Why I support adopting the 8th Principle?

The Proposed 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.”

Ryan Smith submitted the article below:

In support of passage of the 8th principle for UUSP, John Motter wrote about the importance of naming our values and how the existing principles aren’t adequate for the work of dismantling racism, in a previous week’s newsletter. Last week, Kelly Patton also expressed support, writing about her personal experience as a child uncovering a latent culture of white supremacy.  I also call for this to be passed and will explain why with yet another perspective.

Many of us don’t experience marginalization and can, at first, be dismissive.  After all, we Unitarian Universalists, we are the good guys, right?  No other faith is built on such bold liberal religious ideals, like ours.  Yet, our BIPOC siblings in UUism are yelling “fire, fire!” and “this hurts! ouch!” and many of us look around, see no smoke, hear no alarms, and yell back, “No smoke here!”.   The fire of inequity has been slowly and quietly burning our faith house down and BIPOC UUs try and try and try to explain but aren’t heard.  Passage of Principle 8 is answering the calls of “fire!  Ouch!” with, “Fire?  Let’s do something.”.  Making a statement doesn’t actually fix the problem, but, after so many decades of “fire! Ouch!”  not being acknowledged, I feel it has become a moral necessity.

What does the damage from this fire of oppression look like? It may just be lore, but it is said that Ralph Waldo Emerson, after resigning from the ministry, could be seen occasionally in the balcony at Second Church to be with the segregated and marginalized people, not in his family box, surrounded by the wealth and privilege. (I still look to the balcony in every church to see if his legacy is sitting up there unheard.) In 1967, the Black Affairs Council (BAC), a BIPOC voice-centered group, came about, only after “non-negotiable demands” were made at General Assembly (GA). Who better to design action than those who are most affected?  In 1969, many participated in taking over the parliamentary procedure to try to secure the funding that was promised but were not successful and it was defunded in favor of a committee that more centered white voices and many walked out of GA and UUism.  In 1970, the group dissolved.  In 2017, it came to light that, within the UUA national organization, a qualified BIPOC candidate finalist was passed over, saying she “wasn’t the right fit” in favor a white “insider” candidate for a congregational life position in the Southeast region.  This happened right after continued promises to have more diversity represented in the almost exclusively white congregational life staff.  But, the real coals of this fire burn away in every congregation, where BIPOC members don’t get invited into leadership, ideas for more diverse worship are dismissed, and microaggressions are so frequent, they become overwhelming. 

One of the reasons we keep having these failures is that we haven’t been listening to the people most affected.  So, as you discuss this ahead of the vote in May, I ask that you do so, firstly considering the voices of those most affected.  If you do, I think you will join me in supporting this and will come to the conclusion that the want to dress the deep burns and scars within our faith, a living tradition, far outweighs the want to make the existing seven principles a sacred cow, above being reformed.

Further Reading:

Ross, Warren R. (2015, 3/17) “The UUA meets black power: BAC vs. BAWA, 1967–1971”.  UU World March/April 2000. https://www.uuworld.org/articles/uua-meets-black-power

McArdle, Elaine. (2017, 3/27) “Critics see white supremacy in UUA hiring practices: Latest senior hire, of a white man, highlights staff leadership that remains mostly white.” UU World – UU News. https://www.uuworld.org/articles/critics-challenge-uua-hiring-practices