By Mel Harkrader Pine
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.
— Proposed Eighth Principle of Unitarian Universalism
Ask Unitarian Universalists about our creed, and we’re likely to say something along these lines: We’re a religion without a creed, but we do have a set of principles.
We support each other on the hard journey leading to a perhaps-ever-changing set of personal beliefs, but we do covenant around a set of principles — our aspirations for how to live with each other and within the “interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” (Seventh Principle).
You can read the seven principles here and the six sources of our faith here. I believe they go together and regret that, over the years, we’ve tended to talk about the principles alone, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s look at the movement under way to adopt an Eighth Principle, with wording along the lines quoted at the top of this post.
From what I could detect at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June, many active UUs support the Eighth Principle. Their reasoning, as I understand it, has to do with the long history of oppression in our nation and in out faith. We UUs point with pride to the abolitionist and suffragette Unitarians and the Universalists who preached salvation for all men and women, regardless of race. But those were not the only Unitarians and Universalists, perhaps not even the majority.
Then, starting in the late 1960’s, the now-merged Unitarian Universalists struggled internally with both race and gender issues, and with emerging questions of sexuality and gender identification.
We tend to be a bit ahead of the rest of the nation on rights for the marginalized, but not as much as we like to think. We struggle with entrenched power hierarchies of our own. So the road has not been easy. I was a witness to two of UUism’s less celebrated moments. In the mid-1980’s, I saw two lesbian ministers rejected by a church because they were gay and openly committed to each other, and in 1993 I attended a UU General Assembly that included a picket of the gala ball. It was billed as a Jeffersonian costume ball, and the African-Americans among us failed to pack their slave clothes.
Arguments against the Eighth Principle are both practical and spiritual.
On the practical side: Don’t the seven existing principles cover it? We already affirm and promote the “inherent worth and dignity of every person,” “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” and the “democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Do we really need more?
And the spiritual argument comes from those who want us to be a religion and not a social or political movement.
I am among those who fear that we’re becoming more of a movement than a religion. But if given the opportunity, I’d vote for the proposed new principle. That’s because I see nothing else in the principles or the sources that calls us to action. Yes, we might infer a call to action, but then again we might not.
So while I don’t want us to be only about social action, I don’t either want us to be so contemplative that we do nothing when we see overwhelming oppression. And while I also reject the racial binary that dominates so much of our current social-action talk, the proposed principle does recognize “other oppressions” along with racism.
I have at times needed my UU church as a refuge and was unable to do anything then for it or for the rest of the world. We should never forget those who need to sit quietly in the back row. They don’t need another place to feel guilty.
And if we are each going to engage in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” (Fourth Principle), we also must not leave behind those who are not ready right now to march to the same drummer as most of us.
But, still, times come when spiritual devotion calls for respectful social action. That’s why I’d vote for the Eighth Principle.
NOTE: Some of my friends — including my co-editor, Rev. Kate Braestrup — disagree with me on this. (Hard to believe, I know.) So expect another view coming to your inbox or blog reader in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine