LOVE REACHED OUT: UU-UNO General Assembly Recap

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Thank you for joining the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!

 

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel

UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, spoke at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted by UURISE, on Thursday, June 26th. Bruce discussed the plight of LGBTQ immigrants who seek refuge from persecution, only to find limited or no protection under US immigration law.  He explained the current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can combine their LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO occurred on Friday, June 27th.

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“Think globally, act locally.” Panelists addressed ways to promote cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of global understanding. We invited participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice to encourage them to strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob spoke on these issues. Alley Wolff also spoke briefly about the Envoy Program.

 

The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception took place on Saturday, June 28th.

The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winners were announced and honored. This year’s winning submission came from the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey. The intergenerational team (Gabor Kiss, Shari Loe, George Hays, James McMormick, and Sarah Matsushima) put together a United Nations Sunday service that addressed the theme of the 2013 Spring Seminar (LGBTQ Human Rights).

This year’s Dana Greeley Award winners with UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office extended our gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Congregations for their hard work in achieving this status. They have successfully held a UN Sunday service or event, made a congregational donation or committed to an annual “UU UNO” budget line, had 15 members or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.
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See our Facebook page for more photos from the Blue Ribbon Ceremony!

 

The Envoy Breakfast took place on Saturday, June 28th.

At the breakfast, we discussed the successes and challenges experienced by congregational envoys, and we helped brainstorm ideas and techniques to enhance our future envoy endeavors.

 

 Watch Bruce talk about our influence at the United Nations during General Session V at 13:26!

 

Youth Envoys loved GA!

“I only attended two days of the UUA’s 2014 General Assembly, but while I was there was I able to participate in UU-UNO related events. At their Beyond Borders workshop, Kamila and Bruce brought speakers who talked to us about what the UU-UNO does and their various programs, including their efforts to combat LGBTQ inequality; they placed an emphasis on helping those whose voices are not often heard. In the morning I attended the envoy breakfast where current envoys and envoys-to-be met and discussed our past successes and failures when trying to spread the word about the UU-UNO at our respective congregations. It was nice to meet other UUs from all around the country who care and know about what’s going on at the UU-UNO, especially because our ages and backgrounds were all varied.”

-       Sarah Matsushima, 17, Morristown, New Jersey

 

“I’ve been going to GA every year since my freshman year in high school, so I was very excited that this year I wouldn’t have to travel far because it is in my region. General Assembly is always a fun experience; it is great to meet UUs from all over the country, and when you sit in a huge conference center with all the people you realize just how many of us there are. GA is especially fun for the youth because of the Youth Caucus, which provides great programming for youth to get to know each other and do fun things like trivia night and the dance they have every year. The UU-UNO has a presence at GA, they have a booth in the exhibit hall and do workshops throughout the week. There is also the Envoy breakfast, and the reception for the Dana Greeley award and the Blue Ribbon award winners.”

-       Corry Sullivan, 17, State College, Pennsylvania

 

“The UU-UNO reception provided a perfect setting to honor certain congregations for their exceptional collaboration with the UU-UNO. We were treated to an excerpt from the exceptional service that earned the Dana Greeley award, and 33 congregations were honored with the blue ribbon award. Overall this event graced its attendees with food, knowledge, and goodwill towards the incredible action the UU-UNO is working towards.”

-       Ben Gaffigan, 18, Frederick, Maryland

 

The Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge

 

 

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Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, who became the icon of forgiveness as the Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, are issuing a Global Forgiveness Challenge to coincide with the release of their long-anticipated book, The Book of Forgiving.

The Tutus have spent their lives working with victims and perpetrators of wrongs, from the unspeakable to the everyday, and this deep experience has shown them that choosing the act of forgiveness can profoundly transform individuals and our world. They believe so strongly in the importance of forgiveness that they have developed this free, 30-Day online campaign based on the Fourfold Path of forgiving offered in their book.

The Challenge is designed for everyone, regardless of belief or background. Each day participants will receive an inspirational email from the Archbishop and Mpho with a link to log in to an online forgiveness community. There they will be guided through practical exercises on how to forgive, have opportunities to join discussions, share their own stories and view resources like interviews with forgiveness experts, heroes, celebrities, and leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sir Richard Branson, Stanford forgiveness researcher Fred Luskin, musician Alanis Morissette and media maven Arianna Huffington

Register anytime, and begin the Global Forgiveness Challenge with the online community on May 4, 2014.

Dark Day for Gay rights in India

Last week’s report that India’s Supreme Court had issued a ruling upholding the criminalization of gay sex was shocking.  And, LGBT activists in India have organized and responded quickly.

