The First Principle

By Ted Resnikoff

 “Wow. You may not be ordained, but you’re doing ministry already.”

– Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association(UUA). Watch as Halley Norman , UUA Summer Seminary 2015 graduate, delivers her “preach-off” sermon at First Universalist Church of Denver. ;
Watch Audrey Havelah Laughrey's sermon, "On the Meaning of Life", here
Watch Nelson Moroukian’s sermon, “We Love in a Community of Constant Change”, here
READ THE TRANSCRIPT: HALLEY NORMAN: Hello. My name is Halley Norman. I'm from Seattle, Washington. I attend the University Unitarian Church. On June 17 when Dylann Roof shot nine innocent people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I questioned someone's inherent worth and dignity for the first time in my life. He deemed it to be his decision as to whether they should live or die. He sat with them in Bible study for an hour. He witnessed their humanity, took part in their lives, and still deemed it his right to decide. No one in our world has the right to make that decision. And the realization that people truly believe they do terrifies me. He deemed it to be his right to decide when they should die and his duty to make that happen. And so I doubted. Our first Principle calls us to see the inherent worth and dignity in every person. But that requires that we connect to every person, that we see something good, right, and true within them that outweighs the bad. I try my best to live the seven Principles. In instances like this, though, I don't want to. I don't want to connect with Dylann Roof, with mass murderers and school shooters who deem it their right to decide who should live and die because I never want any part of that in me. There's nothing in him that could, for me, outweigh his actions. But feeling this scares me. It makes me wonder if I can feel this way about him, will I feel this way about others? Will I really be able to reflect the first Principle into all my actions, into all my interactions, onto everyone I meet? I wish that I could see his inherent worth and dignity just a little. It would make my life easier, make me feel safer in knowing who I am, knowing what I believe in and who I want to be, comfort me in knowing that I'm truly living the values I so strongly believe in. But I don't believe it's there. I can't, because that would mean that if it were-- if it were there under everything else-- that our inherent worth and dignity does not have the power with which I credit it, the power to teach us a good from evil, right from wrong. And I need to believe that. I need to believe in the power of our inherent worth and dignity to help us be who we need to be because if not, I'll lose faith in a better future. I don't want to connect with Dylann Roof, but at the same time, I know our connections change our perspectives. I don't question the first Principle easily, though, so when I hear my token crazy uncle saying something racist, sexist, homophobic, or just generally offensive, I don't question his inherent worth and dignity because I know him. I know he'd never act on his beliefs. And I've seen him change. But I can't believe that for Dylann Roof, for people who see it as their right to take the life of another. Because above all else, I hold human life as sacred. Our theology tells us that all souls are sacred and worthy. If you can't see that, I don't want to connect with you. I won't forget the reaction I had to hearing about Charleston, but I will move forward. I'll fight for equality, for racial justice, for reproductive justice, to fix the myriad flaws in our country. We know how to live the first Principle already. Now it's our turn to take that knowledge out into the world, to teach even the most hateful people that everyone has inherent worth and dignity, and to teach each other to maybe try a little harder. Thank you.