This week, I will be preaching on the principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). I’ve been reading up on the topic, and a couple of things stood out for me:
First, while many Unitarian Universalists talk about “the seven principles” as opposed to “the six sources,” those are really misnomers. Section C-2.1 of the UUA bylaws is titled “Principles,” and that section includes both the “six sources” and “the seven principles,” but without any distinction between the two. To quote the “seven principles” without including the “six sources” (as is done all too often) is to take the “seven principles” out of context. To ask children in Sunday school to memorize the “seven principles” is horrendous enough; but to ask children to memorize the “seven principles” without also memorizing the “six sources” is intellectually indefensible. It is not enough to say you support “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” without knowing from whence that concept comes.
Second, while many Unitarian Universalists use the terms “the seven principles” and “the principles and purposes” interchangeably, that’s not correct. Technically, “principles and purposes” refers to the entirety of Section 2 of the UUA bylaws. And Section C-2.2 of the UUA bylaws, not Section C-2.1, gives the purposes of the UUA:
The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.
This is a crucial passage for Unitarian Universalists to think about, because (among other things) it reminds us to pay attention to institutional health. It is not enough simply to quote the “seven principles” as an individual person; those abstract principles exist in the social context of a religious community, and only thus are those principles embodied in the real world.
If you go on to read Section C-2.3 of the UUA bylaws, you’ll find that the principles and purposes call on us to engage in some specific direct action:
The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, language, citizenship status, economic status, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.
We rarely read or recite “the seven principles” in worship here at First Unitarian in New Bedford. But every week we have the following as part of our welcoming statement: “Here at First Unitarian, we value our differences of age, gender, race, national origin, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, and theology.” Interestingly, we are a relatively diverse congregation, with a fair amount of diversity in each of these categories, although I’m not sure there is a direct relationship between diversity and reading that welcoming statement.