Adopting Position Statements

(Adopted by the Board November 13, 2007)

Definition of a congregational position statement

A congregational position statement is an official declaration of the Unitarian Society of Hartford that is adopted by the Board of Directors or the congregation through the processes and in the form specified in this document.  Congregational position statements approved in accordance with the processes described in this document may bear the name, banner, or other representation of the Unitarian Society of Hartford.

Purposes of a congregational position statement

  • To advance the cause of social justice in the larger community.
  • To express, realize, or put into action our Unitarian Universalist Principles.
  • To alert and educate us to important issues relative to our Unitarian Universalist Principles.
  • To authorize congregational action and the expenditure of congregational resources relative to important issues.

Characteristics of an issue appropriately considered as a congregational position statement

An issue that rises to the level of being addressed in a congregational position statement should meet the characteristics noted below.  Where a proposed congregational position is inconsistent with these characteristics, its sponsors should articulate a rationale as to why the congregation should consider the issue despite the inconsistencies.

  • The issue is embodied in our Unitarian Universalist Principles.
  • The issue is consistent with or reflects a reasonable evolution in the USH history of social justice action.
  • USH has the resources and the people to take meaningful action on the issue.
  • Movements are afoot in which USH members would become respected participants in a public or UUA-sponsored dialogue relative to the issue.
  • A perspective based on Unitarian Universalist principles will inform the public dialogue on the issue.

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process

Individual members, groups of members, and USH Councils and Sub-councils may take action on an issue as long as the action is consistent with the USH Constitution and Bylaws and Unitarian Universalist Principles and is not represented as an official position statement of the Society.  In particular, the Council on Social Justice may adopt position statements that reflect the views of the Council on Social Justice alone; i.e., a Council-adopted statement may not be portrayed as reflecting the official position of the Unitarian Society of Hartford.

Controversial or divisive issues

These procedures for considering proposed position statements are intended neither to preclude the consideration and adoption of controversial or potentially divisive statements nor to require unanimous approval of a position statement.  They are, however, intended to ensure that all sides of an issue are thoroughly aired and that all views are heard with due courtesy and respect.  Anything less is a clear abrogation of our Unitarian Universalist principles.  As discussed below, the potential divisiveness of an issue should always be considered by the Board of Directors, Council on Social Justice, or other sponsor of a position statement and may be a reason for the Board to refer an issue to the congregation for consideration and possible vote. 

Public policy issues that are embroiled in a partisan debate are especially problematic.  USH is unlikely to ever take a stand for partisan reasons, as doing so would potentially jeopardize its tax exempt status.  On one hand, few USH members would forgo the opportunity to consider taking a stand simply because an issue happens to fall out along partisan lines.  On the other hand, some USH members will be uncomfortable taking a stand on issue when doing so would thrust USH into the middle of a political debate.  Assessing the consequences of taking or not taking a stand, as described below, is intended, in part, to require a thoughtful and frank consideration of such matters.

Process for approving a congregational position statement

A congregational position statement may be proposed by any USH member or any Council or Sub-council.  Except in extraordinary circumstances, proposed congregational position statements related to issues in the public dialog should be considered by the Council on Social Justice prior being considered by the Board of Directors or submitted for a vote by the congregation.  The Council on Social Justice should sponsor one or more open educational sessions to inform members on the issues surrounding a proposed congregational position statement and to provide for an open exchange of views.  In considering the need for an educational session on an issue, the Council on Social Justice should assess the congregation’s need for additional deliberation prior to exercising an informed vote, the issue’s inherent level of controversy, the scope of the issue in the public dialog, and the urgency in adopting a congregational position.  No votes, formal or informal, should be taken on the issue at an educational session. 

The Council on Social Justice, as well as individual members of the Society, may submit to the Board of Directors proposed position statements for its consideration.  The USH Constitution and Bylaws confers on the Board of Directors the authority to approve position statements on behalf of the congregation as a whole.  However, both the Council on Social Justice and the Board of Directors are expected to exercise care in the adoption of a position statement, which should generally conform to the criteria listed below.  The Council on Social Justice and Board of Directors should consider the adoption of a position statement only when:

  • The statement is clearly consistent with Unitarian Universalist Principles.
  • The statement is clearly consistent with position statements adopted previously by the Board of Directors or congregation.
  • The statement is relatively non-controversial within the membership of the Society.
  • The members of the congregation are reasonably well informed of the issues surrounding the position statement and have been provided with an opportunity to express their views.
  • The implications of adopting the statement for Councils, Sub-councils, and the Society as a whole have been identified.
  • The obligations incurred by virtue of adopting the statement have been identified and projected to be relatively minor or have been incorporated into the current budget.
  • The issue addressed by the proposed position statement is so urgent as to preclude the opportunity for congregational consideration.

Format of a proposed congregational position statement

The sponsors of a proposed congregational position statement should adhere to the following format.  No length is specified, but conciseness is a virtue.  Relevant background documents, including the position statements of other churches and organizations, may be attached as appendices.

  • Proposed congregational position – A clear statement of the position that the sponsors are proposing for adoption by the congregation.
  • Issue – The key background facts describing the issue that the proposed congregational position is intended to address.
  • Relevance to Unitarian Universalist Principles – A statement indicating the relevance of the issue and the proposed congregational position to our Unitarian Universalist Principles and why a Unitarian Universalist perspective is important in the context of the larger public dialogue.
  • Implications of adopting the proposed congregational position – A description of the actions that the Board of Directors, Councils, Sub-councils, and members would appropriately take or be expected to take should the proposed congregational position be adopted.  This description should specify the entities within USH that would be expected to take action and should project the resources that would be necessary to implement these actions.  This description should reflect prior consultation with the USH entities likely to be affected by the proposed congregational position.  Furthermore, sponsors should assess and address the potential for divisiveness within the congregation should the proposed statement be adopted.
  • Alternative actions – A description of the consequences, both positive and negative, of not adopting the proposed congregational position or adopting one or more alternative congregational positions on the issue.  This description should reflect prior consultation with USH members who oppose or are not in support of the proposed congregational position. 

Process for consideration and voting

Congregational position statements may be considered by the members of the USH at an annual or special meeting of the Society (see Article V of the USH Constitution).  Special meetings of the Society may be called by the Board of Directors or by the action of at least ten percent of the eligible voting membership.  The agenda of special meetings is limited to the business specified in the call to the meeting.  Notice of any special meeting must be given at least ten days prior to the meeting.  Ten percent of the eligible voting membership of the Society is considered a quorum. 

As a general matter, meetings of the Society are conducted in accordance with the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.  The debate on a proposed congregational position statement should alternate between those supporting and opposing the proposed statement.  Unitarian Universalist Principles require a safe environment that ensures the expression of minority or dissenting views.  A decorum that fosters thoughtful consideration of all viewpoints is expected at all times.  A secret ballot on any question will be used upon the request of five percent of the members present and voting.  The adoption of a congregational position requires an affirmative vote of at least a two-thirds of those voting. 

Any publication of a congregational position statement passed by less than unanimous vote must be accompanied by the following text: “At an official meeting of the Unitarian Society of Hartford held on (date of meeting) and attended by (# of members in attendance) members, the members passed the following position statement by a vote of (# of yea votes) in favor of the statement, (# of nay votes) against the statement, and (# of abstentions) abstentions.”

Upon the request of one or more members present and voting against an approved position statement, a minority report expressing the views of those voting against the statement will be included with the official minutes of the meeting.