Rev. Dr. Sandra Fees, Jan. 19, 2020
I remember when I first read the Unitarian Universalist statement of principles. Finally, I thought, a religion that expresses my values. I hear something similar from newer members of our faith. And most Unitarian Universalists – though not all — affirm most of what is in the principles. Because of that, the principles have come to serve as common threads for our spiritual communities.
They give us a common language, a common reference point, a common touchstone for our life together as Unitarian Universalists. They also offer guidance in living our daily lives meaningfully and ethically. As Rev. Viola Abbitt says, “they tell us how we should be. They tell us how we should act in the larger world and with each other.” (ref. to Opening Words, “Toward a Place of Spiritual Wholeness, ” https://www.uua.org/worship/words/invocation/promise-and-practice-call-worship)
Yet more and more, I have come to find there are missing threads in the fabric of our principles. An important part of the collective vision of who we are as Unitarian Universalists and how we should be isn’t represented in our seven principles.
Fortunately, the principles can change as we change and grow, as our needs and convictions change and grow, as we learn. They can change so that “the practice of this faith” is “a fulfilling manifestation of its promise.” (ref. to Opening Words, “Toward a Place of Spiritual Wholeness, ” https://www.uua.org/worship/words/invocation/promise-and-practice-call-worship)
As a denomination, a change we are now in conversation about is adding The 8th Principle. As our larger movement works toward adopting The 8th Principle, the Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective is urging congregations to adopt The 8th Principle. They are calling on congregations to do so to articulate a commitment to dismantling racism and other oppressions.
We read The 8th Principle just a few minutes ago. But let’s read it again.
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.
Why should we change our beloved principles? Why adopt this principle? What does it offer our movement and world that the other principles don’t?
First of all, the principles have always been a work in progress. They are not immutable. They are not like the Ten Commandments where there will always be ten and only 10. As religious people, we believe in ongoing revelation. As we unfold new truths, we incorporate that learning. Those new truths might be facts but perhaps more importantly they are also ways of being, people’s experiences, and identities.
Affirming that revelation is open makes space for new people, new voices, and new perspectives that are coming into the world and into Unitarian Universalism. That might be the perspectives of young adults, of people who are differently abled, of trans people, those of Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu backgrounds, people of color, people of different socio-economic backgrounds.
In order for those who are part of our movement to experience true belonging, their voices and experiences need to be heard and included. That openness to revelation means being willing to change our minds and hearts. And also our principles, which help to shape the future of our faith and who we are.
That’s what’s happened in that past. Our current seven principles grew out of professions of faith and statements of purpose that predated the 1961 merger of Unitarians and Universalists. Over the years since then, they were revised, first in 1984 and 1985, and then they were amended in 1995.
The reformulated principles were largely the result of the work of UU women. The women were unhappy, that is probably an understatement, with blatantly sexist language in the original version. There were references to “the dignity of man,” and “mankind,” for example.
The women critiqued Unitarian Universalism for being patriarchal, an idea that proved hard for some UUs to accept. Not everyone understood that the masculine language excluded women and reinforced the patriarchy. But ultimately the principles were altered to be more inclusive–to widen our welcome.
Other revisions acknowledged the importance of traditions other than Judeo-Christianity and named the relationship of humans to the environment. These changes are now fundamental to our understanding of this religious tradition.
A second reason to add this principle is that many of our congregations are starved for what The 8th Principle has to offer. Many of us are soul-starved for a principle that speaks to our spiritual longing to build the Beloved Community and to have some mechanism to hold ourselves and each other accountable to creating a diverse multicultural space.
It doesn’t really seem like we should need this principle at all to do that. The values are implicit in the other seven principles. But the reality is that those seven principles haven’t helped us make nearly enough progress on dismantling racism and other oppressions and building Beloved Community.
The other seven principles do not explicitly express the ethical and spiritual thread that we need to live into a multicultural anti-racist anti-oppression vision for our religious communities and our world. Otherwise, we would already have made a lot more progress. We need a common language, a common understanding, and an ethical and spiritual framework that we can collectively point to and hold ourselves and each other accountable to.
Adopting The 8th Principle is a starting point toward being accountable toward these goals. It would help us renew our commitment to this work and fulfill the potential of the existing principles.
