according to one source can be characterized in two approaches: 1) periods of international engagement and 2) periods of withdrawal. How has congregational polity influenced these fluctuations? Most individual congregations appear to be influenced by several factors: 1) what the UUA is emphasizing in its international focus, that is currently, Darfur, Transylsvania and the Kosi Hills 2) individual congregational boards and mission statements that emphasize income generating projects influenced by such examples as the Holdeen Fund and 3) external issues that are compelling enough to exact a response from congregations such as sex trafficking, globalization, HIV/AIDS and poverty. According to the Commission on Appraisal the establishment of new churches and administrative programs has been the area of international work in which congregations have been least involved. Anecdotal information suggests that giving to Non Governmental Organization’s (NGOs) and other non profit organizations are often the result of individual ministers or members influence within the congregation. While it is the exception, some individual members, have even been known to underwrite and sponsor programs abroad that include assistance for entire villages in the form of schools, clinics, medical supplies and equipment, salaries for staff, wells and latrines.
According to Reverend Gene Reeves a few churches have, from time to time, been led by a minister into strong interest in international relations as revealed in his comments:
. . . the Community Church of New York where Donald Harrington brought, from Chicago, a strong interest in non-Christian religions and in Transylvanian Unitarianism to his ministry. “I don’t know to what extent he converted members to such interests or to what extent he, and the style of congregation he developed, attracted people with such interests. In any case, congregational polity did not seem to limit the ability of that minister and congregation to be actively engaged in such organizations as the International Association for Religious Freedom. Part of what I think, was Harrington’s interest in engaging real people of other religious traditions, such people being found in New York City, of course, but also in other countries. At the Charles Street Meeting House, on the other hand, Ken Patton was perhaps even more strongly oriented to non- Christian religions, but his interest, and therefore the congregations, was only in hypothetical others. I don’t think he was at all comfortable dealing with real people of any kind, and so, in that place, interest in non-Western religions did not lead at all to overseas relationships."
As the former President of Meadville Lombard Theological School, Gene Reeves comments provide interesting historical anecdotes that reflect the influence of individual Presidents, on internationalism, a parallel the researcher has already noted in congregations and the UUA:
"I don’t think congregational polity has had much effect on the School’s (M/L) internationalism. The internationalism, I think, comes from a history, mainly a history of individuals interest in international relations, but also a history of welcoming students from overseas. Malcolm Sutherland, for example, was very involved in international matters, including the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and the founding of World Council on Religion and Peace (WCRP) before he became President of M/L. Naturally, he kept that interest while there and expanded the School’s overseas relationships. Professor John Godbey specialized in Eastern European Unitarian history, so naturally had an interest in Transylvania and in having students come from there to Chicago. When I became head of the school, I had only been marginally involved in such things as the IARF, but the School’s history naturally led me to greater involvement in relations with Japan, Transylvania, Europe and the Kasi Hills. Spencer Lavan, who followed me, was much involved in International Association Religious Freedom before he came to M/L as head of the School. So there was a fairly long history of involvement, led by individuals who were themselves involved in international relations. I think, however, that Bill Murray had relatively little interest in such things and so the School’s involvement in International Association of Religious Freedom and its member organizations declined considerably. As for students, two Japanese, fore example, went to M/L very soon after WWII. Fujio Ikado, a Japanese Universalist, went there, primarily I think, because of the existence of the Federated Theological Faculty, from which he received a degree. Micho Akashi, also Universalist, followed very soon, These men helped to create an impression that the School was hospitable to Japanese. Some students from other International Association of Religious Freedom groups, especially Rissho Kosei-kai and Konkokyo, went there. Sometimes this was with considerable encouragement (recruiting?) by the heads of the School, but the fact that other Japanese had succeeded there was probably a much more important reason for anyone here being interested in going there."
