Many individuals at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church — Unitarian Universalist are actively involved in social justice causes and take a public stand on important issues by speaking at public events; joining in marches and protests; writing articles, blog posts, and letters to the editor; and in many other ways. As a church, we encourage all individual members to speak their minds openly and to strive for justice.
Sometimes members of a subgroup within the church want to speak out in the name of an issue related to activities of our organization. And sometimes members feel that congregation as a whole should take a public stand in the name of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist.
We don’t take congregational public witness like this lightly, however. We have a detailed process for discussing issues and arriving at views that fairly represent opinions in our church. This process is outlined in detail in our Policy Manual.
Types of Public Witness
Individual Public Witness:
Acts of public witness happen all the time in our community in the form of individual actions, or actions by small groups or committees. Members of TJMC attend anti-war rallies and marriage rights events, and write letters to the editor. These acts of individual witness are a natural expression of our UU beliefs.
Group Public Witness:
As a church we encourage our members to form groups to plan events, meetings, protests, and letter-writing campaigns to raise awareness of social, moral, and ethical issues – issues within our church and in the larger world around us. Most acts of public witness follow this path. Interest groups are formed under the umbrella of the Social Justice Council and must notify the Board when they intend to perform acts of public witness or to speak as representatives of their particular group within the church.
Congregational Public Witness of a Short-term Nature:
Sometimes, committees or groups wish to initiate a congregational response or action of an immediate and short-term nature (less than one month), for example, in a show of grief following a local or national act of violence in which silence is not consistent with our values. Public witness of this sort requires approval of the board and a signed petition that includes a number of church participants equivalent to 20% of the church members.
Congregational Public Witness of a Long-Term Nature:
In situations where the entire congregation feels compelled to speak as one, long-term display or activity (more than one month in duration) may be appropriate. Examples might include displaying a banner in support of marriage rights or changes in our church policy to reflect support for a global position. The process for congregation-wide public witness is more complex and involves congregational meetings as well as Board approval.