Third, love is central to our faith. It is a hallmark of Universalism, in particular. “God is Love.” That motto is right there on the pulpit. Yet it’s nowhere to be found in the principles. I reread the principles several times just to be sure. While I can hardly believe it possible, the word “love” is not mentioned in the seven principles. The word “compassion” is. So is “community.” There are lots of references to values that would ideally promote love. Still, the word “love” is not there.
The phrase “Beloved Community” would encapsulate that call to love. The term Beloved Community was coined in the 20th century by the philosopher Josiah Royce. He was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the country. It was grounded in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence and reconciliation.
The term was made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s. Rev. Mykal Slack who is a Unitarian Universalist minister and part of the Transforming Hearts Collective of Unitarian Universalism, the group that created the new curriculum “Trans Inclusion in Congregations,” describes Beloved Community this way:
For King, Beloved Community was a goal to be achieved. It was a vision for how the world could be. And it really began with recognizing this notion that we are in fact all different people. We’re different people and we show up with different ideals, different values, different understandings about how the world works. We exist in the world in different ways. (https://transforming-hearts-collective.teachable.com/p/transgender-inclusion- in-congregations)
Beloved Community embodies a vision in which all people share in the promises and potentials of a free and equitable existence. It insists that there is more love somewhere. And that we’re going to keep on until we find it. (ref. to Opening Hymn, #95 “There Is More Love Somewhere”)
Similar to Rev. Slack’s description, The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective describes Beloved Community this way:
Beloved Community happens when people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities come together in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world. (https://www.8thprincipleuu.org/what-is-beloved-community)
So a fourth and final reason I want to share this morning for us to adopt The 8th Principle is that in recent years there’s been a growing awareness that we have not reached the goal of Beloved Community. We have not reached a critical level of consciousness in becoming multicultural, anti-racist and anti-oppression.
There is work to be done in getting into right relationship and actually getting to know each other across our differences. We have not succeeded in coming together in the ways Beloved Community espouses. Too often we have faltered in this work. Both within our congregations and in our work in the larger world.
During the Civil Rights Movement, at Dr. King’s request, Unitarian Universalists showed up. That was a proud moment in our history. Unfortunately, since then our record has been less stellar. In the late sixties there were broken promises of funding within Unitarian Universalism. This led to many African Americans leaving Unitarian Universalism.
In the late eighties and early nineties, we were pretty silent on issues of race. Then there was a decade of what seemed like progress. Many congregations embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and displayed banners on their buildings.
Then just a few years ago there was a high-profile crisis over the lack of inclusivity in hiring practices at the Unitarian Universalist Association. That led to the resignation of our UUA president as well as some other key leaders.
The Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective is calling on congregations to adopt this principle, not because any of us have arrived at the goal of Beloved Community. But because we need to renew our efforts and have a strong starting point to move us toward this important goal. (The 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism, https://www.8thprincipleuu.org/)
Our congregation needs that strong starting point to help us achieve our vision of Beloved Community. Last Tuesday your Board of Directors and Ministry and Operations Team voted their support to place a vote for adoption of The 8th Principle on the agenda for our May congregational meeting. Between now and May, there will be opportunities to engage in educational programs and conversations—whether through the Trans Inclusion in Congregations workshop on February 2, learning about Indigenous Peoples’ history through the Unitarian Universalist Association Common Book Read on March 29, or through attending the Building a Community of Communities service and workshop led by Paula Cole Jones on February 23. Paula Cole Jones was the first person to propose the need for The 8th Principle. Each of these programs will be an opportunity to reflect on building a diverse multicultural Beloved Community.
W.E.B. Du Bois famously said, “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year.”
Now is the time for The 8th Principle. That’s what it says on these nifty pins. It’s a riff on W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. He was a leading spokesperson for African American rights in the first half of the 20th century. Now is the time. Not some future time. Now is the time for The 8th Principle. Now is the time for Beloved Community.
Today as you leave the sanctuary, I encourage you to pick up one of these 8th Principle buttons. Wherever you are in your discernment on adopting The 8th Principle—whether you are in ready agreement or wanting to spend more time learning about it, please feel free to take a pin
Together in the months ahead, let’s “dream big” and “climb up the mountaintop.” Let’s build a new way. Let’s journey toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community.
May it be so. Amen.
Sermon Resource: https://www.8thprincipleuu.org/background