Why Unitarian Universalists are Reexamining Article II

ALEXANDRA VARNEY MCDONALD  

Carey McDonald, executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke to UU World about the revision process, and why he encourages all UUs to delve into the commission’s findings and prepare to “engage in faithful discernment:

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Why is Article II being revised, and why is this work important?

The UUA bylaws mandate a regular revision process of Article II every fifteen years. Article II has the language that is at the heart of our faith for many of us as UUs. It has the Principles and the Sources, and our purpose as an organization. The language in Article II lives in the UUA bylaws and has been revised a number of times over the course of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s history. We are a living tradition, which means regularly reviewing and asking ourselves: Does the Article II core language reflect who we are now and who we want to be?

Read the Article II Study Commission’s recommendations in its Report to the Board of Trustees (PDF).

More specifically—and this shows up in the charge given to the Article II Study Commission by the Board of Trustees—there were a couple of proposed changes to Article II that started around 2017. One did pass, which changed “women and men” to “people” (in the second Source). There was a recommended change (in the First Principle) to “all beings” instead of “all people,” which did not pass.

Then, of course, there has been the large grassroots movement towards the Eighth Principle. Instead of considering such changes one-by-one, the board created the Article II Study Commission in 2020.

One of the features of this process is that it is very strictly defined in our bylaws on how to make changes to the language in Article II. In addition to the regular fifteen-year review, the UUA is required to create an Article II Study Commission when any changes are considered, unless there is overwhelming support for the specific change.

There was a push from the Commission on Appraisal, a separate UUA commission, to make a number of changes to Article II in 2008–10. These didn’t pass, so there were still some of those recommendations to consider, which were also named in the charge that the board gave to the Article II Study Commission.

Are the Article II revisions moving away from our Principles? What about the importance of enduring values?

Growing up as a UU, the Principles were important to me, and values were just as important. These were the foundation of our covenant—what we agreed to do together and the promises we made to each other in the faith community.

My view of the proposal from the Article II Study Commission is that it’s a deepening and expanding of the language of the Seven Principles to include commitments and actions. It’s being clear about the values that are at our foundation and what they call us to do as people of faith. I think it does a very good job of articulating what it means to be a UU today.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, individual congregations and UU communities can hold and value the Seven Principles as a meaningful part of our religious tradition, just as some have adopted the Eighth Principle on their own.

How are the Sources being changed, and why?

The Article II Study Commission gave its presentation at the board meeting in January. The commission members talked about how the current list of sources is a list which is always incomplete. The members want to describe how and why something is a source of inspiration, rather than just enumerating them.

I understand people have different opinions about that, and that it also can be invaluable to have one’s identity or beliefs explicitly reflected. I think this is one possibility that they spoke about during conversations with the commission at General Assembly 2022. I think this has been the cause for a lot of back-and-forth. With the inspiration section, as with the entire proposal, it is ultimately up to the delegates to decide whether this is the path forward we will take.

How has this process opened avenues for deep discussion of UU theology?

I think that we lack consistent ways to deepen our theology and have conversations about it that are accessible to all UUs. At its best, the process for looking at our Principles and Sources, and the values, inspiration, and covenant is helping us have those essential conversations. It’s helping us really dig into what matters to us, for us as Unitarian Universalists.

“It’s helping us really dig into what matters to us, for us as Unitarian Universalists. ”

I think that in the absence of that, a lot of things then get channeled into discussions about Article II that are unresolved in Unitarian Universalism more broadly.

This is part of what I see having played out in the previous discussions, which is that people certainly had attachment to certain phrasing or language. But more than that, it was not part of a broader stream of deep and rich theological conversation that most UUs participate in, and that’s definitely really needed.

I see that starting to happen as part of this process of the Study Commission’s goal: to really get UUs talking about theology—not just in seminary or in an academic or professional context—but all members within our faith community being able to participate.

Click here to read the rest of the article on uuworld.org.

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