First: prayers, good thoughts, and comfort for the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Florida. A member of the church there murdered his ex-wife, her partner, and their two children before taking his own life. I cannot imagine how shocked, hurt, angry, and confused the congregation must be. My new friend, (We met at General Assembly.) Rev. Abhi Janamanchi is the minister there and was on sabbatical at the time. I hope that they find peace, hope, and consolation of some sort in community. The whole story is just gut-wrenching–and at the holiday season, too. Please send them whatever goodness you can.
Second: The General Assembly kerfluffle. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I feel like the UUA administration is just capitulating to the city, even after being promised the id requirement would not be in effect during GA. I do see a difference in being asked to show an id to board a plane and being asked to show id to enter a religious meeting or worship service. At the same time, I have long been conscious of the barriers we have accepted as “par for the course.” To participate in General Assembly one must lay out a good amount of cash, even if one gets a “scholarship” or other financial help. That’s an issue of justice too and one we’ve long ignored.
As a transgender person and a formerly poor person, I know the barriers all too well. I didn’t attend my first GA until the third year of seminary because of them. I’ve missed and will miss more wonderful opportunities and gatherings because they were held outside the borders of the U.S. and because my current gender does not match the gender on my birth certificate, I can’t get a U.S. passport. I do have a government id that matches my current presentation, so I could go to GA in Ft. Lauderdale. But I recognize that as a mark of privilege and I realize there are a lot of people that will be excluded because the requirement to show id is impossible or too frightening.
Here is a good article about why people may not have id. The important part to me is that not having an id is highly correlated with poverty, race, and gender. If we go along with the idea that showing government-issued id to attend events and worship at GA is “no big deal,” aren’t we ignoring the very values and issues we say we promote? Aren’t we allowing the government to infringe on religious freedom by allowing them to determine who is allowed to worship with us? And aren’t also missing a chance to proclaim publicly that we need to affirm both security and the protection of civil liberties?
So if ministers boycott, does that help anything? I’m a bit torn on that one too. I already didn’t want to spend my money in Florida. Too much unapologetic homophobia and transphobia in government. Then again, who cares if we don’t come…especially if they still get to keep the UUA’s money? We could probably do more good if we went to Florida and made some public stand or statement. I appreciate that the UUA will make sure there are chaplains at each entrance, but that serves only us–what about educating others? Or maybe very few people care that the convention center is within a security zone where access and free speech are limited. Maybe it only matters because we are a religious organization…
In which case our problem is not so much with the city or the government that has decided to protect its port in this way. Our problem really is with the UUA that is willing to compromise on what it was promised when it signed the contract. They are in a very tough position and I don’t assume anything but good intentions and goodwill. And yet, is there more they can do? Are they capitulating because it’s the only way or the easiest and least expensive way? Is the administration willing to keep the conversation going and keep working toward better solutions? I’m left with more questions than answers.
Third: I find myself exhausted and less motivated than usual and I’m not sure why. Keeping an eye on it, though. That’s all for now. Too tired to blog more. 🙂
**Updates (12/19) Rev. Janamanchi came back from sabbatical in India to be with his congregation in this difficult time. A member of the UU Trauma Response Ministry is with the congregation as well.
A colleague recently asked another good question about GA: Do we really know who is responsible for the decision to check ids? It won’t help to protest the city or the convention center if this is a requirement of the Homeland Security Department. Still, this doesn’t affect my hope that we make a statement about the erosion of civil liberties. I just want us to be smart about why and how and who.