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Article 2 UU Update

A great look at what could be changing in our 7 UU Principles and Beyond.

The following is a transcript of the sermon written and delivered by Harmony member Susan Wenner Jackson on June 4, 2023.

I have to warn you that this is not my typical sermon. If I get– usually when I give sermons, they’re more from the heart, more personal. This is a little bit more, I guess, academic. But I’ll try to keep it light and so we can all understand. But the– for some of you might know this  some of you this might be complete news to you. So whatever– wherever you come from, we’ll all be on the same page by the end of this. 

But a couple of years ago, the UUA, the organization that is– contains all UU churches commissioned a group of people, of experts and members to come up with totally new wording for basically our constitution, the constitution of UU, which is called Article 2. Article 2 makes it sound like it’s just one little thing but it’s actually like a whole set. 

So when Dale earlier said like the eighth principle, the eighth principle was something that was introduced a couple of years ago and it was part– it was an addition to the Article 2. But this is actually– that sparked kind of a whole thing. I’ll move to the next slide. 

They wanted to totally like revisit, revise the whole thing, not just kind of add an amendment if you will. So just a couple of things. 

This is sort of the language that’s like the foundation of our beliefs or our kind of values as a church, as a faith. And it does include the principles, if you’re familiar with the seven principles and the sources and our purpose. And our bylaws, I didn’t know this, but our bylaws actually require that we revisit it and revise it every 15 years. 

So for some religious institutions, this would be– Article 2 would be regarded as a permanent statement of belief but ours is a living tradition. We commit ourselves to regularly revisiting our principles and purposes to ensure that we’re relevant, that as we grow in understanding, our principles and purposes grow too. 

So since new occasions teach new duties, we must continuously examine our principles and purposes to see what’s missing, what is no longer important, and whether the language communicates our core values to the current times. So that’s kind of like the purpose. That’s what the Article 2 is. 

And so they formed a commission to look at this language and see how we could reflect who we are now and what we want to be. So I mentioned there were some changes like the eighth principle. They did change something. There was some language in there about “women and men” and they changed that to “people” in one of the sources. 

There was also a recommended change to the first principle to change “all people” to “all beings” and that actually failed. That did not get the vote so they didn’t do it. 

So– And the eighth principle was around – strictly around anti-racism, to add a principle around racism. And that– They finally just said let’s just get a group of leaders together to really just redo this whole thing. 

Now, as a personal aside, I am a writer by profession and editor. So I do find– I kind of nerd out on this a little bit. I like– I think that words are very important and they matter and I like to kind of examine words and how they– what they can do for us as an organization and kind of bring us together. 

In fact, words– the words of the principles were what first really hooked me to UU. When I read– I think I went to my first UU service at First Church down in Avondale and they read the principles kind of like we do our affirmation at the beginning. And I was just like, wow, I agree with all of those, like so much. And that was new for me because at other churches and other faiths that I’ve been – I would agree with some of them maybe but then there’d be others that are like, oh no, that’s a deal breaker. 

And so I was really– I feel like it’s really important that, you know, that you agree with and believe in the core thing. And so, I was very curious to see what they were going to suggest to change the principles, et cetera, because I really kind of liked them. I thought they were pretty good. But I understand that the revision every 15 years is part of our mandate. 

So, what I’m going to do and it’s going to seem like really text heavy, but just bear with me. We’ll try to make it, like I said, light, but we’re going to go through the proposed changes to Article 2  And so that we get a better sense of what exactly are they proposing. And this has been sent out, like it’s been in the UU World Magazine and emails and you may have seen stuff and it may have been like, oh, I don’t want to read all that. So I did it for you, OK?

So, the first change, it’s kind of big, is that they’re going to start Article 2 with our purpose and they’re actually calling it purposes. So that’s the change because right now it’s the principles or the first words kind of the Article 2. 

So starting with purpose and the original purpose on the left or the current one, it’s pretty, I guess, corporatey. I don’t know. It’s how to vote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious purposes and serving the needs of our congregations and organizing new congregations. It’s very much around kind of like the business of UU. 

The new version keeps the first part pretty much, you know, it’s an organization for religious, educational, humanitarian purposes, but then the rest of it is all new. I’ll read it out: “Its primary purposes are to assist congregations in their vital ministries, support and train leaders both lay and professional, to foster lifelong faith formation, to heal historic injustices, and to advance our UU values in the world. The purpose of the UUA is to actively engage its members in the transformation of the world through liberating love.” 

So, I feel like they really are trying to make this more evocative, engaging, get you more excited about doing something for the — transforming the world through liberating love. I mean, that’s pretty powerful language. And it certainly is more, I don’t know, makes you feel more fire in your belly than like, serving the needs of its member or congregations and organizing new congregations. Like that doesn’t really get anybody very excited, I don’t think. So I feel like this is a significant shift to our purpose as a faith. 

