The new radical rewriting of Article 2 is convincing evidence that UUA leadership remains dissociated from general — and shrinking — congregational membership. Many congregants consider Article 2, specifically the 7 Principles, to be foundational statements that drew them to Unitarian Universalism and continue to inspire them. Apparently UUA leadership is gambling that these congregants are either in the minority or don’t really hold a serious commitment to the 7 Principles. (Or, maybe, they intentionally want to drive them away.)
It’s hard to take exception to the language and the sentiments of this rewrite; even though, compared to the existing Principles it comes off more like a mushy, platitude salad, but, to be fair, platitudes are often very fine sounding and attractive. Who could object to centering everything on the word “love?” And, if you did, you could be easily susceptible to charges of “hate;” this is how those promoting the word “love” push their propaganda; if you dissent then you can be attacked for supposedly being on the side of the word “hate.”
“Love” is certainly a popular word. I remember a cult back in the 70’s popularly known as the “Love Family” or (less snuggly) “Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon.” Their kind of “love” was all-encompassing; you gave up all individuality and agency to join — all your worldly possessions, your friends and family and even your name, resulting in “Temperance Israel,” “Patience Israel,” etc… the cult leader was “Love Israel.” What you got in return was being enveloped in a very, very tight knit community where you no longer had to use your critical thinking skills or make any difficult decisions about your life. It was a deeply covenantal community. Life was easy, and you certainly didn’t have to worry about being lonely or isolated.
So, yes, “love” is a word that can have many differing definitions and ramifications. I would have thought that the ministerial leaders on the Article ll Study Commission might have considered refining the ambiguities. But, then, I probably misunderstand their process; reason, they claim, is one of the “cornerstones of white supremacy culture” so it may be the case that refining the concept of “love” was not something they were willing to do.
So what kind of love is this new radical restructuring of the foundational Principles of the UU faith centered around?
Is it the kind of “love” UU leadership showed towards dissidents like Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof or Rev. Dr. Richard Trudeau or Rev. Dr. Kate Rhodes? Is it the kind of “love” that GA attendees showed toward Board of Trustees candidates Jay Kiskel, Rev. Beverly Seese or Rebecca Mattis?
Or is it a kind of parental patronizing love which finds its fulfillment in rescuing designated victims persecuted by designated dominant oppressors?
Is it the kind that employs thought police?
The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. — 1984
There is a definition offered in the official documents discussing this radical restructuring:
Our commitment to personal, institutional and cultural change rooted in anti-oppression, anti-racism, and multiculturalism values and practices is love in action.
This is a kind of “love” that demands “accountability”
changes to Article II include in the Principles a clear and direct statement that accountable systemic anti-racist and anti-oppressive actions to build Beloved Community are part of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.
This is starting to sound like a kind of asymmetric “love;” a disturbing kind of love that limits the free agency of the “beloved.” It is beginning to sound like the kind of “love” between a dominant individual who demands to be “centered” in the relationship and a codependent enabler whose life is “de-centered” and focussed opon trying to fulfill what is often an impossible task of satisfying the unrealistic demands of their dominant partner.
These dynamics and this kind of “accountable love” based upon specific demands for action is deeply disturbing. This proposed drastic removal of the heart of Unitarian Universalism; the reason I, and many, many others like me, was drawn to this community — the 7 Principles — is grievously short-sighted. UUA leadership, if they have any sense at all, will note that I am clearly not alone in these feelings; it is foundational to the reasons many UU’s are continuing to call themselves Unitarian Universalists. Seeking to dismantle and destroy those foundations is a terrible mistake. (Or is it?)
And those who resist this “accountable love” — as well as being tarred with the gaslighting notion of being “unloving” — are seen as curmudgeons who are just resistant to change. After all, one of the “values” in the pretty love-flower is “transformation” — which isn’t a value at all; it is a process which can have many varying outcomes, like, for example, being transformed from “health” to “illness.” The gaslighting around this is remarkable. It is as if the promoters of this drastic transformation came into your church building wearing hardhats and carrying clipboards. They have been studying the engineering, they say, for more than two years and their proposal to dismantle, excavate and remove the entire foundation of the building needs to be implemented forthwith. You, naturally, object vociferously. “Why are you afraid of change,” they say, “Didn’t you have your building painted in 1987? Didn’t you make substantial changes to the landscape shrubs around the entry in 2012? Why are you so resistant to change!?”
This kind of manipulation is par for the course that gave us the so-called “hiring controversy” in 2017, the “white supremacy teach-ins” that followed, the 8th Principle promotion, the COIC report and now the attack on/elimination of the Principles. Bad faith just oozes from it all.
The congregation I am still associated with selected a Ministerial Search Committee a few years ago, members of which were chosen by the community as their best, most trusted representatives. This Committee successfully completed their task and the community has been pleased with their new minister. But, during this process, the Search Committee crafted a description of the congregation, which included this:
some comments framed as opinions are actually oppressors and we could be better at calling them out. When the conflict is whether a marginalized group is being oppressed by the statements of a dominant group the response of, ‘We are each entitled to our own opinion’ can feel like a tool of oppression.
I found this statement, personally, to be disquieting. It is in direct conflict with my own deeply held life-long philosophy. I reject simplistic labelling of people and deplore the shallow segregation of unique and varied individuals into “marginalized” and “dominant groups.” And this is virulent these days in UUism. Here’s an offering called “Beloved Conversations”
Within, our program’s first phase, focuses on the internal work that each of us needs to do as we engage in deeper personal understanding, explorations of race and racism, extracting our souls and spirits from white supremacy culture, and work for racial justice. This work is different for white folks and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC+) and is done entirely in different courses: Gathering Our Selves for BIPOC+ and Un/Learning for Liberation for white people.
This kind of segregation and the apparent necessity for white people to engage in “Un/Learning” seems very much in line with the kind of controlling “love” that involves gaslighting and “decentering.” The movie “Gaslight” (1944 film that gave Ingrid Bergman a “Best Actress” Oscar) is an excellent portrayal of this kind of “love.”
Racial segregation is based upon a simplistic reduction of very complex issues that have plagued humankind since we separated from chimps millions of years ago. Humans like to label, it makes it easier to navigate complex social relationships and humans can be very, very mean to those they consider “other.” In light of this, I work very hard to implement the First Principle in my life and to treat everyone as possessing inherent worth and dignity. I am also deeply aware of my inherent tendencies to do otherwise. I try to avoid ideology that relies upon labelling and is shallow, mean-spirited and intellectually vacuous. Unfortunately this kind of ideology is very, very common throughout human history.
So, owing to my own internalization of the First Principle as applied to myself as a human being possessing inherent worth and dignity, I object to being labelled. And I object to UUism’s descent into a realm of slogans and labelling wherein I find myself labelled by those who know nothing about me. And, as a consequence of that labelling — which I reject — I am then being urged to read books and attend workshops focussed upon “helping” me overcome these labels; labels that have been falsely imposed upon me and which are irrelevant to my personal spiritual development. It is absurd to be offered an opportunity to do the “work” to remove these inapplicable ideological labels placed upon me by those who know nothing about me or my personal path of self-awareness.
The process goes something like this:
1.We know nothing about you but, upon looking at you, we have labelled you as an oppressor, a member of a “dominant” group.
2. We are generously offering you a chance to get us to lift this labelling we have placed upon you without your consent and without any deeper personal understanding of you.
3. If you do the “work,” read the right books and take the right workshops we will alter our label and judge you as a “good” member of the oppressive dominant group.
4. However, that label is not as conspicuous as your appearance so, unless you continue to prove that you are a “good” dominant oppressor to those who aren’t familiar with the “work” you have done, the books you have read or the workshops you have attended…
5. You will be required and expected to continually prove your “goodness.” Furthermore, your opinions — unless carefully framed in the language you are expected to adopt from those books and those workshops — will be judged as “tools of oppression.
Is it any wonder that I find I cannot be a Unitarian Universalist and still be true to myself. I was initially attracted to UUism because I resonated with the 7 Principles and the Sources; especially the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” — which has been stripped of its individualism and appended to the platitude salad under the “value” of “Pluralism” after the first draft left it out completely. And, in the new draft, there is no mention of the 5th source:
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
In fact this new foundational restructuring is exactly the kind of “idolatry of the mind and spirit” that source is warning us about (no wonder they left it out). This sort of extreme excision is going to drive away many who cherish free, critical seeking after truth, like myself. But then perhaps this is intentional. Perhaps the goal is to create a lean, mean, anti-racist activist machine and those who prefer different approaches can just go away:
there are little offshoots of people who are protesting our Unitarian Universalist emphasis on racial justice. Well, that’s fine — just don’t call yourself UU. Go be something else. I’m not interested in keeping people that aren’t trying to be kept. — Dr. Takiya Nur Amin (content director of the BLUU Organizing Collective Board)
The First Principle — eliminated in the first draft — has now been appended under the “value” of “Equity” but stripped of its prominent and powerful position as the First Principle and reworded as “every person has the right to flourish with dignity and worthiness.” (I’m surprised they didn’t change “truth” to “truthiness” when they tossed in some words of the 4th Principle.)
This is the general direction of institutional capture that the illiberal activists presently in control of the organization are going in. They are secure in the knowledge that their dominant position is enthusiastically supported by a majority of delegates at the annual GA — delegates who enthusiastically supported a Statement of Conscience descrying the “evils of systemic white supremacy” within Unitarian Universalism. It may even been an intentional disruption and destruction of the organization. Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt (the sole candidate for UU President put forth by the UU Board of Trustees — in direct conflict with the UU Bylaws) speaks of a Phoenix rising from the ashes in a talk she gave called “Tongues Wrapped in Fire.” I think we should take this very seriously.
he would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes — Lord Varys (Game of Thrones)
Perhaps the intention of this radical rewrite — along with the many transformations that have been happening over the years — is to destroy the organization, “dismantle white supremacy,” and see a glorious, pure anti-oppressive activist collective rise from the ashes… after all the old, white deadwood has been burned away.
This whole thing is incredibly detrimental and counterproductive to the laudable goal of countering systems of racism that are still present in our society; UU’s enthusiastically declaring themselves to be awash in White Supremacy Culture does nothing to further this goal.
In what sense does this anti-racist “work” being done by white UU’s give a Person of Color something they need? How does this feed them spiritually? What kind of Person of Color would have a spiritual need to covenant with a congregation of white liberals anxiously watching their every word and action for possible racism and micro-aggressions? (There are some disturbing answers to that question.)
It is an uncomfortable but accurate truth that many UU churches, which tend to be in predominantly white, middle and upper middle class areas, need Persons of Color in their pews to provide visual evidence that the church has succeeded in doing their anti-racism “work.” But, again, how does this fill the spiritual needs of Persons of Color.
As the saying goes “Birds of a feather flock together.” Some of the most segregated congregations in the US are Black churches. They do not agonize over why they are unable to attract white-skinned people to their pews. Martin Luther King famously said (on Meet the Press in 1960) “eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America.” He went on to say — about his Black church — “I don’t have any white members…I might say that my church is not a segregating church. It’s segregated but not segregating.”
MLK was not happy about this situation, but he openly acknowledged what we all know about human behavior. We have hard-wired tribal, xenophobic tendencies that make us feel more comfortable being around people who are like us. Fully eliminating these tendencies is an impossibility; we can only hope to ameliorate their darker impulses through wise discernment, self-compassion and grace. No matter how much anti-racist “work” we do we will continually face those tendencies in ourselves and in all other humans — including Persons of Color.
It would be more productive to accept these realities and stop the penitential anxieties. People, all people — including Persons of Color — are drawn to communities that exhibit self-acceptance and are positive about their faith. This is a far more attractive quality than anxious, moralistic self-criticism.
Jettisoning the foundational 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism really only demonstrates that Unitarian Universalism is the kind of faith that will abandon its principles.