On covenants and healthy conflict,
As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have creeds and so it is essential that we have covenants among us. These speak to who we are and what we hold together. In this sense, “how” we do religious life together is very important. Our covenants are agreements we make which gather us together and point us towards our path to building the Beloved Community. So for us how we are together is part of how we grow into our faith.
The Purposes and Principles, the by-laws and the covenants of right relationship within Unitarian Universalism have helped keep us, as congregations and individuals, knit together. And, in much the same way, the professional codes of ethics held by our religious educators, musicians, and ministers also reflect how we want those who provide professional leadership in our faith communities to be in supportive, right relationship.
When relationships break down, covenants are most likely to be violated—and this is the time when they are most important. For example, when we move beyond rhetoric to sharing power with those who have been marginalized. What we learned in 2017 was the extent of the break in relationship within our Association. The events did not CAUSE the break, they aired it, in the same way, that the 2016 election aired the extent to which nationalism and racism are still factors in our larger society. People who have felt shut down by the existing structures have chosen to work around them. We see this within our larger society and within our Association.
For us to move forward at this time, we must decide what covenants we are going to observe among us. And we need to be clear which covenants are real and authentic expressions of our communal goals. Some aspects of our current covenants will need to be changed immediately because they have not helped Unitarian Universalists as individuals or congregations or institutions to achieve true right relationship and aspects will be revealed with time. What is clear is that in more raw and hard times, we need to both stay in covenant with one another AND reexamine all of our covenants together. This is how we will ensure that we can benefit from a Unitarian Universalism where equity, diversity, and inclusion prevail and we can all enjoy the richness of that experience.
In our conversations around race, we touch deep nerves which can bring up shame and anger and then we have a hard time hearing one another. Without active covenants, we are left polarized and unable to recognize our interdependence and unsure of whether our inherent worth and dignity is being honored.
As we hear the stories of conflict among us, we want to assert the value of healthy conflict. Negotiated settlements and other tools which are designed to contain disagreement prolong whisper campaigns, trial by social media and other forms of unhealthy malignant division. Some of the practices among us were used to suppress input and involvement should be reassessed, especially in the light of generational styles of leadership and involvement. We need to review all processes among us for transparency, inclusiveness, and accessibility for all.
Here are some of the covenants among us—in the following months, we will be working with an outside consultant to assess how these have been created to serve the dominant culture. One factor we already know is that these tools can be used to suppress healthy conflict. To rebuild covenants among us, we must approach with humility and courage.
- Unitarian Universalist Association: Principles (a number of resources here, including the way they were developed)
- Unitarian Universalist Association: Bylaws
- Association for UU Music Ministries (formerly UU Musicians Network): Code of Professional Practice (PDF)
- Continental Liberal Religious Educators Association: Code of Professional Practices
- Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals: Covenant of the Board of Directors
- Association of Unitarian Universalist Administrators: Code of Professional Practices
- Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association: Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry
The Commission on Institutional Change calls us in to deep spiritual reflection of the covenants that bind us together. One way you can do this is to get a group together and review and discuss the covenants of your local community.