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Name: Hal S. Bertilson, Ph.D.

Affiliation: University of Wisconsin-Superior

Address: Belknap & Catlin, PO Box 2000

Superior, WI 54880-4500

Business phone: 715-394-8021


Title: How one denomination developed, debated in local and national forums, revised, approved and is now implementing a peacemaking statement of conscience

Presented: Presented at 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association at Washington, D.C., August 2011

Session Title: Peacebuilding in Communities

Time/Day: 1:00 PM, Saturday, August 6

Adoption of a Creating Peace Statement of Conscience by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations is an instructive example of how one organization is creating peace in our own communities. The example will address the impetus, the development of initiatives, and how the implementation is creating a sustaining program. A religious organization may be an apt example for our purposes. As Edward Chambers (2004), successor to Saul Alinksy, observes in Roots for Radicals people of faith can be counted on because they seek out and initiate opportunities to embody cherished values like living wages for all workers . . . " (p. 60).

No claim is made that this process is unique from other religious denominations. It is, however, an example of peacemaking principles in action. My role in this process was one of a participant observer. I am serving as Treasurer of the team that husbanded approval of the Statement of Conscience and is now leading its implementation. I had no part in the creation of the policies and procedures used in the study/action and approval of the Creating Peace Statement of Conscience.

The process I will describe will be one of the more formal processes of creating peace in communities because the rules are codified in the Bylaws of the Association of Congregations. Such codification creates transparency and clear expectations and smooths the process. The comprehensiveness of the UU procedure will make it unattainable for many organizations. Nevertheless specific sub-processes may be borrowed effectively.

This process is one that is applied to any issue of social justice, not only Creating Peace. In June, for example, UUA approved a statement on Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice. Also in June 2010, UUA approved the commencement of the four-year study action of Immigration as a Moral Issue. While these are not about issues of direct creating peace they are about Structural Peace (Galtung, 1969).

Since a part of this process occurs every year, there are delegates in the mini-assemblies and plenary sessions who are experienced and know how to use the rules to effect favorable outcomes. That, along with an experienced moderator, of course, is important in plenary sessions with more than 2,000 delegates speaking and voting.

The Division 48 (Peace Psychology) Program Committee asked me to be sure to include in this paper "peace psychology methodologies and principles" and "bottom-up solutions" to conflict. Those theoretical and methodological processes are noted. Copies of this paper are available on the table in the back of the room.

Context. What is the context for these processes? The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations, while international in affiliations, includes over 1,000 churches and fellowships in the United States. The polity is bottom up. Autonomy rests with local congregations and within congregations autonomy rests with individual members.

What is the theological framework that expects such bottom-up processes? Our Purposes and Principles is that framework. "We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote" the following seven principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person

  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations

  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part" (e.g., Frost, 1998).

Accordingly, the example shared here starts with a culture of respect and responsibility for bottom-up process and may be instructive for others who wish to develop and obtain support and approval for peacemaking principles and calls to action at the local level, yet coordinated through regional and national channels.

While one needs to be cautious when comparing theory across different levels of analysis, it is possible to hint at the applicability of processes used by Unitarian Universalists to other peace-building in community. Can we learn something useful for this purpose by comparing the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalists to the relationship of peace to values at the global level? In the end, of course, that is an empirical question. As with any organization some individuals embrace the cultural values more than other individuals. That said, the Seven Principles of this organization may be considered in terms of Fischer and Hanke's (2009) question "Are societal values linked to global peace and conflict?"

Fischer and Hanke conducted exploratory correlational analyses of global peace indicators for 2007 and 2008 for more than 100 countries to cultural values captured by the Schwartz Value Survey. Global peace indicators were derived from Scores reflecting Schwartz values were obtained from archival data. Three values were consistently related to global peace. (1) Societies valuing harmony with nature were less likely to experience strong internal and external conflict. (2) Societies valuing intellectual autonomy are related to global peace. Intellectual autonomy is a measure of societies that have greater tolerance of diverse opinions. (3) Societies lower in hierarchy are characterized as having less internal and external conflict. Visual inspection of the Seven Principles suggests that Unitarian Universalists values may be characterized with each of these three values. A comparison of these findings to the Seven Principles suggests that process described in this article may represent a culture that is more peaceful than the norm. Whether these observations apply to other community, national, and global cultures is another question. That is, therefore, a potential limiting generalization or in identifying factors needed for successful implementation.

