Principles and Promises, part 2

The principles of the Unitarian Universalist association express our covenant, it’s true. The words of Community UU Congregations's mission are also covenantal:
“We covenant to nurture each other in our spiritual journeys, foster compassion and understanding within and beyond our community, and engage in service to transform ourselves and our world.”
That’s also an expression of covenant. But CUUC was a congregation held by covenant long before 2014 when we adopted our current mission statement, and Unitarian Universalists have been a people of covenant from long before 1985 when we adopted our current set of principles.

Before that, the covenant was expressed along similar lines in 1961 in the initial documents when the Unitarian Universalist Association was created from the consolidation of the Unitarians and the Universalists. And before that both Unitarian and Universalists had expressed the covenant in various ways. In the late 19th-century, for instance, James Blake expressed it in words that are still in our hymnal today:
“Love is the spirit of this church, and service its law. This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”
The expression of the covenant is not the covenant. The word "moon" is not the moon. The expression of the covenant is some set of words. The covenant itself is the mysterious force that holds us together and is ultimately beyond words. The covenant of love, of fidelity to one another, the sacred promise to walk together – the whole truth -- is eternal. The ways that we give expression to that eternal must fit the particular culture and time.

Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have long understood that every generation should give its own expression to the covenant that binds us. In 1961, when Unitarians and Universalists came together to form the Unitarian Universalist Association, our initial documents included a set of principles. One generation later -- right on schedule -- we engaged a process to re-write them. That process culminated in the 1985 covenant of principles.

Another generation went by, and that brought us to the late aughts. For two years, our congregations were enjoined to discuss possible revisions to our Article II by-laws, which includes the principles, and submit ideas to the Commission on Appraisal. I remember leading classes and meetings about that at the congregations I was serving at the time. The Commission received the input and produced a proposed revision, which came before the General Assembly in 2009 in Salt Lake City for initial approval. Initial approval would have sent the proposal to the congregations for a year of discussion, with final approval subject to vote of the 2010 General Assembly.

The proposed changes in the principles themselves were slight. There would still be seven of them. The third principle was shortened from
“acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations”
to simply
“acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth.”
The fifth principle was similarly shortened from
“the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”
to simply
“the right of conscience and the use of democratic processes.”
The seventh principle changed
“respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”
“reverence for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The other four principles were not changed at all. A more substantive change was proposed for the preamble to the seven principles. It would have changed from:
"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:"
"Grateful for the gift of life, we commit ourselves as member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association to embody together the transforming power of love as we covenant to honor and uphold:"
The proposed changes to the sources section was much greater – it would have replaced our six sources with three descriptive, rather prosaic, paragraphs.

Moreover, the proposal added a paragraph after the principles, and then added a section on inclusion that said:
“Systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge to do all we can to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect. We strive to be an association of congregations that truly welcome all persons and commit to structuring congregational and associational life in ways that empower and enhance everyone’s participation.”
This would have replaced the existing section on anti-discrimination with this fuller expression of commitments to antiracism and multiculturalism (Report of The Commission on Appraisal On The Mandated Review of Article II of the UUA Bylaws).

I was there in Salt Lake City, 2009, when moderator Gini Courter called for the vote on the Article II bylaws change -- and the yellow voting cards were held aloft by those in favor, and then by those opposed to the proposed revision. It looked like the same number on each side. So she called again for the Pro to raise their voting cards, and this time the GA counters systematically went down the rows tallying the votes, and then the same was done for the Con. When the final tally was in, 573 delegates had voted to send the proposal to the congregations – and 586 voted not to.

I voted for the revisions, but the stronger feelings in the room tended to be on the Con said – and most of it was related to the change in the sources. The new section on inclusion was generally supported, but our rules didn’t allow us to vote on the parts separately. The Commission on Appraisal's proposal had to be voted up or down as a whole. And it was voted down.

Today the process of considering changes is again before the denomination. The covenant is eternal. The words we choose to express the covenant must address the needs of the time. More than a decade after our last concerted effort to freshen our expression for a new generation yielded no results, our Association has again initiated the process for review. One proposal is to add an 8th principle.
Affirm and promote journeying toward spiritual wholeness.
How shall we journey toward wholeness?
By working to build a Beloved Community.
What kind of Beloved community?
A diverse, multicultural Beloved Community.
How shall we do that?
By our actions.
Actions that what?
That dismantle racism and other oppressions.
Can’t do that without accountability.
Right. Actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions.
And where is this racism and other oppressions we’re going to accountably dismantle?
It’s in ourselves and our institutions.
So let us say – say out loud and say officially – that the call of covenant, the call to live bound, and bound together, by promise, includes that we promise 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.
May it be so.

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