The second part, the principles are no longer the principles, at least in the proposed version. They’ve kind of — that language has gone away. So we won’t have seven principles anymore if this gets approved. Instead, they’re calling it values and covenant. 

Now, I think that the difference between principles and values is like, it’s a word, you know. They pretty much mean the same thing. Covenant really — that’s a word that is a UU word and it basically is just like what we all agree to do together. 

So the original language kind of starts it off — basically, this is a whole lot longer, OK, which in writing is actually a kind of a no-no. Like making things shorter is usually better because it’s more compact and more impactful. But in this case, they kind of wanted to like tease out more about what do these values actually mean for what we can do as a community. So it’s very much more into actions versus just sort of like we believe this. 

So the introduction, as you use, “we covenant (or agree), congregation to congregation and through our association to support and assist one another in our ministries. We draw from our heritages of freedom, reason, hope, and courage, building on the foundation of love. Love is the power that holds us together and is at the center of our shared values. We are accountable to one another for doing the work of living our shared values through the spiritual discipline of love. Inseparable from one another, these shared values are…” 

— so we’re going to get to the values in a second, but I just wanted to note like how many times the word love is used  And that resonates with me personally. I really think it’s important and they clearly made it, you know, a strong effort to add that word a lot. Okay. 

There is no current version of this. This is brand new. This is a visual representation of those values. And there are, I guess, seven if you count love in the middle. Love is a central one. So there are seven values and they wanted to visually represent it in this graphic. This is part of Article 2. 

 

This image is of a chalice with an overlay of the word Love over the flame, with six outstretched arms that create a circle around each of the core values and form a six-petal flower shape. Each arm is a different color, and clockwise they are: Interdependence (Orange), Equity (Red), Transformation (Purple), Pluralism (Blue), Generosity (Green), and Justice (Yellow).


So this graphic is, you know, it’s not just for promotional or marketing value, it’s actually part of the articles. So these are the values that they’re proposing. I don’t think that these all sound brand new, like justice, equity, interdependence. But some of them are pretty new, like generosity, pluralism, transformation, those are kind of new words to our beliefs. 

So that’s the visual and now I’m going to get into the words that go, that kind of back these up. And I did my best to kind of compare what the inspiration was from the current version to what they’re proposing. You can see for each, the proposed version is much longer. 

So from respect for the independent web of existence and our free and responsible search for truth and meaning, they came up with interdependence. “We honor the interdependent web of all existence,” very familiar. “We covenant to cherish earth and all beings,” there’s the beings part, “by creating and nurturing relationships of care and respect. With humility and reverence, we acknowledge our place in the great web of life and we work to repair harm and damaged relationships.” 

And then the second one, pluralism. Show of hands, how many of you know what pluralism means? I mean a few of us, I kind of, but not really. So they’ll define it for us here. “We celebrate that we are all sacred beings, diverse in culture, experience in theology. We covenant to learn from one another in our free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We embrace our differences and commonalities with love, curiosity and respect.” 

There’s that word, love again. So that’s how they’re defining pluralism. That basically it’s not just about tolerance of, like tolerating other people, but actually like celebrating differences.  

Then the next two are around justice and transformation. The justice one should sound pretty familiar. This I think kind of helps incorporate that eighth principle that was proposed but never passed. “We work to be diverse, multicultural, beloved communities where all thrive. We covenant to dismantle racism and all forms of systemic oppression. We support the use of inclusive democratic processes to make decisions.” 

So you can see that it incorporates the language about our democratic process and right of conscience and acceptance. 

The next one is transformation: “We adapt to the changing world. We covenant to collectively transform and grow spiritually and ethically.” Openness to change is fundamental to UU. Our Unitarian and Universalist heritage is never complete and never perfect. I feel like if there’s another faith that has this as a value, I’d like to hear about it because I think this is pretty unique. Just that we’re open, we’re adapting, we’re always changing. 

And then the next two, generosity. This is one of the newer ones: “We cultivate a spirit of gratitude and hope. We covenant to freely and compassionately share our faith, presence, and resources. Our generosity connects us to one another in relationships of interdependence and mutuality.” 

And I think we already do this. I think this is a big part of Harmony and of UU in general, but speaking it out is one of our core values, that’s new.  

And then finally, equity: “We declare that every person has the right to flourish with inherent dignity and worthiness.” So this is kind of the first principle that’s been rewritten. “We covenant to use our time, wisdom, attention, and money to build and sustain fully accessible and inclusive communities.” 

I’m going to go back for just one second. So I think something to take away from this is the language has kind of evolved, but more importantly, it’s tying values to actions. That’s really what they’re trying to do with these. So just pay attention to like what are these actions and is this — do I get behind it? We’ll have discussion group later so we can really dig into that. 

Sources was pretty long. Its current version is pretty long. It’s kind of specific. Like here are the sources that we draw our beliefs from. And, you know, there’s direct experience of mystery and wonder. There’s words and deeds of prophetic people, wisdom from the world’s religions  and then specifically calls out Jewish and Christian teachings about, you know, loving our neighbors, humanist teachings, spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions, and talks a little bit about religious pluralism. So that’s the current version. 

