The principles of Unitarian Universalism

December 2, 2017 GMT

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal faith tradition. Our beliefs are diverse and inclusive. We have no shared creed. We draw wisdom from the world’s religions, from the words and deeds of prophetic women and men, from spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions, and from humanist experience.

Unfortunately, this broad theological scope often leads to the misconception that we are the faith where you can “believe anything.” Far from it! All member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote Seven Principles.

Our principles and a myriad of other introductory information may be found at https://www.uua.org/beliefs. I encourage you to visit the site if you are interested in deepening your understanding of our faith.

As a professional Unitarian Universalist religious educator for children and youth, I like to share this version of our Principles that contains very accessible language, easily understood by all. We agree that:

1. Everyone is special and important.

2. We should treat each other fairly and with understanding.

3. Our congregations are places where all people are accepted and where we learn together.

4. Each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life.

5. Everyone should have a vote about the things that concern them.

6. We should work for a peaceful, fair, and free world.

7. Our Earth and all its inhabitants deserve our care.

Unitarian Universalism is known as a “living tradition,” constantly evolving and changing. It is often said that, for us, revelation is not sealed as it is in many faiths. The current iteration of our principles, for example, was adopted in 1985.

A question that the denomination is grappling with right now is whether or not to add an eighth principle specifically targeting dismantling racism and other oppressions within our own institutions.

While it is certainly important for Unitarian Universalists to understand the meaning and intent of the principles, it is far more important for us to actively live them out in our daily interactions. To share a sense of what that looks like with Danbury Unitarian Universalists, I enlisted the assistance of two of the youth enrolled in our religious education classes.

Drew (age 14) and Zack (age 10) interviewed two adult congregants to find out why they choose to be members of a Unitarian Universalist congregation and how they live out their principles in their lives. What fascinating conversations between the generations ensued!

There seems to be agreement that the most “important” principles are the first and second - each and every person is important and we should treat each other kindly. This is not surprising, since the vast majority of organized religions hold this “ethic of reciprocity” as sacred.

Where Unitarian Universalists differ, however, is that we try to take this very literally and to the extreme. We make an effort to recognize value in all individuals, regardless of whether or not they believe or act as we would like them to. Many see that as a challenge for UUs, but one that is worth trying to achieve: to love without exception.

Unitarian Universalists try to live out our faith in the work that we do. One of the adults who was interviewed by Drew is a middle-school history teacher. She uses her role as an educator to help her students develop a multi-perspective view of issues and people.

Another of the adults just retired from a long career in human resources. He told Zack that the most important thing for him was working to ensure that all of the people in his workplace had a voice and that they were treated fairly.

For example, he recently completed a project where everyone in the company was guaranteed a minimum wage that enabled them to live securely. He truly believes that his success in the human resources field was due to his conscious effort to live out his Unitarian Universalist Principles.

Often, folks who come to Unitarian Universalism from other faiths cite our Seven Principles -and actions coming from living them - as the reason they were drawn to this faith, as well as the reason they stay. As our living tradition evolves, it will be interesting to see if our principles change, if new ones are added, and, most importantly, if we Unitarian Universalists will be able to effect the positive change that we desire to create in the world.

Darlene Anderson-Alexander is Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, 24 Clapboard Ridge Road, Danbury, CT darlene_dre@uudanbury.org