Annual Lay Ministers Service – Our Seven Principles

Introduction – Mary Ann Oakley

We as Unitarian Universalists speak proudly of, and often refer to, our Seven Principles.  Most of us probably don’t know how we got them.

Both the Unitarians and the Universalists worked on developing statements, but the efforts nearly derailed the 1961 merger.  It took some strong deliberation and compromise to come up with an early version.  The Principles and Purposes that replaced the original wording were adopted nearly unanimously in 1984.

Much of the credit for that effort goes to UU women working diligently to eliminate sexist language from our hymns and documents.  In a UU continental congress on women and religion, one workshop was called “The UUA Principles: Do They Affirm Us As Women?”  The answer was a resounding “No!  Also, Edward Frost wrote that the Principles failed “to indicate a respect for the wholeness of life and for the earth.”

A study committee recommended drafting the Seven Principles and references to five living traditions that UUs share.  The sixth tradition, earth-centered religions, was added later.  The committee’s draft was circulated and debated by all congregations in 1983, before the final draft was submitted to and approved by a wide margin at the 1984 General Assembly.  The required second vote in 1985 received only one dissenting vote.  There have been no real changes since the 1980s in either the Principles or the Sources.

One major change was proposed last month at the 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans.  The delegates voted overwhelmingly to encourage a UUA study commission to consider an 8th principle, proposed by Black Lives of UU.  As proposed, it states, “We the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote Journeying toward spiritual wholeness by building a diverse, multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”  Obviously this rather convoluted wording can and probably will be improved by the study commission.  You can, and should, read more about this process at, as our congregation decides whether or not to support the work of building a diverse, multicultural UU community here in Atlanta.

This morning we are going to look at each of the Seven Principles.  So, we have them.  So what?  If we are to make these Principles the basis of our mission, we must relate them to our everyday lives, as individuals and as a congregation.

That broad charge encompasses most, if not all, of social justice.  This morning seven of our Lay Ministers are going to speak to us about how each Principle does so.  Our hope is that all of us will think of at least one way we can apply each of the Principles in our daily lives.


First Principle – Kay Golan

At the core of our Unitarian Universalist faith is the first principle, which calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of everyone. It may not be a credo but it is a belief, a worldview, a leap of faith.

We typically talk about the first principle in the context of our outwardly focused social justice work. Indeed, it calls us to stand with those on the margins of society, those who are oppressed, discriminated against, those whom others may not see as having worth and dignity. It calls us to display our Black Lives Matter banners, march in the Pride parade, speak truth to power, be politically active, feed the hungry, tutor the challenged child, and minister to the prisoner.

But affirming the worth and dignity of all, calls on us to act not out of pity or charitable superiority but because people who are oppressed or at the margins have real worth to themselves, their communities, to us and to society.

But what about in our own personal relationships and community?

The Rev. Meg Barnhart, suggests sticking “beginning in our homes and congregations” on the end of every Principle: we affirm and promote the worth and dignity of everyone in our family and congregation.

A highlight at General Assembly this year was the modeling of shared power and having hard conversations about white privilege and transgressions in our own house with remarkable attention to the worth and dignity of everyone. And I acknowledge us here at UUCA for beginning that hard work.

BUT WAIT- back to that word Everyone? What about the worth and dignity of people who irritate us? Who behave badly? The kid texting in the in the movie?

The judgie woman at our family reunion?

The man with the Trump sticker on his car?

The Cabinet? These get harder and harder.

But then it is not about behavior is it? It is inherent worth.

A Wise person once told me– when someone triggers your judgment or anger you can bet they have something to teach you, they are a holding a mirror. Maybe these folks I find so upsetting  (many in the news) are an opportunity for personal growth. How am I arrogant, greedy, disrespectful, afraid, judging, lacking compassion, ignorant of how my privilege gives me an unfair advantage. Maybe I don’t display the specific behavior I see in others but I am sure I could use some work. So the first principle also calls on us to do some self-reflection.

BUT what about the worth and dignity of those People who do really horrible things?

UU Rev. Sean Parker Dennison said after 911, that it is important to remember that “inherent worth and dignity is not the same as blamelessness or freedom from accountability…What we are saying is that unlike ..people who carry out horrific events, we value …every human life. ,,,,,Even when we are enraged and seek to redress a horrible wrong, we will measure our acts by the standards of dignity, honor, and justice.”

My superhero, Wonder Woman, said it another way to Ares, the god of war, when he pointed out that humans are capable of such evil and didn’t deserve her protection she said, “it’s not whether they deserve it, it’s whether you believe and I believe in love.”


