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The First Principle
The First Principle

 “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.

About the Author

  • Ted joined the staff of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in February 2010. He brings more than twenty-five years of experience using media to create social change by creating communications strategies and content for progressive non-profits, political campaigns, and cause based...

Comments (3) (Open)

Susan (not verified) 3 years 11 months ago
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I interprets the first principle to mean that every human being deserves his or her dignity simply because he/she is a human being. I can, as a UU, dislike or even hate another person but I can never, ever, forget that he or she is human and deserves basic respect for that reason alone.

You Are Allowed... (not verified) 3 years 11 months ago
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[…] Watch Halley Norman’s sermon, “The First Principle”, here […]

Tim Bartik (not verified) 3 years 11 months ago
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0/5

This is a well-written and well-argued sermon.

However, I disagree with Ms. Norman's interpretation of the First Principle. The First Principle says that each and every person has "inherent worth and dignity", which we should respect. The First Principlet does NOT require " that we see something good, right, and true within [each and every person] that outweighs the bad".

The First Principle's recognition of each person's inherent worth and dignity merely means that each and every person has the potential for being a truly excellent and just person. It does not mean that in the here and now they are anywhere close to that potential. And it in no way implies that we should not hold an evil person responsible for the evil they do. In fact, calling someone to account for their unjust acts can be a needed step to help that person become a better person than they currently are.

The First Principle ultimately goes back to ancient Greek notions, particularly the Stoics, of what best achieves excellence in human nature. It does not rely on a romantic notion that all people are inherently good. We should respect all people not because they are all good, but because they are people, who have the potential for being good, and because we are become better people by respecting all people.

For more information contact blueboat@uua.org.

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