Let’s Save the Seven Principles

Opinion, by John Eichrodt, EUU member

Preliminary remarks

For the last several years, there has been considerable concern in UU communities in the U.S. about losing our Seven Principles and thus the core of our UU faith that is expressed in them. This article intends to give just a short overview of the concerns and what has been happening.

The information is derived mainly from the pamphlet made available on the site savethe7principles.org In my opinion, the pamphlet corroborates much of what can be found on the web sites of the four major UU groups that have been resisting the rewrite of our UU principles.

The four major resistance groups and what they are doing

  1. Save the Seven Principles has published many articles, studies and videos, on a wide range of issues by leading UU authors, theologians, and ministers.
  2. The 5th Principle Project does likewise but also has a lively discussion on the major issues.
  3. The Unitarian Universalist Multiracial Unity Action Council (UUMUAC ) has concentrated more on the issues raised by the UUA’s recent focus on white supremacy.
  4. The newly founded North American Unitarian Association  is already providing a wide range of programs (also on line) including congregational affiliation, individual membership, worship services, academic seminars, a bulletin The Liberal Beacon, and ministerial support.

Thousands of Unitarians in a great many congregations are thus trying to save the core of our faith. Many are affiliated with these four resistance groups. It seems evident that our UU movement is in historical times. The energy is high. Discussions are rich, lively, and sometimes intense. Books and studies are being written. Videos are being made. Some UU ministers and leaders have spoken out, even when it has been perilous to do so, and have paid the cost.

What is happening?

This year’s 2023 UUA General Assembly voted to eliminate our seven UU principles. This will become definitive if next year’s GA approves the replacement consisting mainly of Values and Covenant statements.

Four concerns

The main concern seems to be that the UUA rewrite undermines our core UU enlightenment heritage based on freedom, reason and tolerance. This is being replaced by ‘love’ as the new theological core that includes a list of classic values.

It is feared that ‘right of conscience, individual freedom of belief, individual dignity, the worth of each person, and the democratic process will no longer have the same importance in our faith. The proposed rewrite is thus considered a repudiation of our enlightenment (humanistic) values of freedom of thought, expression and critical thinking.

Second, there is also great concern that the current white supremacy ideology divides our membership and contradicts our principles and enlightenment values.

Third, it is feared that the increased emphasis on accountability and covenants represents a shift towards a more authoritarian institutional structure and will threaten individual freedom of belief and congregational autonomy.

Fourth, there is widespread and repeated criticism of the poor democratic process used to formulate and pass the UUA’s proposed suppression and the proposed rewrite of the principles. One of the major observations is that the members of the congregations were neither really well informed, nor really consulted, nor had an effective voice in the whole process from the beginning to the adoption of the proposed suppression of the 7 principles.

In summary, these seem to me to be the major concerns reiterated over the last years. In my opinion, the UUA debate itself seems to have been haphazard from the very beginning of the process that has led up to the current attempt to suppress the 7 principles.

Paradoxically, one of the benefits emerging from the struggle to save our UU faith has been the need to revisit, to re-examine, and to understand why our UU faith matters so much, so intensely to so many.