Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creeping Creedalism, Batman!

What words are missing in this page that I found on the Starr King web site?
Unitarian Universalists covenant to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to …..
Unitarian Universalists will recognize the Seven Priniciples, taken from the UUA By-Laws and the front of the hymnal. The By-Laws read, "the Member Congregations covenant to affirm and promote….," but Starr King says individual UUs, a very different thing.  I have seen the exact same re-wording elsewhere, including the bulletin board of my own home congregation.

In the context of the By-Laws, these are just some principles for which an association of congregations is formed. But minus the "congregations affirm" wording, this starts to look like creeping creedalism.

And there is zero mention of the Sources, as if Unitarian Universalism sprung fully formed from the brow of Zeus.  In 1961, the Sources came first; in 1986 they moved to second place; now they apparently don't rate a mention on the seminary's web page.

I have even had a discussion (with a member of UUA officialdom, no less) who asked, "you do believe in the Seven Principles, don't you?"  Well, actually, I never considered them as an article for "belief," and if that is what they are there for, they're pretty thin beer.  However, that's a discussion for another blog, and others have done a better critique of the Principles than I am likely to produce.

So ignoring the critique - is there anyone else who is bothered by the transformation of the Seven Principles from an enumeration of plausible points of agreement in organizational by-laws into articles of belief?  (And I'm not interested in subtle word games on the difference between "affirm" and "belief.")


  1. I'm seeing a lot of this in my current congregation, a former Fellowship founded in the 1950s. The illness is very clearly diagnosed as the result of woefully insufficient understanding of UU history. At a recent discussion with about 15 other UUs in their 30s and 40s, I (the only cradle UU) was the only one who knew that the Principles were part of the UUA bylaws, and that they applied only to congregations. Just about everyone else assumed they were the central facts of our traditions, the content we were supposed to be passing along in our Sunday School. No one knew how they'd been arrived at or when. There was also blanket belief that the flaming chalice is THE symbol of UUism.

  2. The Sacred Seven Principles have been treated as articles of belief for some time now. Rev Sinkford and the UUAWO used to quote them as the basis for the political positions they'd fax to our congressmen- which got really interesting when the same principle was used as the basis for two different positions, as when the position on the filibuster changed depending upon who was President.

  3. Actually, Joel, I thin, that's a perfectly acceptible use of the Principles: as support for stands our association takes. But Tom's point is well made. The principles are not items of belief, but not because we're likely not to agree with them. They are things we should uphold, but they are rather thin items for theological basis, as Transient and Permanent is hinting, I think.

  4. I am bothered by this. They have always been taught to me to be suggested and they are principles (and purposes). There is a difference between being principled and held under a creed. All (one) has to do is look at the definitions of both " creed" and "principle", heck look up "purpose" too.