The Unitarian Universalists Association's (UUA) Article II Study Commission, Board of Trustees, and Administration and Staff have received a lot of questions regarding the Article II study and proposed revisions. We have curated this list of answers to some of the frequently asked questions.
- What is Article II? Why is it in the bylaws?
Massachusetts General Law Part I Title XXII Chapter 180 Section 17 requires bylaws define the purposes to which the funds of the corporation may be applied. Article II of the Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws defines that purpose for the Association.
As a membership organization of congregations, Article II has historically included the purpose for which congregations freely choose to be in relationships with one another through their Association. In 1961, this purpose was a dedication to key objectives, from 1985 to today it has been a covenant to affirm and promote a set of principles.
Article II of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association, contains four sections. A definition of the purpose of the Association, the Principles and the Sources (currently), an Inclusion clause, and a Freedom of Belief clause. Only the purpose is required by Massachusetts law.
- What is the history of previous changes to Article II since 1961 consolidation creating the Unitarian Universalist Association?
- The UU World wrote an article (UUWorld) in 2000 that captures much of the history of Article II, and captured the original Purposes and Objectives (UUWorld) from 1961.
- Why did the Board initiate this process now?
At the 2017 General Assembly, there were two proposed amendments to the principles brought through a petition process. The first was overwhelmingly adopted - to change “prophetic women and men” to “prophetic people” to move beyond gender binary. The second proposed changing the first principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of all people” to the “inherent worth and dignity of all beings.” This proposal was ultimately tabled as delegates grappled with the reality that we had more work to achieve the first principle for people, both in our world and Association, particularly in response to anti-Black racism.
At the same time as these conversations, the Eighth Principle movement was beginning and within a couple of years, hundreds of UU congregations had adopted it. The Eight Principle recognized the need to go beyond aspirational principles to articulate commitments to dismantle systems that reinforced oppression. It was within this wider context - witnessing the many efforts and conversations about our Principles and covenant that led the UUA Board to initiate a comprehensive review of Article II and appoint and charge an Article II Study Commission to lead this process for and with members, leaders and congregations.
- Why change Article II now?
- Unitarian Universalism is a living tradition that learns and adapts to meet the needs of each generation. It’s been nearly 40 years since a comprehensive review and revision of Article II. The digital age has shifted our interactions with community and truth. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our interdependence, and where individualism falls short. There is a rise in global autocracies and attacks on democratic institutions, and climate catastrophe and mass extinctions threaten the delicate balance of the web of life. These are just a few of the major struggles our living tradition must face today and in our future. With the articulation of our shared UU values, we can be better equipped to make values based decisions in facing these new and evolving realities.
- Who selected the commissioners?
The members of the Article II Study Commission were appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees in the Spring and Summer of 2020. The UUA bylaws calls for the Board to appoint a study commission to amend Article II.
The Board was intentional in trying to create a diverse group of Unitarian Universalists of various ages, genders, and including both religious professionals and lay people. They intentionally appointed Paula Cole Jones, one of the co-authors of the 8th Principle, to the Study Commission so that the work of grassroots momentum and work of the 8th principle would be incorporated in any revision to Article II. Additionally, they intentionally recruited UU youth to be on the Study Commission, with the hopes that any changes would speak not just today but into the future, just as the work of the 1985 revisions has proved important for the development of our faith.
- Why are we only just hearing about this?
It is up to the leaders of our congregations to share information that they receive from the UUA. Congregational leadership had the responsibility to determine whether to organize discussion sessions, give sermons/talks, put information in newsletters, etc. It is possible that your congregation’s leadership information has not been kept up to date. You can check your congregation's information out on My UUA, you will need your congregation's 5-digit code and password. Or email Nick Rafael (email@example.com), our Congregational Data Administrator. Further, GA delegates from congregations are expected to share GA business with their membership. The Study Commission, the UUA Board, or the UUA staff can only encourage, not dictate the dissemination of information. If you feel you’re not being kept informed, make sure to follow updates in the UUWorld magazine or consider signing up for your regional newsletter.
- How did the Commission work with congregations?
Congregational leadership was a critical stakeholder in this process. The Study Commission provided resource materials for congregations to use in facilitating discussions about the purpose and values of the UUA. The elected and professional leadership of congregations receive regular communications from the UUA, including periodic updates about opportunities to engage with the Article II Study Commission.
In 2021, congregations were invited to submit their covenants, purposes, values, and mission statements, during the annual certification completed by all congregations. These were used in generating the initial lists of shared values presented at General Assembly 2021. In General Session the Article II Study Commission presented annually on its learnings and held workshops at the 2021 and 2022 General Assemblies. Congregational delegates provided the Study Commission with feedback through surveys both years and a responsive resolution in 2021.
