“From ‘No’ to ‘Yes’: My Journey with the Proposed 8th Principle”

“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.”


I was recently asked to do a two to three-minute video regarding my intention to vote “yes” on the proposed 8th Principle. But that decision emerged as the result of 18 months of engagement, reasoning, disappointment, confrontation and wrangling within myself, within UUFP, and more broadly,  nationally in 8th Principle discussion groups and beyond. It is a complex story, one with implications for how we live into our UU faith on matters quite apart from the principle itself. Three minutes wouldn’t do it justice.

Instead, I share my journey: From “no” to “yes” on the proposed 8th Principle.

Disclaimer:

I do not share these comments to persuade you to vote one way or the other on the proposed 8th Principle.

I do share these comments to influence you in another way — to invite you into the respectful, shared mode of conversation we UUs have long affirmed — questioning, reasoning, and searching — together.


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You would think that having spent 25 years working for racial justice in public schools the 8th Principle would be an obvious green light for me. But no. Upon first reading, the wording slammed me to a halt. Utterly non-parallel with the other seven principles, the wording of the 8th lumbered into angled obscurity.

Over dinner one evening with UU friends last year, we discussed the proposed principle. Upon hearing my concerns over wording, they suggested I broaden the conversation“write to the UU World!” Finding that a good idea, I did so and cc’ed one of the principle’s co-authors, Bruce Pollack-Johnson. In that letter, I explained my hesitations about the wording and offered a friendly amendment.

Nearly immediately, Pollack-Johnson replied, requesting that I withdraw my letter to UU World. He noted that to raise questions about the wording is to center whiteness, that we need to listen to Black concerns, and that if I really cared about dismantling racism, I would withdraw the letter. To do otherwise, he stated, was to harm the effort.

I ended up withdrawing that letter but submitting another with several friendly amendments in language: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

Illustrative 8th Principle (1)
“The work of building of Beloved Community by dismantling racism and other oppressions.”

 Illustrative 8th Principle (2):
“The work of dismantling racism and other oppressions to foster spiritual wholeness in a diverse Beloved Community.”

Illustrative 8th Principle (3):
“The elimination of racism and other oppressions, in ourselves and our institutions, and so, to create a spiritually whole, multicultural ­­Beloved Community.”

Ultimately, this letter sat in the UU World inbox for a couple of months with no action, so I withdrew that too.

“Sit down and be quiet”: Where are the 1st, 4th & 5th principles
Instead, I started participating in the 8th Principle Facebook Learning Community. I raised questions about wording. Very quickly, I was told, “Don’t worry about the wording. Just focus on the idea.” Yet, for me, an English Professor, that does not go over well. Don’t worry about wording?  That’s pretty much being told to sit down and be quiet.

Dramatic overreach: Latter day definition of “white supremacy”
Worse, I was told that concern with wording is white supremacy. When I cited to my training in teaching writing, that was slammed as further white supremacy. Indeed, higher education was deemed a bastion of oppression because not everyone can receive such training. I was dismissed and insulted, told I was blind and just too retrograde to be believed, that my concerns about words were laughable, and that I suffer from utter absence of self-reflection. In me, 8th Principle proponents have seen blaring white supremacy. In short, proponents responded to my concerns by bullying me.

I find the definition of white supremacy in proposed 8th Principle contexts to be seriously over-extended and deeply problematic.

My concerns about the proposed principle, in its fuller, thorny terrain deepened. I was into clear “no, not this” territory.

A turning point

Then in a cottage meeting on proposed 8th Principle, Rev. Andrew reminded us that the Article II commission of the UUA is required to review all the principles and purposes every 15 years, and the wording would surely and even profoundly change. I had heard this before. But then, I Googled the 1961 UU Principles just to see what the difference could be. OMG, words from a galaxy far, far away. Here they are:

The 1961 UU Principles

“In accordance with these corporate purposes, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Association, dedicated to the principles of a free faith, unite in seeking:

1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;

2. To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to man;

3. To affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships;

4. To implement our vision of one world by striving for a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood, justice and peace;

5. To serve the needs of member churches and fellowships, to organize new churches and fellowships, and to extend and strengthen liberal religion;

6. To encourage cooperation with men of good will in every land.”


The difference between 1961 UUA Principles and 1985 Principles? That is a showstopper, illustrating the kind of transformation we could well see moving forward in the UUA’s review.

And so, my understanding of the proposed 8th Principle in all the complexity of its broader landscape snapped into place:

I could support dismantling racism and other oppressions while at the same time speaking about or against the constellation of other problems surrounding the proposed 8th. Hence,

1. I will vote “yes” on the proposed 8th Principle because I unequivocally support dismantling racism and other oppressions.

2. I can lay down concern with wording because it will surely, inevitably, deeply change.

3. I can challenge my UU siblings to right relation with others through this process, to also honor the 1st, 4th, and 5th.

4. I can challenge what I find to be erroneous definition of white supremacy.

Yes, to working to build a multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.

In sum, because I support the principles of the proposed 8th principle, I will vote “yes.”

Yes, to working to build a multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.
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Postscript:
Wait, wait, wait,” questioned one UU friend who had kindly read a draft of this paper. “Given all the problems you describe, how could you choose to vote ‘yes’?”

Here’s why:

Personal ethics and morality: I have devoted my life, both personal and professional, to combatting oppression. In particular, since the Ebonics debacle of 1996, my entire career as a university linguist has focused on dismantling racism in the public school classroom. To vote against a challenge to racism would put me in conflict with my very core. Indeed, by my personal ethics and morality, I must support the proposed 8th Principle.

No, a vote on the proposed 8th is NOT a vote on this exact wording. Yes, yes, proponents of the proposed principle have told us that the wording is not up for debate, that to vote is to accept this wording. But their saying so does not make it so. True, they are not going to change the wording for the current principle votes, and so to vote does presume this wording. BUT I would say it is nigh onto certain that the wording will profoundly change, thus resolving my dismay over language.

Indeed,  “the UUA Board committed to establishing [the] Article II Study Commission to consider possible amendments” to the bylaws, principles and practices.” They’re looking at ALL of how we articulate and declare our faith! To this end, the Study Commission has identified four areas of inquiry: Shared Values, Inspirations, Purpose, and Covenant. The Article II Individual Survey (linked) includes questions for each of these areas.” That is, the UUA welcomes our considered comment on how to articulate our UU covenant. Please engage.

In the light of the Article II Commission’s rethinking our foundational faith statements, I conclude that to vote on the proposed 8th is a vote on the principles of it, not the wording.

For all these reasons, I affirm the principles of the proposed 8th Principle:

 I say yes to our journey, to wholeness.
I say yes to dismantling racism and oppressions where we find them.

 And also

I say yes to mindfulness and openness.
I say yes to challenge when we see missteps and errant definitions.
I say yes to seeking, questioning, talking, and deep listening.
I say yes to building Beloved Community.

I say yes.