Sunday, July 09, 2017

Proposed 8th Principle

Proposed 8th Principle

In Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective Urges Adoption of 8th Principle in Unitarian Universalism, members of Black Lives of UU make the case for adopting the following as an 8th principle of Unitarian Universalism:

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.

The points in favor of adopting this include the following:
  1. White supremacy practices and antiblackness in the hearts of parishioners must be rooted out of the UU community.
  2. Why would we not adopt the 8th principle, since it is a logical step toward the UUA’s thus far unfulfilled 1992 and 1997 resolutions to intentionally become a multicultural and anti-racist institution?  We need the 8th principle to bring accountability to our good intentions.

My Opinion

After reviewing the proposal and reviewing our current 7 Principles, I oppose the adoption of this additional principle, for the following reasons.

1. The principles are and should be universal and constructive.

  • The proposed 8th principle focuses on one of many types of “isms”. Racism is the paramount form of oppression for some people, but not for others.  
  • The call to accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions is more political than I believe is appropriate for a basic religious principle.  A principle should be personal and inspirational, as opposed to a call to action.
  • There is no universal understanding of white supremacy practices.  Practices must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  The hearts of parishioners must be given even more leeway for individual history and circumstance.  Thus, we’re better off letting people wrestle with their own deeds and innermost beliefs, guided by our principles of reason, tolerance, democracy, and compassion.

2. Multiculturalism should not necessarily be an end in itself for every congregation.

  • For society at large, a multicultural perspective is critical.  Thus, the current 7 principles stress democracy, tolerance, human relations, world community, etc., with no mention of specific cultures.  The principles are the same whether everyone is of the same or different races, the same or different economic backgrounds, the same or different ethnic backgrounds, the same or different religious traditions.  We should not negatively judge a group solely on the basis of its cultural composition.
  • The UUA as an institution is not the same as the UUA congregations which affirm and promote the Principles.  It might be appropriate for the institution, at the national level, to have a somewhat unique vision with regard to multiculturalism, including hiring practices.
  • It is possible that the UUA made a mistake in focusing on race and cultural identity in 1992 and 1997.  It is good to welcome different cultures, and to encourage people of diverse backgrounds to join our religion.  However, there are good reasons why people may choose to spend their religious time with people from similar cultural backgrounds.  We can invite people of various cultures to join us, but should not necessarily be offended or overly self-critical if they choose not to.
  • Accountability with regard to a general principle such as the proposed 8th is not best achieved in this manner, in my opinion.  If our previous efforts didn’t work out, why should we expect yet another such statement to be more successful?  We do not use the Principles to hold ourselves accountable so much as to focus our thoughts on what we hold most sacred.


The Principles are very high level, inspirational ideals. Fundamental religious principles should not be conflated with specific political agendas and action items.  The path of political resistance may not be right for all people, at all times. I’ll close with these thoughts from Sophia Lyon Fahs (responsive reading #657 in our hymnal -- It Matters What We Believe), which I find beautiful and relevant.

Some beliefs are like walled gardens. They encourage exclusiveness, and the feeling of being especially privileged.
__Other beliefs are expansive and lead the way into wider and deeper sympathies.

Some beliefs are like shadows, clouding children's days with fears of unknown calamities.
__Other beliefs are like sunshine, blessing children with the warmth of happiness.

Some beliefs are divisive, separating the saved from the unsaved, friends from enemies.
__Other beliefs are bonds in a world community, where sincere differences beautify the pattern.

Some beliefs are like blinders, shutting off the power to choose one's own direction.
__Other beliefs are like gateways opening wide vistas for exploration.

Some beliefs weaken a person's selfhood. They blight the growth of resourcefulness.
__Other beliefs nurture self-confidence and enrich the feeling of personal worth.

Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world.

__Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life.


  • You give us much to think about Dan. I agree that the impulse toward abolishment of racism and inclusion of others should be inherent in the seven principles as they are now. Also, this journey we are on is both communal and individual, the individual being the personal wrestling we do on a daily basis with our own lives and consciousness.

    By Blogger Nancy Owen Nelson, at 2:43 PM  

  • Thanks, Nancy. I've received one other comment so far, which I will summarize and copy here for the sake of consolidating the conversation:

    Indeed a principle should be inspirational, not a call for action. Also, this proposal isn’t in a consistent format. Perhaps a word or two could be added to current principles 1, 2 or 3?

    The format that is used in the UUA bylaws does seem to consist of concise bullet points, rather than the more wordy paragraph I quoted above for the proposed 8th Principle. I like the bullet point version, although there could certainly be room for more than one version depending upon context (e.g. a simplified kids' version).

    If concise words were to be added for the 8th Principle, they would be something like:

    diverse and multicultural
    dimantling racism and other oppressions

    Again, I would prefer to leave these out.

    diverse and multicultural is redundant in the sense that our principles already include every person, human relations, society at large, world community, and interdependent web of all existence.

    So I think we've already got the diverse and multicultural ideas covered, except in the sense of accountability for specific institutions (which I argued against in my original post).

    With regard to dismantling racism and other oppressions, it may help to look at the Bible for the sake of comparison. The Bible contains much that is inspirational and meaningful, but there is much that is specific to the specific issues of the time and place, and somewhat meaningless to our current time and place. Much of the Old Testament, for example, is occupied with diatribes against the Philistines and their worship of Baal. In much the same way, the 8th principle seeks to take a position on the cultural conflicts of our current time, as to who we are against. Specifically, it targets white racists, including those within our own ranks. It's too narrow.

    I think Principle #2, "Justice, equity and compassion in human relations", covers "dismantling oppressions" at a level appropriate for the overarching principles.

    By Blogger Detroit Dan, at 10:57 AM  

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