The 8th Principle at UUCPA
Along with the other congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we gladly covenant to affirm and promote these seven principles:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Enter the proposed 8th Principle
After working with congregations on issues of racial justice for over 15 years, Paula Cole Jones — Director of Racial & Social Justice for a UUA district, then a UUA region, on the East Coast — realized that a person can believe they are being a “good UU” and following the above principles without thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at the systemic level. Many Unitarian Universalists, here at UUCPA and across the Association, share this concern. And so a movement to declare an 8th principle was born, and has gathered steam since Jones, her minister Bruce Pollack-Johnson, and various people of color in their district drafted it. It reads,
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.
What it means
“Journeying toward spiritual wholeness” This work is spiritual work. Without it, our journeys toward integrity, toward kindness, toward a life lived in accordance with our values, will hit roadblocks and dead ends.
“diverse multicultural Beloved Community” A vision frequently invoked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Beloved Community is a society characterized by love, mutual respect, care, and justice-seeking. In the words of Paula Cole Jones, “Beloved Community thrives on justice and inclusion.”
“working to build . . . by our actions” Words and thoughts are only the beginning; we are committing to take action, together with others who work beside us to build the community we dream about.
“that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions” It is important for us to be accountable to those within and beyond Unitarian Universalism who are people of color and others suffering oppression, lest change agents risk being paternalistic and imposing their own solutions. An accountable relationship is a relationship between equals that recognizes everyone’s inherent worth and dignity.
“in ourselves and our institutions.” Just as the 7th Principle reminds us that we are not only individuals, but part of an interdependent web, the 8th Principle calls upon us to address the systemic, institutional nature of oppression. Racism thrives when we are fooled into thinking that it is primarily about individual thoughts and feelings, instead of about structures and systems. Even if none of us harbor a racist thought, only when we root out the ways racism has been embedded in our institutions will they stop marring the lives of Black people, indigenous people, and people of color. This is what we commit to do.
Adopting the 8th Principle
For the Unitarian Universalist Association to adopt another principle, it must be proposed to the General Assembly, the gathering of delegates from all congregations which meets annually in June. The General Assembly is currently on track to consider the matter in June 2023, and make a final decision in June 2024. However as of fall 2021, over 130 UU congregations and organizations have voted to adopt the 8th Principle for themselves, living by it just as they live by the first seven.
UUCPA can join them, by carefully considering what it means to live by a principle and, if the voting members agree that we wish to do what the 8th Principle states, voting in a congregational meeting to adopt it.
Even more important is to live by it, before and after its adoption: to engage, as a congregation, in the dismantling of racism and other oppressions, in a way that is accountable to the people thus oppressed.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Can the words be changed?
- Will this principle be adopted by the UUA for all congregations?
- Why is UUCPA considering adopting the 8th Principle now?
- How will we decide?
- What would it mean if UUCPA were to adopt it?
- What anti-racism and anti-oppression work is UUCPA doing now?
- Why is this principle focused on racism more than other oppressions?
- Isn’t this already covered by the first seven principles?
- Who can answer questions about this?
Can the words be changed?
No. The wording was created by UUs of color and has the support of BLUU (Black Lives of UU) and DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries). It has been adopted by over 130 UUA congregations as currently worded. As written, the principle includes specific words that address the problems and major challenges confronting our congregations and our nation, adds accountability and defines the Beloved Community more explicitly than the current seven principles.
Will this principle be adopted by the UUA for all congregations?
The principles of Unitarian Universalism are included in Article II of the UUA By-Laws, along with our purpose and sources. The UUA recently formed the Article II Study Commission and charged it with reviewing all of Article II, including our principles and the possible inclusion of an 8th principle. You can read more about this here. As the Article II Study Commission proceeds, they may recommend any changes to our principles they feel are appropriate, including the addition of the 8th principle, either with its current wording or different wording. The recommendations of the Commission are expected to be presented for discussion at General Assembly 2023, with a vote on adoption at General Assembly 2024. Any congregation may adopt the 8th principle, as currently worded, for itself in the meantime.
Why is UUCPA considering adopting the 8th Principle now?
The UUA voted in 1997 to address racism as an institution, but efforts to do so lagged in the following years. There is a renewed focus on addressing racism within our denomination since accusations of discrimination in hiring of UUA staff led to the resignation of various officials, including the UUA President, in 2017. In the past two years we have seen blatant incidents of racism and oppression across our nation, and we have welcomed–and thousands of white UUs have joined–the shift in awareness among white US Americans. These events cry out for those who promote and affirm our principles to act to heal the serious inequities revealed almost every day by the killing of black and brown people, political leaders’ stoking of white fears and resentments to consolidate their own power, and the drastic disparities among those who contract and die of COVID-19.
How will we decide?
