The Principles, Purposes and Sources — They are a-changin’!

UUFP friends, it’s time! Do you realize that our seven Principles and six Sources have been in place for forty years (since 1984)? And yet, the bylaws of the UUA call for full review and possible revision, re-envisioning of our foundational UU statements every 15 years! What gives?

Time for thorough review! Here is some detail and background to help make sense of the process our denomination is undergoing.

To review our Principles, Purpose, Sources, and such, is to review Article II of the UUA Bylaws. To that end, in 2017, the UUA formed the Article II Study Commission with the following charge:

The Article II Study Commission is hereby charged to review Article II of the UUA Bylaws, and propose any revisions that will enable our UUA, our member congregations, and our covenanted communities to be a relevant and powerful force for spiritual and moral growth, healing, and justice.

Proposed changes should articulate core UU theological values. The (UUA) Board believes that one core theological value, shared widely among UUs, is love. The Commission on Appraisal, in its report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity, cites Robert Miller’s study of Unitarian Universalism, stating “UUs ranked loving as an instrumental value and mature love as a terminal value more highly than did respondents from other groups, religious and nonreligious.”

Dr. Cornel West says that “justice is what love looks like in public.” Our commitment to personal, institutional and cultural change rooted in anti-oppression, anti-racism, and multiculturalism values and practices is love in action, and should be centered in any revision of Article II.

That is, the Article II Study Commission was directed to center their re-envisioning on love, and to put key focus on righting social inequities. Elsewhere, they were encouraged to develop a statement that is poetic and memorable. Rethink, resee.

Indeed, the Article II Study Commission has been assiduously working and listening to UUs nationwide since 2017. Last Spring, they held online office hours to hear our thoughts. Several of us from the UUFP attended those Spring office hours and are attending feedback sessions now. Join in!

We are at a very exciting stage: The Article II Study Commission has released its first full draft!

Get ready! Instead of a list of seven Principles, we see Values and Covenants. In the re-envisioning, we see a nonhierarchical set of Values, and a Covenant associated with each.

Let’s look just at the first two Values/Covenants to see the structure (see full draft as attached).

Recall that our 1984 Principles began as follows: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote… .” And then came the seven Principles.

But we sort of lost track of the covenant part of our Principles. In 1984, that one line about covenant was meant to apply to all seven Principles. By contrast, or more helpfully, our current revision tailors the covenantal statement to each Value. For example:

Section C-2.2. Values and Covenant.

Justice. We work to be diverse multicultural Beloved Communities where all people thrive.
We covenant to dismantle racism and all forms of oppression within individuals and our institutions. We are accountable to each other for this work. 

Generosity. We cultivate a spirit of gratitude and hope.
We covenant to freely share our faith, presence, and resources. Compassionate generosity connects us one to another in relationships of mutuality

Notice: The Value is named, then defined, and then the Covenant associated with the Value is made explicit. This helps us understand how we make the Value real. Thank you, UUA!

Next, what about the Sources? In the 1984 version, we listed six Sources:

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

The Article II Revision is both much more inclusive (by not being an exclusive list) and much more succinct:

Section C-2.3. Inspirations. As Unitarian Universalists, we draw upon, and are inspired by, the full depth and breadth of sacred understandings, as experienced by humanity. Grateful for the religious lineages we inherit and the pluralism which enriches our faith, we are called to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.


So, we move from Principles and Sources to Values, Covenants, and Inspirations! I am personally intrigued and much enticed by these suggested re-envisionings! Remember, there is nothing sacred about the number of Principles or even about the format of Principles themselves. So deep, re-seeing is good! That’s part of staying alive as a progressive religious faith.

There are a few more office hours (Saturday, 11/12 – Monday, 11/14) where the Study Commission seeks your feedback. Click on the link to sign up. But even if you can’t attend  upcoming office hours, the UUA continually seeks your input: They observe, “it would be ideal if you could use the online form to share individual feedback as it is more easily gathered and read. But do feel free to direct questions to changemanager@uua.org.”

What’s next?

The Study Commission presents its final draft to the UUA Board in January, 2023, for consideration and vote at the 2023 General Assembly. The final draft will then be the subject of mini-Assemblies in Spring, 2023, before the initial vote at GA 2023. If the draft passes by a majority of delegates, it proceeds to the 2024 GA. The draft will require a two-thirds majority vote at GA 2024 to become the new Article II of the Bylaws.

UUFP friends, enjoy exploring the draft revision of what have been our Principles and Sources. We’ll be exploring these together in coming months in cottage meetings and other discussion forums. Enjoy, explore, and share your understanding and views on the proposed Purposes, Values, Covenants, and Inspirations!