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A Conversation about UU Principles in the 21st Century

The Seven Principles are part of our Unitarian Universalist Living Tradition, often referred to as what our church stands for. They are a covenant we have with one another that came out of the merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association in 1961. In creating the UUA bylaws, the merger process created a covenant that the member congregations would affirm and promote the Seven Principles.

At the 2017 General Assembly (GA), participants noted that the Seven Principles had not been updated regularly as called for in the bylaws. The concern was that they do not address our commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism. The UUA Board of Trustees appointed a Study Commission in 2019 to review the Principles section of the bylaws and propose revisions through a lens of love in action.

That Commission must submit its proposal to the UU Board of Trustees in January 2023 so that the GA 2023 and 2024 may vote on it. It will soon be time for our congregation to examine our values and determine whether they align with any proposed revisions, so our delegates to GA vote our values in this matter that would have lasting impact on our church community.

  1. What is it called?

Article II is the section of the UUA Bylaws that contains the Principles, Sources, and Purposes. It also has a section on inclusion, and one insuring individual freedom of conscience and a prohibition of creedal tests.

Article II is one of the “C” Bylaws, dating to the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961. The “C” Bylaws reflect compromises that were made to achieve a merger between the two faiths. Different pieces of the “C” Bylaws were important enough to one side or the other that these were made harder to amend than non- “C” Bylaws. The first major rewrite of the Principles and Purposes post-merger were adopted in 1984. Some slight changes were made after that, but the language is largely unchanged.

The Principles guide our actions and priorities, encouraging congregations to “affirm and promote” core values, while our Sources provide the context and grounding for the Principles. Section 2.3 commits us to being inclusive, and to replacing barriers that have kept some people and groups from full participation in our faith.

Section C-2.1. Principles

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

  1. Why is it happening?

Some religious institutions have a permanent creed or statement of belief. Ours, however, is a Living Tradition that requires we regularly revisit our Principles and Purposes to ensure we are relevant, and that as we grow in understanding, our Principles and Purposes grow, too. We have a commitment to review and revise our principles and purposes approximately every 15 years. The last time they were updated was 1987.

  1. Why is it happening now?

There have been several voices from a grassroots level expressing concerns to address and more deeply explore the institutional and cultural oppressions that exist within the UUA and its member congregations and covenanted communities. These voices have been heard at GA and have resulted in momentum and movement for the UUA to be working toward being an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression, and Multicultural Association.

At the 2017 GA, there was discussion of amending the Principles to add an 8th Principle, addressing racism, and an amended 1st Principle, addressing non-human life. The 5th Principle was the subject of a report in 2009, which dealt with the ways in which GA and other Unitarian Universalist (UU) gatherings do and don’t embody an inclusive democratic process. The 7th Principle has also been the subject of discussions about possible amendments.

  1. What is the UUA doing to address it?

As stated earlier, conversations around Article II have been happening for several years. The UUA Board of Trustees acted in 2019 by appointing the Article II Study Commission to consider possible amendments to Article II. These are some of the upcoming events related to the Article II Commission:

  • April 30, 2022 – Feedback from individuals and congregations (us! You!) is due to the commission through their survey. First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee members and friends can get the link by attending one of the FUSM workshops on “UU Principles in the 21st Century” (see workshop details below)
  • January 2023 – This is when the Article II Commission has been asked to provide an initial draft of its recommendation to UUA Board of Trustees.
  • GA 2023 & 2024 – Congregational Delegates (First Church has 15) who attend General Assembly (GA) will likely be voting on this initiative for the first time in 2023 & a second time in As you might expect, changes to the UUA by-laws are a significant event and therefor require votes at General Assembly in two consecutive years.
  1. How does this affect our church?

Members and friends of First Church have used the UU principles as a touchstone for our faith. The Principles relate to how we think about our faith, how we feel about it, how we describe it to others, and our relationship with the church.

The prospect of changes to those foundational principles could generate a range of feelings including fear or concern about how they align with one’s personal values, anger that the principles no longer reflect what they person signed up for, to optimism and hope for becoming a more inclusive faith with greater alignment with today’s values.

We will want to consider how potential changes align with our church values:

  • Wonder
  • Authentic Connection
  • Love
  • Justice

We will also want to note how potential changes align with our Ends Statements that were developed by the Board of Trustees based on input from church members in the fall of 2017:

  1. Value, develop and celebrate the gifts that come from authentic connection across difference, emphasizing racial, ethnic, and generational differences.
  2. Recognize power differences and challenge injustice where it arises.
  3. Follow the leadership of people most affected by injustice, partnering to move the Milwaukee community toward justice.
  4. Generously give and receive support, connection, and care in times of joy and challenge.
  5. Promote Unitarian Universalism and our shared values in the world.
  6. Open ourselves to wonder making ourselves vulnerable and available to find meaning, inspiration, and transformation.
  7. Create communal experiences celebrating our interconnectedness.
  8. Create accessible, courageous, and innovative welcome to people who might find a sense of belonging and a spiritual home with us.

We have been encouraged to be thoughtful and to consider any changes to the principles through a lens of love in action.  We will want to consider the importance of anti-racism to our church community and how anti-racism validates our values and principles within our church and outside in the Milwaukee community.

  1. Where can we learn more about it?

We have attempted to include as much relevant information about the Article II process on our website as possible and will continue to update it as we learn more. We have been sharing information in the Chanticleer, on Facebook and in the weekly e-announcements.  One can also find information on the UUA website

  1. Let’s talk about it!

There is a lot of information to learn about and to process. First Church will host two meetings for members to discuss this important topic:

  • Wednesday, February 23, 2022, 6:30 – 8:00pm – virtual. Register here.
  • Sunday, March 6, 2022, 1:00 – 2:30pm – in-person at church

We encourage all members and friends to learn more about the Article II initiative and to engage in conversation about what potential changes mean to them. More details will be available as we get closer to the meetings.