- Meet with everyone we can to explain the 8th Principle and invite reflection on its meaning and implications for members and our congregation.
- Hold forum(s) so the congregation can learn from members of congregations that have adopted the 8th principle and hear comments from our members about it.
- Conduct straw votes to determine congregational understanding and views on adopting or not adopting it.
- Hold a formal vote by the voting members of the congregation at a meeting of the congregation.
What would it mean if UUCPA were to adopt it?
Upon a vote to adopt, we would organize a Board-supported team working with Amy, the White Folks Dismantling White Supremacy group, attendees at the Beloved Conversations Virtual courses, and other social justice volunteers to put the principle into practice and help church members understand and accountably act to live up to the Principle.
The 8th Principle adds more explicit language with “actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” There are various effective models for accountability upon adoption of the 8th Principle. For example, we might have an Accountability Group made up primarily of people of color, and including people with other identities or backgrounds that are frequently marginalized, which annually assesses the work of the congregation using a racial-justice lens. We might engage in a periodic audit with a paid consultant who is a person of color outside the congregation, who reviews the work that we are doing. We might create partnerships with BIPOC-led organizations in our area and commit to UUCPA’s following their lead in matters of racial justice.
Accountability may mean different things to different groups within our congregation. This will challenge us to include all members and friends in defining and living this new principle, even those on the margins of our community currently, and to give more power and influence to a broader set of people.
What anti-racism and anti-oppression work is UUCPA doing now?
Solidarity with Black Lives is important to our congregation. Our White Folks Dismantling White Supremacy group meets twice a month and engages in both reflection and action. About ten members and Rev. Amy Morgenstern have taken, or are taking, Beloved Conversations Virtual, a nationwide program for Unitarian Universalists seeking to embody racial justice as a spiritual practice, heal the impact of racism on our lives, and get free together.
We are engaged in Welcoming Congregation Renewal to make our congregation and world a place where LGBTQIA+ folks find both welcome and justice. Our Green Sanctuary Committee is also in the midst of re-accreditation, a process that includes Environmental Justice / Climate Justice because the UUA recognizes that the climate crisis and other environmental issues, dire for all of us, are having an outsized impact on people of color in our local communities and around the world. Our annual Ecojustice Camp imparts this understanding to children. And UUCPA’s Board of Trustees has engaged with parts of Widening the Circle of Concern, the report and recommendations of the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change, in order to put into practice the recommendations the Commission made after reckoning with the UUA’s, and UU congregations’ and organizations’, mixed history with racial justice.
Why is this principle focused on racism more than other oppressions?
At a global level, this would not necessarily make sense (for instance, the oppression of women is fundamental to poverty and lack of development in many areas), but in the United States, racism stands out. Racism has been embedded in the US since before we were a country, and to this day, it pervades numerous institutions, such as housing, healthcare, education, employment, banking, and the justice system. As for the UUA, its two worst crises, one in the late 1960s and one in 2017, were both related to race, and numerous programs have failed to move the needle far. In the meantime, the UUA and its member congregations have made good progress in empowering women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and increasingly, people with disabilities. There is much still to do on these issues, and on oppression based on economic class, but racism calls to us as one of our most persistent challenges. If we do not meet it, we will remain stuck. If we do meet it, we will be vastly better-equipped to address all oppressions.
Isn’t this already covered by the first seven principles?
Two recent statements by Unitarian Universalists from other congregations speak to this question. A parent of biracial children says:
Because the first thing a person can observe about our congregation is how overwhelmingly white it is, it would have been affirming to know unequivocally that a diverse racial/ethnic community is important and that racism/oppression will not be tolerated… I also think including language that expresses this sentiment in the core principles forces a congregation to be held more accountable for their inclusivity practices. I hear and acknowledge those who are saying that this intention is already expressed by affirming the worth of “every person.” Respectfully, that argument feels to me the same as when people say they don’t support Black Lives Matter because “all lives matter”.
And another UU, speaking at the annual General Assembly, said,
When people want to know about what Unitarian Universalists stand for, we don’t talk about Article 2 of our Bylaws. We talk about our Principles. Putting dismantling white supremacy up front makes a statement about who we are and how we envision the world we want to create. It’s counterproductive to get so enmeshed in language and the proper place for things that we fail to take the actions we commit to. If the 8th is up there in plain sight, we can’t say “Well, we didn’t really mean anti-racism.”
Who can answer questions about this?
Current 8th Principle Core Team members: Kristi Iverson (Lead), Susan Owicki (Co-Lead & ARE Liaison), Tina Kochel (Communications), Sally Ahnger (Liaison to 8th Principle national Facebook community), and Rev. Amy Morgenstern. To contact the Core Team to give feedback, ask questions, express concerns or contribute ideas, send an email to 8thPrinciple@uucpa.org.