Magic 8-Ball

At the next couple of General Assemblies of the Unitarian Universalist denomination, a proposed Eighth Principle is going to be put forward and voted on. If the GA approves, it will be tacked on at the end of the Seven Principles. Unfortunately, it’s quite different in tone, structure, and intent from the existing Principles.

Here’s the proposed text: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: 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.

This seems fairly mild on the surface — but look closer. First, it’s a principle for congregations, not for individuals. This is a radical departure. Two of the existing Principles mention congregations, but in a different way: The 3rd principle mentions “encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations” and the 5th principle mentions “the democratic process within our congregations.” The proposed 8th principle asks congregations themselves “to affirm and promote” specific anti-racist actions. The actions are not named, but this Principle embodies the idea that congregations will take actions; and thus, that if they don’t they’re in violation of the Eighth Principle.

Second, this principle prescribes a specific method with which to journey “toward spiritual wholeness.” Nothing else in the seven Principles does that. The Third Principle mentions “spiritual growth,” but I can’t help thinking “wholeness” is different from “growth.” I know nothing at all about spirituality, but it seems to me that growth is an ongoing process that may lead in one direction or another. Wholeness, on the other hand, seems to be a rather monolithic goal. What’s worse, the implication (unstated) is that if you and your congregation aren’t “working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community,” you aren’t “journeying toward spiritual wholeness.”

Third, the terms “beloved community” and “accountably” are a deliberate step in the direction of group-think. If you disagree with what’s going on in the “beloved community,” you can expect to be held accountable.

Fourth, the proposed Eighth Principle embeds the assumption that there is racism “in ourselves and our institutions.” But what institutions are we talking about? Nobody would deny that there’s racism in the “justice” system in the U.S., but I don’t think that’s what the phrase “our institutions” is referring to. The term is being used, implicitly, to point at institutions (such as congregations) within UUism.

This isn’t just a slippery slope; it’s a precipice.

The Black Lives of UU (BLUU) organization explicitly supports the addition of this Principle. According to a website text, someone named Paula Jones “realized that a person can believe they are being a ‘good UU’ and following the 7 Principles without thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at the systemic level. Evidence: most UU congregations are primarily European-American in membership, culture (especially music), and leadership, even when located near diverse communities. She realized that an 8th Principle was needed to correct this….”

This is bizarre. First, it’s a rather mechanistic idea about what the Principles are to be used for. The other Principles don’t address specific problems or propose specific solutions. Second, the “evidence” that is cited does not in any way support Jones’s “realization.” It’s entirely possible that there may be UU congregations that are entirely European-American in membership, enjoy nothing but Bach and Handel as their worship music, have a white minister, and are located near or within an inner-city ghetto — and yet everybody within those congregations is fully committed to thinking about racism and other oppressions! The “evidence” is tissue-thin propaganda, and that’s all it is.

The fact that the people who are advancing these ideas suffer from such basic conceptual distortions does not inspire much confidence.

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