Faith is a challenging word for non creedal Unitarian Universalists. In our theology, faith isn’t centered on the belief in a deity that is all knowing and intervenes in our lives. Faith is centered on beliefs about life, our call in the world and what matters, what gives meaning to our lives. And, it isn’t just about “me” it is also about “we.” Rev. Victoria Safford wrote “Faith feels like the most private solitary thing, but it is not. It’s communal and contagious…Faith is what our hands hold all together, when none of us is strong enough to hold on by ourselves.”

In this time when we have become more aware of the depth of racial injustice in our nation our Seven UU principles call us to work for fairness, peace, respect, and freedom for all. Yet, they are incomplete because there is no acknowledgment of the effect white supremacy culture has on our ability to embody these principles we aspire to. That is one of the reasons why the Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC) was commissioned by the board. Their task was to assess where we are on the journey of being a congregation that is focused on collective liberation: personal understanding of racism and white supremacy culture that will motivate us to be allies in the work of building a Beloved Community in which all can thrive. One of the recommendations of the RJAC will be for UUCAvl to adopt the 8th Principle inviting all our members and friends to engage the work of liberation. Have you heard of the 8th Principle? If not, the language of the 8th Principle is below. UU Member Nancy Bragg has written an essay explaining the history of the 8th principle.

 ”We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, 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.”

The 8th Principle: Why, Why now, History, # of congregations by Nancy Bragg

The Beloved Community that MLK Jr envisioned, influenced the Beloved Community we UUs long for today. Our proposed 8th Principle website describes Beloved Community in this way:  

“Beloved Community happens when people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, abilities, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities come together in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world.”

What an inspiring vision to work towards! 

As most of us know, Unitarian Universalist congregations currently have a shared covenant of 7 Principles we affirm, promote, and hold as strong values and moral guides. 

Like our 7 Principles, the proposed 8th Principle begins with the stem: 

 ”We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: 

and then the proposed 8th:

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.”

Hmm. . . Why change?

The world has changed a lot since when the Principles were created in 1961. Our Principles are dynamic, rather than static. In the mid-1980s, feminism and environmentalism influenced changes in wording and increased the number of principles from 6 to 7. 

Changes in our world require strong UU leadership to commit and focus on what we are called to do. What is at stake is the future of our faith. If we continue as we are, Unitarian Universalism will die. 

What is changing in the world? 

  • Racism is now in the open, President Biden talks about it, and there is a new sense of unrest.  
  • There is increased awareness of how climate change, police violence, voting rights, & mass incarceration are negatively impacting more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) than whites.
  • And the number of non-white people in the world is increasing. 

How does the UUA need to change, based on these changes in the world?

  • We urgently need to change our hiring practices to meet expected workplace multicultural standards, to follow our policies, and to work towards our priorities. 
  • We need to widen our circle of concern for marginalized groups; our youth and younger members find UUs irrelevant and do not understand our failure to be intentionally inclusive.   
  • We need to listen to how BIPOC UUs are negatively impacted by our white-centered focus.
  • We need to move away from centering whiteness both in the UUA and in our congregations.  
  • We need to clarify our beliefs and be a sustaining faith for present and future members; people need a faith to come to and not just freedom from former dogmatic religious experiences. 
  • We need to change, to be who we say we are. 

History of the 8th Principle

Back in 2013, Paula Cole Jones, a Black life-long UU who had worked for over 15 years with UU congregations on Racial & Social Justice, realized that our shared covenant of our 7 Principles is not enough to avert racist behaviors and guide UUs in our current world and into the future. She found it common then, as well as now, for UUs to be part of a 7 Principles for Individuals culture, where we:

  • individually believe in our 7 Principles, yet do not express them in action in our lives.
  • individually believe in our 7 Principles, yet do not understand how these principles also apply to us as a collective UU community. 
  • individually believe in the 3rd Principle – “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” yet are not conscious of our unintentional individual and collective UU racist behaviors.
  • individually wear our “Standing on the Side of Love” or “Side with Love” t-shirts, yet do not comprehend our core UU value of Love and how to apply it as Love in Action. 
  • individually believe in the 1st Principle – “the inherent worth and dignity of all” and the 7th Principle “the interdependent web of all,” yet do not realize that who we called to be, and what we are called to do as a result of these Principles is working towards Beloved Community for all.

Paula felt that it has been easy for white UUs to not be aware of unintentional racist behaviors within our congregations, yet UUs of Color haven’t had the luxury of unawareness. She knew more awareness was needed to become a Beloved Community culture, rather than a 7 Principles for Individuals Culture. She suggested an 8th Principle as a way of explicitly making UUs aware of natural outgrowths of our 7 Principles. 

Paula talked with Bruce Pollack-Johnson, a white member of the Unitarian Universalists of Mt. Airy in Philadelphia, and they co-wrote an initial draft of the 8th Principle. To refine the wording, they worked with a group of UUs who had gone through UU Jubilee Three Anti-Racism Training. Those involved started working informally in their own congregations towards becoming Beloved Community cultures.  

In 2017, the UUA hiring crisis prompted proposing the 8th Principle at that year’s General Assembly as a responsive resolution. GA’s response to the resolution was the formation of an Article II Study Commission to explore changes to the By-Laws, which include our Principles. The Article II Commission was told to root the work in our UU core value of love and to center Love in Action. In addition, a Commission on Institutional Change was tasked with interviewing marginalized people, writing about how they experience our institutional culture, and suggesting needed changes. This 2020 report is called Widening the Circle of Concern. And you can read it together with others from UUAvl by contacting Mary Alm. 

It will be 2023 before the Article II Commission’s recommendations will be up for the first vote before the General Assembly with possibility of amendments, followed by a second vote at the 2024 General Assembly. 

In the meantime, we at UUAvl can join this long-term grassroots initiative that is gaining momentum. So far, half of our UU congregations are discussing the proposed 8th Principle and 142 out of 1048 UU congregations world-wide have adopted it. Working towards it and adopting it is a way to 

  • demonstrate our collective commitment to work towards a Beloved Community culture and 
  • to publicly acknowledge our desire for these ideas to be incorporated into the work of the Article 2 Study Commission.