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Commission revises UUA Principles and Purposes

Seeks feedback by October 16 for draft of new UUA covenant; changes will require two General Assembly votes for adoption.
By Warren R. Ross

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The Commission on Appraisal has released a draft revision of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Principles and Purposes. The Principles and Purposes are contained in Article II of the Association’s bylaws and are subject to periodic review.

The draft Article II is headed “Covenant” rather than the current “Principles and Purposes,” and consists of six sections: Purposes, Identity, Sources, Principles, Inclusion, and Freedom of Belief.

The UUA’s Seven Principles, which have become embedded in denominational life since their original adoption at the time of the merger in 1961, were modified slightly by General Assemblies in 1984, 1985, and 1995. The question facing the Commission on Appraisal was, basically, whether to retain them or start from scratch. Choosing what could be considered a middle ground, the Commission’s draft retains the Principles almost verbatim (slightly abbreviating numbers three and five), but substantially changes the context within which they appear. For example, in place of the current lead-in phrase that we “affirm and promote” the Principles, the draft now says that we “honor and uphold” them. (See sidebar for a link to the complete draft.)

The release of this draft represents one of the final steps in a periodic review of Article II required by the bylaws. The UUA Board of Trustees asked the Commission to take on this process in April 2006, and it agreed, designating one of its members, the Rev. Barbara Child, as the project manager. The Commission has set a deadline of October 16 for comments, which it will review at its next meeting, October 23–26. (See sidebar for a link to the Commission’s response form.)

After deciding whether further revisions are called for, the Commission will submit its final draft to the UUA Board. Assuming the Board approves it—with or without changes—the proposal will then be placed on the agenda of the 2009 General Assembly. If a majority votes yes, the revised Article II will then be resubmitted to the 2010 GA, when final approval will require a two-thirds vote.

This long and careful process is in part required by the bylaws and in part reflects the Commission’s desire for what Child has called a “denomination-wide process of reflection on the essence of what Unitarian Universalism stands for.”

According to the Rev. Orlanda Brugnola, the Commission chair, it “reached out to every UU congregation, held a number of regional hearings and one at each of the General Assemblies in 2007 and 2008, interviewed staff of the UUA, read sermons by UU ministers, consulted with many UU ‘identity groups,’ interviewed many leading UU scholars, and received dozens of unsolicited, but very welcome, emails, letters, and telephone calls.”

The Commission also held quarterly meetings, and “between and during [these] meetings . . . devoted time to reviewing, compiling, organizing, and reflecting on the mass of data we received,” Brugnola said.

Now the Commission hopes to hear from as many UUs as possible as to what they think of the draft. In fact, just two days after its release, Child reported, responses began to pour in, “and the number is swelling by the minute.” She predicted that the Commission is almost certain to make further changes.

Asked about the thinking that went into the draft, she explained that the Commission, at this juncture, wants feedback to be based strictly on the draft’s text, without annotation or comment. However, when the final draft is released, it will be accompanied by a report that will not only describe the thoroughness of the process but reflect on the complexity that was involved in sorting out what Child has called “this massive amount of material.”

The Commission’s response form is available at UUA.org/coa.

See sidebar for links to related resources, including the full text of the revised Article II and the Commission on Appraisal’s response form.

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