Update on GA Elections
Neither petition candidate was successful in their bid to win a seat on the UUA Board of Trustees. Rebecca Mattis, a UUA Board candidate, will provide a reflection in the next Fifth Principle Discussion post.
About the Article II Study Commission
At the Portland General Assembly, the Commission provided information on the direction it is pursuing. Charged with the power to revise, replace, or restructure Article II, still left unexplained is “why” are substantive changes needed. There is counsel worth noting in the U.S. Declaration of Independence “long established [bonds] should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
The Legitimacy of the Commission after August 2022
The Commission originally planned to present its findings on new language for Article II at this year’s 2022 General Assembly accompanied by an initial vote. None of that happened. This failure to adhere to its schedule is significant because the Commission’s term of service is limited to two years by the Association’s bylaws.
. . . the Board of Trustees shall appoint a commission to study Article II for not more than two years . . .
The UUA posted on August 7, 2020, (Correction: originally incorrectly noted as 2022) the following announcement, “The Article II Study Commission is hereby charged to review Article II of the UUA Bylaws. . .” The posting date was confirmed by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Taken together, the bylaw’s defined term of service and the date of the posting means that the Article II Study Commission expires in August 2022.
A sitting UUA Trustee was apprised of this situation and was fully unconcerned. After this conversation, the Article II Study Commission, it was reported, publicly announced that it had a three-year term of service!
Article II is the heart of Unitarian Universalism and any effort to alter its language should scrupulously adhere to the procedural rules established for such a process.
Getting the Answer You Want
The Commission made available a survey soliciting input on topics such as the purpose of the Association, freedom of belief, values, covenant, inclusion, etc. Like other UU leadership efforts, this survey lacks the intellectual honesty required for a discussion as serious as changing the heart of Unitarian Universalism. We had seen this lack of honesty in the Commission on Institutional Change when it “evaluated” the experience of People of Color in UUism by asking,
In what ways have you or your group or community been hurt by current racist and culturally biased attitudes and practices within Unitarian Universalism?
The question in this section posits a situation that is insulting and disrespectful of the many UUs who welcome and greet visitors with open and loving arms.
Article II Commission survey question:
Unitarian Universalists have an understanding of ourselves as a faith for all, that all are welcome. But our congregations and communities sometimes treat inclusion like “we” are inviting someone else to “our” party. We often resist understanding welcoming to be an invitation to evolve together. So let’s look at how it feels to belong.
The current Article II Inclusion statement has its own history too lengthy to include in this post. That statement is:
Systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories. We pledge 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.
“Systems of power” is applied postmodernist language. Helen Pluckrose, a liberal humanist, observed about applied postmodernism that “[p]eople are born as blank slates into a system of discourses and positioned by their race, gender, class, and sexuality within systems of power.”
The use of postmodernist language in the Association’s Inclusion statement is even more disconcerting when it is compared to the language it demoted to Rule G-2.3.
The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to racialized identity, ethnicity, gender expression, gender identity, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family and relationship structures, age, language, citizenship status, economic status, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.
Freedom of Belief
In an earlier Discussion, we saw that the Article II Study Commission is moving to diminish the concept of freedom of belief. The Commission, in its survey, contends that freedom of belief needs to be constrained so as not to sacrifice “communal care and common good.” This linkage strategy has been seen previously. The Widening of the Circle of Concern report observed “that a free and responsible search for truth” now must be done “within the boundaries of communities.”
Article II Commission survey question:
Freedom of Belief has long been a cornerstone of our faith. So too, has covenanting together. The Article II Study Commission is confident that honoring the sacred individual doesn’t need to come at the cost of sacrificing communal care and the common good (and vice versa) but language can be tricky. What do you think?
The current Article II Freedom of Belief statement is:
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.
Draft Language for the Purpose of the Assocation
The current purpose of the Association in Article II:
The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.
The Article II Study Commission presented two draft statements on the purpose of the Association.
The UU Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its organizational powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. Its primary purposes are to equip congregations for vital ministry, to support and train leaders both lay and professional, to heal historic inequities, and to advance UU values in the world. We do all this consistent with our theological pluralism.
This draft is a variation of the UUA president’s standard stump speech. After five years, it is difficult to identify any substantive results. The notion of the Association as a service organization is only weakly preserved.
The UUA’s purpose is to grow and resource faith communities that support people through their lives’ journeys and transform the world by liberating ourselves through love. We make that love real through care and justice for ourselves, for our communities, and for the larger web of existence that we are all in. We are called upon to risk ourselves for love.
This draft eliminates the Association as a service organization to its member congregations. If the Association is not a service organization, it begs the question what motivation is there for a congregation to allocate funds in its budget for annual dues payment through the Annual Program Fund (APF)?
There is also the irony of the obvious. UUism already provides a framework for individuals to pursue their “lives’ journey.” That framework is accessible to all UUs to fashion into a model appropriate to their experiences and spiritual needs. The guide to any journey is our Seven Principles, Six Sources, and a commitment that we have the freedom to explore our belief systems without constraints. Substitute these liberal guideposts with a prescriptive model of behavior and results, UUism becomes just another dogmatic, creed-based denomination.
After five years of haranguing UUs about our complicity with white supremacy culture, the need to focus our full attention on being anti-racist and fight oppression, draft B appears timid. Where is the fiery language so frequently highlighted by our UU leadership about “liberation theology,” accountability, and the follow-up to the challenge offered in the Widening of the Circle of Concern, “As a people of faith, our call to collective justice work, through accountable partnerships, is our salvific path.” Was all that talk, just that. . .talk?
Most distressing was the General Assembly attendees’ sheepish and uncurious response when presented with the Article II Commission plan for UUism. It is painful to witness the eager willingness of GA attendees to dismantle liberal values and traditions forged over centuries. The strength of our Principles is that they did not just appear when Unitarians and Universalists agreed to merge in 1961. Liberal values such as individual dignity, justice, equity, religious tolerance, democracy, and personal liberty emerged in the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Rather than liberal values, it is argued that a non-unique concept of “love” should define UUism. Love is foundational to many religions. That love may be defined as “love” for a deity or the desire to seek the best for others. If the latter, then our current UU Seven Principles provide a pathway to achieve that aspirational aim and we are already a denomination defined by love.
The Article II Study Commission, given all the angst that has roiled UUism for the past several years, appears to be stumbling.
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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