As one who has been a member of 13 different Unitarian Universalist congregations in seven different states this speculative analysis from global peace indicators and the Schwartz Value Survey seem reasonable. I have served as board president in three of those congregations, in leadership roles in two districts, and at the national level. My intuitive observations of this relationship passes the "reasonableness test."

As Chambers (2004) argues the old public life organizations--the neighborhood, city council, town meeting--are the wrong scale to be effective in the twenty-first century. The problems are systemic and require massive concentration of problem solving and pressure.

Unitarian Universalists are a small denomination but have a social-justice impact far beyond their numbers. How do we do this? Delegates from congregations meet together once each year for worship, celebrations, distinguished lectures, forums, workshops, keynote addresses, and plenary sessions. This meeting is called General Assembly (GA).

Actions of Immediate Witness. Each year up to five statements of immediate witness (AIWs) are debated and voted upon. Examples include support for immigrant justice, ending present-day slavery in the fields, and calling for a United Nations World conference on racism. These statements of justice represent the voices of delegates attending that year's GA and are used by members, congregations, districts, the UUA, and it's affiliates such as our United Nations Office (UU-UNO), our service committee (UUSC), our women's federation (UU Women's Federation), Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and the Board and President of the Association to carry out our justice work.

A Commission on Social Witness (CSW) receives proposals from congregations. Up to six such proposals from a representative group of delegates and districts are selected for the annual GA agenda. These are concerns about significant action around justice in which timing of action is important. One example is a likely crisis emerging in a region. Another example is an upcoming international meeting as an opportunity to pressure for justice.

The review of AIWs by delegates includes mini-assemblies at GA prior to voting at plenary. In these mini-assemblies delegates participate in offering changes in language. The CSW adopts some of the changes and publishes those changes in a "CSW Alert!" The CSW Alert is distributed to delegates at the start of each plenary session.

The revised AIW proposals are introduced at a plenary sessions by the chair of the CSW. Delegates may debate further changes from pro, con, and procedural microphones within tightly controlled time boundaries. Adoption of each AIW requires two-thirds vote.

A Right Relationship Team observes and is available to delegates when communication is harmful. All the while during plenaries, workshops, lectures, worship, and celebrations the Right Relationship Team monitors the behavior of delegates and reports back to plenary sessions any deviation from standards of respectful, caring communication. In this way the Right Relationship Team models the very peacebuilding process we value.

The Youth Caucus is active in all these events including debate during plenaries. They have been especially effective from the floor during plenary sessions. We expect this to be building a future generation of Creating Peace citizens.

Statement of Conscience. Another process than AIW is available. It is a more deliberative process over four years, that enables delegates to direct the mobilization of UU "energy, ideas, and resources around a common issue" (Bylaws, 2011, p 3). The UUA Statement of Conscience is a four-year study/action process that results in "a deeper understanding of our religious position on the issue, a clear statement of policy" and "greater capacity for congregations to take effective action" (p. 3).

Members of the Commission on Social Witness are elected to manage the statement of conscience-process during those years of hearings, debates, and revisions. Resources are developed and made available on web pages. Input is received from congregations. Conferences are scheduled on the topic. Hearings and debate are schedule at GA.

This paper will describe how the statement of conscience on "Creating Peace" was approved in 2010. It will also describe how some congregations and the UU Peace Ministry Network have begun the implementation of the statement of conscience.

