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.