The call to adopt an 8th Principle is rippling through Unitarian Universalism. This Principle invites UU congregations to 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.
As of June 13, more than 100 Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups have adopted or endorsed it. In New England, that includes UU Mass Action and the congregations listed here in order by town name:
- Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst (MA)
- First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist (MA)
- First Parish in Cambridge (MA)
- Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (CT)
- First Universalist Society in Franklin (MA)
- First Parish in Lexington (MA)
- Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County (Peace Dale, RI)
- First Parish Church in Taunton (MA)
- First Universalist Church of Yarmouth (ME)
Wherever congregations are in a process of discernment about this, we on NER staff are so grateful for your faithful questions, explorations, and conversations.* As you have deliberated — sometimes with our help — we have heard that for some the very idea of an 8th Principle is jarring since Unitarian Universalism is so identified with "The 7 Principles." For them, an 8th principle is akin to an 11th commandment. For others the 8th principle as currently drafted is like The Marriage of Figaro according to the Emperor in Amadeus: "too many notes." The critique of "too many words" is accompanied with an offer to redraft and rephrase. And some are resistant to this Principle since in their understanding it is already embedded in the seven we have.
The 7 Principles are named in Article II of the UUA by-laws. What many UUs don't realize or don't remember is that our by-laws also state:
If no study process of Article II has occurred for a period of fifteen years, the Board of Trustees shall appoint a commission to study Article II for not more than two years and to recommend appropriate revisions, if any, thereto to the Board of Trustees for inclusion on the agenda of the next regular General Assembly. [Section 15.1 (c)(6)]
The call for adding an 8th Principle comes at a time when Article II is being reviewed by the Article II Study Commission. So, the timing is good. Even so, if it weren't in our by-laws, one of the gifts of Unitarian Universalism is our belief that "revelation is ongoing" as James Luther Adams wrote. We don't claim to know all the answers. When Unitarians and Universalists merged in the 1960's, they agreed on 6 Principles which they did not imagine as perfect and complete for all time. Indeed, in 1985 through an intensive process, the 6 Principles were drastically revised and a 7th was added.
Yet we may ask, "Why is there currently a call for the 8th Principle?" One reason given by the 8th Principle Project is named by Paula Cole Jones, one of the people who drafted the 8th Principle. Paula realized after working with congregations on issues of race and racism for over 15 years that a person can believe they are being a 'good UU' and following the 7 Principles without thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at the systemic level...Our existing 7 principles imply this 8th principle, but do not explicitly hold us accountable for addressing these oppressions directly, especially at the systemic level. [8th Principle website]
This explicit call for accountable attention to systemic change is echoed in the Widening the Circle of Concern report:
...individual efforts do not guarantee the Beloved Community. For this, we need hard and committed work that engages the individual as well as soberly addressing the institutional dimensions of the work.
We are called — again and again and again — to "come together" across differences of "racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, abilities, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities" "in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world." The Beloved Community, as envisioned by the 8th Principle, depends on it.
* To learn more about what adopting the principle in your congregation might entail, ask people from congregations that have adopted it and/or join the 8th Principle Learning Community.