The Roadmap for Peace

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations recently endorsed an initiative spearheaded by the American Friends Service Committee called The Roadmap for Peace. Over 30 national organizations have joined together to call on the next U.S. President and administration to engage in a new foreign policy based on these five core principles.

  1. Our nation should invest in peace.

    Our country should invest in diplomacy, development, and conflict prevention — cost-effective ways to improve national and global security.

  2. Strengthen the civilian agencies that work on peace and development issues.

    The military is not an effective relief agency. The government needs a strong civilian foreign assistance and crisis response team.

  3. Give diplomacy a chance.

    With a highly skilled diplomatic corps, the United States can prevent conflict and restore its international reputation.

  4. Be a part of global peacebuilding efforts.

    We must work with renewed commitment in international institutions and partners to address major global conflicts and challenges, such as nonproliferation, climate change, migration, public health, and poverty.

  5. Create justice through good development and trade policies.

You can join the UUA and the AFSC by personally endorsing the Roadmap for Peace.

Tents of Hope for Darfur

The UUA’s September Action of the Month was Tents of Hope for Darfur. The program is ongoing and there are many congregations who are continuing to collect postcards, pitch tents, and even planning to come to D.C. for the national gathering, November 7-9th. A story about UU involvement in the Tents of Hope project has gone up on We encourage you to read the story and if you have one of your own, please send it (along with pictures) to Alex Winnett at Thanks!

When I Looked Ahmadinejad in the Eye

Two weeks ago, I sat 15 feet away from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as part of a dialogue between him and 150 members of the U.S. peace and justice movement.

I find it odd that I have been closer to the president of the world’s 18th most populous country than has my President. And since then, I have been listening to Senators McCain and Obama spar over whether they would have a diplomatic relationship with Iran, and if so, how “tough” that diplomacy would be.

The Iranian people did not pass a national declaration of animosity towards Israel, nor have they democratically chosen to pursue a nuclear program. Yet, Senator Obama mentioned in the last presidential debate that we may want to set up a blockade to prevent refined petroleum products from entering Iran. President Ahmadinejad might say deplorable things and ignore international dictates, but millions of Iranians depend on petroleum as much as we do. The Iranian people would be punished for their President’s behavior. For our own sake, I would not like to set that precedent.

Many have said that pursuing diplomacy with President Ahmadinejad legitimizes his outlandish proclamations and his worst policies. In place of diplomacy, they want to impose sanctions, blockades, and “keep all options on the table.” But ultimately, those “solutions” are isolating Iran and avoiding the issues at play.

Look, I know President Ahmadinejad is dangerous. I know that he condones and conducts huge violations of human rights. I know that there are many legitimate reasons that principled persons may not want to spend a minute of their lives in dialogue with this man. But for two powerful countries, in an ever shrinking world, to not be on speaking terms is too dangerous. Around 20-40% of the world’s oil supply passes through Iran’s territorial waters. Iran is supporting Hamas, Hezbullah, and insurgent groups in Iraq; and the U.S. is supporting rebel groups within Iran. The issues between the U.S. and Iran are too large for diplomacy to be left to folks like me.

Yet, I am one of the few Americans who have engaged Iran in some sort of diplomacy. This is what happened: Eleven members of the peace community laid out our concerns about Iran’s posturing towards Israel, pursuit of nuclear technology, and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. But we also tried to find common ground on how we could have more citizen delegations between our countries and our mutual opposition to the ongoing occupation of Iraq. You can read all of our comments and questions on-line.

President Ahmadinejad then gave thoughtful answers to each one of the concerns we raised. He did not always give complete answers and he often painted a rosier picture of Iran than we know to be true. But he did respond to nearly every concern we raised. I can not speculate on whether this meeting changed President Ahmadinejad in any way, but it did change me. I am smarter and I am wiser. I now know what it is like to be in the room with President Ahmadinejad. I know how he carries himself. I know how he responds to direct criticism. I know how he defends his actions. If knowledge is power, then I am more powerful.

Our government might have detailed satellite images of Iran’s nuclear facilities; and we have probably drawn up battle plans of how to most effectively eliminate Iran’s nuclear and military capacities in as little time as possible. But the U.S. Government does not know what it is like to sit in a room with the President of Iran and ask him to stop enriching uranium. Diplomacy is most important with your rivals and enemies. You do not need to negotiate with your friends.

If it were up to me I would only have one option on the table, diplomacy. All those other options – tougher sanctions, naval blockades, military incursions, or all out war – would be hidden under the table. Because the longer we fail to diplomatically engage with Iran without preconditions, the longer the issues between us will remain unaddressed. I am interested in peace and progress, and I believe diplomacy is the vehicle that will get us there.