- Why was it called the Article II Study Commission and not something "catchier"?
- The current amendment process for Article II is governed by Article XV of the UUA bylaw, adopted in 1998. Article XV calls the body appointed by the Board of Directors to review and recommend revisions to Article II, the Study Commission.
- What is the process for considering and adopting the Article 2 Study Commission’s proposal for Article 2 revisions?
- Details about the amendment and voting process are available on the Article II Study Commission website.
- Where do I send my suggestions for proposed changes to the A2SC proposal?
- The Article II Study Commission has completed its study, and its proposed revisions have been placed on the General Assembly 2023 agenda. Changes to the proposal must be submitted through the General Assembly amendment process.
- Why did the proposal do away with the word “principles”? If this passes, what happens to the principles?
The Commission spent a long time studying and analyzing the current version of Article II. What became clear was that we don’t explicitly name the values that we share, and that our covenant does not have enough verbs.
Shared values are what hold any organization together, and we often speak of our shared values without naming them. We asked Unitarian Universalists what were the values we shared. We took the many answers we received and synthesized them into the values in our draft. After our first draft was released we changed one of the named values from Evolution to Transformation.
We created a covenant related to each of our named values, as well as a very brief description of the values. The covenant has many verbs and is stated in broad enough language so as to allow congregations to find their way to live into our shared values.
If the revision of Article II is adopted as currently written, the UUA Principles will no longer be incorporated in the UUA bylaws. We anticipate congregations and individuals will continue to utilize the UUA Principles alongside the newly articulated shared UUA Values, as previous covenants and statements of commonly held beliefs are used within their historical context today.
- Why did the proposal not include any of the sources?
- We are aware that many value the current list of Sources, and that many do not see their sources of inspiration reflected in that list. Nothing in what we propose contradicts this list nor leaves any out. All of our sources of inspiration and experiences of the transcending mystery and wonder can not be captured in a list, but are understood within the context of sacred and secular understandings old and new. We felt a better use of the Bylaws would be to articulate what our inspirations do and how we should approach any source of inspiration, and leave the naming of sources and histories of the impact of specific sources on Unitarian Universalism to lifespan faith curriculum. We tie our sources of inspiration explicitly to our values and to the practices of cultural respect.
- Is covenant a new idea?
No, the idea of covenant is not new to Unitarian Universalism; in fact the current language of Article II begins with the words “We the member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to …”Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal, not a creedal, Faith. There is no belief requirement, or creed, that you have to say to join us in community, even though there are beliefs that we would consider to be outside the boundaries of our faith. Our covenants amongst congregations and within congregations, are the way in which we practice our religion together, and they are aspirational descriptions of how we want to be in the world.
Leader Resource 1: A History of CovenantFrom Faith Like a River
The free church tradition of which we are a part does not offer up a creed, a certain set of beliefs, that everyone must accept in order to belong to the community. Instead, the boundaries of our community are determined by commitment and participation. Our central question is not "What do we...
- Are there governance changes that will happen for congregations or the UUA because of the changes proposed to Article II? Will these proposed revisions create other changes around congregational polity?
- The Unitarian Universalists Association Board of Trustees asked legal counsel to review the Article II Study Commission proposal. Legal counsel found nothing in the proposed changes to Article II, that would change UUA governance nor its relationship to its member congregations. The structure of congregational polity in our governance including democratic practices, congregational call of ministers, the self-governance of congregations and their fiscal independence are delineated in other articles of the UUA Bylaws.
- Why worthiness?
- We’re dealing with a past in which monetary worth was assigned to human beings. “Worthiness” is more explicit that we are talking about the quality of being worthy. Definition “quality of being good enough.” We are all good enough as we are. Worth can be monetized. People were and still are being monetized. That definition of worth is not the original intention; for people who have a history of their people being monetized. Worthiness can never be monetized. We are all worthy of love, respect, dignity, kindness, compassion and care.
- When will the UUA start creating things based on the new proposal? e.g. Will we get a new children's song for our values? What about a rainbow bookmark?
- UUA Staff are in the preliminary stages of developing lifespan faith formation curriculum, informational and advertising material, worship resources, and branding swag. We will be better able to develop these resources after the amendment process and first vote at General Assembly 2023 clarifies the language going into 2024. After the adoption of Seven Principles in 1985, which was a significant change from the previous Purposes and Objectives, many new resources and songs were created both by the UUA and religious professionals within our congregations.
- How does the 8th Principle work with Article II? Our congregation is workingon passing the 8th principle… should we stop?