Creating Peace Statement of Conscience. Like AIWs the process for statements of conscience is truly grass roots, bottom up. In the fall of 2005, three Study Action Proposals were submitted by congregations to the CSW. One of those three suggested the essential theme "Where are we UUs when considering Just War Theory and Pacifism?" This proposal was drafted by a member of a UU congregation in the Massachusetts Bay District and was, as required, supported by that congregation and by congregations in other districts. In the ruling of the CSW the other two proposals did not meet the criteria for consideration at GA.

As with AIWs, proposals for statements of conscience are considered first in mini-assemblies. Considering input from mini-assemblies, the CSW brings the proposal to the plenary session. The Creating Peace Statement of Conscience was brought to the plenary session in June 2006 as a four-year study/action/comment item. It requires a simple majority to begin the process, which it easily received.

Discussion at the plenary session in support of the four-year study of creating peace included the following: (a) a daughter of a WWII veteran said she would flight like her father for peace. She argued that we need a conversation on issues of peacemaking. (b) a minister identified himself as a graduate of the Church of the Brethren seminary, a historically peace church. He said we need a theology of non-violence and argued for a discussion on the theology of non-violence. (c) A representative speaking on behalf of the Youth Caucus said that although peacemaking is a cornerstone of our faith, there are a wide range of views on peacemaking and just war. By having these conversations we will join Mennonites, Quakers, Buddhists, and Jains. (d) One woman wished that we all could have heard the mini-assembly conversation where UU's of different perspectives spoke, and were heard, and they discovered common language and concerns. Imagine, she said, what we can do in [four] years, and suggested that we could then distinguish reason from rationalization, justice from justification, and learn how to prepare youth for decisions about military service and economic poverty draft, as well as learn to better support UU military families. She said she is not a pacifist, and she is not sure we should become a peace church, but we need to discuss these issues (Derived from minutes from June 2006 Plenary Session).

During the four-year proposal and development period, ten of us from across the country, lay leaders, scholars, and ministers, formed a group to help get the statement approved. We, The UU Peace Ministry Network (UUPMN), met by conference call several times a month and at GA. Conference calls were made through

Over a period of months notable scholars on peacemaking were invited to discuss their thoughts on the statement of conscience via conference call for 20 minutes. UUs from congregations across the country were invited to listen and then participate in a discussion period for the remaining 40 minutes. Recordings of these seminars are linked to a WIKI. The WIKI also lists a relatively long list of resources for members of congregations to study and discuss. Resources include teleconference seminars on such topics as "Strategic Options for Building a Culture of Peace," "Reconciling UU Humanitarian Hawks and Pacifist Doves," and "The Morality of Violence."

The list of resources also includes organizations, articles and essays, sermons, books and pamphlets including information about other religious traditions, audio programs such as Speaking of Faith, and videos. This WIKI may be found at [Extracted from the web on 12-1-10]

Articles written by leading UU theologians and scholars appeared in various venues in support of the Study/Action process. Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor wrote a theological analysis on just war theory and pacifism ( This was in the Meadville Lombard Theological School home page. A second theological synthesis was published in the UU World, the general journal of UUA (Rasor, Spring 2008). The next year Dr. Dan McKanan published a historical theological synthesis that encompassed the principles of justice (McKanan, Winter, 2009).

One of the members of UUPMN is Dr. Sharon Welch, Provost and Professor of the Meadville-Lombard UU seminary in Chicago. Dr. Welch has written a number of books on issues of peace and justice, e.g., After empire: The art and ethos of enduring peace (Welch, 2004). More recently she wrote Real peace, real security: The challenges of global citizenship (Welch, 2008), a book that is required reading in my junior-level Peace Psychology class.

Early on a Core Team of volunteers was established and who worked with the CSW. Later the Core Team was replaced by the UU Peace Ministry Network. Among the many things resulting from this collaboration was the "Peacemaking" Resource Guide ( Among the many documents that individuals and groups could read and discuss is a young adult and campus ministry covenant group manual on creating peace This young adult document and the Youth Caucus at GA are examples of peace education for youngsters that contributes to development into creating-peace adults (Oppenheimer, 2009). Salomon (2011) argues that this creates a "ripple effect" whereby peace education programs spread to wider social circles of society. The core team also initiated a Peacemakers Book of the Month Club. All is available at the Peacemaking Resource Guide web page.

