Why We Need the 8th Principle

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this sermon.

We have seven Principles; why do we need another one? Isn’t it true that there is a group of UUs thinking about whether we need Principles; at the very least, wondering if we need Principles embedded in our UUA Bylaws? 

The group thinking about this and the rest of what is in Article II has this to say:

“…not everyone knows that the … Principles, Purposes, and Sources are part of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Even fewer know that this section of the bylaws, ‘Article II,’ is set to be studied and revisions proposed every fifteen years.”

The Article II Study Group was formed by the UUA two years ago to think about this and suggest revisions.

How many of you realize that The Principles and Purposes have been around as long as Unitarian Universalism has, but they’ve changed along the way? From the merger of Unitarianism and Universalism until the late ‘70s, UUs were asked to affirm “the dignity of man,” and the “ideals of brotherhood.” And during those times, the bylaws used a single pronoun to reference all ministers: “he.” These days, many of us barely remember a Unitarian Universalism that wasn’t replete with ministers of all genders. The UU world that these early Principles describe seems a strange planet indeed.

The beloved UU Principles, Purposes, and Sources we know now, which saw us through the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, were made possible by a changing world in which people who were excluded demanded space for themselves. In doing so, they made a better Unitarian Universalism possible.

As we have grown and changed within our living tradition since, a few changes to Article II, where the Principles are, have been proposed. Some were accepted and others not. “Prophetic women and men” became “prophetic people” by vote of the General Assembly. The non-discrimination clause (also part of Article II) was amended to “Inclusion” and holds us newly accountable, with these words: “Systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge to do all we can to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect.”

When we UUs grow and change, we must make new commitments and create new language to hold these commitments. The Principles were never meant to be a creed frozen in time, demanding our loyalty. They were meant to be changed as we change. 

The sense of renewed accountability for who we are now and who we wish to be is reflected in the grassroots movement to add an 8th Principle. Whether or not the Principles will continue to be included in Article II of our UUA Bylaws is under study.

 Yet the addition of the 8th Principle has gained traction.

Over 200 of our UU congregations have endorsed this new principle by incorporating it into their mission statements or their bylaws. More and more are doing so.

Those are congregations who have decided it is not enough to hang a Black Lives Matter banner.

They are holding themselves to a new level of accountability.

I am hopeful we will do the same.

At the 2021 Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, an overwhelming majority of delegates (91%) adopted a Statement of Conscience: “Undoing Systemic White Supremacy: A Call to Prophetic Action.”

This is just a piece of what that Statement of Conscience says:

“Seeking universal justice and equity, we call upon the Unitarian Universalist Association and Unitarian Universalist individuals and congregations/groups to actively engage in undoing systemic white supremacy in all of its manifestations. Systemic white supremacy refers to the embedded, institutional, and pervasive nature of racism, white privilege and racial bias and oppression in our society. We acknowledge the impact of systemic white supremacy is intersectional, meaning it impacts people differently across race, income/class, gender, age, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, disability and more. As Unitarian Universalists, we decry the ways in which the intersectional impact of systemic white supremacy divides our human family by privileging some groups over others and thereby generating resistance to the common goal of universal equity and justice. Systemic white supremacy is a direct affront to every one of our UU Principles. Most egregious, we are losing lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Color all across this nation—from long-standing ills of police violence, to hate crimes, to emerging crises of the pandemic—due to the evil of systemic white supremacy. Therefore, as Unitarian Universalists we must engage in urgent action to confront the moral crisis of our time.” 

How do we as a small congregation confront all this, and call ourselves into measures of accountability for doing so?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? How do we measure our impact? How do we know we are spending our energy where we should?

It certainly is not just about adopting the 8th Principle and thinking we are done.

How many of you have engaged in some kind of anti-racist training, at work, at school, right here on Tuesday evenings once a month at the Community Course on Racism sessions? The next one is on July 5. They are asking that you to watch the film “Rust” to be prepared for that meeting. It is available on PBS, and we are planning to show it here.

How many of you have wondered why we rarely have people of color, people of the global majority, Black people, who visit us and return? 

How many of you have family members who are people of color? How much conversation have you had with them about racism and how it affects their lives? Do they know what we do to make their lives better?

How many of you know what Juneteenth is, and why it is important?

How many of you are engaged in some way with the Movement: PPC, or BLM, or some other way to heal the evil of racism?

How many of you know what keeps us from being welcoming to POC? A new member pointed out that even though we have BLM banner we don’t seem to be attracting Black folk. Why is that?

How can we do better?

We can look to another congregation to partner with in some way who has done some of this work already.

We can, more of us, participate in the Community Course in Racism. We can go online, attend GA, pay attention to what is happening in our wider circle of UUs.

It is a journey we should be on, and it will take some time.

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 “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.”

The 8th Principle acknowledges that there are systemic injustices that are more powerful than personal feelings; that there are attitudes that have informed those practices that need to be recognized, understood and accountably “dismantled.”

Most UU congregations are primarily European-American in membership, in culture, and in leadership. UU groups, institutions of higher learning, our congregations, our denomination as a whole, all have certainly made progress in regard to dismantling sexism, including women in leadership, understanding the systemic practices that have promoted sexism and misogyny. We have made progress in welcoming GLB people into leadership and in dismantling homophobia within our congregations. Transphobia, not so much; there is more to be done there.

As active as many of our now-elders were in the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, we still fall short in understanding and doing what needs to be done to respond to the effects of systemic racism within our UU culture, within our congregation. 

One cannot fully imagine or become the Beloved Community without this work. 

Perhaps some of you will lead this congregation to pass a motion to adopt the 8th principle and join our sister congregations who have already done so.   

De-centering whiteness in UUism is what the adoption of this principle and the accountable action that goes along with it is about. It is important for all of us. It is important for those of us who identify as white, to see, to understand, to acknowledge, what systemic racism does, how insidious and how deep seated it is. Ignoring the impact is exactly what keeps the system of racism in our society alive and in our congregations alive.

This isn’t about making Black people and POC become like us. It is about centering Black voices, Latinx voices, Indigenous perspectives in order to fulfill the potential of our existing principles. It is about 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.

Let’s be woke. Let’s endorse the 8th Principle. As of last Sunday, 202 UU congregations and UU Organizations have, including 10 in New Jersey: Washington’s Crossing, Beacon, Cherry Hill, Princeton, Monmouth County, First Unitarian (Plainfield), Morristown, Montclair, Ridgewood, and the Unitarian Society in East Brunswick.

The proposed 8th Principle reads:

“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.”

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