I publicized an old post last week, due to it being relevant to some of my recent social media interactions. It concerned my view of the “Affirm and Promote” line of the UUA by-laws, and how I rather liked those words, even if they are sort of pedantic. In reply, Amy G says, “I wrote … [about how I personally live the seven principles] and got my virtual hand slapped by another UU who pointed out that the principles were never intended to guide the behavior or choices of individuals, but to guide the actions of a congregation.“
This is going to be an issue for a lot of (mostly younger) UUs, and especially those who aren’t afraid of words like “faith” and “prayer”. I’ve had the same problem, and a literal reading would imply that the Principles are a covenant between Congregations. That’s true, as far as it goes.
The thing is that the UUA is mainly concerned with being the link between our congregations, so the bylaws obviously reflect that. As written, they are the covenant between congregations, to outline the principles that the UUA stands for, as an association.
Now, the tricky part to explain to the die-hard polity hawks: Just as the UUA is made up of our congregations, the congregations are made up of individuals. Joining a UUA affiliated congregation means pledging your support to its goals and your efforts to its work. That means that everyone who joins a UUA congregation is pledging to Affirm and Promote the 7 Principles with their time, sweat and/or money.
The thing is that, once you imply that the 7 Principles make a pretty good starting point for a personal code of ethics, or even a nice outline for a personal theology, a lot of Unitarians will start accusing you of creating a creed, which is the only heresy that certain UUs will not tolerate.
The definition of Creed includes: “a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone’s actions”, and in that regard, expecting every good UU to personally affirm and promote the Principles could be seen as applying a creed. As I’ve said, though, we do that already on the Congregational level. I am not taking the Principles as creed, though. Creeds imply answers to universal questions and statements of conformity. Creeds are a thing religions hand out to followers. I am not seeking a noun, but a verb; “agree, especially by lease, deed, or other legal contract”. That is the Oxford definition of Covenant. A covenant is what people agree to do, together, and that is what we need if we are going to overcome our attrition and our spiritual stagnation and finally grow into the tradition that the Unitarian and Universalist theologians of old have left for us.
So, I seek a covenant, entered into with purpose and intent, after reasonable fellowship and consideration, between each UU and their home congregation. The congregation then covenants with the UUA, and thus with the other congregations. Thus, we all covenant together with a single set of principles, defining a wide field of theology in which we may roam, dig, or climb as we wish. Yes, this definition will exclude some, maybe even some who currently attend UU services or pay dues. This is the price I think we must pay to establish an identity that UUs can take pride in. We need a sense of communal identity and meaning.