Main content | Sidebar | Links
Advertising

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Principles and Purposes redux.

Late last week, a somewhat surprising and very interesting announcement was made by the UUA Board of Trustees and the independent Commission on Appraisal:

Article XV of the Bylaws of the UUA mandates a periodic review of Article II, the Principles and Purposes. This obligatory review is now overdue, and, at the request of the UUA's Board of Trustees, the UUA's Commission on Appraisal has decided to undertake the review. It must be stressed that the Commission on Appraisal is independent of both the UUA's Board of Trustees and Administration. The role of the Commission is described in section 5.8 of the UUA bylaws. In short, the Commission on Appraisal shall "review any function or activity of the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly."

The Commission has been doing serious thinking about the Principles and their place in the life of our Association for several years and has discussed their relationship to the theological diversity of our movement in its last report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity [pdf]. The members of the Commission are excited about undertaking the important work of this review.

The early stages of the Commission's work will be focused on establishing a process that will maximize the input of Unitarian Universalists from across the continent. The Commission is profoundly sensitive to the implications of this review for Unitarian Universalists and is committed to carrying out this review in a way that will allow the members of our congregations to feel confident that their opinions are heard. While the timetable is not yet determined, recommendations resulting from the Commission on Appraisal review will be brought forward for consideration at a future General Assembly.

The Commission's first review hearing will be held at the Ohio-Meadville District meeting in Columbus, OH, on April 22nd. The Commission's workshop at the General Assembly in St. Louis will also be devoted to this issue. In addition to these in-person events, the Commission will be developing mechanisms by which all Unitarian Universalists can provide input to the Commission during the course of its work. Information on how to provide input will be distributed by the various electronic and print resources of the UUA, including the Commission on Appraisal's website at www.uua.org/coa/.

This is turning out to be quite the interesting General Assembly. I was aware that the Board had been discussing the Bylaws requirement that the Association review its governing document every 15 years — a process that has never been acted on before, since it was only introduced to the Bylaws in 1985 [see correction below]; there's no exact precedent for what the Commission is setting out to do. Very interesting indeed!

For some back story on the Principles, here's Warren Ross's 15-year retrospective for UU World. See also the letters from Shirley Ann Ranck and Lucile Schuck Longview challenging his depiction of the role of the Women and Religion Resolution in generating the revision process that eventually yielded the 1985 Principles, Sources, and Purposes ("Feminist Genesis," Letters, halfway down).

Correction: I misremembered the year the current Principles and Purposes were adopted, and originally said "1986" in this post. They were in fact adopted in 1985. I have not yet learned when the Article XV requirement that Article II be reviewed every 15 years really was added to the Bylaws; my hunch is that this requirement was added fairly recently. (4.26.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 18 April 2006 at 7:39 AM

Previous: The gospel of forgiveness.
Next: Diverse Unitarian Universalist Easters.

Advertising

19 comments:

Kevin M:

April 18, 2006 10:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

I have to say, I'm wary of this. I don't take the view that the Principles and Purposes are the essence of Unitarian Universalism: I hardly ever refer to them when asked to explain our religion or my own particular perspective. But having a common statement that is poetic, idealistic and inclusive has clearly been a boon to us. They're widely accepted and very popular, and that counts for a lot.

It's amazing, especially reading Ross' article, that such a diverse and contentious group were able to draft such an effective statement in the first place. And now we're planning to review it at a moment when the question of how, or whether, we should speak with one voice is especially fraught and contentious, at least to judge from all of the anger and controversy surrounding the social witness process at GA. I realize I'm something of a pessimist to begin with, but I see far more potential for bad than for good here. If it ain't broke...

My frank worry is that this process will flush out every partisan agenda among us as different groups try to shape language that reflects their moral or ideological concerns. Unlike statements of conscience and such, the principles and purposes *are* binding: they're a covenant that all of our member congregations agree to affirm and promote. So the stakes here are greater, as is the potential for nastiness.

