Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Synod Resolutions: The Mildly Divisive

This category is for resolutions that may or may not cause divisions in local churches depending on people's level of passion for the cause. Frequently, in my opinion, there are a certain amount of resolutions presented before Synod that some group somewhere cares about and that Synod as a whole affirms because it seems right, but in which most people really don't feel invested. Some of the resolutions that fit this category this year, however, may get a little more attention.

The resolutions that fit into this category are Against Depleted Uranium Weapons, A Call to End Migrant Deaths and the US Blockade Strategy of Border Enforcement, Call for a More Humane United States Immigration Policy, Support for Immigrant Communities, and Regarding the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

I'm far from being an expert on any of these issues, so this entry may end up being kind of short. In fact, the way I'll do this is riff a few observations on the resolutions now and then spend more time on them before Synod later.

My grandfather was a Marine, so I grew up around a certain appreciation for what those in the armed forces do. While the general prospect of war is abhorrent to me and I believe that each potential or actual conflict should be constantly evaluated in terms of its purpose and ethics, I separate that from a thankfulness for the military's existence. It is tragic that we live in a world where countries need to defend themselves from each other, but I'm thankful that someone is defending me. For further thoughts, see Jack Nicholson's speech in A Few Good Men.

Okay, so here comes this resolution on depleted uranium. I never heard of depleted uranium before this, and the resolution points out that not a lot of people have. This is an incredibly detailed resolution: the endnotes take up nearly three pages by themselves. However, right off the bat I noticed that it could use a little tightening. For instance, there are a few WHEREASes (is that a word?) that address the use of nuclear weapons in general, one of which discloses that a plan to wage nuclear war was once upon a time submitted to the White House. The resolution doesn't make clear why all of these are relevant or necessary to mention. The document begins with a paragraph saying that it wants to be very specific in what it wants to address, but then doesn't follow up on that desire very well.

The greatest issue that this resolution wants to address, at least on the outset, is the effect that depleted uranium has on people and the environment. In particular, it points out that the dust from depleted uranium has been increasingly linked to health problems such as cancer and birth defects, and finds its way into food and water supplies. That is certainly a great concern. The trade-off, as was recently put to me by an army chaplain, is the proper protection for our soldiers. Is short-term protection enough to counterbalance the long-term health risks?

The next three resolutions deal with Mexican border issues. I considered putting these in The Controversial, but it's not clear to me whether this issue would be a catalyst for churches or members to leave. I'm just going to deal with the first one because I like it the best. Again, they'll be smooshed together in a committee anyway.

I have a slightly broader base of information and experience on this issue. I took a trip in college to the Mexican border and saw the poverty and desperation for myself: endless collectives of shacks made from wooden palattes, dirt floors, ragged clothing. The people shared their experiences of working in the maquiladoras, U.S.-owned factories located just over the border with abhorrent working conditions. In part, the resolution calls for an improvement in economic policies that would drive people to seek illegal entry.

Besides that, this resolution addresses the U.S.'s current border enforcement policies. It decries what it calls "vigilante activities," presumably referring to the recent border militias that have been formed, as well as the general culture of prejudice and fear that has been created while this issue has been debated. This resolution is far from "just let them all in," which is a common caricature of the argument to reconsider our current policies. Instead, this resolution first wants to protect people who attempt to cross illegally not so they can be let in but so their human rights are respected. Only after that does the resolution want people to reconsider our current legal immigration policies and to question why they are currently so restrictive.

Finally, we have a resolution dealing with the Tar Creek Superfund Site, which I think is the best representation of my original definition of this category. Will people outside the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference--the group it affects the most and the group that can make the most real lasting difference--remember or hear about this resolution again after June 26th? I doubt it. That isn't to say that preserving this site is not worthwhile. I simply wonder what any Synod delegate not from that Conference or any other UCC entity besides the office of President and General Minister, is expected to do with this after Synod ends.

The basic gist of the resolution is as follows. The Tar Creek Superfund site is an area spanning Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma that is in serious need of attention. It is contaminated as a result of past lead and zinc mining activity, and in particular affects local American Indian reservations as well as the overall environment. The resolution calls for the UCC President and other entities to petition various branches of the United States government to heighten awareness and action related to the site. It's a good statement and worthwhile cause, but I'm pessimistic about its lasting impact.