Shortly after the UUA Board of Trustees established the Article II Study Commission charging it “to revise, replace, or restructure” all sections of Article II, the Fifth Principle Project requested to be a stakeholder. The Board identified other stakeholders such as DRUMM, BLUU, TRUUst, UU Humanists, 8th and 1st Principles advocates.
Fifteen months later, we received a response.
The response was a May 7, 2022, Zoom session. However, 20 minutes before the meeting, Commission members canceled when we indicated we had questions. We worked through that disappointment, submitted questions, received answers, and reviewed the Commission’s presentation. A 90-minute Zoom meeting was conducted on June 6, 2022. Attending were two Commission members and eight members of the Fifth Principle Project. The Commission moderator opened the session saying we are “eager to hear from you. . .your concerns as a group. . .”
Several themes emerged from the discussion.
Freedom of Belief
Article II, Section C-2.4. Freedom of Belief
Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test. (bold added)
We asked for clarification on public statements made by Commission and Board members indicating that the Freedom of Belief statement was a “throwback.” This “throwback” comment was not an isolated, off-hand slip of the tongue. A Fifth Principle Project member shared the following.
I went to a Compass workshop webinar on Sunday December 12th. . . Becky Brooks (Commission co-chair) was speaking, and Cheryl Walker (Commission co-chair) was moderating the chat. And Becky said that the freedom of belief clause is a throwback to old ways of thinking making the rest of Article II meaningless. After she said that, someone in the chat asked, “What did she say about the freedom of belief?” And then Cheryl Walker responded “yes”. . . the freedom of belief clause is a throwback and it makes the rest of Article II meaningless.
I’m very, very troubled by that . . . [On] December 14th, the Board had an open house . . . I read that statement to them and asked what their feelings were on that. And they agreed with Becky Brooks and Cheryl Walker that this (i.e., freedom of belief) is a throwback that it makes the rest of Article II meaningless.
Another Fifth Principle Project member stated that freedom of belief is an essential characteristic of liberal religion. “Taking freedom of belief out of Unitarian Universalism is like taking resurrection out of Christianity.”
Although members desired more conversation on this topic, we agreed to move forward with the meeting.
What are the deficiencies of Article II?
We asked the Commission, “What deficiencies have been discovered in our Seven Principles?” The Principles are “too long and wordy, and not poetic or memorable.” None of these observations are sufficiently compelling to require a revision, replacement, or restructuring. A similar argument was made in 2009 to truncate our Principles. That proposal was rejected.
Addressing the lack of articulation regarding the deficiencies in our Seven Principles, we asked the Commission
What problems are we trying to fix with the Seven Principles? They seem to embody liberal thought. They seem to be the essence of what it is to be liberal. So, I could give you a better answer if you said, “OK, here’s what we’re trying to fix.” We might be trying to fix the same thing, but nobody has told me what problems we’re trying to fix.
Nor can the Article II Study Commission’s work be seen as happening in a vacuum. “You cannot divorce your work from all the other noise that’s going around in the denomination.” The rewrite of Article II is concurrent with the “unprecedented and widespread” campaign by our UU leaders to transform UUism to rid the denomination of what many UUs consider an unsupported allegation of complicity with white supremacy culture.
The Commission was implored to model their work on the 1985 Article II revision of our original 1961 Principles. That work gave us the essentials of our current Principles and Sources. The 1985 revision was the result of many years of discussion that incorporated wide social change in our language, the role of women in our society, and the maturing of the denomination from its original Judeo-Christian roots.
[This current] process is too fast. We have very divisive issues going on. . .this is a recipe for splitting our denomination. Why not slow it down and give congregations time to breathe and process these things and work through them together?
Love of our Seven Principles
Fifth Principle members universally shared that they were drawn to UUism and continue to see our Seven Principles as the identity of the denomination.
See this sermonette delivered during our Zoom session and re-recorded for this Discussion
Access to Communication Channels
Frustration was widely expressed regarding the lack of mechanisms available to UUs to communicate with one another. The demise of communication opportunities was illustrated by contrasting a 2004 issue of UU World to the current Spring 2022 edition. In 2004, there were seven pages of letters to the editor. Today there are no letters to the editor. Those who have attempted to voice concerns, especially ministers, have faced official rebuke. Administrative powers have been used in these silencing efforts.
To illustrate the last point, we discussed the June 2019 “Open Letter from White UU Ministers” condemning Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof for sharing his book, The Gadfly Papers. That effort was rapidly mobilized utilizing organizational structures not available to everyday UUs. The signature campaign also included an extraordinary plea that ministers not use their personal judgment, but to conform to a pre-determined group think.
. . . do not go out and purchase this book out of curiosity. Trust the hundreds of people who have seen it–especially our siblings of color and our trans kin–who have been hurt by this. It’s bad.
UU leaders have continued to be unconstrained in the use of institutional power to ban books at General Assembly, eject Rev. Eklof’s Good Officer from the UU Ministers’ Association and censure other ministers. Candidates running by petition face ad hominem attacks, many by ministers. Yet, UU leaders remain silent, never intervening.
Collection of Thoughts
“The concepts of covenant and of accountability. . . are both being used and harnessed to empower more enforcement of conformity.”
“We are in danger of becoming not a liberal religion but an illiberal religion and, in time, I even see, that it appears to me we are becoming an anti-liberal religion.”
“We are a liberal religion, not a covenantal religion.”
There was a challenge to a statement in The Widening of the Circle of Concern which asserted a “free and responsible search is done within the boundaries of communities.”
A responsible search for truth and meaning and that conscience should be subject to the community. That’s a new idea that’s out there. That is, of course, what happened to Michael Servetus. He was burned at the stake because of community conscience. Thousands of people were lynched in the 19th and 20th century. Black Americans were lynched on behalf of the conscience of the community.
UU could play a role in the future for lifting up individual conscience – that is the salvation of the goodness for all . . . to build bridges, to help us listen to one another and understand one another, rather than . . . putting people in categories of oppressed vs. oppressor.
There was a comment on the loss of congregational and personal connectivity following the disbanding of our district structure.
I would hope that you would start seeing how we can create connected congregations of people that have an institutional mechanism to join together, to communicate . . . So, I’m begging the UUA to reexamine what they’re doing and begin opening up, distributing power, having more elections, requiring elections, requiring debate . . . opening up the lines of communication that we need.
There was also a call to UU leaders to be less inwardly focused and have a broader vision for UUism. “Have a big vision, not a little bitty thing.” This lack of a wider lens removes UUism from focusing on global events such as climate change.
We are totally unprepared. . . And when you get a crisis. . . We retreat into identity politics and tribalism. We’re not even looking seriously at the real problems like the escalating inequality in our society . . . To be a world religion, we need to broaden our minds dramatically.
Please take time to take an Article II Study Commission survey specifically designed for Fifth Principle Project members. This survey is an opportunity for Fifth Principle Project members to provide direct feedback to the Commission.
Two Important Things
Join the Fifth Principle Project. It’s free. The Fifth Principle Project is an organic grassroots initiative to gather into community Unitarian Universalists who want to reinvigorate the right of conscience and renew the democratic process in the governing of our denomination.
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