The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Right of Conscience and the Use of the Democratic Process within our Congregations and in Society at Large

My first experience with the exercise of this principle came shortly after I started attending our church. The morning announcements included one that there would be a congregational meeting to vote on an expenditure. I’d often heard that visitors were welcome at all meetings, so I decided to stay and observe. I’d been involved in another volunteer organization that had been distinctly non-democratic for many years and had witnessed the growing pains around its attempts to distribute responsibility and decision-making to the local level. So I was intensely curious about how this new-to-me community managed such a feat.

Our congregation uses Roberts’ Rules of Order to organize congregational meetings. I was familiar enough with those rules that I could follow the talk of motions and seconds and calls. Although I don’t remember the substance of that meeting, the conduct of it felt fair to me.

Over time, I’ve seen our congregation use Roberts’ Rules and democratic process with varying degrees of familiarity and skill. But the sense of fairness has remained. We embody the spirit of democratic process. Some people have more to say than others, but the group works to be sure that everybody has a chance to speak if they want to. When one person has trouble expressing themselves, others will help them clarify and express their ideas. When the meeting starts to run long, someone will mention that and encourage us to reach whatever consensus is possible rather than talk the issue to death.

People occasionally become overwrought about one issue or another. But they seem to remember that they want to live in peace with one another, so they don’t burn bridges even over issues that burn in their souls. They trust that they will get a chance to speak about their concerns again or to act on them in some other way. They trust that they won’t be ostracized for having minority views.

We work to teach these principles to our youth in our religious education program, too. We have our principles on plaques on the walls of all our religious education classrooms, although written in simpler language. I’ll never forget the time I was teaching a class of 5 to 6-year-olds and the kids were all talking at once. “Hold on,” I said, as I pointed to the plaque on the wall. “We believe that everybody should have a chance to talk about things that are important to them. Let’s speak one at a time.”
They stopped talking all at once and gave the floor to the one who had been trying to say something. They did it peacefully. I was amazed. As I looked around the room, I got the sense that they really understood the value of the idea and agreed with it. They weren't complying with me as an authority figure. They were living the spirit of democratic process. They were practicing fairness. That’s just one of the reasons why I love my community.

Submitted by Jo Linsley

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