Global Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists
There is a large international population numbering approximately 100,000 that is not a part of the UUA. This population primarily recognizes themselves as Unitarians. They include members in Australia, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Denmark, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa and Spain. Nine congregations affiliated with the UUA are also located outside the United States. They are Mexico (2), Argentina (1), Belgium(1), France(1); Japan (1); New Zealand (1) Philippines (1) and S. Australia (1) and Cuba (1). Until recently, Canada and its congregations were a part of the UUA. However,in recent years Canadian leadership made the decision to withdraw formal affiliation of its 42
congregations to focus its fiscal and human resources to more effectively serve its membership. Canadian UU’s felt their needs were not adequately served in the shadow of the UUA’s United States driven identity, mission and subsequent vision. This was reflected in the bias in curricula development in particular and other publications such as the UU World. One of the most unique Unitarian communities, founded in 1887 is in the Khasi Hills in India. This Unitarian movement was founded by members of an indigenous people who had converted to Calvinism, but who questioned the beliefs. This community is today comprised of ten thousand members and thirty congregations that have integrated their traditional beliefs into Unitarianism. Unlike other congregations in developing nations, Unitarianism was not brought to the Khasi Hills by missionaries but by a young Khasi named Hajaom Kisor Singh Lhngdoh Nongbri. There appears to be a long and rich exchange between MLTS and Unitarians in the Khasi Hills that includes exchanges with and between students and faculty over the years.
Tensions in International Relations
There appears to be at least three instances where there were terminations of international congregational support initiated by the UUA that the Commission on Appraisal questioned that they believe might have been “racist and evidence of the continuing parochialism disparaged decades ago by (UUA President) Greely.” In the three instances that they cite, either fiscal and/or human resources were provided and then withdrawn. These actions appear to have discouraged the existence of further start ups in Calcutta, India. However, the Khasi Hills Unitarians and other micro enterprise programs through the Holdeen Fund continue to exist. Relations with the Rissho Kosei-kai continue to exist but the school and social service program in Seoul, Japan dos not appear to have continued once funding was discontinued. However, approximately six congregations exist in Japan.
Another tension involving Reverend Ethelred Brown was lifted up in Mark Morrison Reed’s book, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination. Morrison-Reed irrefutably proved racism was at the heart of the lack of support of Brown’s Montego Bay new start congregation and later his Harlem, New York newstart. However, Morrison-Reed notes that the American Unitarian Association was not committed to mission work in Jamaica and they gave Brown support only because they saw his work as a humanitarian effort and felt it their social responsibility to help improve the life of Blacks. The three international examples that the Commission on Appraisal reviewed include the following:
Calcutta, India – Reverend Doctor Sunrit Mullick (social service organization)
Montego Bay, Jamaica – Reverend Egbert Ethelred Brown (congregation)
Seoul, Japan – Reverend Ryongki Jio (school and social service organization)
Reverend Doctor Sunrit Mullick, a graduate of MLTS and Indian minster, was affiliated with the India Project when it was “defunded” without notice. Mullick recounts the incident and he raises questions about the process that took place in the late 1980s:
"Back in the early eighties, I got interested in the Brahmo Samaj, the faith of my ancestors. I wanted to become a minister of the Brahmo Samaj. I obtained a Master’s degree in Comparative Religion in 1984 from Visva-Bharati University, India. Then I met Spencer Lavan in Kolkata who arranged a grant for me to come to Meadville/Lombard Theological School where several ministers of the Brahmo Samaj had trained between 1900 and 1932. The tradition broke off at that time and I re-started it. I obtained a Doctorate of Ministry (D.Min.) in 1988. . . In 1988 just after I graduated, I was invited to Boston for a meeting with Bill Schultz, the then UUA President and Spencer Lavan, both of whom I knew with Melvin Hoover, whom I met for the first time and who handled international congregations at that time, was assigned to be my supervisor. The UUA agreed to fund a ministry in India through a program called Project India. I returned to India and started a ministry with the Brahmo Samaj and Unitarian groups. For the time, the Brahmos and Unitarians saw professional ministry in practice. They enjoyed my reformist ways and styles of preaching. But the leadership of the Brahmo Samaj, which over the years had ossified into an orthodox community didn’t. They killed the program. And the UUA supported them against their own employee. I learned later from a Unitarian friend in India that the Brahmo Samaj representative in the International Association for Religious Freedom, Punyabrata Roychoudhury, had successfully influenced John Beuhrens, the then President, whom I had never met, telling him that I was over-qualified for India and that I should be recalled by the UUA. Every summer I would return to Boston to report on my work, and attend GA reporting was one way, though. I never got any feedback from the UUA, though they had assigned Mel Hoover to be my supervisor. In the summer of 1994, I walked into the office of John Beuhrens, to do my customary reporting. I was meeting him for the first time. He told me curtly that the Project was over and handed me over to Ken Maclain to discuss my separation formalities .. . No one at the UUA was interested in the sudden separation. No one called for an explanation. Except Max Gaebler, Minister Emeritus of the First Unitarian of Madison, Wisconsin. I was his intern during my student days. . . I struggled for five years doing this and that, including weddings, funerals and christenings. In 1999 I joined the United States Educational Foundation . . . I love my job."
