Little Rock III

     The acrobat always paused at the lowest point on the wire.  The tension on the wire was strong, but there was enough slack for her to play it as she took each step, to maintain that constant motion essential to her equilibrium. This day, as she paused, her tension rose -- it rose and, in a sense, matched the tension in the wire.  She began to tremble.  The audience didn’t sense her sudden attack of nerves, but then, as the ends of balance pole began to vibrate in an increasing arc, they knew -- and the tension rose in them as well.  A few seconds passed like minutes.  The audience and the acrobat held their breath.

     One of the essences of civil disobedience is that the person expressing his or her moral or ethical conviction by violating a law expects and is ready to pay the civic penalty proscribed for the breaking of that law.  To cite just two recent examples here in our own UU community:  when the President, the Moderator and other concerned and motivated UUs trespassed on the nuclear test site, they knew they were assuming the risk of arrest and possible penalty as the price of expression of their conviction.

     When the Board of Trustees decided, two years ago, to divest our investment portfolios of our holding of the securities of companies doing business in or with South Africa, we knew there would be a cost to that step and a possible future loss of income.

     Now I have been counseled not to bring up the subject of the cost of our decision not to hold the 1988 General Assembly in Phoenix.  Leave well enough alone, they said.  The Moderator has already explained it, they said.  We don’t want to get into a big hoo-ha over this, they said.  Everything’s going very smoothly, they said.

     This is a financial matter, among other considerations, and I am a Financial Advisor.  I am called upon to give you advice you want as well as advice you may not want.  And my advice to you, my friends and fellow delegates, is that the Board of Trustees, as the elected leadership of a religious organization, has done the right thing, the responsible thing, indeed it has done the financially appropriate thing.

     The very first words I said to the General Assembly Delegates in 1982 as I gave my very first report as your very new Financial Advisor were:  “Our treasure is ourselves and what we stand for.”  What we stand for, not how highly valued our investments, how extensive our properties, how much money we raise every year -- what we stand for.

     Now I am as much of an institutionalist as anyone in this room.  I am as much concerned with guarding our assets as anyone in this room.  I am as much determined to spend every dollar wisely as anyone.  But I say to you that I don’t care about the $130,000 if it is saved at the cost of our conscience -- I don’t want the $130,000 if it is purchased with the institutional loyalty of, and our respect for, concerns sacred to our co-religionists of color.  I advise the delegates that I believe the Board has acted in a manner appropriate for fiduciaries who hold in trust our mission;  they have made a decision to commit funds in a manner consistent with our Principles and Purposes.  I refuse to believe the delegates to this assembly would have had us do otherwise.

     I don’t want to oversimplify this problem or display insensitivity to our co-religionists in Arizona, but I think our perspectives at the continental level must occasionally put certain kinds of concerns of broad social and ethical nature ahead of what we might normally consider our institutional responsibility to our local congregations.

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