Second Principle – Tony Stringer

How dare anyone accuse UUs of white supremacy?  Some of us—–okay, most of us——do happen to be white.  But white supremacists?  That’s a different matter.  Look at what we have done for people of color.  Unitarians and Universalists have founded, led, or joined virtually every justice-seeking organization since the 1700s.  But now, Black Lives Matter UU is calling us out as white supremacists.  How dare anyone accuse us of that?

Well, I do wish to answer the “How dare they?” question.  But first, I want to talk about our second principle, because it is closely connected to the answer.  UUs covenant to promote “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.”

Why justice?  Because as human beings, we viscerally and emotionally recoil when we or others are wronged.  Our whole physical being compels us to make right and whole, those who have been broken and wronged.  We seek justice.

Why equity?  Because we who are privileged cannot long endure the shame of living large at the expense of others.  And we who are underprivileged, dis-empowered, and oppressed cannot and will not remain passive.  We demand equity.

These two are sufficient if you are only building a movement.  But if you are building a community, you need relationships with people and not just with ideas.  Compassion must be in the mix.  Compassion reminds us that we seek justice and equity not just because they are noble ideas, but because we care for one another.  Hence, the dynamic and necessary tension in our commitment to justice, equity, and compassion.  It is a trinity that even we Unitarians can embrace.

But back to that “How dare they?” question.  Let me answer that question directly.  We, people of color, dare because of what church means to us.  It may, or may not mean the same thing to you.  But to us, church is sanctuary.

It is the place where enslaved ancestors experienced their only taste of freedom.  The place they sang songs of freedom, songs of the Underground Railroad and of secret paths to safety in the North.   Let me hear you say “Justice!”

Church is the place where elder men, who were still called “boys” everyday of their lives, and elder women forced to answer to “Mamie” or “Sadie,” could hear themselves addressed as “sir,” “ma’am” “elder,” “deacon,” or even “Reverend.”  Can I hear you say “Equity!”

Church lifted your spirit, when a week of emotional oppression had crushed it.  It’s no mystery why black people would go to church at 10:00 a.m. and not come out until 10:00 p.m.  Not only were we having a good time, we were finding sanctuary.  Can I hear you say “Compassion!”

Church is the place where plots are hatched, plans are laid, and dreaming is permitted.  The Civil Rights Movement began in church.  Let me hear you say “Justice.”

Accusations of racism and white supremacy are hard to hear.  But let us remember the power of bold accusations.  The UU Women’s Federation repeatedly, pointedly, and sometimes bitterly, accused us of being a patriarchal and sexist faith.  It was hard to hear, yet it was that pointed critique and the self-examination it demanded, that led directly to our drafting of the Seven Principles that unite us today.  We owe our Seven Principles to the bold and uncompromising critique of UU women unwilling to go on being marginalized.  Can I hear you say “Equity!”

Because the church has meant so very much to all people who have felt oppression, we go on expecting it to be so very much.  Can I hear you say “Compassion!”

If “How dare we?” is the question, because church means so very much to persons of color, indeed to all of us, the answer to “How dare we?” can only be, “How dare we not?”

Can I hear you say “Amen.”


Third Principle – Kate Culver

Our 3rd Principle: The acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a student at the Candler school of theology. Although Candler and Emory are liberal institutions, going in I had my hang-ups about attending a Methodist seminary. I put my walls up, I bristled at the “conversion talk,” I wondered: with all these more conservative denominations where could I fit in?  My first semester was pretty lonely.

Then the election happened. I was devastated.  We were all devastated. However, I will never forget the next day returning to campus. The energy was different.  Chapel was packed.  We all held hands and prayed for our nation and our leaders. Outside in the courtyard we held a prayer circle. I was crying, everyone was crying.

We were crying for marginalized among us, for the people we knew were going to have the hardest time. We were crying for our future congregations. Because we knew how much work the next four years were going to be.

As people walked by, they joined us, and the circle grew and grew.  There were Baptists, and UUs, and Methodists and Catholics and old and young and straight and queer.  And as we cried and hugged and prayed, the differences between us became less relevant. The circle of people who saw how wrong everything was and wanted to oppose it was huge, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.

We are living in a time that encourages division and discord.  Where racism, sexism, all the isms appear to be endorsed by our government.  The most radical, activist thing that we can do at a time like this is live out our third principal.

So, what does that mean? Well, to me it might mean dealing with my religious hang-ups so I can come to a place where the beautiful and difficult aspects of Christian theology become part of my everyday toolkit. It means fostering long-term relationships with people outside my safe and progressive community. It means seeing people as individuals, not ideologies and acknowledging their effort to act justly. It means inviting them to be loved.

