“The Principles are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate in Unitarian Universalist religious communities.”
—Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove
“We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote” is the introductory sentence to our principles. As a religious educator I teach children and youth the importance of covenant, of deciding together how it is important to be and act within a specific group. We stress that a covenant is a living document, within our living tradition—which means it is open to change at any time if we find need to clarify our expectations. If someone is hurt, or the group isn’t functioning well, we turn to the covenant and ask what we need to add or change. How do we need to change our behaviour and understanding in this group?
The purpose of the covenant is to help guide us in creating a space where everyone is able to trust the group with their full, authentic, self. This does not mean that hurtful behaviour or expressions are allowed in the name of free speech. A person who authentically believes that homosexuality is wrong, for example, is out of covenant expressing or acting on such a belief. They are free to be themselves, to be comfortably heterosexual, but they are not free within our covenant to demean another’s identity. That goes against our agreement to respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
When I look at the request for us to add an 8th principle that calls us to accountably dismantle racism and oppressions in ourselves and our institutions, what I hear is a portion of our Unitarian members saying that the covenant we have together isn’t working as intended. I hear that we are called to understand that racism, and oppressions that compound it; classism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, are at play within our religious home. That there are people feeling sidelined and marginalized within our community and they are saying “I need you to do this thing, in order for me to trust this community with my full, authentic self.” This call does not come from all IBPOC members or all youth and young adults, no one group is a monolith, but it does not need to be a unanimous call in order to be valid. The question is “can you do this thing to fully include me in the group? At least give it your best shot?”
The thing that the 8th principle asks us to do is to acknowledge that racism has played a role in shaping our reality, our perceptions, our governance, our theology, our world view, and that we need to work to figure that out and change the way we do things in order to live up to our aspiration of radical inclusivity. We are being asked to please, take this on principle. Make this part of our covenant together—to not ignore oppressions within our own selves and within our religion. Change starts at home. We have been very good at looking outwards, trying to make the world a better place. We are very proud of our progressive faith which has been often at the forefront of social change; it is hard to hear we are failing in any area. The truth is, we still have work to do today, in our current time. This principle is not about a social justice issue. It is about working to make our faith better, to include, hear, and see our own members fully. Systemic change has to start from the ground up; our Unitarian and Universalist faith is the ground we stand on. The principles are our covenant with each other, a living document within our living tradition.
Kiersten E. Moore
Director of Lifespan Faith Development