So, for example, does the unflinching commitment that the Association as an institution has made to anti-racism and anti-oppression mean that we must now include these words in the principles and purposes? I'm sure this argument will be made, and those like me who find these terms meaningless, and detest the idea of enshrining fashionable leftist lingo that will soon be as dated as bellbottoms and black power in a statement that we covenant to affirm, will feel compelled to fight, fight, fight. Perhaps this process won't go that way, and clearly I should wait until it does before drawing a line in the sand. But this is what I fear. (I don't think I'm being paranoid. Consider one of the sentences in Ross' lead paragraph: "Is the congregations' independence, what we call congregational polity, a sacrosanct principle, or must it yield to our commitment to racial justice?" Yikes! Do we really want to have that fight?)

This could go many ways, depending on the process that the COA defines and the role they themselves take in shaping the outcome. It need not become a free-for-all on the GA floor that inflames all of the divisions among us. I hope they proceed wisely and cautiously.

chutney:

April 18, 2006 11:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

I sympathize with the Commission's desire to make good on their recent work, but I don't see what's so urgent that it needs to be done this year. Put it off for another two to five years. Fifteen years is too soon. Twenty-five seems about right.

Is there something missing from the P&P? And didn't we just add the seventh principle around ten years ago? Shouldn't that count as a review?

Philocrites:

April 18, 2006 12:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

The legal requirement for a "review" is this provision:

If no review and study process of Article II has occurred for a period of fifteen years, the Board of Trustees shall appoint a commission to review and study Article II and to recommend appropriate revisions, if any, thereto to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees shall review the recommendations of the study commission and, in its discretion, may submit the recommendations of the study commission to the Planning Committee for inclusion on the agenda of the next regular General Assembly. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained herein, proposals to amend Article II which are promulgated by a study commission in accordance with this paragraph shall be subject to a two-step approval process. Such proposals must be approved preliminarily by a majority vote at a regular General Assembly. Following such preliminary approval, the proposal shall be placed on the agenda of the next regular General Assembly for final adoption. Final adoption shall require a two-thirds vote.

Three things seem especially relevant: First, the amendment that added the Sixth Source in the mid-1990s wasn't part of a review process; it was simply a resolution brought by several congregations, required votes at two subsequent General Assemblies, and led many to seek a revised process that closed down the option to amend the Principles, Sources, and Purposes so readily.

Second, it may be that the 15-year review clause was added as part of the more restrictive rules adopted after the Sixth Source was added. I'll try to find out. But the Bylaws don't say when the clock started, nor do they identify any penalty for skipping a review. But they do clearly require one -- and no formal review process has been initiated before now.

Third, it's possible that a review will conclude that there is no reason to modify either the Principles or the Sources. (The Board has also recently been in conversation about the rarely discussed Purposes, which may signal that there is some institutional interest in clarifying that section.) If the Commission on Appraisal opted to propose (after three years) that no compelling reason for change exists, the review requirement would be met -- and we'd all continue with the language we have now.

fausto:

April 18, 2006 01:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

Is there something missing from the P&P?

Yes, I would say the clause forbidding the use of the P&P's as a creed or confession is missing. So is the clause affirming the supreme authority of the congregational covenant within the religious community, over all competing sources of denomination-wide or even personal discernment. (If your personal discernment conflicts with your covenant, don't sign the covenant. Once you have entered into a covenant, the other members of the covenant are entitled to expect you to submit to it, just as they do.)

I also object to listing humanist teachings which "warn us against idolatries" as a source. Humanist teachings are indeed an indispensable source of our faith, and they ought to remain as a source, but it's because they affirm the accumulated wisdom of human experience and "counsel us to heed the guidance of reason", not because they grant us permission to cast epithets at someone else's contrary beliefs.

Even if nothing were missing, the P&P's are only a momentary consensus of opinion, not a timeless code of inviolable, cosmological truths. It's precisely because that's all they are that they ought to be re-examined frequently.

chutney:

April 18, 2006 01:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm sure we all have some things we'd like to tweak, but I just don't feel it's time yet. Saying that it's not time for a review yet doesn't mean someone is claiming they're "a timeless codeof inviolable, cosmological truths."

I agree that they ought to be massaged frequently. But every twenty-five or thirty years seems frequent enough. Legal considerations aside, I don't see the need at this time. This sort of thing should be dictated by need, not legal requirements. Philocrites' mention that the Commission might suggest no changes at all makes me hopeful. If there's no requirement as to when the clock started, I say start the countdown at that mid-nineties amendment. That will give us around twenty-five years since the "original" version.

I'm hoping that if such a process insues, that it will be amicable process that proposes only minor changes. I'm open to something like adding a principle or source, but as of now I don't see the need. But I'm willing to be persuaded. I see great potential for it to go down the road that Kevin outlines. The P&Ps aren't worth any nastiness. They aren't even worth much fussiness.

I guess I'm just afraid that this will descend into "but the P&Ps have to say what I want." Not so much individuals, but our various interest groups of whatever flavor.

Ron Robinson:

April 18, 2006 04:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

1. Review the review clause and see about striking it. New P&P debate and intra-associational quarrels and time is a guaranteed way to prevent growth and outgrowth 2. Emphasize the priority of the congregational covenant as mentioned above, eloquently, by fausto. 3. The president and a few Board appointed "DNA team" members arrive at a one-sentence, under 8 syllable, mission statement, followed by a one paragraph vision statement, and one paragraph core values statement (which is what the P&P are). 4. Start using it.

I wonder if the whole UUA covenanting fling of a few years ago (what was it called? something about promises? how easily we/I forget)might qualify as a review or process; I know it wasn't the express purpose but I seem to recall it was meant as a grassroots-up to the UUA process. A long-short but worth a shot...:)

My immediate reactions anyway.

Steve Caldwell:

April 18, 2006 06:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 18 April 2006, Fausto wrote:

"Is there something missing from the P&P?"

Yes, I would say the clause forbidding the use of the P&P's as a creed or confession is missing.

Fausto,

Under the current bylaws, the P&P cannot be used as a creed nor can any UU congregation have a creed and remain a member congregation of the UUA. This is one of the very few restrictions on congregational polity within the UUA:

SECTION C-2.4. Freedom of Belief.
Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.

This portion of the UUA bylaws doesn't prevent the use of the current P&P as part of a confession or other liturgical element as long as the liturgical element isn't a creed.

However, if reading any denominationally compiled words in unison makes those words a creed, then what do we do with all the readings in the back of our hymnals?

Then Fausto wrote:

So is the clause affirming the supreme authority of the congregational covenant within the religious community, over all competing sources of denomination-wide or even personal discernment. (If your personal discernment conflicts with your covenant, don't sign the covenant. Once you have entered into a covenant, the other members of the covenant are entitled to expect you to submit to it, just as they do.)

I can see one problem with this suggestion ... how does a congregation deal with differences in personal discernment when it comes to individuals interpretations of the same congregational covenant?

Fausto then wrote:

I also object to listing humanist teachings which "warn us against idolatries" as a source. Humanist teachings are indeed an indispensable source of our faith, and they ought to remain as a source, but it's because they affirm the accumulated wisdom of human experience and "counsel us to heed the guidance of reason", not because they grant us permission to cast epithets at someone else's contrary beliefs.

Personally, I think you're reading too much into this "warn us against idolatries" language. The "idolotries" here are not just religious beliefs. The idolotries here are any belief that denies life or makes life less whole. This can be political beliefs, beliefs clothed in the trappings of science (e.g. eugenics in the 20th century), and even some religious beliefs that hurt others.

fausto:

April 18, 2006 09:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

In theory, Steve, you're right, but it requires a lot of close parsing.

In practice, nobody reads the bylaws, everybody teaches the P&P's as a confession of faith, and other people's faith is too often berated as idolatry.

fausto:

April 18, 2006 09:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

The Boy in the Bands has more to say on reviewing the P&P's here.

Christine Robinson:

April 18, 2006 09:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Let's hope (but I'm not holding my breath) the the commission will look around, see the generally positive ways the P and P's have been used amongst us and decide that what's not broken doesn't need fixing...especially since "fixing" the P and P's is just one of those navel-gazing activities which will distract us from the much more productive actual work that we could and should be doing. They're not perfect, but they are plenty good enough.

PeaceBang:

April 18, 2006 11:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

I've always thought the "idolatries of the spirit" was totally smug and embarrassing. Like thank GOD we have Humanism (ha ha) to save us all from the idolatries to which we are prone! What about humanist idolatries, like the idolatry of Reason? So arrogant of us.

I'm with Ron and Christine about the navel-gazing issue.

And yet I love the idea of shaking this document up. So many UUs cling to it as a creed and salvation, while its actually so generic it could easily be employed by any number of civic organizations as their mission statement.

Christine Robinson:

April 19, 2006 12:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

I don't like it when people use the Purposes and Principles as a substitue for their own thinking and struggling with what they believe. But I think that it is a given that some people will do exactly that. So the best of all possible worlds is to have a a statement and also have a statement that it can't be used as a creed. Which is what we have.

One thing young ministers learn the hard way is that when it's necessary to make changes, it is best to do new, exciting, effective things and let the old, dull, ineffective things die their own natural death. Good leaders give, they don't take away.

Much less divisive than changing the Puprposes and Principles, which are beloved by many and enshrined by some, and which would necessarily involve taking away something from somebody, is to do something completely new. For instance,

a mission statement...the catchy phrase that Ron Robinson speaks of. I have come to see these watchwords as extremely useful in helping us organize our own thinking and getting our word out. I believe that the UUA as a whole should should have about five really good ones to stroke our different folks with(and make the point about our diversity, which is of purpose and principles just as much as it is of theology and family configuration.) Not only would it be good for Unitarian Universalism as a whole to have some mission statements, it would spark individual churches to create a batch of mission statements for themselves, which would also be a very good exercise for them.

uuwonk:

April 19, 2006 12:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

I always liked "idolatries" just because I have a soft spot for obscure Bible language.

But I understand that it is offensive to Pagans.

Fortunately, the English Bible tradition offers lots of synonyms. I vote for "whoredoms".

Philocrites:

April 19, 2006 07:13 AM | Permalink for this comment

Ron alluded to the four-year "Fulfilling the Promise" denominational strategic planning and re-covenanting process (1997-2001), which is not widely considered a success. The final report says:

The Fulfilling the Promise Committee, therefore, does not here offer a full strategic plan for the future of Unitarian Universalism. On this 40th anniversary of our Association, it simply reports on the necessity for such an ongoing process to emerge — a process of effective review and renewal of mission and covenant throughout the UUA.

No such process has emerged, although it may be that the Commission on Appraisal's study of our theological diversity, the language of reverence debates, and the Board's ongoing study of governance models and the purposes of the Association represent more organic processes of reexamination.

The Fulfilling the Promise Committee did draft a covenant called "Our Common Call," which it introduced in the closing ceremony of the 2001 General Assembly:

The Common Call of Our Faith As We Enter the 21st Century

The Unitarian Universalist Association consists of freely covenanting faith communities serving a religious legacy of truth, freedom, and love. As member congregations, we join together in association to support the health, growth, and witness of our congregations and to promote and advance Unitarian Universalist faith. Our covenants both bind and empower us.

Preamble:

We are grateful for a 400-year-old, living tradition which enriches and ennobles our faith. Valuing this past, learning from its triumphs and shortcomings, and confident of a dawning future, we unite to deepen our understanding and expand our vision of the good life both as a people and as congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

We have inherited a tradition of religious freedom that affirms a radical respect for the dignity and moral agency of each person. Our forebears challenged a world of dogma, superstition, and widespread ignorance with this faith, which remains rooted in freedom of inquiry and expression, tolerance for the multidimensional character of truth, and the fullest exercise of reason in religious life. Yet at this moment in history we must go further than our forebears imagined. Out of a sense of religious calling common among us, we offer the world our declaration of interdependence and challenge ourselves to deepen our religious practice.

Our Common Call:

We affirm the value of religious community.

We affirm the inherent value of persons within community.

We link our hearts and minds for mutual edification and the continuing discernment of life's truths.

We pledge to support each other, in humility and with forgiveness, to deepen our religious practice.

We come together so that we may strive to heal brokenness in ourselves, among people within and beyond our congregations, and in the larger environment of our planet.

We will offer love to the loveless, hope to the forlorn, and speak truth to power.

We will move beyond tolerance into constructive engagement with others from all walks of life and forms of faith expression.

We will seek justice for all, work to transform institutions that oppress and dehumanize, and commit ourselves to be makers of peace.

With others we will seek a spiritual foundation to support a pluralistic, democratic, and sustainable community on this earth, our home.

As Unitarian Universalists, we join hands and hearts to answer this call, that we may fulfill our promise.

Is this text a clunker, or is it instead a good recasting of the Principles that simply got dropped because the committee that drafted it disbanded and no one tried spreading it? It is, if nothing else, the most recent attempt to restate what our religious movement is about.

fausto:

April 19, 2006 07:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

Christine says:

So the best of all possible worlds is to have a a statement and also have a statement that it can't be used as a creed. Which is what we have.

But the P&P statement itself doesn't say that. Separating the two statements allow one to receive all the attention and the other be ignored. As a result, in your words, the P&P's have become "enshrined by some" (though I would say many, not some), in direct violation of the other statement that lies buried and forgotten in our bylaws.

Such enshrinement is a spiritual abuse that should be actively discouraged, not a charming innovation for which we should allow additional room. Too often, enshrining the P&P's has the effect of crowding out the deeper, more authentic spiritual truths from which they were originally drawn and of which they are only a banal, spiritless, politically generated restatement.

It seems to me that the appropriate cure for this sort of abusive enshrinement, without descending into even more destructive divisiveness, is conducting the frequent periodic review as required, as well as taking the opportunity in the first review to insert into in the P&P's themselves the recitation that they are not to be understood or used as a profession of faith. Frequent review and occasional revision, precisely as the statement's original drafters intended, would plainly expose and promote popular awareness of the ultimate tenuousness of their authority -- a tenuousness that enshrinement obscures to our great collective detriment. Likewise, expressly including our aversion to mandatory creeds as a Principle of import equal to the others would tend to operate as a self-governing check on misuse of the statement.

fausto:

April 19, 2006 08:23 AM | Permalink for this comment

Philo asks:

Is this text a clunker, or is it instead a good recasting of the Principles that simply got dropped because the committee that drafted it disbanded and no one tried spreading it?

I hadn't seen it before, but I think it's a good recasting. It strengthens the language of covenant, replacing affirmations of principle with undertakings to action. It places the sources of our truth first, and the practical applications second, which is where they should be. I do like the current P&P's more detailed recitation of our sources, but I think this broader recitation may actually be more appropriate to a statement of this type because it is less likely to be interpreted exclusively.

chutney:

April 19, 2006 07:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

So many UUs cling to it as a creed and salvation, while its actually so generic it could easily be employed by any number of civic organizations as their mission statement.

I've heard this line so many times in my six years as a UU, and I've yet to come across a civic organization that would employ it. I really don't understand the hostility, the defensiveness, or whatever-it-is directed toward the P&P.

There is value in our having language that informs and upholds our spirituality as a movement, however imperfectly. That the P&P are performing a vital religious function for many UUs should be obvious. Does it mean they shouldn't be shaken up? Of course not. (Personally, I'd find the rewrite cmte to be a bunch of fun.)

Folks are quick to label the P&P unpoetic and uninspiring, even though it seems most UUs find them the opposite. What do those of you who don't care for them know that the rest of us don't?

On the laziness question: Really, is this what it has come to? If folks use the P&P as a crutch, it's probably because they need a crutch. I've needed a crutch or two in my time. I suspect credophobia is a crutch too, for what it's worth.

If the P&P need redecorated, then so be it. But I've yet to see any evidence that they do, and the fifteen year requrement does not count as evidence.

I told my wife just now about the possible revisions. Her response: "That sounds painful." Kevin started off this thread by making the same point. So I ask: why won't it be painful? And if it will be painful, why revising the lowly P&P be worth that cost?

Philocrites:

April 21, 2006 09:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's uuworld.org's story about the review process: "Time to review the Principles" (Donald E. Skinner, 4.21.06). James Casebolt, chair of the Commission on Appraisal, tells uuworld.org: "Review doesnít necessarily mean rewrite . . . The only reason this is happening is because the bylaws say itís time to do it, and itís required that this be done."

Philocrites:

April 24, 2006 10:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

More from my archives about the UUA Principles: Questions the UUA Principles don't answer (2.6.04) and Do Unitarian Universalists have morals? (7.14.04).



Comments for this entry are currently closed.