The following list of is comprised of organizations identified by that author that possess two characteristics: 1) their mission and goals are international in scope and 2) they intentionally engage Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists:
The International Association of Liberal Religious Women (IALRW) is one of the oldest international women's organizations in the world. . The IALRW represents such diverse religious traditions as Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians and Universalists, and the liberal wings of other faith groups It was convened in Berlin in 1910 and since that time has provided a link between liberal religious women throughout the world. It serves to promote friendship and co-operation between like-minded women and is a channel of communication for those striving for a liberal religious life and includes the following activities: Newsletter-An annual newsletter reports on the activities of members in their different countries, and voices opinion on current issues and questions of concern to religious women -Social action-The Association promotes equality for women and economic and social justice. It sponsors a social action project for women in India, offering training in literacy and vocational skills to enable disadvantaged women to become self-sufficient. It also promotes the inclusion of women's roles in religion on the agenda of special events in the UN calendar and other national and international gatherings. – Conferences-There are international conferences every three years and national and regional conferences in intervening years. Recent triennials have been held in South Korea, India, Germany and the USA.
International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) – is an inter-faith association of religious organizations with over 100 member groups, with regional offies staffed in 6 cuntrs (the Philippines, India, Hungary, Japan, and at the United Nation in New York amd Geneva) and 13 chapters in 33 countries around the world. Founded in 1900,it is the oldest such association. It is comprised of 12 religious traditions. Current programs include: building a Religious Freedom Network of 200 young adults; the development of audiovisual materials dramatizing religious freedom as a human right; exploring the concept of “religious responsibility” and encouraging religious harmony through its work in schools with the United Nations.
International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) – was organized in 1995. Its goals are: to strengthen the worldwide network of Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist organizations. Some of its programs include: personal visits, publications, leadership seminars, curricula and symposia. Its member groups include: Australia/New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Europe, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lana, and the United States. Emerging groups include: Argentina, Burundi, Cuba, Latvia,
Religions for Peace – an international multi-religious coalition dedicated to reaffirming religion’s moral commitment to peace and to translating shared concerns into practical, effective action. Founded by Dna McLean Greely and Home Jack, with strong affirmation and support from Founder Niwao of the Rissho-Kosei-Kai in Japan. On local, national, regional and global levels, the organization mobilizes religions to wok together across religious barriers to engage in common actions in six program areas: children and youth, conflict transformation, disarmament and security, development and environment, human rights and peace education.
Religions for Peace-USA – is part of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and has strong ties with the UUA and with leadership serving on governing boards of the international chapter. Religions for Peace-USA works closely with leaders from the broadest range of religious organizations in the country and with other interfaith and civic society organizations to create multi-religious partnerships that mobilize the moral and social resources of religious people to address their shared challenges. Their work on the nation, regional and local levels enables a safe forum for religious leaders and real differences to enhance mutual understanding; the building of community; and active, sustainable programming to address a range of issues that lead to a more peaceful and just society. Programmatically the organization works to build community, address diversity and to examine the role of the United States in the world.