Adam Gerhardstein is the Acting Director of the UUA’s Washington Office for Advocacy. He met with President Ahmadinejad during a meeting facilitated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He attended the meeting with a UU delegation, including the UUA President, Rev. William Sinkford.

Sinkford, Ahmadinejad, and the Blogosphere

UUA President William Sinkford’s participation in a meeting between 150 leaders in the U.S. peace and anti-war community and President Ahmadinejad of Iran has provoked intense reactions in the UU blogosphere. Some blog posts were highly critical and angry, while others felt Sinkford’s participation in the meeting was courageous and perhaps even prophetic. A summary of UU blog posts can be found in this week’s “Interdependent Web” column.

Before deciding to participate in the meeting, Rev. Sinkford asked the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the organization facilitating the meeting, for assurances that a wide range of groups, including Jewish groups, had been invited to participate. The process of reaching out to those communities has been spelled out by the lead organizer of the meeting, Mark Johnson of the FOR.

The FOR blog contains reflections of others who attended this meeting as well discussion of Rev. Sinkford’s participation. One member of the UU delegation, Helen Lindsay, traveled to Iran earlier this year and has written about what that experience taught her.

The UUA’s Advocacy and Witness Staff Group has chosen to promote the issue of diplomacy with Iran as its Action of the Month for October, and we are inviting UUs to Publish for Peace. While there seems to be a consensus that military action against Iran would be a bad idea, there is considerable difference of opinion about how citizens and political leaders should engage with Iran and its leadership. We welcome a spirited exchange of ideas regarding how both religious and national leaders decide on participation in meetings like this one.

This is an excellent time to write a letter-to-the-editor or an op-ed and to get our views before a larger audience. You can find all the resources you need to get started at If you draft a letter, please let us know by emailing it (published or not) to the Washington Office’s Legislative Assistant for International Issues at

Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Takes Lead on LGBT Human Rights

The following was sent to us from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.

August 20, New York: the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office will play a path breaking role in next month’s human rights conference in Paris, sponsored by the UN’s Department of Public Information and presented in cooperation with the many nongovernmental organizations with consultative status at the UN. Held to commemorate the signing in Paris in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event is cosponsored by UNESCO, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Government of France.

Titled “Reaffirming Human Rights for All: the Universal Declaration at 60,” the conference will be held September 3 – 5, 2008 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the UU UN Office, is a member of the conference’s subcommittee on outreach. In planning sessions, Knotts was struck by the omission of the LGBT community among those whose rights are threatened around the world. “If we were going to discuss the human rights of every conceivable marginalized group,” he recalls, “we could not exclude the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.”

Leaving aside the question of same sex marriage or other actions that run up against strong religious and cultural norms, Knotts pointed to gross violations of rights that ought to trouble anyone—torture, murder, execution, rape, arbitrary arrest, and beatings. “No culture or religion can condone these crimes,” he argued.

Knotts’ objection carried the day and, for the first time at any UN conference of this kind, LGBT issues will be squarely on the agenda next week in Paris. Moreover, Knotts has been named LGBT Caucus Coordinator for the conference; he will moderate a panel discussion on the Yogyakarta Principles, which apply existing international law to issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity; and he will co-moderate a breakout session that will discuss issues related to all communities not normally heard at the United Nations. The speakers for the Yogyakarta Panel will be Wilhelm Monasso, Executive Director of FILAD (Philanthropy & Advice) an LGBT Dutch NGO; Peter Dankmeijer, Executive Director of GALE (The Global Alliance for LGBT Education) also from the Netherlands, and Cyrille Compaoe, Executive Director Action Voluntaire in Burkina Faso which advocates for and provides medical services to MSMs (men who have sex with men) in Africa. GALE is also sponsoring a booth at the UN Human Rights Village that is being set up as part of the UN Human Rights Conference. The GALE booth will serve as a focal point for LGBT discussions at the UN Human Rights Village at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. All are welcome to visit this booth during the conference.

Bruce Knotts took over the reins at the Unitarian Universalist UN Office in January, after 23 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he also served on the Board of Directors of Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. With more than 1,000 congregations nationwide, Unitarian Universalists hold human rights as a core value and have maintained a presence at the UN since 1946. The Unitarian Universalists are proud of their Human Rights history, including their commitment to LGBT rights. Unitarian Universalists have been performing same-gender marriages since the 1970s. The Manichean Society, which comprised United States Federal LGBT works in the 1950s fighting for the right to work in government service, used to meet in Unitarian & Universalist Churches. Many famous gays and lesbians from history, like Walt Whitman and Susan B. Anthony, were either Unitarians or Universalists or both. The two liberal denominations joined in 1961. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN was attacked by a gunman in July this year due to the Unitarian Universalist liberal theology and its welcoming of gays and lesbians, according to documents written by the gunman and found by the police. In addition to fighting for LGBT rights, the Unitarian Universalist Church fought and continues to fight to end slavery, to empower women and to end racial discrimination. Many of America’s Founding Fathers (and Mothers) were Unitarians or Universalists, such as America’s second and third presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The Unitarian Universalist Church maintains its revolutionary and visionary character.

