Our Principles and Purposes Are a Living Tradition

by Robin Pugh, Director of Lifespan Faith Engagement

Did you know that our denomination is currently reviewing the by-laws that contain the UU principles?

When the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association merged in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the merged Association dropped its formal identification as a Christian denomination. The UUA decided that rather than having a creed, the focus would be on shared values and principles and what those shared values and principles call Unitarian Universalists (UU’s) to do in the world.

UU values and principles are articulated in Article 2 of the UUA bylaws. Article II includes: Principles & Sources; Purpose of the UUA; an Inclusion Clause; and a Freedom of Belief Statement.

For some religious institutions, the equivalent of Article II would be regarded as a permanent statement of belief. Ours, however, is a Living Tradition. We commit ourselves to regularly revisiting our Principles and Purposes to ensure that we are relevant, that as we grow in understanding, our Principles and Purposes grow, too.
Article II was last reviewed 15 years ago. The UUA wants to ensure that our Principles are living into the Unitarian Universalism of the future and that our congregations and institutions are “ a relevant and powerful force for spiritual and moral growth, healing, and justice.”

The charge to the Article II Study Commission states:

The new Principles and Purposes should guide us in the transformation of ourselves, our communities and our faith into active networks of collective care, restoration, and justice. The Principles and Purposes should be a living document that challenges Unitarian Universalists to place the liberation, in all its dimensions, of all, at the center of our lives. They should be honest about our past, name what we are facing and our aspirations and where we hope to be not for just today but looking out at the horizons. They should ask us to choose Love in Action as the path forward. Our commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism is love in action, and should be centered in any revision of Article II. Finally, the Principles and Purposes should lead us into the second quarter of the 21st Century, while honoring the historic roots of our liberal, progressive faith.

The Commission is instructed to include in its considerations and deliberations the clear call at General Assembly 2017 for the inclusion of another principle, explicitly calling us to be committed to active anti-racism (see attachments about the 8th Principle Project). We also note that there is a growing urging (heard even before the last review of the Principles, at Minneapolis, in 2010) for us to better articulate our recognition of rights of being for all beings.

The Commission is charged with reviewing all sections of Article II, and is free to revise, replace, or restructure them as needed to meet the objectives stated above. There is nothing sacred about the number of principles or sources, nor their specific wording, nor in the way that Article II is laid out. We encourage creativity. The Board would like to see an Article II that is inspirational, memorable and poetic. The language should be inclusive and welcoming, and explicitly anti-racist. Article II, it must be remembered, reflects broad statements of Principle and Purpose, not detailed programmatic or implementation plans.

The Commission is urged to carefully consider the existing language for its implications, and for the errors or inadequacies of those implications. We recognize that one steady criticism over decades has been that the language of the principles is not poetic. We encourage the Commission to consider framings of our principles that allows them to be brief and poetic (perhaps by transferring explanatory clauses and expansions to a subsidiary document that expounds on what the Commission sees as included and intended in that shorter form).

We particularly urge the Commission to review the Sources; the revised listing from the 2010 proposal and its explicit inclusion of Unitarianism and Universalism as our Sources seems timely to us. And there are other recommended Sources in that proposal. In addition, there have been energetic discussions about how other faith traditions such as Buddhism and Islam (among others) might be included or put on footings more equal to those of Christianity and Judaism.

Proposed changes should articulate core UU theological values.
The Board believes that one core theological value, shared widely among UUs, is love.
The Commission on Appraisal, in its report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, cites Robert Miller’s study of Unitarian Universalism, stating “UUs ranked loving as an instrumental value and mature love as a terminal value more highly than did respondents from other groups, religious and nonreligious.” Dr. Cornel West says that “justice is what love looks like in public.” Our commitment to personal, institutional and cultural change rooted in anti-oppression, anti-racism, and multiculturalism values and practices is love in action, and should be centered in any revision of Article II.

The complete charge and additional background can be found here.