The recent Annual Meeting of our Unitarian Universalist Association—we call it General Assembly or “GA”—decided by an overwhelming majority that there is something that ought to be at the center of our faith: LOVE.
When an earlier generation created the Unitarian Universalist Association, they called us a “Living Tradition.” We came about by a consolidation of the Universalist Church of America, chartered in New York, and the American Unitarian Association, chartered in Massachusetts. Two legislatures had to allow our consolidation, and you can imagine that we were very careful in crafting our legal documents. In writing a new set of corporate bylaws, we expressed that our Association exists for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes, and we stated the Principles which underlie those purposes.
In those initial years, we created a new religious movement. We engaged in actions in the public square that largely brought us together—like support for voting and other civil rights. We also were perplexed around some matters—like the war against Vietnam. By the 1970s, people throughout our movement were asking questions about how—despite our best intentions—male supremacy was somehow encoded in who we are as a system. When women among us asked us to consider the language that we use in our hymns and readings and even in our many careful documents, we knew that it was time to reconsider the founding Principles in our bylaws.
By 1984, we were ready to state in a new way the Principles behind the purposes of our Association. At our General Assemblies in 1984 and 1985, we amended our Bylaws to reflect the seven Principles that many of us have known from their publication in our hymnal to many curriculums by which we teach ourselves and others a liberal and liberating way of growing a soul.
We promised ourselves, then, that we would not let those Principles sit unchallenged. We would not allow them to become a kind of creed. We even voted to formally examine the Principles each decade. (By the way, we’ve had a tough time keeping to that schedule! We’ve deferred in practice to a reconsideration about every fifteen years.)
At this year’s General Assembly, over 85 percent of GA delegates accepted the recommendation of the Article II Study Commission that the purpose of the Unitarian Universalist Association is “to actively engage its members in the transformation of the world through liberating Love.” The General Assembly approved restating our Principles as a network of interrelated, shared values and the covenants which derive from those values.
Love is the power that holds us together and is at the center of our shared values. We are accountable to one another for doing the work of living our shared values through the spiritual discipline of Love.
Inseparable from one another, these shared values are:
Interdependence We honor the interdependent web of all existence. We covenant to cherish Earth and all beings by creating and nurturing relationships of care and respect. With humility and reverence, we acknowledge our place in the great web of life, and we work to repair harm and damaged relationships.
Pluralism We celebrate that we are all sacred beings diverse in culture, experience, and theology. We covenant to learn from one another in our free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We embrace our differences and commonalities with Love, curiosity, and respect.
Justice We work to be diverse multicultural Beloved Communities where all thrive. We covenant to dismantle racism and all forms of systemic oppression. We support the use of inclusive democratic processes to make decisions.
Transformation We adapt to the changing world. We covenant to collectively transform and grow spiritually and ethically. Openness to change is fundamental to our Unitarian and Universalist heritages, never complete and never perfect.
Generosity We cultivate a spirit of gratitude and hope. We covenant to freely and compassionately share our faith, presence, and resources. Our generosity connects us to one another in relationships of interdependence and mutuality.
Equity We declare that every person has the right to flourish with inherent dignity and worthiness. We covenant to use our time, wisdom, attention, and money to build and sustain fully accessible and inclusive communities.
Our whole association is invited to another year of considering the action of General Assembly and any amendments adopted by the Board of Trustees in the next year. These amendments will need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the delegates at General Assembly 2024 to become final.
There was one additional issue of some contention presented before the General Assembly: that the Common Endowment Fund be fully divested of any funds vested in the fossil fuel industry. The action also sought to make immediate reparation to indigenous peoples and those Black and Brown communities and refugees who are the special victims of prior and ongoing wars fueled by the fossil fuel industry.
In a letter from President Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray and President-elect Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, they supported the decision of the UUA Board of Trustees to reject the resolution. They also congratulated the UU Young Adults for Divestment for their activism and high ideals, and suggested that Social Investment Committee responsible to the UUA Board of Trustees would attend to their concerns as the whole association moves toward more fully sustainable investing.
Democracy, I have been told, is not for the faint of heart. GA included a few days of contentious consideration around an important single issue. It affirmed a larger conversation about what might be the center of our religious life. This messiness is, as the activists insist, “what democracy looks like.” My aim, in our diverse congregation, is for us to find ways to live a vital religious life with one another that gives us, from time to time, a chance to consider things that stretch us, even as we return to those basic values which we live into in our education work, our actions for social justice, and our worship life. Wouldn’t it be something if we were known as a place where Love is at the center of our collective life, and where hard questions are (from time to time!) welcomed and faithfully addressed?
Happy mid-summer, friends.
Yours in a faith that is liberal and liberating,
Rev. David Carl Olson, Associate Minister for Congregational Life