After months of internal deliberation and offering online glimpses of their project, the team chosen to suggest revisions to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Article II—the defining statements of the faith’s values, inspirations, and reasons for being—brought its work to the 2022 General Assembly in June.
In three sessions, held both online and on the stage at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, members of the Article II Study Commission suggested new language, asked questions of delegates and other UUs, and invited discussion and feedback.
The Rev. Cheryl M. Walker, who co-chairs the six-member commission, made clear to the General Assembly that the group is working on faith fundamentals. “Our work is not about editing,” said Walker, who is minister of the UU Congregation of Wilmington, North Carolina. The commission, she said, is undertaking a “comprehensive review” and “nothing is sacred.”
The Article II Study Commission is undertaking a “comprehensive review” and “nothing is sacred.”
The stage for these conversations was set on the first day of GA, as two opening speakers spotlighted the significance of the Article II review project.
The Rev. Meg Riley, UUA co-moderator, said the potential revision of the portion of the UU bylaws that includes the Seven Principles, Six Sources, and statements on inclusion and freedom of belief is “the juiciest part of what is going on in our faith today.”
Without mentioning Article II specifically, the Rev. William G. Sinkford, a former UUA president, stressed the importance of rethinking and revising what Unitarian Universalism stands for. “Answers that served us yesterday have to be tested against the needs of a new day,” said Sinkford, adding that UUs are compelled to sort out “what is permanent, what is passing. . . . This is our faith.”
No votes were taken on Article II at General Assembly in June. Article II Study Commission presentations were intended to give attendees a look at the work so far and to give commission members a chance to hear feedback.
The commission faces a January 2023 deadline to present recommendations to the UUA Board of Trustees. In June 2023, the General Assembly is expected to vote on proposed Article II changes. If a simple majority of delegates votes the proposal down, the process ends there. If a majority approves the proposal, it will go before the GA again in 2024 for a final vote. To be adopted, the final proposed changes will need a two-thirds majority vote.
“Answers that served us yesterday have to be tested against the needs of a new day.” —Rev. William G. Sinkford
At GA 2022, the study commission split its presentation into three sessions, each focused on different sections of Article II: The clauses on the purposes of the UUA and freedom of belief; shared UU values and the meaning of “covenant;” and statements on inclusion and sources of inspiration.
Commission members presented tentative language—emphasizing “tentative”—for attendees’ consideration. Participants were invited to share thoughts with each other and with the commission, including on-site conversations and an open “chat” board unfolding alongside the video streaming of proceedings for delegates and non-delegates participating online.
Commission presentations did not directly address the Seven Principles. This is the aspect of the Article II project that for several years has prompted the most discussion, not least because of a movement to add an Eighth Principle committing to antiracist practices. Some 200 UU congregations and organizations, nearly a fifth of the worldwide total, have already adopted an Eighth Principle.
A Cloud of Values
Ideals represented in the Principles were engaged in discussion of shared values during Friday’s session.
“Our values are the foundation upon which we build our faith and our institutions,” said Walker. “They are core to who we are.”
But what, exactly, are these values? Walker asked.
The commissioners had previously put the question to a number of UUs online, creating a word cloud, then distilling that into another image. “Love” appeared as the largest word in the center, surrounded by six other values: Generosity, Justice, Evolution, Pluralism/Diversity, Interdependence, Equity.
The commission presented that image at GA, then asked the audience how to turn these values into action as part of a meditation on the notion of “covenant” as a verb. How would that work?
Participants shared their thoughts in the chat:
“Because we value pluralism, we covenant to listen deeply,” said the Rev. Ed Proulx, minister of First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches in Jupiter, Florida.
“Because we value love, we covenant to work together towards JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, & inclusion) and own our mistakes/ouches along the way,” said Jamaine Cripe, a member of the Beacon UU Congregation in Summit, New Jersey. “It’s wordy and awkward, but it’s a start.”
Paula Ulicsni Halvorson, of the UU Church of Willmar, Minnesota, wrote: “Because we value justice, we work to bring attention to the injustices of our past and present and actively support efforts to bring change, equity, and justice.”
“In general, we have had too much emphasis on individual freedom and need more focus on collective good to strike a better balance.” —Zoe Hart, GA delegate
On Thursday, commissioner Rob Spirko showed the assembly two possible revisions of the statement of Purposes of the UUA. As it is, the 48-word paragraph says the UUA is to use its “corporate powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes,” and is set up chiefly to serve congregations, establish new congregations, and implement UU principles.
One revision refers to “religious, education, and humanitarian purposes” and equipping congregations for ministry, supporting and training leaders, advancing UU values and healing “historic inequities.”
A second version mentions the word “love” three times, saying that the UUA’s purpose is to “grow and resource faith communities that support people through their lives’ journeys and transform the world by liberating ourselves through love . . . We are called upon to risk ourselves for love.”
Both drafts cut the word “corporate.” That move was widely applauded in the chat discussion, which otherwise showed a range of views. There was support for each version, and support for a third option that would combine the strongest elements of both.
A few comments agreed with Zoe Hart, a delegate from the First UU Society of Burlington, Vermont, who noted that “in general, we have had too much emphasis on individual freedom and need more focus on collective good to strike a better balance.”
Spirko, in his remarks to the GA, set a high bar for the Article II project: “We can use this article to light a beacon for all others who feel the power of love. . . ."