#UCCGS: What good does a resolution do, or, so what?

#UCCGS: What good does a resolution do, or, so what?

Here’s my confession: the impressive lineup of Synod speakers inspired me much more than the resolutions. Yet most of the duties of a General Synod delegate include deliberating and voting on resolutions. Some this year’s fifteen resolutions are governance related, but most are issues-based. And the issues represented truly span the gamut, from supporting adult survivors of child abuse to ending the US embargo on Cuba.
As a first-year delegate to Synod, I have the opportunity to ask some basic questions about polity and process, such as “what good does a resolution do anyway?” Are resolutions something Synod agonizes over, only to have them ignored by the rest of the church? (I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a part of a church that studied, prayed, and acted in response to a resolution. That should change.) What does Synod’s collective “Be it resolved” commitment mean? How are resolutions efficacious; how are they not?

In other words, so what?
I’ve asked this question to breakfast table friends, a couple Associate Conference Ministers, and clergy friends. Here’s what I’ve heard: resolutions do make a difference. They can empower the national UCC setting to allocate resources to specific issues, including staffing, curriculum, programming, and advocacy. Resolutions have the capacity to transform consciousness, and over the long haul, congregational and even political culture. The example most people cited is the UCC’s visionary embrace of marriage equality. It was controversial at the time, still is in some quarters, but has now become the law of the land. We can’t claim to have changed the law ourselves, of course, but UCC activism and witness played one role in the sea change. Or, another example: the UCC resolution to divest from fossil fuels had teeth because of the concrete action to which it called the Pension Boards and, I would add, the larger movement of which it was a part.
Here’s a snapshot into our Synod work: each delegate is assigned to a Committee to discuss, vote, and recommend a resolution. I carried my resolution-skepticism with me into our Committee, but Spirit soon stirred me. We heard a researcher from Johns Hopkins speak about how the NRA blocks efforts even to research the effects of gun violence. We grappled with the theological import of the Emergency “The Earth is the Lord’s – Not Ours to Wreck” resolution drafted in the wake of the US’s exit from the Paris Climate Accords. We struggled, deeply convicted by our Jesus-before-Pilate, truth-thrown-out-by-Empire context. What does it mean to be faithful to truth when alternative facts (otherwise known as lies) and public health and science research is defunded and deleted?
We heard from passionate advocates. It became heated at times. I witnessed myself occasionally go into a reactionary frame of mind. Eventually, though, something beautiful happened: consensus began to form. The Committee took ownership of its responsibility and concerns raised. We honed language, asked probing questions, and our hearts opened to the suffering inflicted by guns and by fossil fuels on our warming planet.
The challenge, though, is that such a transformative committee experience is impossible to replicate for the entire Synod group. As well-intentioned and informed as we are, there is simply not enough space or time for hundreds of delegates meaningfully to discern together 15 resolutions. Sure, we can read advance materials, but discernment is more than that. It happens in the body of Christ together through questioning, challenges, prayer, silence, and passion.
I keep imagining the General Synod only discussing three or four witness, or justice, resolutions. That would surely upset any number of activists, but no organization is effective when it has fifteen different causes on which to take action. Vibrant mission unfolds when a movement or campaign focuses energy, tactics, goals, and vision.
The Synod introduced the UCC’s new Three Love’s campaign of love for neighbor, children, and creation. Why couldn’t we only deliberate on, say, three resolutions that align best with the stated campaign mission? Synod delegates and churches in our various home states could spend focused time studying, praying, and taking action on targeted issues throughout the two years that relate to the Three Love’s.  
Here’s a final question: why must all the non-governance-related resolutions be centered on social justice issues? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for social justice. But social justice is not the whole of the Christian life. What if, in line with the Three Love’s campaign, we had a theological resolution committing to and spelling out, for example, a robust theology of creation? What if we articulated theologically that how we treat creation connects with our neighbors and future generations of children? Or, what if we required a spirituality resolution every Synod, in which, say, we encouraged our churches not only to take action on various causes, but to root our action in prayer through loving, experiential relationship with God?


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Mark Longhurst

Mark Longhurst is Pastor of First Congregational Church Williamstown, MA.  

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