Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Mya Wade-Harper has been a lifetime UU. Today she is a college freshman at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, pursuing a degree in African-American Studies. When she was a youth member at her home church in Lexington, Kentucky, she was able to help her congregation adopt the 8th Principle. This is what she said about the process:
“Sometimes justice work can be hard. You doubt that what you are doing is enough and if it is small you may believe that it doesn’t even matter. I found out about the 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism when I went to Youth Midwest Leadership School in the summer of 2019. Upon returning to my home church of Lexington, Kentucky, I brought the principle up to my minister and board. Thus, began the whirlwind of work my church and I did to vote on the principle. To me, the 8th Principle is a call to action to stand up for people who are oppressed and crush white supremacy. As a POC and activist, I also find a calling to stand up for myself and others. The experience of helping my church adopt the 8th Principle was something I had never done. When I raised my hand and joined my church in adopting the 8th Principle I was struck with how exhausting the process had been, how there was still so much work to be done, but also how rewarding it was. My Mama tells me that this work is sacred, and I agree. It is sacred and necessary.”
It is sacred and necessary for us too. Not just moving toward the adoption of the 8th Principle, but doing what it takes to create the Beloved Community, dismantling racism and the other oppressions that keep us from fulfilling our dream of who we could be. It is a sacred and necessary work that is being done by UU congregations all over the US.
If enough individual congregations present a proposed 8th Principle to the General Assembly (because they have already adopted it as a guiding principle for their congregation), it could become adopted by all UU congregations.
The proposed 8th Principle reads:
You might imagine that this proposed principle is a reaction to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations from this summer.
But that isn’t the case.
It was years ago when several active African American UUs came to the understanding, after they had done anti-racism work with differing UU groups, that “a person can believe they are being a ‘good UU’ and following the 7 Principles without [ever] thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at [a] the systemic level.”
There is something deeper and more pervasive than our personal feelings or attitudes that needs to be recognized, understood, and accountably “dismantled.”
Once you SEE how deep, pervasive, and old racial injustice is and how it works, it is like a total “DUH… of course this is our sacred and necessary work.”
Most UU congregations are primarily European-American in membership, in culture, and in leadership, even when they are located near diverse communities. UU groups, institutions of higher learning, our congregations, our denomination as a whole, have certainly made progress in regard to including women in leadership, understanding and dealing with sexism. We have made progress in welcoming LGTBQ people into leadership and in dismantling homophobia within our congregations and in major parts of our society.
Yet, as active as many of our now-elders were in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, we still fall far short of understanding and doing what needs to be done to respond to the effects of systemic racism within our UU culture, within our congregations, and certainly in our society as a whole.
It is sacred and necessary work that must happen.
One cannot fully imagine the Beloved Community without it.
Perhaps, if the will is there and enough of you who vote at congregational meeting who already get the DUH of systemic racism, we can pass a congregational resolution to adopt the 8th Principle and join our sister congregations who have. And then we will be among the congregations asking the General Assembly to make the 8th Principle official for all of us.
Maybe this is so important, and the work might already be done, that instead of waiting for the annual congregational meeting, some of you could call for a special congregational meeting and adopt it sooner rather than later.
This proposed principle has been around since 2013, when Bruce Pollack-Johnson (at the time the minister at the UU Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia) began to push to have it incorporated into that church’s Covenant. For him and those who supported the passing, it didn’t happen until May 2017—four years later.
What took so long?
I don’t know the history of what happened at the Church of the Restoration, but I do know about UU churches in the middle of a diverse neighborhood who refuse to see (or even if they see) to change the “white” culture they present to their neighbors as UUism.
The adoption of this principle and the accountable action that goes along with it is important for UU people of color. It is important for all UUs, even though for those people who identify as white, it is often too easy to ignore what systemic racism does, how insidious it is, and how deep-seated it is. Ignoring the issues is exactly what keeps the system of racism in our society alive and in too many ways worsening.
We need to de-center whiteness in UUism.
So here is another story, one that I haven’t seen in print, but instead was a witness to during General Assembly in New Orleans in 2017.
Rev. LoraKim Joyner, who was and is the First Principle project coordinator, was there to finally introduce an effort to change the First Principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” to every “being.” She finally had enough congregations who had voted yes, that they endorsed this effort. She was a part of what used to be called UU for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and is now UU Ministry for Animals. I have known her for a long time. And she is passionate about animals, having been a vet in her first career. I was the minister in a small congregation in Pennsylvania that included a high percentage of vegetarians and vegans. We were early to endorse this proposed change to the First Principle. So when I heard that she was going to go before the assembly and ask for this change to be taken up by the GA, I went to the hall to support this.
I heard on the way there that LoraKim had been persuaded to withdraw her request, to withdraw the formal petition to change the First Principle. She spoke anyway. In a moving reflection, she modeled what it meant to step out of the way for what seemed way more pressing then and still is. Black lives need to be centered in our denomination. Systemic racial injustices have gone on far too long. We, of all people, should be able to “see” the effects, and we, of all people, need to do what is necessary to stand down, and make way for those who have been on the margins. She did that. I am sure she was brokenhearted. But she could see what needed to happen.
I was reminded once again that the principles were to be and still are meant to be living, changing indicators of our shared values, those dreams of what we aspire be and to do together. Creating the Beloved Community shouldn’t be that hard to aspire to. It shouldn’t be that difficult to hear our siblings saying, “We are UUs, want to stay UUs, but we feel and we are relegated to the sidelines over and over again.”
Accountably dismantling racism in our institutions is our current necessary and sacred work to do. As a denomination, we must see the systemic issues that come from unconsciously centering white ways of being. We must commit to the struggle to change what is still mostly unseen in our culture.
This isn’t about making Black people and people of color become like us; it IS about centering Black voices, Latinx voices, and indigenous perspectives in order to fulfill the potential of our existing principles. It is about standing down as LoraKim did and making way in the middle for those who for too long have been on the sidelines.
Each choice we make shapes the world, creates new possibilities, brings love or pain. Each choice is made with intention or made in deep sleep. We are being asked to wake up, to pay attention, to take accountable action to be different than we have been.
Nothing we do in the world is done in a vacuum. Our actions ripple out beyond ourselves in ever-widening circles that intersect the ever-widening circles of life all around us.
If we are awake, we see that we must help awaken others, because our children and children’s children live in a world that is shaped by our actions today.
This is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg did.
May she rest in peace.