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Conflict and Covenant

Yesterday, I gave a sermon called “Conflict and Covenant: Calling-In Rather Than Calling-Out.” It was about how we can learn ways to hold ourselves and one another accountable for actually living our UU values, while staying in relationship with one another.

I asked this question: Can you think of a time when you felt someone else—a family member, a friend, a colleague—was doing or saying something that was harmful? That was perhaps racist, discriminatory, or in some way a violation of your most basic values? Most of us can think of at least one, if not many examples, of such situations. And in those situations, we very often choose one of two reactions:

• We remain silent, stewing inside, because we don’t want to create conflict. We may believe there’s no point in saying anything, because we won’t change the other person’s mind. Or we may value the relationship so much we don’t want to risk disrupting it. Or we may just be tired.

• Alternatively, we may choose to speak up, and often when we do so we are angry. We can have a tendency to lash out, say something harsh or condemning, and in so doing close down some part of the relationship.

These are tough options, both of them causing a fair amount of pain. We need an alternative. The purpose of our WUUC Covenant of Respectful Relations is to help us find ways of speaking out truth, holding ourselves and each other accountable, while still remaining in relationship with one another.

The purpose of a community is to support the growth, health, and success of the individuals who participate in it. Our Westside community strives, in addition, to make the world a more just, healed, and caring place. Sometimes, we need a little guidance in how to support one another, while still challenging us to grow, change and evolve in a changing world.

Our covenant, which you find below, invites us to speak directly and respectfully to one another about differences. It challenges us to make discernments and assessments about words, or actions, but not about the essential nature or quality of another person. In encourage us to practice authenticity, honesty, respect, and accountability in very real ways.

In the past, justice movements have relied on a technique referred to as “calling-out” to name, publicly, when words or actions are causing harm. Generally, this is uncomfortable at best, and more often quite upsetting. Calling-out is a useful tool when an immediate disruption of a behavior needs to happen—when someone is being actively harmful of another person (with or without intent), for example. But we need something gentler, to help us in situations where we are all doing our best, but are still unknowingly blundering or stepping into our own blind spots.

Calling-in is a technique by which we can invite others to share more about their perspectives, while we share how their words or actions impact us. Calling-in generally uses questions, like “How did you come to that conclusion?” or “Why do you believe that to be true?” or “Do you have a sense of how other people might hear that, or feel when you say that?”

Calling-in is also uncomfortable. It’s not necessarily easy to be truly curious about another person’s perspective when we’re hurting, or to be interested in hearing reflections on how we have inadvertently caused harm. But this is necessary if we want to grow. We’re all on a journey of growth, learning and hope. If the world is going to become a better place, each of us is going to have to be willing to grow and change with it. To be cliché: we are the ones who must build the world we dream of, and the work starts at home, not ‘out there’ with someone else, somewhere else.

So I invite you to read (or reread) our WUUC Covenant of Respectful Communication. And I encourage you to think about ways you might practice calling-in when conflict arises, both giving and receiving responses that are designed to help us all grow and become more of the people we wish to be.

Looking forward to sharing that journey with you.

With faith in our shared values, and hope for our collective growing,

Rev. Carol


Recognizing the diversity of thought and belief in our congregation, we, the members and friends of Westside Unitarian Universalist Church, promise to:

Treat each other with respect by:

Taking responsibility for our own opinions,

Avoiding making anonymous complaints, gossiping and involving others in our personal conflicts,

Addressing issues and behaviors, rather than people and personalities.

Engage in open and honest communication by:

Listening with an open mind,

Allowing others to speak without interruption,

Using “I” statements and speaking only for our selves,

Keeping comments brief and adhering to agreed-upon time limits,

Speaking in turn after thinking about what others have said.

Commit to the democratic process by:

Participating actively in the life and decisions of the church,

Honoring and abiding by majority decisions made by the church leadership and congregation,

Respectfully considering dissenting opinions,

Supporting the church with time and financial resources, as able, even when disagreeing with democratically arrived-at decisions.

Attempt to resolve conflicts by:

Speaking directly and personally with any individual with whom we have an issue. If unwilling to do this alone, asking another person (such as the minister) to be present as a neutral third party,

Agreeing to abide by the conflict resolution policy approved by the Board and the congregation, if the situation cannot be resolved by the above means.

Affirm our commitment to UU values by:

Striving to live in community according to our 7 UU principles,

Honoring WUUC as a unique haven in our search for spiritual truth,

Honoring our traditions and rituals while being receptive to new ideas,

Welcoming visitors and including newcomers in the life of the church,

Celebrating our differences and cherishing our diversity,

Being mindful of our Covenant in our daily interactions with each other and incorporating it into our spiritual lives,

Committing to do our best to live up to the ideals expressed in our Covenant.

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