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Derek Mitchell, the Director of the UUA’s Holdeen India Program writes from New Delhi that,

“This development has been deeply disturbing and was largely unexpected. The ruling party in India has taken the position that this decision should be overturned, either legislatively or through executive action. The LGBT activist organizations that brought the initial case to court have said they will file an appeal so it can be heard by a larger bench of judges.”

The UU United Nations Office is also consulting with interfaith partners about a collective response.  The UU-UNO has monitored press accounts in India which indicate widespread criticism of the Supreme Court striking down of the 2009 High Court ruling which struck down the British colonial era law which criminalized same-gender love.  Many prominent political leaders want to see this criminal ban removed, so there is hope that the Indian Parliament will do what the Supreme Court failed to do and end the criminalization of same-gender love.

Updates will be posted here in the days ahead.

UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct

GENEVA/NEW DELHI, 12 December 2013—UNAIDS expresses its deep concern that, through its recent decision on the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court of India has re-criminalized adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. In 2009, the Delhi High Court had found unconstitutional the application of the 150-year-old law criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” between consenting adults. Now, again in India, gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“The Delhi High Court decision in 2009 had restored dignity for millions of people in India, and was an example of the type of reform we need for supportive legal environments that are necessary for effective national AIDS responses,” said the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. “We want government and civil society to be able to provide HIV information and services to all people, including gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and for them to be able to access the services without fear of criminalization.”

The 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court to annul the law was widely considered a milestone against homophobia and towards zero HIV-related discrimination. In the past four years since the law was annulled, there has been a more than 50% increase in the number of sites providing HIV services for gay and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender people in India.

For the protection of public health and human rights, UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. Such criminalization hampers HIV responses across the world. These laws not only violate human rights but also make it more difficult to deliver HIV prevention and treatment services to a population which is particularly affected by HIV. On average globally, gay and other men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely than the rest of the population to be living with HIV.

UNAIDS urges all governments to protect the human rights of gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, through repealing criminal laws against adult consensual same sex sexual conduct; implementing laws to protect them from violence and discrimination; promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia; and ensuring that adequate health services are provided to address their needs.

In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all UN Member States committed to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations. 

Please sign-on to AllOut’s online petition

 

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UUA President Attends the 9th World Assembly of Religions for Peace: “Welcoming the Other”

Religions for Peace World Assembly - Vienna, 2013
Religions for Peace World Assembly – Vienna, 2013

As I attend the Religions for Peace World Assembly in Vienna, I can’t help but feel deep pride as a Unitarian Universalist. There are more than six hundred religious leaders here from all over the world—Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. There are even smaller groups like Zoroastrians and Jains (at only four million).

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We UU’s are probably the smallest group here—and yet we are in no small part responsible for the existence of this body. The first president of the UUA, Dana Greeley, played a critical role in the founding of this organization. Our Japanese partners, the Rissho Kosei-kai, were also part of founding Religions for Peace. It was a joy to see these good Japanese colleagues again and share a meal with them..

What is perhaps most striking at this conference is how easily and naturally all these people—from every part of the world and from virtually every religious group—can work together. These are leaders committed to making their religious traditions agents of peace and harmony in the world. They unanimously reject hatred and violence.

Once more I am impressed by how the great struggles in the world today are not really between different religions and cultures. The conflicts are among the reactionary elements of the world’s religions and cultures. Progressive Jews, Muslims, Christians and others have learned how to draw upon their deep traditions and yet to also appreciate other traditions as well.

During the conference I served on a panel at a workshop dealing with education for peace. In my brief remarks I drew upon our own UU tradition, going back to Sophia Fahs and before, of pioneering the teaching about other religious traditions in a respectful way. I went on to add my own conviction that we need to move beyond the cognitive teaching about other faiths to an interpersonal and experiential encounter with other faiths in their cultural contexts. Our fledgling learning service efforts in the College of Social Justice is a fine example of this.

Religion, alas, is still used to justify unspeakable violence. Such violence makes news. Here in Vienna, a vital global effort that we UU’s helped to create uses religion as a means to spread understanding, compassion and peace. Cooperation is quiet. Appreciative understanding is silent. They do not make big news. However, when we finally get to the point where the world has learned to live in harmony and peace, enlightened religious leaders like these good people here in Vienna will have done much to make such a world possible.

What a humbling privilege it is to be here as a representative of our faith.

Peter Morales
President
Unitarian Universalist Association

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Find news from the World Assembly on the World Assembly Facebook page. The Official event hashtag for social media is #RfPAssembly

Religions for Peace will inaugurate 9th World Assembly

8th World Assembly (2006, Kyoto)
8th World Assembly (2008, Kyoto)

Every 5-6 years the worlds largest and most representative interfaith organization focused on Peace, Religions for Peace (RFP) convenes a World Assembly of senior-most religious leaders for the purpose of forging a deep moral consensus on contemporary challenges, eliciting a new World Council, and advancing multi-religious action across and beyond the Religions for Peace network.