I think our 3rd principal is just that. An invitation to love. To love one another and that love is what leads us to the acceptance, and encouragement, and spiritual growth that we talk about. As people of faith, love applies to all aspects of our lives. It gives those who shape their lives by it a hopefulness to believe that God’s love and justice can be a reality.

What I’m getting at is, like on that day at school last fall, it doesn’t matter what religious or spiritual road we are on. What matters is that we know that as people of faith we must accept and love each other to navigate the difficult road ahead.


Fourth Principle – Katie Sadler-Stephenson

When I was in my early to mid 20s I went to a UU young adult leadership retreat at The Mountain.  As part of the retreat they pulled out some pieces an RE program called “Articulating Your Faith,” a program we’ll be offering as part of middle hour starting in September.

There were several things from this program that stuck with me, but one was an image.  It wasn’t fancy, but it stood out.

The image was of an arch, with the principles in the 7 blocks that comprised it.  And in the middle was the little preamble to our principles – We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote…

I don’t know if we talked a lot about the arch in the image, or if we talked briefly, but it as has always stuck with me.  The idea is that the 1st and 7th principles (inherent worth and dignity and the interdependent web of existence) were the pillars; they keep us grounded and are how we view the world and the people in it.

The 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th principles are how we conduct ourselves in the world – human relationships, spiritual growth, how we govern ourselves, and the goal of a healthy community.

But the 4th principle?  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.   She’s my favorite.

She is the keystone.

I’ll be honest, I’m no architecture or masonry expert, my knowledge is pretty low, but here’s what I have learned.  The keystone actually experiences the least amount of stress in the arch.  But…the keystone is what allows all of the other pieces to bear stress.  Without it the other pieces don’t work together.

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

What does that even mean?  For me, it boils down to the fact that we have to ensure that everyone has to freedom to find their own truth and meaning, and that we have a responsibility to find our own.

The only way I know to do this in my life is to constantly seek new truths and meaning and new ways to look at the world.  For me that means facilitating religious exploration classes right now – trust me, I am a co-discoverer with all of the people in the room with me.

When I’ve worked with children, this has been about allowing them the freedom to create their own meaning and truth, even if I feel sure it something that they will outgrow.  Working with youth and adults it often has meant making space for differing views and allowing the paradoxes to sit.  That’s allowing the freedom within our own walls.

The responsibility?  That one is harder to articulate sometimes, but no less important.  We all have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, but we also have a responsibility to honor those around us, those before us, and those that will come after us, both in our words and our actions.  And we have a responsibility to know ourselves and find meaning.

I do this, along with many other people in our congregation, to help make the keystone of our community stronger.  So that we are all more grounded in our faith and what we know right now to be true (both with a big T and a little t) and so that we can discern what brings meaning to our lives, both as individuals and as a community.

When we do this we become grounded so that we can go out into the world and demand justice, compassion, equity, and peace.  So that we can create a world where everyone’s dignity is honored as is our interdependence with the world and all of the things in it.

Our search for truth and meaning might often be introspective, but it is what empowers us, grounds us, and guides us as we go out into the world to love it, challenge it, and make it a better place.


Fifth Principle – Meredith Milby

I am a Unitarian Universalist and I affirm and promote “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”.  The fifth principle is one that I’ve wrestled with and found quite reassuring lately.

The children’s version of this principle – “Every Person has a Voice”- is a little easier to understand, and easier to endorse…Until you read the comments on Facebook.

If you’re on social media and you haven’t gotten into fruitless argument … well then, you could probably teach me a thing or two.  But, if, like me, you find yourself tempted to get both lost in and disheartened by the animosity in social media, then consider how the Fifth principle applies to social media.

“Every person has a voice” is an important statement, but it does not encompass the entire principle. It misses the process.  And process is important- both in terms of processing ideas and in terms of following a process.   I’d like to suggest that you use UUCA as your inspiration for social media and faith in democracy.

I worked on the Transition Team that helped add the middle hour to our Sunday Schedule. I was fully invested in the success of middle hour and it was hard to see opposition to the new schedule On the City.

And having worked on that Team where parking and classroom space were constraints on what was possible- I was similarly quite concerned when it came to the comments on the City about the prospective move.  Both those issue brought me times when I wanted to jump through the computer and just explain to the people there what they were missing.

Of course, the truth is, they weren’t missing anything.  They were simply expressing valid concerns which they were still processing. They needed that.

In the meeting where we voted on the move, there was a process to allow people to be heard- Before anyone could be heard a second time, everyone else got a chance to speak; and everyone was limited to two minutes of speaking time.  The effect of those rules were important: First: it was respectful.  Second: we didn’t just hear from the same voice over and over again and Third: people really thought about what they wanted say.

Yes, there were people who were people upset by the vote results, I don’t want to disregard that.  Democratic Processes don’t magically create unanimous consensus, but ultimately the vote was highly in favor what most of us believe was best for the congregation as a whole.

