Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Synod Resolutions: The Fluffy

Scene: The Simpson family walks toward a huge shopping center named Sprawl Mart. The sign underneath reads, 'Not a Parody of Wal-Mart.'

Three resolutions going to the UCC's General Synod fall under this category.

The first is a resolution calling on the UCC to advocate 'peace with justice.' Submitted by the Justice & Witness Ministries of the UCC, this resolution addresses a wide variety of work that we are called to do: ending racism, environmental destruction, sexism, discrimination against the physically handicapped, poverty, and homopobia. And in all this work, the refrain is that we are also called 'to create a culture of non-violence and peace.' Addressing the litany of sins against humanity just mentioned is to take steps toward such a culture.

Reasoning is shared both from the witness of Martin Luther King Jr. and from scripture (Ephesians 2:14 & Isaiah 2:4). 'We strive for peace with justice because of the prophetic and pastoral witness of our faith over the ages which constantly call God's people back into right relationship with each other and with God.' Sounds great. So how are we going to do this? The resolution lists a couple ways: supporting a denomination-wide 'peace with justice' movement in the United Church of Christ. Not much elaboration at this stage in the game. The most concrete piece is this paragraph right here:

'Be it further resolved that local churches and Conferences who already are identified as Just Peace, Open and Affirming, Accessible to All, Whole Earth, and/or Multiracial and Multicultural, or seek to be, are affirmed in these identifications, and that we urge local churches and Conferences who have not adopted such identities are full and active partners in a peace witih justice movement in the UCC...'

In case you didn't know, local churches in the UCC have a variety of declarations available to make about themselves, related to certain issues. This paragraph basically says that those who have made some or all of these delcarations are good, those who want to make some or all are also good, and those who haven't made any are...okay, and somehow should still contribute to this ambiguous new initiative even if they don't agree with all of its parts. It doesn't get much more specific. So it's a nice statement, and that's about it.

The second resolution in this category is to a call to work 'for the common good.' This is another one proposed by Justice and Witness. First invoking one of my favorites, Matthew 25:34-45, this resolution 'calls upon all settings of the United church of Christ to uphold the common good as a foundational ideal in the United States...' How to do that? 'A just and good society balances individualism with the needs of the community.' Yes. Sounds great. It goes on to say that we need to protect the vulnerable and to see to it that all have equal rights. Yes. I like it. We need to help the least of these. Yes. Very much so.

So how do we do this? The resolution calls upon the UCC to work to make our culture reflect certain values, such as caring for the most vulnerable of our citizens, upholding the payment of taxes as a civic responsibility, and supporting a tax code that puts the heaviest burden on the most wealthy. We teeter on making a political statement here, but one that is Biblical: 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.' (Luke 12:48)

All in all, this is a resolution promoting a specific set of values that contribute to 'the common good' in terms of taxation, health care, employment, education, and so on. It's a great statement, but lacking in concreteness. On the other hand, only so much can be said on 3-4 pages, so for now it's just a matter of putting these values forth for others to affirm or reject.

A third resolution calls for environmental education and action. Check the 'Background' section for the usual litany of humanity's sins against the environment: pollution, depletion of the ozone, erosion (that's not all us), urban sprawl, and so on. The point of the resolution comes in the next paragraph: '...we can and must encourage, support and coordinate efforts to assist Churches, Conferences and other entities of the UCC to develop environmental initiatives as defined below.' All right, a statement on the environment that proposes specific actions to address it.

After the usual stuff about how it is humanity's God-given responsibility to care for creation (Genesis 1, Psalm 8, 19, & 65), we get to the initiatives. These include urging UCC churches and conferences to 'increase awareness and change public consciousness about our interaction with the natural world...promote the study of our Biblical and historical heritage of caring about the environment'...creating public fora to talk about how it's our responsibility to care for creation...sigh...let's skip ahead a little bit.

'Be it further resolved that the twenty-fifth General Synod directs the Executive Council to request that Justice and Witness Ministries establish and empower a UCC Environmental Steering Committee.' Great. What would this Steering Committee do? They would implement the resolution. How? To help churches and conferences do all that stuff that we think they should do.

This resolution is, on the whole, a call to form a committee and not much more. That committee would then help the rest of us talk about the environment. I hope you can see why I filed this under 'Fluffy.' It has good intentions and there's always a need to address environmental concerns, but this resolution's effectiveness other than to remind us of that responsibility now and forming a committee to remind us later, looks faint.

On the whole, they're good statements. I don't find much with which I disagree. The implementation is fuzzy at best, and these are more general statements on how we're supposed to be, hence the category of 'Fluffy.'