My Argument Against The 8th Principle

Editor’s Note: Reposting (per request) for article presentation equity.

This is the "Proposed 8th Principle" that will be up for vote on Sunday, June 5:

"We 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." [1]

As a Black woman, who has dedicated over 50 years of my life to the values of justice and inclusion, I wanted to support it. I studied it and listened to others who are voting for it. However, I must stand against it. As currently written, I find this 8th Principle is just not right for Unitarian Universalism, the UUFP, or me.

My assessment is based upon the belief that our principles are supposed to describe strong values that serve as moral guides for participants in UU religious communities. While it’s obvious that the intentions of the people who drafted and are proposing the 8th Principle are good, good intentions only go so far, however. For a principle to work, it must express what is in their hearts as words. It saddens me to say that as currently written the 8th Principle does not do that!

Unlike the other principles, which are both elegant and eloquent, the 8th seems wordy and awkward. It uses unnecessary verbiage and most regrettably states things that many UUs may not believe. Let’s take a look at where the principle falls short:

  • “Journeying towards spiritual wholeness…”: Addressing “spiritual wholeness” may not be appropriate for UUs identifying as humanists, agnostics, and atheists. They may not be working toward a “spiritual” anything.
  • “…by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community…”:
    • Before I note anything else, let me cite a beautiful definition of the Beloved Community from the “8th Principle of UU” webpage: “The Beloved Community happens when people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, abilities, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities come together in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world.” [2]
    • Using this definition, the Beloved Community is already diverse and multicultural so using the “diverse multicultural Beloved Community” is redundant.
  • “…by our actions…”: Why add this unnecessary verbiage? Everything we do is “by our actions.”
  • “…accountably dismantle…”: What is meant by the word “accountably”? Because UUs are a diverse group, accountability has usually been thought of in different ways. As a UU Deist, I feel accountable to my God and me (i.e., my conscience).  Others may or may not feel accountable to God(s), their consciences, or other beings. Further, as presented in the Article II Bylaws, accountability may be described as the way in which the UUA and congregations interact. However, supporters of the 8th Principle seem to propose a new way of interacting that I (and others) may not be comfortable with. Specifically, the “8th Principle of UU” webpage defines “accountability” to mean:

"White UUs hold themselves accountable to communities of color, to make sure whites do what they say they will do. In practice, that can mean having a People of Color Caucus within congregations, districts, etc., to discern and express needs and concerns to the rest of the community. Black UUs hold each other accountable and help each other see and dismantle signs of internalized racism. We need an effective mechanism or structure to ensure this. Similarly for other oppressions."[3]

Whoa!  I imagine there are Black, White and UUs of “other oppressions” who might chafe at having accountability handed over to a caucus chosen based solely on the members’ skin color. While my fellow Black UUs may inform my opinions, I still affirm that I am accountable only to God and my conscience for my religious, moral, and social decisions.

  • “… racism and other oppressions…”: By highlighting “racism” and grouping everything else under “other oppressions”, this principle marginalizes the “other oppressions.” Since this is probably not the intent of UUs, eventually more principles will likely need to be added to emphasize their equally important human issues. As Alan Sheeler wrote in his opposition to the 8th Principle, “If we need this 8th Principle, then don't we need another dozen or so to cover the other of our human issues?”[4]
  • “…ourselves and our institutions…”: Who and what else would we be addressing in a UU principle? It’s unnecessary verbiage!

It has been said that we’ve been wordsmithing this principle for years. However, that doesn’t ring true to me. The drafters of this principle emphasized that revisions are not welcome! People who bring up concerns or suggestions for improvement are often confronted with one of four arguments.

  • The accusation of “White Fragility.” If someone suggests changes, they run the risk of at least being accused of elitism and White Fragility, or at worst, racism.  Although I am not an elitist or White, I was hit with this argument on an 8th Principle Facebook Page.
  • The “dismissive argument” that anyone wanting to make changes is quibbling about semantics. I hope that we do argue about semantics because it is the study of the meaning of words and language. I believe that words matter!
  • The “We must do this NOW!” argument. This argument holds that we shouldn’t worry our little heads about what the principle states because the Article II Committee MAY revise it. Yet, I wonder why we are putting ourselves through this exhausting and divisive congregation-by-congregation approach when the Committee is authorized to make changes for the entire association. The Committee is assembled and is reviewing ALL of the Principles now!
  • The “other congregations are approving it” argument. This argument (aka “everyone else is doing it”) didn’t work with my mother when I was in middle-school, and it is insulting to think it would for thinking adults.

Again, there is only one reason to vote for this principle and that is because it describes our strong values and serves as a moral guide for those choosing to take part in UU religious communities. For the reasons I have given, this 8th Principle does not do that.  Consequently, I will vote against it on June 5.

Michele Hirsch

[1] The 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism

[2] The 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism—What Is Beloved Community?

[3] The 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism—What Does It Mean To Be Accountable?

[4] The 8th Principle Vote—An Opposition Statement

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