Independent Affiliate Organizations that Relate to International Issues
Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council – strives to establish global citizenship as a common commitment of liberal religion, transforming UUs and congregations and thus making international engagement a moral and spiritual principle of UU congregation life
UU Peace Fellowship – is committed to increase public awareness of the philosophy and strategies of nonviolence, especially the rich UU history of peace activism. The aim is to strengthen and support district and congregational activities, in partnership with other faith-based groups, to bring about the psychological, social, economic and religious conditions for peace. Each year UUPF presents the Adin Ballou Peace Awards, honoring individuals and organizations for their deep commitment to peace and justice.
UUs for Justice in the Middle East – is concerned with working for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, including a settlement that would affirm the equality, dignity, freedom, and security of all peoples involved.
UU United Nations Office – provides educational programs and services as a direct means for individual UU and UUs and Unitarian Universalist congregations to be informed about and to support the work of the United Nations. The UU United Nations Office, an association member of the UUA continues to function as an important part of the UU community providing programs and services.
Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) - works with organizations of India's most excluded and oppressed peoples: women; dalits, so-called "untouchables" who fall outside the caste system; and the adivasis or tribals who are India's indigenous peoples, especially migrant, bonded and landless agricultural laborers. UUHIP supports their efforts to participate fully in the social, economic and political life of India. The Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) was established thanks to a generous bequest to the UUA from Jonathan Holdeen, a businessman and attorney with an interest in assisting the most impoverished people of India. In 1984 the Program (UUHIP) was organized in its current form as a non-sectarian religious and philanthropic trust.
Since 1984 UUHIP has identified and supported more than 70 groups of marginalized peoples to help increase their organized strength and self-reliance; gain access to productive resources, services, and opportunities; increase their livelihoods, assets, economic independence, and social security; influence government policies, laws, and budgets in their favor; challenge discriminatory social practices; and build, manage, and control their own institutions, programs, and resources.
UUA Office of International Relations - is responsible for assisting congregations and UU organizations in strengthening the connection of US UUs with the larger world, including indigenous Unitarians and Universalists some of whom are considered "first nations peoples" in their own countries. The Office represents the UUA in the international interfaith arena, promotes advocacy around UUA General Assembly international resolutions, and manages the UUA's funds for international human rights and development work. The Office works to foster institutional partnerships which model right relations, economic fairness and responsible stewardship among partners, which promote human rights, religious freedom, international peace and justice, and which increase the visibility of Unitarian Universalism as an active, positive religious presence in the world.
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee - The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) envisions a world free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights.
World Conference on Religion and Peace - was founded in the 1960s by leaders of the UUA and leaders of the Japanese Buddhist sect, the Rissho Kosei-kai. World peace is an important focus of the two faiths.
In general it appears that congregational polity has contributed to the insularity of the UU movement and international relations. Furthermore, it appears that the Presidents of the UUA have over the years made decisions that reflect international priorities more often than utilizing resolutions forth coming from General Assembly. Congregational polity appears to be most visibly linked with international relations when individual congregations and districts partner to engage in educational tours to Transylvania or donating special collection plates for particular causes. Thus no discernible congregational policies presently guide congregations. For the most part congregational input to international issues has been weak, and administrative authority has been stronger and more autonomous. However, those international relations, except for the Khasi Hills Unitarians, have not appeared to support new start congregations but are instead more social service and social justice oriented issues.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This essay represents a preliminary exploration of Unitarian Universalisms
International relations. Using the lens of congregational polity this researcher examined how congregations and the UUA determine what policies guide international programs. In so much as congregational polity allows for the right of every congregation to choose its own leaders and order its own affairs this researcher concludes that the onus is on each and every individual congregation to formulate its own international policies. Furthermore, there are no stated policies regarding international relations among congregations and the UUA. So while this research unearthed no new insights it reinforced the earlier recommendations that the Commission on Appraisal made in its 1997 report (see page 2 of this research paper). I strongly encourage Meadville Lombard Theological School and the UUA to allocate funding to implement the recommendations. Furthermore, initiating partnerships in Africa, beginning with Nigeria where the Unitarian Brotherhood Church was founded in 1919 and also focusing on South Africa where the existence of four Unitarian congregations would provide a critical link between the International Council of Unitarian Universalists and the Unitarian Univeralist Association, it is to the advantage of the UUA to initiate closer working relations with Unitarians abroad. This researcher is highly motivated to create such bridges with the support of Meadville Lombard, Starr King School for the Ministry and the UUA, a strong partnership could result in educational tours, scholar’s exchanges, work camps, internships and a myriad of other endeavors. Finally, I would encourage participation in the International Council of Unitarian Universalists Conference held November 1-5, 2007 in Oberwesel, Germany (outside Frankfurt). Participation would nurture global perspectives and foster relationships among the student body, faculty and congregations. Liberal religious voices can provide much needed alternatives for those seekers in the world among the religious voices speaking and acting and witnessing for justice and peace in parts of the world that so desperately need our message.