On December 12 and 13, 2009 the Meadville Lombard Theological School and UUPMN sponsored a two-day workshop at our Unitarian Universalist seminary at the University of Chicago. It was cosponsored with Global Action to Prevent War. It included representatives from the Krok Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, The Center for American Progress, the Association of Chicago Theological Schools, Center for American Progress, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Chicago Theological Seminary, and members of the UU Peace Ministry Network. The program announcement may be found at extracted 12-1-10.

Time allotted in the plenary session four years out was inadequate and consideration and study of the proposed statement of conscience was extended to a fifth year. In its final form the Creating Peace Statement of Conscience includes three sections: an introduction, historical and theological context, and calls to action. The calls to action are statements at the levels of (1) Creating Peace in our World, (2) Creating Peace in our Society, (3) Creating Peace in our Congregations, (4) Creating Peace in our Relationships, and (5) Creating Peace within Ourselves. The full text may be found at

To round out the context for this work on creating peace, other justice programs serve UUs, our communities, and provide additional context and opportunities for acting on our justice values. Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner conducts nonviolent communication workshops and did so again in June 2011 at GA. [See Mayton (2009, pp. 94-96) for a discussion of nonviolent communication.] She is a member of the UUPMN network and integrated her June 2011 workshop with the implementation of the Creating Peace Statement of Conscience.

There are other organizations within the UUA working for justice and, in that way, contribute to a context supportive of Creating Peace. One of those is Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community ( They contribute to our work in reducing structural violence. Other collaborations exist around the country. Some like the Minnesota Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA) are regular meetings of UUs in different UU congregation reporting and collaborating on a number of justice projects. Workshops at GA include activist training and workshops of training for congregation-based organizing.

In addition an electronic discussion group was formed and is still being used during the implementation period. See (Extracted from the web on 12-1-10)

The UUPMN is maintaining a web site at for the purpose of communicating what various congregations are doing and other current events related to peacemaking. A Paypal account has been set up and this web site has a button allowing visitors to join the UUPMN and receive our newsletters. At GA each year and at some district meetings we sell tee shirts and buttons and use the revenue from sales and membership dues to pay for brochures, workshops, etc. Several grant proposals have also been submitted.

After approval of the Creating Peace Statement of Conscience, the UUPMN assumed the responsibility of assisting congregations in implementing it.

A Peace Advocacy Program was created. It identifies and recognizes congregations that have taken a number of steps in Creating Peace. The categories are international peace, domestic and congregational peace category, lobbying and activism, and military support. Congregations may receive certification as Peace Advocacy Program by applying to the UUPMN ( As of July 2011 the UUPMN has recognized four such congregations. Links to web pages for each of these four programs may be found at the web site.

Other peacemaking news may be found at the web site including congregations that are installing peace polls, welcoming programs for LBGT adults and youth, initiatives defending Muslim Americans, the work of UUSC in Haiti, and planning for peace observances on 9/11/11.

Ever since 9/11/01 there has been concern about displacement of fear into hostility toward Muslims.  We have a number of examples in the United States.  If any more concern is needed, there have been several recent articles about the extent of this fear and its consequences in Europe (e.g., Hockenos, May 9, 2011).  Some months ago some members of the UUPMN and other ministers and lay leaders formed a group, 9/11 Peace Circles, to encourage congregations to offer peaceful and healing ceremonies this September, the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01. The concern is that many others will use that anniversary to celebrate militarism.  This year the tenth anniversary occurs on a Sunday.  We have made available a number of resources to congregations in planning a service and/or community event.  

