1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship;

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1 A Principled Life: The First UU Principle Rev. Victoria Ingram September 25, 2011 In the 1950s, the Unitarians and the Universalists, then operating as independent religious institutions, engaged in intense deliberations about a possible merger of the two liberal religious denominations. Each brought a rich history and proud heritage to the dialogue; each yearned to find ways to make the possible merger feasible without losing essential elements of their beloved faith and tradition. It was a time of deep reflection and serious discussion, where both Unitarians and Universalists had to take a clear-eyed look at their culture, their mission, and their philosophies in order to find a way forward as they moved toward joining forces to face the future as a joint venture. Many decisions were made to facilitate the consolidation; some happened fairly quickly and easily, considering the complexities involved. A few came with much greater challenges. One of the most challenging discussions centered around the wording of the fundamental set of principles that would define the mission of the combined organization. Some of you may remember this time in our movement s history. Some of you may even trace your involvement to a time when one was either a Unitarian OR a Universalist, but not both. Of course, there are also those of us were not around at that time, and we have to rely on the stories and writings of history to help us understand what it was like for these two denominations to find their way into partnership in The stories of the road to merger help us see the commonalities and the differences in Unitarianism and Universalism, and they give us clues about how each came to influence the set of Principles that eventually were adopted to describe the covenant of this new denomination. The discussions that shaped the first set of Principles adopted in 1961 were accomplished through long days and sleepless nights of talking, compromising, arguing, and word-smithing. Finally, a statement of covenant was developed that received affirmation by representatives of both denominations, a document that incorporated elements of the history, culture, and belief from both streams of our historic faith. You, I hope, are familiar with the current version of the Seven Principles. It s found on our website, in the front of our hymnals, and in many other Unitarian Universalist publications and resources. For many people, the Seven Principles have become a cornerstone of their personal spiritual practice and understanding. Let s take a look at them now they are located on the page before the first hymn in your gray hymnal. [READ] Think about the wording of our current Seven Principles as I read to you the initial statement adopted in I think you ll hear some interesting similarities and notice a few important differences. 1. To strengthen one another in a free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of our religious fellowship; 2. To cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo- Christian heritage as love to God and love to man; 1 st Principle 1

2 3. To affirm, defend and promote the supreme worth of every human personality, the dignity of man, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships; 4. To implement our vision of one world by striving for a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood, justice and peace; 5. To serve the needs of member churches and fellowships, to organize new churches and fellowships, and to extend and strengthen liberal religion; 6. To encourage cooperation with men of good will in every land. They sound very different, and yet, there are resonances of this historical statement in spirit and wording in our current Principles, as well. What did you notice? First, you probably noted that there are only six Principles in the original document, though now we have a total of seven. That original set of six Principles were reviewed, reworded, and expanded to the current seven in the 1980s to specifically include a reference to our interconnected relationship with the web of all life. But, most notably, perhaps, is the change in gender language. When the original Principles were modified, the new language reflected seven years of effort by women s caucuses in our denomination, along with others concerned about the blatantly sexist language, who advocated for substantial changes to make the Principles inclusive and gender-neutral. Perhaps it s hard to imagine that this was a challenging issue to discuss and resolve, but in that era, it was. To their credit, when the proposed changes came before the delegates at General Assembly for ratification, the proposal passed nearly unanimously. Because both of our historical traditions valued and used the Democratic process in their governance, the newly formed Unitarian Universalist Association modeled this structure, as well. Bylaws became the guiding document for the workings of the Association, and the Principles were incorporated into the Bylaws by delegates to the newly formed organization s General Assembly. I don t know of any other religious denomination that includes something like our Seven Principles in their Bylaws. They remain in our Bylaws today. And, according to the guidelines of our Bylaws, the Principles must be reviewed denomination-wide every 15 years for possible changes. The Commission on Appraisal selects and researches issues of deeper meaning and better practice for Unitarian Universalism. They were assigned the responsibility of engaging in a process of gathering input, information, and suggestions from Unitarian Universalists globally on the Seven Principles for the most review in When the results of their deliberations were presented at General Assembly in 2009, the resounding response was along the lines of if it aint broke, don t fix it and the Commission on Appraisal was sent back to the drawing board for another consideration of potential changes. I m going to explore the Seven Principles through a series of sermons this year, because I think it is important for us to engage our foundational statements of values as Unitarians on a regular basis. 1 st Principle 2

