On Covenant and Creed

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.

Advertisements

8 Responses

  1. […] current congregations. In reality, though, what is going to allow the UUA to grow is offering a powerful, consistent, and transformative message to those who are seeking religious community, but are dissatisfied with what they have found. We […]

  2. […] is outside the bounds of my Principles, and the Principles of the UUA as 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 […]

  3. From your final paragraph: “… 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.”

    I recoil. Why do we need to establish an identity? Why would we possibly want to “exclude some”?

    The call to Covenant as a religious principle makes me think that UUs are returning to their historical DNA as the Elect. This is often the subtext of UU self-congratulation for how special they are.

    From a Source much more profound than the Seven Priniciples, we have a simple commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And a repeated clarification: everyone is your neighbor. Everyone. Period. No exceptions.

    • At what point did I say I would stop loving anyone? Or even tell them to stop coming on Sundays?

      All I am saying is that I want it to mean something to be a UU. Currently, it doesn’t. “Anything goes” means that the label is meaningless. I don’t think it needs to be that way.

      There are people who are not UU, and know it. There are some who might not be UU, and don’t really understand that yet. We’ve spent 20 years or more being the big tent that takes in everyone, and we no longer have a core that has any real meaning. We have to change that, or we will fall apart. That might be fine for established congregations, but it will mean that there are no new UU congregations formed, and that many smaller congregations will die, never getting the support they need to stabilize and grow.

      We have many sources. They flow like springs into a lake of liberal religion. Currently, that lake lacks boundaries, and the waters are shallow and evaporate quickly. It needs a shore line. We need to say that it means something to be a UU. And, like it or not, every definition is an exclusion, too.

      Satanists are, generally, not UU. Westborough Baptist will never be a UUA member. There are people who are not UU. It makes me sad, and I would love to share our message with them, and encourage them towards spiritual growth. But they have to be willing to grow and change, and I cannot make them want that. They are not UU, and that isn’t our fault.

  4. I joined a UU congregation years ago. I give money to two congregations. I did not, do not, and would not “pledge to Affirm and Promote the Seven Principles.” So I guess you’re telling me that I’m not a UU.

    I also sometimes feel that it might be good to have a shore line. But the Seven Principles aren’t it. And I know that the shoreline that I would define would rule out some people who are perfectly good members of my congregation(s). So much for shorelines. The only ones that are well-defined are ones with vertical walls.

  5. […] Universalism are only a covenant between congregations, and need not mean anything to individuals. I strongly disagree; we need to understand that some of them are clearly promises congregations make to members, and […]

Speak your piece

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: