Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Principles and Purposes?

The UUA's Commission on Appraisal (COA), which is an review body independent of the UUA board, takes on a different subject pertinent to the UU association every three years. Recently, they have been studying Article II of the UUA bylaws, better known as our "Principles and Purposes," as Article II was required to be reviewed every 15 years (we're a bit late). The COA has just posted their draft of a proposal for the P&P, including many large changes. If you're interested, they can be found here. It's important to note that the COA can't change the P&P document, which is part of the UUA bylaws. Nor can the UUA board of trustees. It has to be voted on in two subsequent general assemblies by the delegates--that means representatives of churches and their ministers. If you follow the link and read the draft document, you will find a survey there where you can leave your thoughts and feelings. Then the COA will meet again and consider the survey responses before creating a final document that goes to the UUA board and then to the general assemblies.

So... here's some highlights of what it says and does, and what I think.

There was a section in the current Article II that many people think is the "Purposes," but which isn't, but which does not have it's own name. The proposed version calls it by another term we've often called it, "Sources." It currently lists several sources we draw from, including naming separately the Jewish and Christian teachings, direct experience, words and deeds of prophetic men and women, wisdom from the world's religions, Humanist teachings, and earth-centered traditions. The draft version says:

Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. It draws from the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, Earth-centered spirituality, and other world religious traditions. It engages perspectives from humanism, mysticism, theism, skepticism, naturalism, and feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by the arts and the sciences. It trusts the value of direct experiences of mystery and wonder, and it recognizes the sacred may be found within the ordinary.

Wisdom and beauty may be expressed in many forms: in poetry and prose, in story and song, in metaphor and myth, in drama and dance, in fabric and painting, in scripture and music, in drawing and sculpture, in public ritual and solitary practice, in prophetic speech and courageous deed.

Overall, I think it's good. But there are a few problems or discussions to be had about it. First of all, the bullet-type approach of the former was handy for responsive readings, as well as for literature like bookmarks, wallet cards, etc. This doesn't lend itself to ritual or propaganda (whoever thought I'd pair those two things together?) nearly as well in paragraph form. Second, while it is impractical to list out all of what is meant by "world religions," it replicates the problem the current version has of listing out some things while not focusing on others. I agree with highlighting Judaism and Christianity separately, because they have a different relationship to our religion historically. I like the inclusion of feminist and liberation theologies, particularly. But I know many specific world religions have had large impacts on our beliefs and practices. How many people do you know in UU congregations that participate in a yogic practice or a Buddhist meditation practice? I know in our congregation it is several, and we're a small congregation with a strong historic and contemporary emphasis and connection to Christianity. It would be extremely controversial to lump in earth-centered traditions with world religions (although I believe they are), but when we pull them out, I believe others similarly deserve to be pulled out. And with Judaism and Christianity mentioned first, I don't think they need to be with "Abrahamic traditions" mentioned again. And I would love to pull out Islam in particular, as I think it's not the largest impact on us but it's very significant right now in our country and world that we include Islam in our living tradition.

As for the second paragraph above, I think it's completely unnecessary. We know that, right?

As for the principles themselves, the COA leaves them largely intact, and does not add additional principles. What they do is add an explanation after each principle, which I really have no problem with, as they're still somewhat bulleted and the principle can be pulled out still for, as I said, ritual and propaganda. In fact, it now reads something like a responsive reading, which I like. There are a couple of minor changes to the principles:

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations - "in our congregations" is dropped and "to" is changed to "of." I like the dropping of the congregation-specific (why wouldn't we encourage spiritual growth everywhere?) but dislike the preposition change. It now sounds like we accept spiritual growth, rather than we're trying to spiritually grow. Any church that doesn't accept spiritual growth, well, I don't even know what to say to that.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large - the "within our congregations and in society at large" is dropped. Fine. Unnecessary. Reads better without it.

That's it. Of course, they didn't change what I dislike, which is that justice is mentioned twice in two different trinities: "justice, equity, and compassion" and "peace, liberty, and justice." I dislike it both for redundancy (although one is talking about human relations and one about world community), and because I get them mixed up and invariably forget one.

There are also changes to the other sections of Article II, which the average person probably cares less about, but which are interesting discussions to have, as well. I encourage you to read the original Article II (here) and compare it to the COA proposal, and then leave your comments on the draft with the COA. They've been trying hard to make this a process where the congregations are involved. We did a COA-suggested adult religious education class on Article II and I submitted our thoughts to them, for example, and they had similar things at district and denominational events. So let them know what you think. They are, after all, your principles and purposes, because this is the bylaws of your association.

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