Commission Considers Changes to Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalist Association
The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism have stood as a statement of core religious values unchanged for nearly forty years, and not intended to tell UUs what they have to believe, but as a guide for people who choose to participate in UU communities. They explain the heart of the UU faith.
They might change, however, as six-member committee and the General Assembly consider possible revisions to the portion of the Unitarian Universalist Association Bylaws that includes the Principles and ends, and the Six Springs faith.
Will there be eight principles? Or three? Or another statement defining unitary universalism and its purpose in the 21st century?
The next three years will tell, as UUs pursue a review under bylaws that mandate a review of Article II every fifteen years but allow the board to appoint a commission to do so at any time. In 2020, the board drafted a 1,000-word charge to the commission and nominated the six members, launching a process that will culminate in a final General Assembly (GA) vote in 2024.
This is the first time that this specific review process, as set out in the bylaws, has been pursued, said UUA executive vice president Carey McDonald, but it is only the latest. a number of Article II reviews. Some have led to changes, others have not.
The last review ended in 2009 when the GA rejected a proposal that would have revised some of the wording of Article II, but for the most part did not significantly change the meaning.
The General Assembly, for example, rejected a proposal to delete the words “the primary purpose of the Association” is to serve member congregations, to form new congregations, to implement the principles of UU and to support the institutions of the UU.
That year, the Assembly also rejected proposed changes to the “Sources” section of Article II, including a line saying that “the Universalist heritage preached not hell but hope and courage, as well as the goodness and love of God”.
The most significant changes to Article II came in 1985, when the principles were revised for gender-neutral language and to add a seventh principle affirming “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”.
This was a departure from the original version, adopted in 1961, which had six principles and a language that revolved around men. The Principles originally emerged in the union of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association.
This time, a major consideration is whether to add an eighth principle, which would commit congregations to “actions that responsibly dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions,” according to the website of the Eighth Principle Project, a UU advocacy group.
Members of the current task force began discussions in the fall of 2020, since meeting online once or twice a month, then for the first time in person over a weekend in February 2022 .
Hours of discussion already, hours more to come. Not to mention reading the results of hundreds of surveys of UU member attitudes and consulting with an array of distinct groups within Unitarian Universalism who champion, among other interests, racial minorities, people with disabilities and environmental protection.
The work of the Article II Study Commission will form a big part of the 2022 UUA General Assembly – online and in Portland, Oregon – where delegates will hear from the commission about its work so far. , and where the commission will gather ideas and responses from participants. Delegates will also vote on whether to approve the board’s plan to make a complete rewrite of the rest of the UUA statutes in addition to article II.
In January 2023, the commission will present to the board of directors its proposals for the modification of article II. The 2023 UUA General Assembly, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is then expected to vote on the proposed changes to Article II.
If this proposal as presented or amended wins a simple majority vote, it will then go to the 2024 GA for a final vote. The proposed final amendments will require a two-thirds majority to pass.
For now, there is a lot of work to do.
Commission members discuss deeper issues
“We are trying to undertake a deeper examination” of the fundamental questions, says Rob Spirko, a member of the study commission. “What does the world need us to be in the 21st century? What do we need to be in the 21st century?
The Rev. Dr. William G. Sinkford, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon, who served as UUA president from 2001 to 2009 and then acting co-chairman for a few months in 2017, said the stakes are high. . .
“Periodically, it is extremely important to reflect on the reasons why [the UUA] exists,” says Sinkford, who was president when the Article II revisions were last considered. “What is good for the world” and what is the UUA identity.
After about eighteen months of discussion, Spirko says it’s still too early to say exactly where the commission is heading. However, the emphasis is on principles, not sources.
“We’re not going to rule out possibilities,” Spirko says. “What we end up with could be very, very different” from the current Principles. “Maybe the same thing. . . We could eliminate the Principles altogether.
Much discussion has focused on the prospect of adding the eighth principle, which explicitly opposes racism, Spirko notes. Indeed, the board’s charge to the commission says a “commitment to anti-racism” is essential.
Paula Cole Jones, one of the creators of the Eighth Principle and a member of the Article II Study Commission, said that 161 UU entities – 155 congregations, five state action networks, the Canadian Unity Council and ten other UU organizations – have already adopted an eighth principle since the proposal was developed in 2013. The topic continues to generate debate.
“It seems on the one hand that it shouldn’t be controversial,” Spirko says. “But, at the level of the administration, or how does it work” some UU wonder.
Statements posted in videos and online forums by congregation members and leaders show several concerns. Some wonder what “responsibly” means and to whom members and leaders would be responsible. How would “racism” be defined, and by whom?
Some say an eighth principle would be redundant, as an anti-racism commitment is established in the first two principles: “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, fairness and compassion in human relationships”.
Supporters say that while the UU stood for civil rights in the 20th century, the racism rooted in the faith’s history should be fought more forcefully. Existing principles can “imply” the Eighth Principle, but don’t call on congregations to dislodge “systemic” oppression, the Eighth Principle Project site says.
On a different issue, the board also wants the commission to do some word manipulation, calling for the charge of an Article II “that is inspiring, memorable and poetic”.
In the 1980s, the revision of Article II aimed to “avoid religious language in the Principles, especially any language alluding to our religious roots,” Sinkford says. “All this religious language was put in the Sources, not in the Principles.”
During his first term as president of the UUA, Sinkford worked to reinsert a “language of reverence” into the Association, a controversial move at the time. In the newly imagined Article II, he would like to see “a language of mission based on religion and carrying hope. . . a call language.
Spirko, who teaches poetry and American literature at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, agrees that the Principles are hardly lyrical, singable, or “poetic.” But how, in a group, to write poetry, which is typically best forged by an individual imagination?
“How can you be a committee that doesn’t sound like a committee? ” he asks. “How do you put things that are bigger than words into words?”
The commission has a few months to find out. And so the work continues.