WHAT'S THE 8TH PRINCIPLE?
Unitarian Universalists share an ethical covenant to abide by seven core principles. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has proposed adding the 8th Principle. We at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA)—along with all other member congregations—have been called to explore adopting this principle for our community here in Atlanta and for our denomination. The 8th Principle Awareness Committee supports the work of discernment within our congregation.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta committed to the 8th Principle at the congregational meeting on May 21, 2023.
WHY ADD A PRINCIPLE?
The short version is that many congregations who have worked to follow the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism have nonetheless struggled to build deeply multicultural and inclusive communities. UUs in other congregations have found that adopting the 8th Principle has helped to center anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism in our covenant, keeping us accountable to this work.
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Why are we learning about this?
In May 2016, UUCA committed to our ARAOMC (Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Multiculturalism). ARAOMC was for our own congregation. See the resolution here
The 8th Principle is being studied by the UUA and joins the work of UU congregations across the country to uplift and affirm our Association’s commitment to racial justice, equity, multiculturalism, and building beloved community. If UUCA were to adopt it, we would become a part of a larger team encouraging the whole Association to put racial justice at the center of our commitments – both theologically and structurally. It’s a movement to extend the commitment of the whole faith tradition. Adopting the 8th Principle would be an additional signal to individuals and communities of color that our congregation is committed to anti-racism work, as well as work against all oppressions.
Is the 8th Principle only about racial injustice?
As indicated by the phrase “other oppressions,” the 8th Principle is written to address all instances of marginalization, from ageism to homophobia, transphobia, sexism, antisemitism, etc. It speaks to the issue of racism specifically given the long history and continued violence of white supremacy in our nation.
I would like more background on the UUA development of the 8th Principle. Where can I find it?
The 8th Principle was originally drafted by Paula Cole Jones (All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC) and Bruce Pollack-Johnson (the UU Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia) – both with the Joseph Priestley District, now the Central East Region Group. They, along with a group of allies, began working on this in 2013. In 2017, they recommended its adoption by the UUA which set up a commission to consider it.
See the UUA website for more information on the origin of the 8th Principle
Have other congregations already supported this resolution?
As of May 16, 2023, 244 UU congregations throughout the U.S. have voted to support the resolution. This surpasses the minimum 15 congregations needed to move it forward to the General Assembly. But, as with any proposal, the more support, the more likely the adoption. You can hear about the experiences of four congregations (Philadelphia, Honolulu, Annapolis, Summit, NJ) with the 8th Principle in this video.
Will the 8th Principle enable dissenters to be kicked out of UUCA?
Some individuals are concerned that the use of the word “accountably” in the 8th Principle’s wording. They wonder if it would empower our governing board to kick out individuals who disagree with the passage of this principle. The use of the term “accountably” in the principle refers to our collective humbleness in working toward antiracism and the responsibility we have to marginalized persons to pursue betterment. It is not an implication of punishment or ostracization.
What is the process of changing or adding to the UUA principles? Has it been done before?
The UU Principles were designed to be a living document, not a fixed creed. As such, the UUA Bylaws provide a process for reviewing the principles at least every 15 years and for adopting a new principle between those reviews (Article XV, Sections C-15.1 and C-15.2). After the formation of the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961, there were originally 6 principles. The 7th principle was adopted in 1985. Proposals are considered and voted upon during a multi-year process, with plenty of time for review and discussion. Check out these resources to learn more:
- A 2006 article about the history of our Principles
- Our process for reviewing the Principles
- UUA Bylaws.
Why do we need another principle to focus attention on anti-racism? Don’t the current 7 Principles already commit us to this work?
The 8th Principle was initiated by people of color and their allies in Unitarian Universalism because the first seven principles do not explicitly address anti-racism. As one of the authors said: “After working with congregations on these issues for over 15 years, I realized that a person can believe they are being a ‘good UU’ and following the 7 Principles without thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at the systemic level.”
If the 7 Principles are all that is needed, then why do BIPOC people feel differently? Why do they sometimes say that they do not feel welcome?
If adopting the 8th Principle makes BIPOC feel more seen and heard, why wouldn’t we choose to adopt it? When we are trying to change culturally entrenched attitudes and generations of habit and history, making our commitments direct and explicit is enormously helpful. The 8th Principle asks us to act, to go beyond beliefs and vision to take courageous action. It asks us to hold ourselves accountable and fulfill the potential of our existing principles.
I heard that the 8th Principle is going to replace the other seven Principles? Is that right?
No, that isn’t what would happen. The 8th Principle would be added (if adopted) to the first 7 Principles. There may be some confusion with the proposed Article II which would state our guiding philosophies or core beliefs in a different format. See below for more information on Article II.
I would like to hear what Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other groups are saying about the 8th Principle. Where can I find that information?
Can we change the wording?
No, we cannot. At this early stage, congregations need to adopt the proposed resolution as it is written. The wording of the 8th principle will be debated substantially on the floor of the UUA General Assembly.
In addition, the current wording was written by African American leadership and allies in the UUA and endorsed by Black Lives of UU(BLUU) and DRUMM (Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries). While it is phrased differently from the more vision-focused language of the other 7 principles, it was specifically worded to express the need for accountable action because the implicit language of dignity, respect, equity, and inclusion in the current seven principles has not resulted in sustained and significant change toward anti-racism in the UUA or its congregations.
Why is the focus on racism? What about other forms of oppression?
The UUA and individual congregations have been making progress on other oppressions such as discrimination against women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and disabled people with a growing number of members, leaders, and staff from these communities. But there is a strong and widespread feeling that not enough is being done on the issue of race.