Additional Observations and Conclusions. Milt Schwebel (2008) identified conditions that maintain the morale among peace activists. This is especially important because in the short term activists seldom see the fruits of their work. It takes a long, historical view to appreciate the successes. The UUA Statement of Conscience process exemplifies several of the recommendations Schwebel makes to support morale. First, the organization involves a large number of people at various individual, committee, congregational, district, and Association levels. The process gives everyone an opportunity to contribute "at meetings and other forums and serve on committees. Participation is greatly encouraged when the atmosphere is one of trust, when members feel that they will be treated with respect no matter how their views may differ from those of others . . ." (p. 220). Much is done at UU meetings locally and nationally to maintain those conditions of trust. At the local level the nonviolent communication workshops also foster those conditions. In addition the Right Relationship Teams strengthen the atmosphere of trust.

Three more recommendations of Schwebel's article are also met. The organization should establish a system to resolve conflicts amicably. The organization should operate with a set of goals and evaluate the extent of achieving them. The organization should celebrate its achievements and 'blow its own horn!' and publicize the results as widely as possible" (pp. 220-221). All of which are achieved by the structure of formal procedures, opportunities for extended discussions, training in nonviolence communication, and the Right Relationship teams.

Extensive participation by many Unitarian Universalists and their organizations has the potential to promote a culture of peace as called for by the United Nations. Such participation is expected to create norms that "emphasize cooperation and the resolution of conflicts through dialogue, negotiation, and nonviolence" (Salomon, 2011, p.47). Of course the statement of conscience process described in this paper are not the only factors. Unitarian Universalism likely attracts people with these values and workshops such as nonviolent communication strengthens these values and motives.

Reeve (2009) observes in his textbook on Motivation and Emotion that a significant reason people fail to attain their goals is that they fail to develop specific action plans for attaining their goals. Much of the process described here including debate, voting, and working toward the recognition as a Peace Advocacy Program are all establishing implementation intentions that are known to effect follow through.

Reeve concludes elsewhere in his textbook that conditions that involve a supportive environment including "optimal challenges, informational feedback, and interesting things to do" increase the likelihood of follow through (p. 452). I believe these criteria have been more than adequately met by the processes used by Unitarian Universalists to engage in social justice work.


Chambers, E. T. (2004) Roots for radicals: Organizing for power, action, and justice. Continuum International.

Fischer, R., & Hanke, K. (2009). Are societal values linked to global peace and conflict? Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 15-3, 227-248.

Frost, E. A. (1998). With purpose and principle: essays about the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. Boston: Skinner House.

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace and peace research. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 3, 176-191.

Hockenos, P. (May 9, 2011). Europe’s rising Islamophobia: What makes it so lethal is that it has broad appeal—from the far left to the far right, The Nation, pp. 22-26.

McKanan, D. (Winter 2009). The religious left: An old tradition for a new day. UU World, Vol. XXII, No. 4, pp. 26-32.

Mayton, D. M. (2009). Nonviolence and peace psychology. New York: Springer.

Oppenheimer, L. (2009). Contribution of developmental psychology to peace education. In G. Salomon & E. Cairns (Eds.). Handbook of peace education (pp. 103-1210. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Rasor, P. (Spring 2008). Prophetic nonviolence: Toward a Unitarian Universalist theology of war and peace. UU World, Vol. XXII, No. 1, pp. 26-33

Rasor, P. (2008). Beyond just war and pacifism: Toward a Unitarian Universalist theology of prophetic nonviolence. Retrieved April 11, 2009 from Meadville-Lombard Theological School home page.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion, 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Salomon, G. (2011). Four major challenges facing peace education in regions of intractable conflict. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 17-1, pp 46-59.

Schwebel, M. (2008). Peace activists: Maintaining morale. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 14-2, 215-223.

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (2011). Agenda: 50th Annual General Assembly, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Welch, S. D. (2004). After empire: The art and ethos of enduring peace. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Welch, S. D. (2008). Real peace, real security: The challenges of global citizenship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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University of Wisconsin-Superior iconPh. D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987 M. S., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1984 B. S., Shanghai Jiaotong University, China, 1982 Positions at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

University of Wisconsin-Superior iconEducation ph. D. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Atmospheric Sciences (minor Soil Science), May 1997 B. S. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Atmospheric Sciences, December 1992. Employment history

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