about torture. No, I'm not suddenly into B&D. But awhile back, my congregation had to take stock of a decision they made last spring to put up a banner saying "Torture is a Moral Issue", in accordance with our UU commitment to end torture in U.S. overseas facilities. Before erecting the banner, the board took an email poll to determine whether there was clear consensus about the issue and, because there were no negative responses to the poll, put the banner up.
You can probably guess what happened next. The banner had been up for a couple of weeks when I got a call from a member whose family is in the military. We have a strong military presence on Whidbey Island, with a Naval Air Station on the north end. And we have a few military families in our congregation. Our member wondered why the banner had gone up, why she hadn't had a voice on the issue, and did we realize that it sent an implicit anti-military message with its language?
I told her that there had been an email poll so that people would have a chance to speak to the issue. She had seen an email about a social justice issue but had not read it thoroughly and consequently hadn't responded. She had also had the experience of driving past the sign on the highway and having a visceral reaction, wondering if other military folks might see it as a hostile-to-military message and reject our congregation. Then she had heard another military friend react to the sign with anger. She thought I ought to know how this group of folks was feeling.
Awhile back I told you a little bit about this issue and how we were addressing it. We arranged for an open conversation on the banner, inviting the whole congregation to participate, with a facilitator who would help keep things on the right track. That conversation happened last night. It was delayed by construction on the building and people's schedules and that sort of thing. We were all thoroughly ready to get it behind us! And I was anxious about how it might turn out.
I can't express adequately my admiration and love for this group of fifteen people with strong feelings on both sides, who came together and talked through their differences, listened to each other's feelings and understandings, discovered together that there was more common ground than disagreement, and came to a recommendation for the board to consider, a recommendation that all present felt enthusiastic about.
We discovered that torture was not the issue. It was the language of the sign, which seemed to imply to military folks that anyone associated with those who had tortured (i.e., military personnel who have no choice in where they are sent or what they are assigned to do and can't dissent without repercussions) were immoral, that the military is immoral, by extension. And changing the language of the sign without diminishing its message was the recommendation which will go to the board. The wording settled on was something like "Torture is wrong. End it now." (I'm not sure I've got it right.)
I learned a lot from our conversation by just listening. S., our facilitator, handled the conversation so well that I said almost nothing and mostly only spoke to offer a clarification or other explanatory remark. Three individuals representing military families attended and were eloquent in their remarks, without being accusatory or threatening to leave or anything like that. And even those strongly in favor of the wording could see that there was a great deal to be gained by modifying the language.
I was so proud of our group. I have rarely participated in a conflict situation that was so peaceful. People were honest and courteous and supportive of each other. They expressed their caring for each other and their trust that this could be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. And it was. No wonder I love them so much.