We’re certain that many congregants have heard that in June we will be voting about something called the 8th Principle. We had a conversation about this in late February 2020, but since COVID-19 hit, many of our discussions have been stalled. Therefore, we thought it might help to offer some context and perspective about what this is and why we’re asking for the congregation’s endorsement of this principle.
As a community of faith, we Unitarian Universalists come together by way of different paths to affirm and promote our shared commitment to our Seven Principles. Rather than subscribing to a particular holy book or creed dating back many centuries, we embrace our principles as strong values and moral guides, recognizing that we UUs and our denomination ever remain as works-in-progress. We live out our Seven Principles within a living tradition of wisdom and spirituality, drawn from Six Sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience. As Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove explains, “The Principles are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate in Unitarian Universalist religious communities.”
Clearly, these principles were not etched immutably and for all eternity in stone. In fact, both our principles and sources evolved and changed over time in line with the evolution of our collective understandings since the first six UU principles were adopted in 1961. For example, UU women led the way during the 1970s and into the mid-1980s to prod UUs to reconsider sexist assumptions and language in some of the original principles and sources. This led to the adoption of revised principles in 1985. At the same time, amid growing environmental consciousness, UUs added the 7th principle regarding “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
Origins of the Proposed 8th UU Principle
Although our history is not spotless, UUs have often and long been at the forefront of combating racism in the United States. From calls for the abolition of slavery in the late 1700s, through active engagement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s (where some UUs gave their lives), to subsequent decades of striving to promote social justice, UUs have helped push the nation to examine its shortcomings and contradictions, to evolve in our individual and collective understanding of our nation’s founding ideals, and to expand their reach to those who had been marginalized. As recent events have shown us, many Americans are still deprived from access to liberty, equality, and justice.
In the UUA’s 1997 Business Resolution, the UU General Assembly passed a resolution by a nearly unanimous vote, “Toward an Anti-Racist Unitarian Universalist Association.” Among other things, this resolution urged UUs “. . . to examine carefully their own conscious and unconscious racism as participants in a racist society, and the effect that racism has on all our lives, regardless of color.” It also urged the UUA and UU congregations to develop and carry out other efforts to promote our “transformation as an anti-racist, multi-cultural institution.”
UUs initially made good progress, with programs including the Journey Toward Wholeness, the Jubilee Anti-Racism Training workshops, process evaluation at meetings, and multicultural consulting services. However, despite those initial steps, funding and support for anti-racism work among UUs started to wane in the 2000s. After a hiring crisis in 2017, the UUA has reignited its focus on anti-racist and anti-oppressive work. Even so, most UU congregations remain primarily European-American in membership, culture, and leadership, even when located near diverse communities. This gave rise to a sense that our accountability mechanisms had failed us.
Our existing UU principles call us to affirm, among other things, the inherent worth and dignity of each person; justice equity, and compassion in human relations; and the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Many UUs contend that the absence of any mention of racism and other oppressions is a glaring omission. They point out that the two worst crises of the UUA (late 1960s and now) were both related to race. Racism in the U.S. stems from chattel slavery, where people were uniquely legally treated as property that could be inherited, for something (skin color) they had no control over. Although slavery was made illegal, full equality in the U.S. remains elusive for many Black Americans and other People of Color.
As a result, in 2013, a number of UUs developed the below as a proposed 8th UU principle:
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.
It has since been adopted by 18 UU congregations, one Religious Education program, and two affiliate UU groups.
The New Jim Crow (mass incarceration and the criminal justice system replacing the older systems of slavery and Jim Crow laws), police violence against people of color, recent Supreme Court decisions on Voting Rights, Trans Rights, Affirmative Action, and the election of Donald Trump with advisors and followers openly supporting white supremacists, show that the country is moving quickly and dangerously in the wrong direction. Many UUs believe we need to exert strong leadership to reverse these trends.
What about UUCC?
As UUCC’s stated purpose is “. . . to be a transforming spiritual community . . .” that “acts to make the world better,” we embarked over the past year on a period of discernment regarding the possibility of bringing the proposed 8th Principle to the congregation for consideration.
In 2015, the UUCC Board of Trustees (BOT) amended End #7: “UUCC exists to promote justice, equality and social responsibility, with special attention to racial justice which intersects with all other justice issues.”
Adopting the 8th principle would strengthen the grassroots movement to pass similar language at the UUA level. Even so, we are keenly aware of the sensitivities surrounding issues of race and racism, both within UUCC and in the wider community. We honor the many in our congregation who have long fought for racial justice. We also recognize that people have had a wide variety of thoughts about the language and approach of this principle.
We nonetheless felt it important to consider the 8th Principle. On February 23, some 50 UUCC congregants discussed it in four separate conversation circles facilitated by BOT members. We heard a range of views, both pro and con. While some expressed unequivocal support for the text as drafted, others raised objections to the substance and/or language of the text, suggesting that we not consider it further. Others questioned a focus on racism rather than other oppressions. Some shared concerns with the phrase, “accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions,” feeling that accountability is not part of other UU principles and that it could feed into what they maintain is an unhealthy “call-out culture.” Still others were uneasy with the draft’s language, but nonetheless expressed their support for adopting the principle.
The questions we now face are: If not us, who? If not now, when?
We know these are challenging issues and we remain interested in hearing your views. Please be on the look-out for upcoming announcements with details on further conversations BOT members will host via Zoom between May 17 and the end of the month.
At the annual meeting, we anticipate taking a vote on whether UUCC endorses the 8th principle. Specific ballot language will be posted on the Annual Meeting page of the website no later than June 1, 2020.
Will UUCC take this opportunity to make an explicit commitment to anti-oppression & anti-racism as an integral part of our congregational identity? The answer is in your hands. And that answer will be the collective expression of who we are as a congregation.
With great love and respect, your Board of Trustees,
Carla Gates, President
Tim Lattimer, First Vice President
Colette Gelwicks, Second Vice President
Wendy Ramsey, Treasurer
Ken Rock, Secretary
Amy Brooks, At-large Member
Robin Hessey, At-large Member