The new version is considerably shorter. It’s really leaving our sources much more open and open-ended: “We use and are inspired by sacred and secular understandings that help us to live into our values. We respect the histories, contexts, and cultures in which they were created and are currently practiced. These sources ground us and sustain us in ordinary, difficult, and joyous times. Grateful for the religious ancestries we inherit and the diversity which enriches our faith, we are called to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.” 

So it’s — I mean, our sources are whatever we want them to be. It’s basically — it’s not getting down to specific types of sources here. So that’s a big change. 

And then this one — so there was an addition to Article 2 not too long ago, a few years ago, around inclusion. And that’s probably why that one had — didn’t get much change to it, because it was pretty recent and everybody agreed to it. So I think that one’s staying fairly much the same. 

They changed a little bit of the language where they say that, you know, “we strive to be an association of congregations that truly welcome all persons who share our values.” So they are adding that. We don’t just welcome all. We welcome all who share our values. And “we commit to being an association of congregations that empowers and enhances, especially those with historically marginalized identities.” That’s been added as well. So just really calling that out and centering that. 

There’s another addition or really — this is just a real rewrite of freedom of belief. So originally, it’s basically saying like you know, people can believe whatever they want and they don’t have to agree to a specific creed in order to be part of a UU congregation. And I think that it still says that in the proposed version. It just sort of says it a little bit of a different way. 

It’s really saying that freedom and, you know, our own individual point of view are central and that we can have our affirmations or whatever as congregations, but they cannot require you to adhere to a specific creed. So the same basic meaning. 

So that’s the changes that have been proposed. No big whoop, right? I did pull a few different points of view on what people out there are saying. It’s not really on Rotten Tomatoes. I was just kidding about that. 

But, you know, the UUA’s kind of executive people, they — of course they love it because they were the ones that commissioned it and are part of the development of it, but Kerry McDonald said, “It’s a deepening and expanding of the language of the seven principles to include commitments and actions. It’s being clear about the values that are at our foundation and what they call us to do as people of faith.” That’s his impression of it. 

A guy named Ken Ng who has something called the Fifth Principle Project, which I didn’t really dig into that, but here’s what he had to say. “I am convinced that the goal of this rewrite and other UUA commissions active right now is to transform UU from a liberal religion into the equivalent of a social justice activist collective.” So he’s not a fan. He’s got a point of view and you should check out his blog if you want to know more about it. 

And then a member of — a lay member of Pacific UU Fellowship, she did a sermon like mine and I quoted from her sermon, “The principles are not broken. They are missing important pieces. They are missing verbs. Our values call us to do something.” 

So I really appreciated this. Again, as a writer, verbs are pretty great. There’s nothing more active than a verb, right? You don’t want passive language in your foundational core beliefs, you know? So I appreciated that as well. 

So these are some different perspectives on these changes. Just to take you through the next steps of where we are with this, very timely, delegates to the General Assembly, which is coming up in late June, can formally submit amendments to this proposed language by tomorrow, OK? 

Now, it just so happens that I and Alexx are delegates. We signed up to be delegates on behalf of Harmony. So we could submit amendments. If people here today are — feel strongly about something and when we talk about it in our discussion groups, come see me afterwards and we can talk about it. 

Then there will be a mini assembly that meets on June 22nd at GA to review and prioritize any amendments, so anything that people have submitted, the delegates have submitted, they’re going to review them, decide should we incorporate these, if so  how. And then there will be a vote on yes or no, should we proceed with this or not. And I will also — Alexx and I will also be able to vote on that. So it’s just got to have a simple majority vote to move forward. 

So if it moves forward, it’s not just automatically like that’s it, it’s done. This commission will then go and they will clean up some of the amendments that their amendments have been added and voted on and sort of revise it once again. And then it will be sent back to the Board of Trustees of all of UU, the UUA Board of Trustees to put it on next year’s GA agenda for a final vote which it has to get a two-thirds vote to pass. So they don’t make these changes lightly. There’s a lot of gates. 

I mean, this has been going on for several years and we’ve been kind of like — I mean, I’ve been kind of ignorant of it for the most part, I’ve heard little bits and pieces but I haven’t been involved. But, you know, there’s still time. There’s still time to impact it and, you know, if it does pass next year’s vote by two-thirds majority, then it will be — this will be our new Article 2. So that’s what’s coming up next. 

And so what I would like to do, Rob has printouts of basically the proposed changes in like  you know, like legal — have you ever seen like a legal document where it’s like things are crossed out or underlined if they added and there’s things pointed out? I thought this would be helpful in our discussion because I know you probably didn’t commit to memory everything I just showed you. 

So this is kind of like a reference document for you to go back as you discuss, you know, what you think about the changes and what you think might be missing or added and just kind of get your thoughts on it.