RFP’s 9th World Assembly will begin on Wednesday, November 20th in Vienna, Austria. It will be global in scale, multi-stakeholder in composition and action-oriented.  The Assembly will convene over 600 senior religious leaders from around the world who are strategically positioned to advance multi-religious action for the common good.  It will also include representatives of governments, intergovernmental organizations, charitable foundations, and other civil society sectors and provide concrete opportunities to forge multi-stakeholder partnerships for the common good.  Major successes in the advancement of peace, development, and shared security will be responsibly shared and further honored.

UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales, will speak to the World Assembly on Thursday afternoon as a member of a panel addressing RFP’s commission: “Welcoming the Other through Religious and Interreligious Education.”

The UUA is a founding member of Religions for Peace – previously known as the World Conference of Religions for Peace.  The UUA’s first President, Rev. Dana Greeley joined with the Founder of Rissho Kosei-kai(RKK), Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, and other global interfaith leaders in providing the leadership necessary to establish the organization in 1970.   UUA Minister, Rev. Homer Jack, was the first Secretary General of the organization, serving until he retired in 1983.

Follow the news from the World Assembly on this blog, or on the World Assembly Facebook page. The Official event hashtag for social media is #RfPAssembly

 

All Souls Unitarian Church (Washington, DC) premiers amazing film

In 1996, a box was uncovered at the home of a parishioner of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington D.C. In that box were nearly 50 colorful drawings made by children as thanks for gifts received from the church fifty years earlier.

Not many people in the church knew the story behind these pictures, they only knew they were made by school children in Japan after World War II.

The story behind the film ‘Pictures from a Hiroshima School Yard’ is inspiring – it reminds us that hope and peace are within reach.  And, that a deep and heartfelt response by one church to a suffering community can lead to amazing things.  Come and see the film on Friday, November 15, 2013 at All Souls Church.
 
 
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Challenges for Religious Freedom in the Digital Age | August 2014

IARF World Congress

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) will be hosting its 34th World Congress at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, from August 24 to 27, 2014.

The theme of the upcoming congress, “Challenges for Religious Freedom: The Digital Age,” is inextricably tied to the welcoming and diverse character of the selected host city, a main reason for its selection. The perennial — but necessary — questions what is freedom? and what is religion? figure into the daily religious, social, and commercial life of this second most populous city in England.

Is digitalization a new age or another phase of the information age, and how does this impact the expression, accessibility, and freedom of religion? Keynote speaker Karen Armstrong, and a multitude of planned presenters, will lead the Congress in exploration of these issues.

Add-on tours pre and post Congress will be available, exploring London, Northern Ireland, and beyond. View the Congress flyer (PDF)

Registration details are forthcoming. 

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International Bridges to Justice: Vishna’s story

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Visit Communities of Conscience website

Vishna is a four year old boy who is like any other you will meet at that age. He is from Cambodia, and has bright brown eyes and pinchable cheeks. His circumstance is a little different; he was born in prison. His mother is held there because they cannot find her husband, his father, and so they hold her and Vishna in prison instead.

karen-tseWhat can be done about a child born in prison? Rev. Karen Tse, a Unitarian Universalist Minister living in Geneva, Switzerland, tells us that we have a way to prevent this from happening.

To understand how one must first understand two things that cause stories like Vishna’s: one, that 95% of injustice and torture happens to the common person who has no voice (as opposed to political prisoners or famous activists), and two, that there are already laws that Cambodia and other countries have passed that say such behavior is illegal. Such laws exist in 93 countries, as a matter of fact. Yet millions of people are tortured every year.

People have been guaranteed their rights. There are laws forbidding this behavior. Political leaders around the world do not want to torture their own people. The problem is implementing these laws.  Rev. Karen Tse has pinpointed the issue: torture is cheapest investigative tool. While people should have lawyers, it’s expensive for developing legal systems to provide people with lawyers on a timely basis. And this is why Vishna has lived his entire life in prison.

His life is not hopeless. He is actually the delight of the prison. Every day he does his best to visit every prisoner, and the guards let him! This boy is the embodiment of hope.

Rev. Karen Tse took this hope and formed International Bridges to Justice in 2000. Since then, this organization has created country centers in the most populous nations to train lawyers and provide as many people as possible with legal access. It has sponsored JusticeMaker competitions which implements a brilliant legal plan that has had astounding successes.

This process is not just about justice. It is about peace. Too often we find ourselves too late. Protesting a war already underway. Helping countries after war has ravaged it for years. By helping projects like Rev. Tse’s, by helping JusticeMakers, we prevent conflict. When people have a just legal system there is no need for violence. We don’t just wish for world peace. We make it happen.