Today, I would like to suggest to you that you try on Social Media- to think not in terms of proving your point or winning an argument, but simply of allowing others to process their opinions and taking your two-minute turn to state what it is you have say.

When you see something on social media that you think should not go without response, respond as if it is your two minutes to speak.  Respect your fellow community members as they are processing things, Say what most needs to be said- raise concerns others may have missed, calmly correct falsehoods, defend those unjustly attacked.  Speak your peace thoughtfully, once, and try to trust in the process.

The democratic process isn’t going to get a perfect result.  And real human contact can do things social media never will. But, social media is here to stay and it is good to remember that repeatedly hearing from the same voice and outright argument, does not change minds.

Single thoughtful comments, however, can cause their readers to pause and think about things differently.  And perhaps that’s what our goal should be on social media- to assist in the processing of thoughts and ideas. That is part of the democratic process and I affirm it.
Sixth Principle – Dayna Wolhart

We hold as our 6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

I would love to be able to embrace this principle wholeheartedly, but I must admit, I’m ambivalent. Not because I like war or cherish injustice, but because the phrase “liberty and justice for all” seems so overtly American, mimicking, as it does, the Pledge of Allegiance. This leads me to ask: Whose liberty, whose justice, whose peace?

The “peace” that we have known for most or all of our lives is the Pax Americana, the mostly-stable period from 1945 to the present. This kind of peace depends on the overwhelming military power of the United States. This so-called peace has been punctuated throughout its 72 years by undeclared wars, support for dictators and other murderous groups, and U.S.-sponsored coups to overthrow democratically elected governments in other lands.

Is this truly the justice, the liberty, the peace we seek? Is not wielding power over others antithetical to justice?

There’s an aphorism that says, “no justice, no peace.”  I’d like to examine the concept of justice through the lens of one of our sources, Jewish and Christian teachings. Regardless of your religious background, you probably know this verse from the prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The book of Amos contains some of the most moving poetry in the Hebrew Bible. It strongly denounces religious hypocrisy and economic inequality. Amos, speaking for God, said:

They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted…. they abhor him who speaks the truth.  How great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate…. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice.

There are those in this country who have melded their religious faith with their belief in economic and military power over others. To them I say, read your bibles. The message of justice is right there, in the words of Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and Jesus.

To those of us who are UU, I say, let us not scorn these scriptures. Whether or not you believe in any deity, or in a personal God like the one depicted in these scriptures, there is much to inspire us there.

As we pursue the aspirations of our sixth principle, let us remain inspired by our six sources, especially Jewish and Christian teachings, the words and deeds of prophetic women and men, and Wisdom from the world’s religions.

May justice be tempered with mercy. May liberty be tempered with grace. May peace begin within each person’s heart and grow to envelop the earth. Amen.


Seventh Principle – Jackie Spierman

The seventh Principle “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” was not one of the original six Principles. Due to our Growing awareness of the sacred circle of life and the need to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, it was added in the early 1980s.  But we can’t say that us UU’s were on the cutting edge of taking a stand for environmental protection.  In the 1960’s Mother Nature began sounding alarms signaling us how we no longer were living in harmony, but actually were actively destroying our environment.  In 1962 Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring.”  In 1970 the United States had 5.7% of global population, and consumed 40% of the natural resources.  Rivers catching fire and burning was not an urban myth, it actually happened.  And the air was just as polluted.  Believe it or not, it was Richard Nixon who recognized and believed what the scientists were saying and in the summer of 1970, he sponsored the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  Nixon stated, “shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land, and to our water?”

And ironically today the EPA is on Trump’s hit list of things to be eliminated.  A new study found since 1950 the world has produced 19 billion tons of plastic – and less than 10% has been recycled.

Geogg Mulgan, Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts and an influential writer on social and political issues stated “The biggest barrier to dealing with climate change is us:  our own attachment to habits that are hard to shift, and our great ability to park or ignore uncomfortable choices.”

I leave you with this, with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown and her “Goodnight Moon.”

On the great green earth, there were trees in the ground and birds in the air,
There were fish in the seas and monkeys in the trees.
In the jungles, there were tigers and in the forests there were bears,
In the cities there were people, and on the farms there were people,
There were people, people everywhere.
But now all is changing, the seas, the forests, the jungles, the air.
And the people, the creatures; everything is changing everywhere.
Goodbye monkeys, goodbye trees, goodbye fish, goodbye seas.
Goodbye tigers and jungles and forests and bears.
Goodbye people in cities, goodbye people on farms,
goodbye dear creatures everywhere.
Goodbye, Goodbye our great, green earth.