The Commission has always supported the work of the 8th Principle Project community and encourages congregations to continue working to adopt it as a part of a congregational commitments. The proposed language for the revised Article II takes language directly from the 8th Principle and has incorporated its sentiments in the covenant.
- Is this a creed or dogma?
It is neither, it is a covenant, an agreement, that our congregations enter into freely and willingly when they choose to be members of the Association. We historically have been and will continue to be non-creedal, we are covenantal.
Throughout the history of the Universalists and Unitarians there has been a balancing act between naming our common purpose and beliefs, and freedom from creedalism and dogmatic thinking. To answer this question we must first understand these two terms. A creed, or profession of belief, is a brief authoritative formula of religious belief, according to Merriam-Webster, while dogma is a principle or position or the body of principles concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.
Article II of the UUA bylaws includes a covenant between congregations and not individuals. It provides a framework for why the member congregations choose freely to be in association with one another, and this framework is open to continuous review, revision and/or restatement. Article II and the covenant between congregations, in the form of principles or values, is not a profession of faith, but rather a statement of purpose, that opens our congregations to people who profess many beliefs and hold to different formulas of religious belief.
Our periodic process of renewal of covenant and purpose, prevents us from allowing ourselves to become stagnant in our statements of what is held in common among us. We resist dogmatic thinking by being open to the idea that what we understand as foundational truths today may be stated and understood differently tomorrow.
- Is this meant to be used as a personal code or set of commitments?
Article II is the purpose of the Association and commitments of its member congregations to each other. It should inform our congregational and associational life, but is not written to be a personal code or set of commitments.
The Freedom of Belief clause expressly prohibits any creedal test of membership in our congregations. While these are our shared values, no one must swear or attest to them to become a member.
- What is the definition of Love that you’re using here?
- We mean the type of love known as Agape. It is the selfless love of the neighbor, the friend and even the enemy. It asks for nothing in return. More than a noun, love is a verb. It is creating justice. It is transforming our world. It is being generous of our spirit and resources. It is knowing we are all interdependent. It is upholding everyone’s dignity and worthiness. It is celebrating our many differences. It is deeds not creeds.
- What about my individual freedom of belief?
Article II of the UUA bylaws is the purpose of the Association and covenant between it's member congregations. The freedom of belief clause prohibits member congregations from infringing on the individual’s right to conscience, through the establishment of particular creeds. This prohibition on the establishment of creeds applies also to the Association, as an extension of its member congregations.
"Section C-2.5. Freedom of belief. Congregational freedom and the individual’s right of conscience are central to our Unitarian Universalist heritage. Congregations may establish statements of purpose, covenants, and bonds of union so long as they do not require that members adhere to a particular creed."
- Why are the values in the order you chose?
- They are not in any particular order as we were clear not to privilege one value over another. There is no first value, or third, etc. They are interdependent and inseparable from each other. We had to put them on paper in some order but it was totally random.
- Why this values/covenant format?
- Feedback the Study Commission received about the current covenant is that it did not have enough action items. Articulation of our shared values offers officers and staff of our Association a tool to make values based decisions in service of its member congregations and communities. Tying these values to the covenant held between congregations, names how we take these values into our congregational life and the world beyond.
- What do you mean by “we are accountable to one another?”
Dreaming Accountability by Mia Mingus
What if we cherished opportunities to take accountability as precious opportunities to practice liberation? To practice love? To practice the kinds of people, elders-to-be, and souls we want to be? To practice that which we can only practice in real time? After all, we can only practice courage when we are afraid. We can only practice taking accountability when we have wronged or harmed or hurt. Practice yields the sharpest analysis.
It is not the role of the Unitarian Universalist Association to police congregations, it is part of our agreement with one another that we will help each other in living into our values. Accountability is saying that we are congregations with integrity, that hold ourselves to the commitments and values we express to the world, informed by the relationships we build within our walls and beyond.
The UUA Board of Trustees, the Article II Study Commission, and the UUA Administration can not impose covenants and commitments, or tell congregations or individuals what to do. Congregations, through their delegates, vote on what values they share and what they can agree to do together.
- Why single out racism, and not name sexism, ableism, and cisheterosexism?
- The Unitarian Universalist Association has made many commitments to confront powers and structures systemic oppression over the decades, and many Unitarian Universalists are active in dismantling such systems with our institutions and the broader world. One such commitment has been particularly hard to see through, the dismantling of institutional racism and white supremacy culture. The UUA has had many starts and stops in this work, as the discomfort facing race generates, garners great pushback from the dominant culture. We are being called not to turn away this time, to make it explicit that we hold ourselves accountable to systemic anti-racist and anti-oppressive actions to build Beloved Community. Antiracism itself is an intersectional commitment to dismantling sexism, ableism, and cisheterosexism.