This is your invitation to be part of Vishna’s hope. For the first time, we are connecting individuals and congregations with these JusticeMakers. We call this program Communities of Conscience. As Unitarian Universalists, we are about making the world a better place instead of thinking about it. By building a relationship with a JusticeMaker (like people do at KIVA.org or Women for Women International) you become part of a worldwide mission of justice and peace. Your congregation can become a Community of Conscience, or you can join one that helps a specific JusticeMaker. Together, we can set people like Vishna and his mother free.

Join us. For more information, contact Shawna Foster, Intern for the International Office: or visit IBJ’s website.

Hiroshima Day 2013

Memorial lanterns in observance of Hiroshima Day. (CC image courtesy of Flickr user pni)

Today (August 6, 2013) is Hiroshima Day! As we observe the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, individuals and congregations alike are invited to view our available interfaith and Unitarian Universalist (UU) resources.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring stories to come out of this difficult time is the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings:

Shortly after the bombing in Hiroshima in 1945, Rev. A. Powell Davies of the All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C., gave a famous sermon called “Lest the Living Forget.” In it, he encouraged his congregation to send supplies to the victims of the bombing.

 

After sending school supplies to the Honkawa school in Hiroshima, the church received 45 hand drawn pictures by the children of the city. Distinct from other images depicting the events of Hiroshima, these images were hopeful, inviting children of all ages to envision a different future of peace, reconciliation and open dialogue.

Learn more about the story of the Hiroshima Children’s Drawings, and check out our online resources!

No Longer in My Name: A Faith-Based Response to Faith-Based Intolerance

 

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In over 76 countries, religion is used as a rationale to oppress people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now is the time for people of faith to respond to faith-based intolerance and, on June 12, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and other organizations joined together to do just that. Over 100 people gathered in the United Nations Church Center for a screening of the film God Loves Uganda, a new documentary by filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about the importation of Western evangelical values into Uganda.  Following the film, attendees listened to

The Esteemed Interfaith Panel
The Esteemed Interfaith Panel

testimony from a Ugandan refugee and engaged in a discussion about the film with five interfaith clergy members. The evening concluded with a message from Ugandan UU Minister Mark Kiyimba, urging everyone to support Ugandan faith leaders in their work for LGBTI equality. Click here to watch the video. The evening was greatly informative for all, and left everyone inspired to support Ugandan work for equality and to strive for change in their own countries.

God Loves UgandaThe documentary God Loves Uganda premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013, and has won numerous awards at film festivals. It tells the story of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), an evangelical Christian organization that sends missionaries around the world to spread the word of God. IHOP’s leaders have focused many of

their missionary efforts on Uganda, a place they believe is ripe with the possibility for spiritual renewal—in part because half of the population is under 15. IHOP sends young Americans to communities throughout Uganda, to build churches and minister to people and even provide social services, but the IHOP missionaries rsz_img_4073also spread their evangelical values, including homophobia.  Widespread persecution of LGBTI people has forced many to flee the country and led to the murder of others, including gay activist David Kato, and has culminated in an American-influenced Anti-Homosexuality bill being introduced into the Ugandan parliament. The bill, often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, would make homosexual behavior punishable by life imprisonment or even death. God Loves Uganda seeks to raise
awareness of what is happening not just in Uganda, but around the world, and is a powerful call for international support for LGBTI rights.

rsz_img_4098 The evening opened with an introduction by Bruce Knotts, Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who spoke about the importance of the film and of faith support for LGBTI rights. After the screening of God Loves Uganda, a refugee from Uganda gave a powerful testimony affirming the accuracy of the film and spoke about his experiences and the importance of international advocacy. A panel of clergy members—Rev. Eric Cherry from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Imam Daaiyee Abdullah from Muslims for Progressive Values, Pastor Joseph Tolton from Rehoboth Church, Rabbi Deborah Hirsch from Congregation Shaaray Tefila, and Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer from United Church of Christ—then answered questions posed by Mordechai Levovitz, event organizer and Co-Director of Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, about the film and faith-based advocacy. Although the clergy members came from different religious traditions, their values and beliefs in equality were remarkably similar, and they all expressed the importance of supporting and getting involved in work for LGBTI equality.

rsz_img_4092After the event, many attendees expressed how much they appreciated the speakers’ testimonies, and how powerful they found the film. The evening truly brought together a community of faith and faith allies to support equality and interfaith activism, and showed that, if we join together, we can change the world. No Longer in My Name was cosponsored by the United Nations NGO Committee for Human Rights, the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Muslims for Progressive Values, American Jewish World Service, Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, GLAAD, Bronx LGBTQ Center, and Love Beyond Borders.

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