The membership of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church (MVUC) in Alexandria, Va., overwhelmingly passed “statement of conscience” resolutions supporting immigration reform legislation and restrictions on gun sales, including background checks, at the Church’s annual meeting, May 5.
Statements of conscience are a Unitarian Universalist tradition in which congregations take positions on issues of social justice. The resolutions allow the minister to speak out on these issues and the church to form coalitions with other churches and nonprofit organizations promoting the issues. Church members can now represent MVUC and advocate these issues to legislators in Richmond and Washington D.C. using the church banner and speaking for the church.
Following passage of the resolutions, MVUC Minister, the Rev. Kate Walker, said, “Our support for national reform of immigration policy challenges us to open our hearts and doors to the stranger. Our work for restriction of firearm ownership is based on not only our experience of gun violence in a Unitarian Universalist church in 2008, but the current culture of unchecked, unaccountable and irrational firearm sales in our country resulting in a culture of fear and anguish over the bodies of our children.”
The two statements of conscience were proposed by the MVUC Social Justice Council, chaired by Georgeta Pourchot. Before the vote, she told the congregation, “The Social Justice Council feels it is important for the church to make a statement of where MVUC as a congregation stands on these issues, for the benefit of visitors and newcomers who may not know MVUC very well, for the benefit of church children who may be exposed to a variety of views on these topics and not know exactly where the church stands, and because these statements of conscience express a commitment to action.”
Pourchot said the wording of the immigration statement of conscience was identical to one proposed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) that developed a course called “Immigration as a Moral Issue,” which has been taught three times at MVUC over the past year. The statement calls for measures that treat all immigrants, regardless of legal status, justly and humanely, and for an immigration policy that includes a path to citizenship; work visas that require the same worker protections available to citizens; access to the same medical care and education available to citizens; evaluation of human and environmental costs of proposed barriers to immigration; due process for detained immigrants including representation, rights of appeal, and the right to initiate lawsuits; no deportation of parents of dependent children or partners of documented residents; asylum for refugees; and collaboration with source countries to address underlying causes contributing to immigration. The motion passed with no objections or discussion.
The statement of conscience on gun legislation was developed by the Social Justice Council and slightly amended at the meeting. It advocates measures that deter the sale of firearms intended for use against U.S. residents, supports background checks for all gun sales, promotes safe havens for people to report threatening behavior, and calls for funding for the Centers for Disease Control to resume the study the causes of gun violence.
Bill Alsmeyer-Johnson, who shepherded the gun legislation resolution, said, “Members of MVUC can now form coalitions with outside groups, such as the Million Mom March or Organizing for Action. With this statement of conscience, members can present the beliefs of MVUC on the issues around gun violence and its prevention. We intend to form a social justice task force as a vehicle to act on this issue.”
The meeting was attended by more than 100 members, some of whom held proxy votes for others in the 344-member congregation.
Rev. Walker noted that, “Unitarian Universalists have a long history of working for social justice based on our belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, and deserve to live in a safe environment and society. As a liberal religious institution, we strive to work for and live an ethic of care and compassion for all people regardless of ethnicity, race or class.”
MVUC, 1909 Windmill Lane, in the Mason Hill area of Alexandria Va., was founded 58 years ago by residents of the nearby Hollin Hills and Tauxemont neighborhoods. It has been active in social justice issues throughout its history, serving as a training center for freedom riders during the Civil Rights movement and working with other area churches on local issues, including poverty and homelessness.
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Summary of MVUC Statement of Conscience on Immigration Policy Reform
“Be it resolved that Mount Vernon Unitarian Church advocates for measures that treat all immigrants, regardless of legal status, justly and humanely, and for an immigration policy that includes the following elements:
- A path to citizenship or legal permanent residency for those already in a country legally or illegally, as well as for those wanting to enter a country;
- Work visas that allow employment and that rrequire the same worker protections applicable to citizens including fair wages, safe and healthful environments, and receipt of benefits;
- Allow multiple entries;
- Permit entry into the path for citizenship; and provide parity between the number of visas and the work available in the receiving nation.
- Access to the same medical care and education available to citizens;
- Evaluation of human and environmental costs of proposed barriers to immigration or other changes in immigration policy;
- Due process under the law including representation, rights of appeal, and the right to initiate suits;
- Non-deportation of parents with dependent children or partners of documented residents;
- Provision of asylum for refugees and others in fear of violence or retribution; and
- Collaboration with source countries to address underlying causes contributing to immigration.”
MVUC Statement of Conscience on Gun Legislation
Be it resolved that: Mount Vernon Unitarian Church advocates for measures that: (1) deter and prevent the indiscriminate purchase of firearms for the use of violence against people who live in the United States; (2) provide reliable and empowered safe-havens for people to report behavior that is threatening before a crisis occurs; (3) provide funding at the federal level to enable the Centers for Disease Control to resume studying the causes of gun violence; and (4) support the implementation of universal background checks for the purchase of firearms.