For more information please consult the following web sites:

Troop Withdrawal by 2011?

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are making progress in determining the future presence of U.S. troops in Iraq. Negotiations began in March, with the U.S. proposing an agreement that lacked a timeline for withdrawal and included complete immunity for U.S. troops and contractors. The Iraqis responded by declaring that negotiations were at a dead end. This resulted in the U.S. making some concessions and five months later negotiators appear near agreement on a 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. While the agreement is not complete, it marks a definite step towards a new future in Iraq.

The preliminary terms of the agreement are being brought before the Iraqi executive council and will ultimately have to be approved by the Iraqi parliament. Currently there is nothing requiring the U.S. Administration to get approval from Congress for a security agreement. Sen. Biden has introduced legislation that would change that, by requiring Congressional approval of any security agreement with Iraq. [Click here to call on your Senators to join Sen. Biden]

Unitarian Universalists have been praying and protesting this war since before it began. After five years of an immoral occupation, this development offers a flicker of hope for the futures of the U.S. and Iraq.

UUA Advocacy Against the War

Olympics and Politics

“The Purpose of the International Olympic Committee is to:…Cooperate with the competent public or private organizations and authorities in the endeavor to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;…Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;…Encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;…”– From the Charter of the International Olympic Committee

There are many who claim we should make the Olympics as apolitical as possible. This is a time for sports and athleticism to be held up and to separate the athletes from the political policies of their member nations. And while I see the importance of this argument, I do not agree with it entirely. There are indeed dangers of confusing the athletes for the national government leaders they represent, much like the 1972 tragedy in Munich when members of the Israeli Olympic Team were taken hostage and killed by the Palestinian group Black September

Athleticism and sportsmanship can be an excellent venue to bring people together to celebrate. And there are times when the successes of athletes can be a political inspiration for many. The games themselves can be a source of political motivation and encouragement for national growth. Throughout the last 100 years of Olympic Games, we have seen athletes inspired us to rise to the challenge of peace and equality.

Take for instance the perseverance of Stamata Revithi, the Greek woman considered to be the first female Olympic athlete. Although women were not permitted to participate in the first Olympic Games in 1896, she ran the marathon regardless of the rules. The next year, women were allowed to participate in the Games. Revithi was able to prove to the world the strength and capability of women to participate as equals with men.

Another example politically inspiring athletics is the success of Jesse Owens during the 1936 Berlin Games. Owens, a Black American, defeated Hitler’s prized athlete, Luz Long, in the long jump. This was a notable moment in the years leading up to World War II in which a Black American succeeded over a celebrity of the Third Reich. It is even more notable that Owens’ success was due to advice from Long himself. Long’s sportsmanship and sense of fair play outweighed political pressures to uphold white supremacy. Owens went on to win four track and field gold medals that year, smashing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

During the 1960 Summer Games in Rome, Italy, the Ethiopian marathon star Abebe Bikila won gold in the nation that once held his nation as a colony, showing the strength of former colonies in a post-colonial world. In this same year, Black American athletes Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and Wilma Rudolph met Soviet criticism of racial segregation in the United States with gold medals. However, it was precisely because of the Olympics and Soviet criticism that these athletes were able to take such a pivotal role in American culture. 1960 also marked the first time the Paralympics were played for athletes with physical, mental and sensory disabilities.

Eight years later in Mexico City, Black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos held Black Power salutes while on the victory blocks for their gold and silver medals respectively. This was a message to their home nation that they were not to be seen as second-class citizens.

During the height of the Cold War, The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow while the Soviets boycotted the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. But these were not the first Olympic boycotts. In 1956, the Games were boycotted by several nations due to the Soviet repression of Hungary.

In 1980, the US Ice Hockey Olympic Team beat the USSR Olympic Team in the final round at the Lake Placid Winter Games. The Russians were heavily favored to win. But the team of largely amateur athletes defeated the Soviet team completely composed of active duty Red Army by scoring the winning point in the last five seconds of the game. This was seen as a major political victory for Cold War era United States.

