Covenant is a magic word, but not a magic pill

Covenant! You said the magic word! It could fix so much, if we weren’t so afraid of, you know, fixing things. It would require change to enact true covenant, and, as I’ve been told many times, it is a slippery slope from there to “creed” <cough-cough-bullcrap>

Again,I feel I have to point out that I am not talking about ministerial misconduct as if it were a huge problem, or even a looming problem; everyone else has made that a point, and I have addressed it. What I am talking about, in the bigger sense, is abuse of the Polity system by rogue congregations as much as rogue ministers. We do need covenant. We need it in congregations, between congregations, and between individuals; between every minister and every Unitarian Universalist; between every UU and the entire UUA.

Still, I disagree that making things safER isn’t still a worthwhile goal. Why isn’t it good to insure training and screening so that every UU congregation with an ordained minister is one with qualified and competent leadership? Sure, there are cracks in every system, but an imperfect legal system doesn’t mean we should choose anarchy. We can do better, and the only arguments I’ve been given against trying are “we’ve always done it this way” and “it can never be perfect”. Why let Perfect stop us from having Better?

There should be a covenant. There should be standards for ordination, though I don’t think they need to be as strict as the MFC screening. There needs to be a system for addressing issues that members of visitors might have with a minister, or that may arise between congregations. There needs to be a covenant and a set of guidelines for resolving conflict that is fair to all parties, but which keeps the greater covenant as the goal.

We live in a much more complicated world. We are doing it with no guidelines. There is no definition of “Unitarian Univeralist” except “one who pays dues”, and that seems to be both a poor limit on what we allow into our covenant, and a slap in the face to the ideas of democracy, compassion, and equality. People who don’t want to be a part of the local congregation, but don’t feel that The Church of the Larger Fellowship is fulfilling enough to warrant membership, are left with no voice, because they aren’t really UUs. Free-range UUs deserve recognition in some way, too!

So, yes! I want covenant to be what guides UUs and the UUA. I’ve been trying to make that point for some time. I want (as I said in the post that sparked this latest round of flaming discussion) for ours to be a transformational religion, where you are welcome to come as you are, but we try to help you be more than that. I want a covenant that says that we will support you when you are crawling through life, and challenge you when you are soaring. We will always encourage the best in you and a continued search for truth and meaning in your life. I want this to be the groundwork that we all agree to.

Again, I have to lament that while we have Principles, they are meaningless if they aren’t upheld in the lives of our people. We claim the right to a free and responsible search, but under out current system, there is almost nothing that can be offered as a standard for responsibility. If anything goes, then it means nothing at all to call myself a UU. There are many right ways, but if there is no wrong way, then there is no point in having the label; there is no point in gathering under the banner.

We need a covenant, but it has to be about more than showing up and paying dues. There has to be a commitment to the Principles and the works of their congregation, sure, but also of the Unitarian Universalist movement as a whole. It has to be more than words, too. It has to be a heartfelt promise to help us make the world a better place. It has to be about treating people with dignity and encouraging them to live up to their inherent worth. It has to be about working for compassion in the justice system, and justice in the rest of the world. It has to be about a free, but honest and responsible search for truth and meaning in our lives and communities. It has to be about respecting the whole of existence, with wonder and reverence and intellect.

I want there to be covenant, but it has to be a real one. It has to have promises that go both ways, and it has to exist for us all. It has to let us know that we are part of something bigger. It has to include each of us in a movement that makes the world better by helping each of us to be better in the world. I do think that a covenant like that would be good enough, because it would require us to do the work to create a better system for our leaders and our congregations to call each other back into covenant when issues arise, always remembering the worth and dignity that we seek to reflect for them, that they might see it in themselves.


4 Responses

  1. “If anything goes, then it means nothing at all to call myself a UU. There are many right ways, but if there is no wrong way, then there is no point in having the label; there is no point in gathering under the banner.”

    Thomas this is so beyond profound and totally spot on. I think this is a message we as UUs would do well to head more often. I think this sentiment not only is a wise course of action with regards to how we behave as UU’s, but also in what religious/spiritual beliefs we as UUs are willing to except under the UU banner. For if we want to stand for something worth standing for, I feel we would be wise to do it in a respectful and integral manner and to remember we are a religion or at lest a spiritual community will doing so. And I do consider, and I hope it’s true that we the UU religion is one that is open in the realm of religious/spiritual belief but not so wide that we never stand for anything. I think to truly stand for something you need to do it in away that is respectful, open and at the same time willing to say no this or that behaviour and this or that belief in question is not compatibly/acceptable with what it means to be a in this insistence a UU or part of UUism.

  2. “We, as individuals, as congregations and beyond, covenant with each other to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in every aspect of our lives and interactions with each other, with humanity and with all nature.” Not an official formulation, but that is what we “stand for.” Isn’t it? Or are you saying that some among us stand against it?

    • That’s not a bad start, but it is far from complete. It says nothing about our special covenant with each other to encourage each other toward spiritual growth.
      While there may not be anyone who is against the meaning of the words, there are a great many who would not agree to say them. There are those among us who are so scarred by religion in their past that they will oppose event this statement of covenant as a creed.
      Personally, I like it as a starting point. We shouldn’t be afraid to committ to our Principles.

    • Hello, Sabin and Thomas. I’ve been a member of the UU community for over 40 years. Those words don’t decribe what I stand for. What they express to me is a fairly typical religious worldview that’s popular in some UU circles, especially among people who came from other religious traditions. By defining justice, equity, and compassion for us, that worldview excludes individual freedom of conscience. It dismisses a scientific understanding of human nature that is fact rather than faith based. It references an imaginary nature rather than a real understanding of nature and our place in it.

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