3 We are shaped by words and thoughts and ideas. They bring us together and shape communities. They inform our thinking and wondering about the world, supplying answers and more questions and solutions and possibilities. They help us understand our circumstances and give us a framework for interpreting life and discerning our values. Some of the most important words in Unitarian Universalism are contained in the statement that is our Seven Principles and Six Sources. Over the years, this collection of words has become precious to many UUs a statement of faith, a touchstone for explaining who we are as a community, a reference point for helping our children learn about living an honorable life, and an inspiration in helping us choose right action and right relationship. But, even though our Principles may make an admirable statement of faith, they do not serve as our final statement of faith. One of the grounding principles of Unitarian Universalism is that we have no final answers when it comes to religious belief. We say that revelation is not sealed, and in that spirit, Unitarians and Universalists have revised their statements of faith many times over the years. This foundational UU statement starts with this preamble: We, the member congregations of the Unitaritan Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: This preamble tells us what this document is about our covenant as congregations with one another; our statement of aspiration about how we want to be with one another and in relationship to the world around us. The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism represent our agreement about how we aspire to work together to embody the precepts of our faith. They are an agreement of what we seek to affirm and promote, instead of a statement of specific belief or a dogmatic creed. UUs are united around our common covenant instead of common doctrine. Our Seven Principles represent not a creedal statement of what we must believe in order to be called Unitarian Universalist, but rather, an answer to the question, How do I seek to live my life as a Unitarian Universalist? These Seven Principles challenge us to live a life that demonstrates our covenant, in common action and approach, with each other and the larger community. They speak to our values and the elements we consider important in a life well lived. The first Principle calls on us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It arises out of the Universalist influence on our movement, and reflects the Universalist belief in human goodness, historically, that all people are worthy of God s love and all will ultimately be saved and reconciled with God. Our Universalist forebears (as well as the Unitarians) rejected the debased view of human nature espoused by Calvinists, believing that a good and just God created humans who were inherently good, as well. While acknowledging the human capacity for evil, Universalists challenged the faithful to find something of value in every human being and to believe that redemption was possible even for those who had wandered from living an ideal life. This first Principle, of acceptance and honoring human worth and dignity, is a message of hope for those who feel rejected or condemned by harsher religious interpretations. It is an inspiration for those who seek renewed faith and relationship with a religious community where it is okay to be who you are. It is not unusual for people who come to a UU congregation from other religious traditions to express their relief at this loving message and to feel renewed faith. In the light of dire predictions of hellfire 1 st Principle 3

4 and damnation, Universalists offered hope for those of us who are all too human, and that s all of us, to be renewed in the love of God and God s love for us. As our tradition has evolved over the years, we ve become more inclusive of other religious perspectives and have expanded to include other words for the sacred and divine, as well. As a movement, Unitarian Universalism has sometimes been criticized for disavowing the concepts of sin and damnation by those who firmly believe that people can t be expected to behave properly without the threat of eternal damnation. Enter into a discussion on the topic of the inherent worth and dignity of every person and, inevitably, the issue of someone like Hitler arises. What, the person will ask, about someone like that? How does a human monster like him rate being given worth and dignity? UUs don t deny that people are capable of reprehensible behavior, even evil. And, certainly Hitler and others have demonstrated the limits of depraved thought and behavior we may be humanly capable of. Our discernment on this issue, as UUs, is around the person, not the behavior. We can affirm people s inherent worth while condemning the choices, behavior, and actions of the individual. We don t believe that all behavior is appropriate, dignified, or worthwhile. We do believe that every soul is worthy, capable of redemption, and possessing inherent dignity. We believe that every person has worth, even when their behavior is unacceptable. We believe that it matters that you and I and others were born. The example of a Hitler is clear the behavior was wrong, the choices appalling, the power disastrously misused. There was nothing in Hitler s personal theology apparently about promoting and affirming the worth and dignity of ALL persons, as opposed to a select few. Making choices based on the rights of all, regardless of our differences, doesn t result in slaughter, genocide, and torture. Sometimes, it is less easy for us to deal with the disruptive or challenging behavior of a someone in our community. Our concern for the individual s worth and dignity may lead us to accept and tolerate bad behavior in the guise of saying, Oh, that s just the way she or he is. Our challenge is honoring people s dignity and worth while also demanding that they honor the worth and dignity of others. Our work is creating right relationships with one another where we are explicit about what behavior is appropriate and encouraged, and clear about what actions will result in censure from each other because it is disruptive, inappropriate, or disrespectful. My inherent worth and dignity is not more or less important than yours. Affirming and promoting the dignity and worth of all people is not the same as putting up with hurtful behavior. Unitarians and Universalists brought together their rich heritages and instructive stories and values when they merged in Our stories illuminated the history of each movement and highlighted the ways in which they had developed, spread, and impacted their communities. Each denomination brought important statements of the fundamental elements of their faith stance how they wanted to be in relationship to one another and how they would tell the world who they were. Drawing from the heritage of the Universalist tradition and the history of the Unitarians, that first statement of faith formed an important foundation for the movement as we moved forward to explore what it now meant to be joint UUs instead of separate Us. 1 st Principle 4

5 As a denomination, we periodically consider our Principles and determine if they remain an accurate and complete expression of what we aspire to be in covenant with one another and with the world. As individuals, it is appropriate for us to consider the Seven Principles and what they mean to us as we go about our daily lives, making choices and interacting with the larger world. Here s how the Rev. Dan Harper, Religious Education Minister at the Palo Alto, California UU congregation puts it on his web blog: [O]our shared faith of Unitarian Universalism requires all of us to talk these things over; we are required to remain in critical dialogue with each other and with our shared statement of faith. Ours is not a religion for complacent people. We can t just come and sit in church once a week for an hour, and say that is the extent of our religion. The search for truth and goodness draws us ever onwards, into deeper and more careful reflection. Th[is] search for truth and goodness isn t a part-time affair, but it permeates every aspect of our lives; and any affirmation of faith that we make must be regarded as provisional and subject to revision. As we consider the Seven Principles as a congregation this year, I invite you to engage in your own consideration of what they mean to you, and how your life is a representation of your living faith and UU commitment. Blessed be. 1 st Principle 5

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