Religious organizations are no different than other social institutions like schools, businesses, criminal justice, and government that have structures, policies, practices, and norms reflecting the dominant white culture embedded in the United States since its founding. Many people of color and others marginalized by this culture simply do not feel welcomed or represented in any of these institutions.
Won’t working within our Congregation and Association take us away from the important work of making changes in our larger society?
A Lao-tse quote says, “If there is to be peace in the world… there must be peace in the home… there must be peace in the heart.” So, if there is to be beloved community and social justice in the world, there must be beloved community and social justice in the congregational home and heart. As we work at UUCA and in the UUA to develop a more inclusive culture, we cannot ignore our efforts in the larger community. We will be “practicing what we preach,” learning new tools and gaining valuable insights that we can all apply not only in our congregation but in the world at large.
Can you define Beloved Community?
The UUA provides this definition: “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.” The term was originally coined by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to envision a community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate.
Is this the same thing as Article II?
Article II is a part of our UUA bylaws and there has been a commission for two years studying the Principles and Purposes to see if they should be updated to better reflect the current Unitarian Universalism. Unlike other faith traditions, ours is a Living Tradition. Re-examining our Principles and Purposes is built into our bylaws. In 1985 there was a substantial revision of the Principles and Purposes. The Commission has completed its study and issued a report which can be found here. The Revised Article II will be voted on at GA 2023 and if it passes by a simple majority will then be voted on at GA 2024. If it receives a 2/3 majority vote there, it would be adopted.
If we’re going to replace the Principles and Purposes with the Proposed Article II, why are we spending time on the 8th Principle?
As you can see from the above section, there is a lot of discussion, debate, and voting that will take place on the proposed Article II and it is unclear whether it will be adopted or not. The 8th Principle focuses us on denomination-wide work that needs to be done with or without Article II. Even if UUCA chooses not to adopt the 8th Principle, the reflection and growth that will happen are valuable.
Why is white culture singled out? I'm a white person who feels like I am being made to feel guilty.
We are putting the focus on us collectively, not on each of us as an individual. But the systems set up in this country that advantage white people continue today. As Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd observed in a recent sermon, “We drink from wells we did not dig.” Much has happened in both the country and in our denomination in recent years that reveals the extent to which “white culture” is embedded in all social institutions, including our congregations. We need to begin to understand this and its impact today on BIPOC. We are asking each of us to do our own interior work to examine our own biases as well as society’s biases. We all have fears and resistance to change and many of us are uncomfortable with internal work, but we need to “walk our talk” and confront the systemic racism and inequity within our own structures.
Our ARAOMC formally commits UUCA to this new awareness and to action. It requires us to work against racism in ourselves and in our own institutions as well as in the larger society. If we are not there individually, we will not get there as a congregation. BIPOC are looking for a Principle that openly acknowledges this reality. It is incumbent on those of us who have benefitted from privilege to approach this with a spirit of humility.
If adopted, how will this impact our congregation – will we lose members?
We are all at different places on our personal journeys of learning about racism in our society and in ourselves. Our hope is that with respectful and honest discussion, without shame or blame of anyone, all congregants will continue to learn and grow and find a home at UUCA. UU congregations have historically gained members, rather than lost them, when we have taken strong stands on justice issues.
What are some examples of the types of changes we will see at UUCA if we adopt the 8th principle?
There is no manual for this work, but there is guidance from the UUA and other congregations and institutions further along on this process, as well as resource materials developed by organizational consultants of color. For UUCA, it will be an on-going process of listening to, learning from, and following the leadership of those who have been more negatively impacted. We will work together to uncover and change internal barriers to equity and inclusion. We acknowledge that making these changes will not be fast, easy, or comfortable, but we believe that the outcomes will be creative, enriching, and reflective of our highest values. Making a congregational commitment to embrace this process in an organized and accountable way is the first step. Suggestions for moving forward are addressed in a UUA report “Widening the Circle of Concern.” At a gathering in Atlanta in 2017, UU leaders of color were asked to share their insights into how the Association could continue moving forward during another racially charged moment. .
Fortunately, we are not new to this process. We have already been making changes in this direction that many of us have enthusiastically embraced. For example, we have created more diversity in our pulpit sermons, guests, readings, and music; challenging and engaging educational programs on antiracism and racial justice; and responsive and responsible social justice partnership and outreach. As we move forward, we might see changes such as: the creation of a team to help guide our work and to hold us accountable for progress; a review of the impact of our current practices and structures to help us identify and prioritize which ones are most in need of change; and training for leaders, members, and staff to further understanding of how to develop attitudes, behaviors, structures, and policies that reflect an equitable and inclusive organization. We will determine these steps together.
Will there be conflict in this process?
Possibly. One of the common threads among congregations that have begun the process of consciously moving to multiculturalism is a willingness to take risks and to feel uncomfortable. They also report that a spirit of love is palpable in the congregations that commit to this soul work. See “Mistakes and Miracles: Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism.” By Nancy Palmer Jones and Karin Lin. Skinner House Books, Boston, MA 2019, p. 32.
Are we going to be voting on the 8th Principle?
Yes, members of UUCA will vote on the 8th Principle at the 2023 Congregational Meeting on May 21st.
THE 8TH PRINCIPLE COMMITTEE?
We give our thanks to the 8th Principle Awareness Committee. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta voted to approve the 8th Principle on March 21, 2023.
LAURA YAMASHITA (Chair)
JASON DELANEY (Board Liaison)