I understand the allure of letting the Olympics be the Olympics. I understand why we may not want politics to get in the way of the athleticism. However, just as we ask our athletes to be the best they can and strive as hard as they can, we must also ask the nations of the world to strive to be the best they can. The Olympics are an excellent opportunity for international dialog and discussion apart from embassies and statesmen. To ignore this space for growth is foolhardy. Today, the Olympics are an excellent forum for our nations. We must demand further accountability of China for its human rights abuses and its involvement in Darfur and Myanmar/Burma. We must call upon the United States to recognize international environmental policy. We must decry Russia’s attack on Georgia during the opening ceremonies. And we must recognize the successes on the international stage.

No matter how much we try to pull politics out of the Olympics, we will fail in that endeavor because it is inherent in the IOC charter that the Olympics will always be a political event–one that promotes peace, prosperity and equality.

Rev. Sinkford’s Reflections on HIV/AIDS in the Daily Voice

For years, Rev. William G. Sinkford, President of the UUA, has pushed for our government to fund comprehensive sexuality education as a way of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Today, he published an editorial continuing his advocacy in the Daily Voice, a web site aiming to be the leading destination for African American news and opinion. In it, he reacts to a slew of recent developments, including the Saturday release of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, last week’s signing into law of the new President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the recent study from the Black AIDS Institute. Click here for the Daily Voice.

Hiroshima Day

On this day in 1945, President Harry S. Truman’s order to use nuclear weapons against the Japanese was fulfilled. The bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, was dropped from the B-29 Bomber Enola Gay by Col. Paul Tibbets on the city of Hiroshima. The blast had the equivalent to approximately 13 to 16 thousand tons of TNT.

Some 66,000 people were killed. And another 69,000 were injured according to estimations from the US Dept. of Energy.

Today, we recognize all the lives lost or destroyed in Hiroshima.

On a day like today, only the words of poetry are able to express the pain of the world.

“There came a Wind like a Bugle,” by Emily Dickinson.

There came a Wind like a Bugle-
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost-
The Doom’s electric Moccasin
That very instant passed-
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived-that Day-
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told-
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

Ending a Culture of Rape in the Military

Social theorists from feminist sociologists, like Audre Lorde, to institutional anthropologists, like Michel Foucault, agree that rape is never about sex. Rape is about power. Rape and sexual abuse dehumanizes and humiliates its victims. Its effects ripple through societies beyond those who are abused. This is why rape has been used as a very effective tool by invading armies. It has been documented that rape and sexual humiliation have been used in nearly every war since the Roman Empire. And it is widely recognized as a tool of genocide. Rape has been found in the holocaust as well as the Serbian, Rwandan and Sudanese genocides. And it has been a tool of torture in many international conflicts.

The effects of rape include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and often share similar results to what veterans of war and conflict experience. People who experience sexual violence during war time suffer the dual stress of sexual violence and war. It is for these reasons and more, the use of sexual violence is banned under international law as a crime against humanity.

It should come as no surprise, however, with this long history of rape in wartime, that reports of sexual violence and humiliation at the hands of U.S. soldiers are making their way into the public. Three years ago when pictures of sexual humiliation and sodomy came out of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, the public was outraged—and rightly so. But the media, public opinion and the Department of Defense all categorized it as a fluke. Recently, though, we have come to realize that Abu Ghraib was not a fluke, but rather, a harbinger of events to come.

In July of 2006, a group of U.S. service members were investigated by The Pentagon for allegedly raping and killing an Iraqi civilian. And similar stories of soldiers raping women in Iraq are more common that we wish. A horrific story involving a KBR contractor being imprisoned and raped by her colleagues chilled the nation. Last February, a New York Times article reported these are just few of 124 reported sexual assaults investigated in Iraq since 2005. But what is more disturbing is the fact that more than 2,200 sexual assaults have been investigated by the Department of Defense in 2006 alone. It is unknown how many of these took place in Iraq.

A culture of rape is very real in the U.S. Military and it can no longer be ignored. Gruesome accounts of sexual violence between soldiers, military contractors and civilians are all too regular. And the Department of Defense cannot consider these as isolated incidents. As women service members have called for more accountability, the DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reached out to organizations like the Miles Foundation and Men Can Stop Rape to address the very real culture of rape facing our military. Currently the Veteran Affairs has sixteen care centers for veterans who have experienced sexual assault—many of whom experienced their trauma as far back as Vietnam or World War II.

Currently, the organization Color of Change is calling for Congress to investigate the apparent rape and murder of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq. Please visit their campaign for Pfc. Johnson. And to learn more about the DoD is working to prevent sexual assault, please visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website at