The 8th Principle and Me
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.
When I first encountered the proposed 8th Principle, I had several reactions. In principle, I supported all of the ideas encompassed by the 8th Principle. But the statement itself is complex; for most it will take multiple readings to take in the full meaning. It introduces terms like “journeying toward spiritual wholeness” and “beloved community” that could be applied to all eight principles, but which could also alienate some people. And it just looked odd next to the existing seven principles. To me, reading all eight together was like listening to Pachabel’s Canon only to have it followed by Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Others in the group that was discussing it had similar reactions. Most expressed concern that it would be an obstacle for people looking into Unitarian Universalism for the first time, and that it creates a left-hand-doesn’t-know-what-the-right-hand-is-doing impression.
I like to wordsmith, so after the meeting I wrote down some thoughts about the 8th principle and drafted a simpler, more direct version. I shared these with the group, and it prompted some lively discussion. A few others found their way into the discussion, and eventually I sent around a second revision that was favorably received.
At the same time that I started revising, I also set out to learn more about the 8th Principle by tapping some of the resources I’ve listed at the end of the article. I learned that Paula Cole Jones and Bruce Pollack-Johnson wrote the 8th Principle back in 2013 and that it took on added energy with the 2017 hiring scandal at the UUA national headquarters. Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries have thrown their weight behind it. Several videos including our own Lane Lyceum with Bruce Pollack-Johnson added to my perspective.
But it took two “Aha” moments for me to drop my objections and offer my full support to the 8th Principle as written. I was vaguely aware that the UUA has its own group — The Article 2 Study Commission — that is working on updating the UU Principles and Sources; these are codified in Article 2, Section C of the UUA bylaws and were last revised in 1987. At first it seemed like the AS2 Commission and the 8th Principle represented a classic duplication of effort, and I wondered if and how the two groups were working together. In fact, it was the 8th Principle initiative which triggered the establishment of the AS2 Commission. But the AS2 Commission scope is much broader than just the Principles and Sources, and it’s by nature a slower project. Within the Principles and Sources, the group is evaluating possible revisions to several principles; the earliest date at which a new version of the Principles and Sources can be finalized is at UU General Assembly in 2022. In contrast, the 8th Principle Initiative is a much more focused grassroots effort calling on UUs and the UUA to prioritize accountable action against systemic racism now, starting with ourselves.
Now it turns out that Paula Cole Jones has a prominent role on the AS2 Commission. As soon as I realized that, I was confident that the left hand most assuredly knows what the right hand is doing. As Paula said in an interview about the connection between the AS2 Commission and the 8th Principle Initiative, “The 8th Principle is part of [the AS2 Commission’s] charge. It may not show up as the 8th Principle, but we know that the essence of the 8th Principle will be present in whatever we do.” And so we have Aha moment #1.
The second Aha moment came on a live Zoom discussion for people interested in the 8th Principle initiative. Again the topic at the moment was the AS2 commission. In response to a comment about the pace of institutional change, Paula said with exasperation, ”Black people simply cannot afford to wait.” Something about the emotion and the authenticity of her voice and those simple words flipped a switch for me. I was sold.
So I will unreservedly vote for First Parish adopting the 8th Principle. It is the crystallization of several ideas and values that we as UUs individually, as congregation, and the UUA need to embrace and act on as we move forward. It belongs to the BIPOC community. It’s not my place to edit or split hairs about clauses, but it IS my choice to give my unwavering endorsement to their statement of what will bring necessary change.
I also look forward to seeing how the AS2 Commission will integrate the 8th Principle into the revised Principles and Sources that will be introduced at the 2022 UUA General Assembly. Personally, I hope that in addition to adding a Principle about working to dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions, the ideas of accountability, multicultural Beloved Community, and journeying toward spiritual wholeness can be extended to all of the Principles.
What do you think?
8th Principle Resources
- Lane Lyceum with 8th Principle co-author Bruce Pollack-Johnson.
- Home page of the 8th Principle. A good and very concise website presenting and making the case for the 8th Principle
- Black Lives of Unitarian Universalist statement calling for the adoption of the 8th Principle. An important endorsement.
- The 8th Principle Matters to Members of the BIPOC Community. Round-table discussion among BIPOC UU ministers.
- Article II Study Commission. Web site supporting and documenting the work of the commission charged with updating the UU principles and sources.
- Article II Conversations Project: Paula Cole Jones. 8th Principle co-author and Article II Commissioner Paula Cole Jones shares thoughts about the history of the 8th Principle and how it impacts the Article II.
- More 8th Principle videos from the UUA Leadership Library, including topics on Youth and 8th Principle, RE and the 8th Principle.
- Covenant of UU Church of Mt Airy, which embeds many elements of the 8th Principle. They made the changes shown her many years ago, but recently adopted the 8th Principle as well.