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8th Principle

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote Seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides. We live out these principles within a “living tradition” of wisdom and spirituality, drawn from Six Sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience. Both our principles and sources have continued to evolve and change in the decades since they were first adopted in 1960.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the larger association of UU congregations of which UUCF is a part, is in the process of considering an 8th Principle, which is currently written as follows: "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.”

UUCF's Process

Ultimately, UUCF will adopt the final form of the principles passed at the UUA level, but that will be quite a few years in the future. We have an opportunity now to make an explicit commitment, as a core part of our congregational identity, to "accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions." UUCF's support would also strengthen the grassroots movement to pass language similar to this at the UUA level.

Can we propose changes to the 8th Principle language?
There will likely be opportunities to make proposed changes in wording through the study guide process the UUA is developing. In addition, there will be an opportunity for congregational delegates to the annual UUA General Assembly (GA) to propose changes through the mini-assembly process. (That opportunity is currently anticipated to be no earlier than GA 2019, not this summer.) The opportunity before UUCF at our Annual Business Meeting (Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 11:45 a.m. in the sanctuary) is to vote on supporting the 8th Principle in its current form.

UU congregations who have passed the 8th Principle include:

  • All Souls Church, Unitarian (Washington, D.C.),
  • First Unitarian Church of Honolulu (Hawaii)
  • UU Church of Annapolis (Maryland)
  • UU Church of the Restoration (Philadelphia)

Other UU congregation voting on the 8th Principle soon include Main Line Unitarian Church (Pennsylvania), Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (Virginia), Cedar Lane UU (Bethesda, Maryland), and UU Church of Indianapolis (Indiana).

How would we indicate our congregational support for the 8th Principle during this interim period?
If UUCF approves the 8th Principle at our annual meeting, we would begin listing it in brackets after the current Seven Principles along the lines of the following:
[8. 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.]*
(*UUCF is one among of a growing number of UU congregations who have approved this 8th Principle at the congregational level. The larger Unitarian Universalist Association is in the process of considering this principle for adoption at the associational level.)

UUA's Process

Our UU principles and sources are formally found in Article II of the UUA Bylaws. When any change is proposed to any of our UU Principles, all of the principles are open for study and change:

The commission, which was appointed in the wake of the June 2017 GA, has up to two years to complete a study. It will then report to the UUA Board. At that point, the Board may also propose changes. The report will then be offered at the next GA. During that GA, all delegates will have an opportunity to offer amendments during a "mini-assembly" on the proposed changes. If there is ultimately an affirmative vote on the floor of the main GA business session, the UUA Board will have an opportunity to incorporate changes/recommendations from the delegate assembly and bring the topic up for a vote at the next GA for a final vote. (Any change to Article II of the UUA Bylaws requires at least two GA votes to pass.)

The latest update from the UUA Board (as of April 21, 2018) is that, "The proposal to add an Eighth Principle, affirming UU commitment to antiracism, to the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism will not be presented at GA [2018] but will be part of a comprehensive examination of the UUA’s bylaws. The details of how that study will take place are still in development."

Important Details & Background

Please be sure to read the Frequently Asked Questions listed on the 8th Principle webpage.

Reflection from Rev. Carl

Paula Cole Jones is a third-generation African-American UU, a member of the Black Lives of UU Elders Council, and a lay leader at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. I first heard Paula speak about the 8th Principle in December 2013. (I still have a copy of the one-page handout she distributed at that event.) It is important to keep in mind that five months earlier, George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. In response, three black women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Over the past four years, Paula has continued to advocate for the 8th Principle, but there is an important reason it was finally brought up at the annual UU General Assembly in June 2017 and that a growing number of UU congregations are approving it at the local congregational level. Less than two months before the last GA, UUA President Peter Morales resigned in the wake of a controversy about racial bias in hiring practices. UUCF is one among hundreds of UU congregations who hosted two UU White Supremacy Teach-ins as part of trying to learn from this controversy.

I have every reason to think that both President Morales and his leadership team deeply supported our UU Seven Principles. But tragically our Seven Principles were not enough to prevent the cumulative impact of implicit racial bias over time. Within Unitarian Universalism, our problem is not conscious, aspirational White Supremacy (such as with the Ku Klux Klan) which seek to intentionally create a more racist society. But despite our best intentions, living in a racist, sexist, classist, heterosexist, ableist society has caused each of us to sometimes unconsciously perpetuate systems of oppression in various ways. As psychologists remind us, "The problem with the unconscious is that it's unconscious!"

When there is not an explicit commitment to accountably dismantle systems of oppression, the tendency is for systems of oppression to be perpetuated—and that’s what happened in far too many hiring decisions at the UUA. The 8th Principle is an opportunity to make just such an explicit commitment.

One option is for us at UUCF to wait for the years-long UUA process to play itself out. But in conversation with people of color who are members of UUCF, I have been reminded of the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: "For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait' has almost always meant ‘Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.’” I hope we at UUCF will choose to join the growing number of UU congregations taking a leadership role in the struggle for racial justice.

I have spent the past semester co-teaching UU History to four aspiring UU ministers at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. It is clear from our history that our intentions have often been noble in regard to the work of social justice. But, as experts in inter-cultural competency emphasize, “Intent does not equal impact.” (I may not intend to step on your foot, but if I do, your foot still hurts irrespective of my intent.) And as a currently majority-white movement in which people of color remain underrepresented compared to the population at large, there is an invitation for us to try something different to see if we might get a different result.

As many of you have heard me say, “One thing we know for sure is that our congregation—and really any institution!—is perfectly designed to get the results that we are getting.” If we want different results, we need to experiment with changing the system. And one of the changes that leaders of color in our movement are inviting us to experiment with is an 8th Principle that is explicitly inclusive of racial justice. I am willing to trust that leaders of color have vital insights we should take seriously about what methods might give us the best chances of dismantling the racism and White Supremacy which hold us back from building the multicultural beloved community we dream about.

I appreciate everyone's engagement with this important discernment process, and I am grateful to be on this journey with all of you.

(The short link to this page is frederickuu.org/8thPrinciple.)