(Picture of early morning downtown Detroit, Michigan and Ontario, Canada divided by the Detroit River. While other residents sleep, how many women and children have been awake and plagued by the terror of domestic violence?)
Domestic Violence: A Global Issue
The global movement for human rights and democracy has had a profound effect on individuals around the world. International human rights standards are based on the principle of universality, that is, that human rights standards apply equally to all persons and all nations. Yet every day, women are murdered, beaten, raped, traded as chattel, denied their basic human rights and marginalized around the world. Yet, increasingly strides are being made to establish the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights according to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action convened in 1993. Violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice and international trafficking, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated.
A woman cannot reach her potential and participate in the development of her country if her basic rights to safety and dignity are violated.
Some forms of gender violence are culturally specific and practiced primarily in certain regions of the world, for example, bride burning in India, child brides and female circumcision in parts of Africa. A fairly universal type of violence perpetrated against women is battering. Battering, referred to by a number of names - domestic violence, conjugal assault, wife bashing, spouse abuse, denotes the abusive behaviors that occur in an intimate relationship.
Dr. Aaronette White isolated the following social psychological factors in societies that demonstrate high rates of male sexual violence:
*acceptance of interpersonal violence as a way of life
*male dominance as a part of the social ideology
*rigid sex role stereotypes
*acceptance of dominance and exploitation of women
David Levinson’s study of over ninety societies around the world revealed the following profile of the few societies that reflect low family violence:
Profile of Societies with Low Rates of Family Violence:
*economic equality between men and women
*equal access to divorce
* availability of alternative caretakers for children
*frequent & regular interventions in domestic disputes
*norms that encourage nonviolent settlement outside home
Violence against women is endemic in the United States. Every year two to four million women are battered by a partner. Both women and men can and do commit violent acts. While some women perpetrate violence against males, overwhelmingly the perpetrators are males in instances of 90% and higher. And while both women and men suffer physical and psychological injury from violence, however, women are at greater risk for sexual and domestic violence. Thirty percent of women murdered annually are murdered by husbands/boyfriends or ex-partners.
American society has been slow to recognize violence against women as a pervasive societal problem, rather than a personal one. Only in the last twenty to thirty years have shelters evolved as a way to help women escape violent relationships. Institutional responses to abuse of women have been uneven and thus inadequate. There are still serious knowledge gaps in our understanding about the problem. Prosecution and conviction rates of offenders still remain low despite civil protection orders available in every state. The ultimate task is to prevent domestic violence from occurring in the first place. The key is to shift from reacting to individual incidents of violence, and focus on changing the social, behavioral, and environmental factors that support violence. The full participation of communities is vital to engender a sense of ownership of the problem.
Research indicates that when police and other social control agencies are trained they are more willing to take women seriously, make arrests and follow up on prosecution. Most states now integrate domestic violence protocols in their law enforcement trainings which include woman abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, stalking and sexual harassment. In many instances that training also addresses dynamics that impact the immigrant and refugee communities. Together we can stop the tide of violence against women and children in the United States of North America and around the world.