Without Principles, what is a UU?

I posted a link to Twitter yesterday from a Unitarian Universalist who asked, jokingly, if he ought to feel bad for not knowing the 7 Principles, comparing it to the 10 Commandments, which relatively few Christians can recite.

Now, of course, I don’t expect most UUs to recite the almost-litigious wording of the by-laws, and I won’t fault anyone for not getting them in the right order, but don’t we as UUs need to know what the Principles are?

(Yes, the first 2 paragraphs are each just an obnoxiously long sentence)

The thing is that there are UUs who don’t think the Principles mean anything to them. The wording of the by-laws makes it a covenant of congregations, and they feel that this means members of those congregations need not give the Principles much thought. If they sponsor the congregation, and the congregation Affirms and Promotes the Principles, then that’s job done.

This logical leap, for me, barely glosses over the biggest flaw in the argument: if you are supporting the work of the congregation, as an active member, then You have to be Affirming and Promoting the Principles at various times. When you help Hearts and Hammers build a house, or man a table at the local Pride event, or you help educate people on important issues for an upcoming election, you are living the Principles.

Still, it warrants discussion: If we do not embrace the Principles of the UUA as individuals, then what makes a UU? Is there any theology that we won’t welcome? Are we just a social club? Are we so concerned with numbers and funds that we’ll gladly act as a duck-blind for miscreants who want to claim a church for social reasons?

If we have no creed, no superstitions, and no Prophet to dictate the Word of God, then what, other than the Principles, do we have to stand as the core of what it means to be a UU? If it means nothing at all to say I am a UU, then I think I would rather not say it anymore.


**Edited to Add**

My personal take is that the Principles provide a wide border for UU theologies. We are free to roam that boundary, but leaving it “invokes” the “free and responsible” clause, requiring our fellow UUs to “encourage” us towards more positive growth. We are free to explore the depths of that spiritual territory as we feel drawn. There are limits to what UUs can believe about the world, and they are outlined in the 7 Principles.


3 Responses

  1. Great question, and a thoughtful answer, yet I do find Unitarian Universalism, Universalism, and Unitarianism beyond the boundaries of one of our historical denominations or associations and how each community defines and knows itself.

    What makes a Unitarian Universalist brings those of us who are members of congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association back to covenant, which is what the principles and purposes are part of, for those who are members of congregations in the UUA. If not part of that covenant, or the body of another recognized Universalist, Unitarian, or Unitarian Universalist faith community (not all are congregationally covenantal, or associational – the Transylvanian Unitarian Church, for example, has an episcopate) then we’re talking about theological or cultural Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists. Can one be a cultural Universalist, Unitarian, or Unitarian Universalist? Sure, if Universalism, Unitarianism, or Unitarian Universalism are faiths, then we will also have cultures attached to them about how we faith. They might faith very differently from how you faith, or I faith, and we might faith very differently from each other. The same is true with different theologies.

    Not belonging to a congregation in the UUA – or the Candian Unitarian Council, or the Khasi Hills Unitarians, or the Universalist Church of the Philippines, or another recognized Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist denomination or association — does not define one’s faith. The denominations and associations exist to transmit those faiths, to act faithfully together in the world, and to carry on faithfully from one generation to the next.

    • There are recognized definitions for Unitarian and Universalist, even though many UUs don’t seem to know exactly what those are (not a big problem, internally). What, though, is the working definition for what makes someone, or allows someone to call themselves, a Unitarian Universalist?

      This is likely a bigger conversation, and I might just have another blog entry about it, soon.

  2. […] I understand them. We need our principles to act as a covenant between us; with out at least that, we have nothing to rally around. Without that covenant, we accept that anything goes, and the behavior of this on-line community […]

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