As a member of your Board of Trustees, I am writing to talk about a “milestone” congregational initiative. The Board is to be considering this initiative to support ESUC in its journey of becoming an anti-racist church through a congregational vote on the adoption of the 8th Principle in June of 2021:
“We, the members of the East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington, covenant to affirm and promote journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
More than forty UU congregations have already voted to adopt the 8th Principle. The UUA is currently assessing the existing seven principles and the addition of the 8th Principle at the national level with a report out scheduled for January, 2022. However, we believe recent current events call us to consider acting immediately.
Why should we adopt this principle? What does it offer that the other principles don’t? And why now?
History of Evolving Principles
Our Seven Principles have always been evolutionary, not set in stone like the Ten Commandments. As new truths emerged, those learnings and experiences have been reflected in our adaptive principles. Our seven denominational principles were revised in 1984, 1985 and most recently amended in 1995. UUA bylaws require periodic reassessment – we’re in the midst of one right now.
The existing Seven Principles “don’t go far enough” in expressing our commitment to a multicultural, anti-racist anti-oppression vision for our congregation. “The other seven principles do not explicitly express the ethical and spiritual thread that we need to live into a multicultural anti-racist anti-oppression vision for our religious communities and our world. Otherwise, we would already have made a lot more progress.” Rev. Dr. Sandra Fees, First UU Church of Berks County, PA (January 2020).
The 8th Principle is a mechanism that will help hold ourselves, each other and our congregation accountable. The phrase, “…accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions…” is unmistakably clear. The Board believes it is no longer enough to “do no harm” when it comes to racism and other oppressions, or “treating everyone the same” in how we live into the First Principle. The 8th Principle empowers us to dismantle such behaviors in ourselves and our institutions; our congregation is capable of much more.
The last twelve months of tragedies and anti-democratic politics in Georgia, Minnesota, Michigan and other states sadly reconfirm a systemic threat to our spiritual and moral health. It’s our time to come together, in spiritual wholeness, to build a diverse, safe and loving (Beloved) community inspired by the 8th Principle. What a terrific opportunity for ESUC to live into being “who we say we are” and making a congregational vow to embrace the 8th Principle and the moral power it unleashes.
The Pathways to the 8th Principle Ministry Team at ESUC is delivering a series of events and activities to support the congregation in its exploration of the 8th Principle. We look forward to sharing these opportunities to gain greater knowledge, enter into conversations, and hear each other as we build our Beloved Community together.
The 8th Principle team currently includes Paul Buehrens, Maury Edwards, Louise Wilkinson, Marcy Langrock, Lynn Roesch, Milly Mullarky, Ryam Hill, Grace Colton, and Karin Pierce, with Nicole Duff and amanda alice uluhan as staff, and with the support of Rev. Steve Furrer.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our congregation and our journey to a Beloved Community. Your ESUC leadership, both professional and lay, is ready to listen to your thoughts about this initiative – making this journey as inclusive as possible. We intend that our collective decision will ultimately account for everyone’s engaged and sustained reflection.
Recently, the Board agreed to change the date of their Board Meetings to the 4th Tuesday of every month. This change is to accommodate the bookkeeping aspect so the most up-to-date numbers can be shared with the Board.
We ask the Board to place the 8th Principle on the Annual Meeting ballot.
We ask the Board to endorse passage of the 8th Principle.
Over 40 congregations have done so in a national grassroots movement. The principles adopted by the UUA are currently under review with a report expected at the 2022 GA, and a vote on revisions at the 2023 GA. That is how the congregational adoptions will influence the final wording for the UUA.
We have all here at ESUC journeyed along in our own ways toward an antiracist posture in the last few years, in continuation of a long Unitarian Universalist tradition that goes back to the abolitionists. The 8th Principle calls us forward and echoes back to encompass an anti-oppression principle that some say is implicit, but which here is made explicit. Furthermore, our 7 principles do not mention love nor the beloved community we all see as a principal goal.
Many of us have engaged deeply with Beloved Racial Justice, Beloved Conversations, Meaningful Movies, books we’ve read, forums we’ve attended, courses we’ve taken, and all of us grappling with current events.
We believe the 8th Principle is THE next step in moving toward a Beloved Community, and the time has come to endorse and pass this next step in the evolution of UUism for our congregation.
We further believe that passage will have a very large impact on our ministerial search process, either positively if passed, or negatively if not. This is a reality. A new minister will want a forward-looking congregation that is among those moving forward, more than the challenge of trying to pull against the tide of inertia.
Our future lies with the young and with our own community, which is now majority minority. Folks younger than I have difficulty understanding my generation’s failure to move further in antiracism. Systemic racism is obvious to most of them, and less so to good liberal UUs who remember the Civil Rights Movement. Our congregation has so far failed to grow despite our goals and intentions, and failed to change to reflect our community for a host of reasons, not unlike other UU congregations. Passing the 8th Principle will change and embed a different way of doing business, and announce that change to our community and to those who seek social action and responsiveness as well as worship. The largest denomination is the “nones”. Let’s let them and those trying to find a spiritual home know they can have a home with us.
The existing seven principles of Unitarian Universalism describe what we are striving for, our guiding lights, what we are journeying toward. Supporting the 8th Principle also means covenanting to go on a spiritual path with others to find our way to a beloved community free of all kinds of oppression, particularly racism. As an aspirational covenant, the 8th asks me to be accountable to those I covenant with – other congregants, East Shore, and other UU churches.
To be, in the present, right now, on a journey toward wholeness and beloved community with accountability to myself and others inspires me. The realization that I could learn to be anti-racist, or take anti-oppression actions grounded in faith has been revelatory. Beloved Conversations contributed significantly to that realization. The faith I grew up in – Unitarian Universalism – like the society I grew up in has a checkered history of struggling to see and correct oppression. Although we are a progressive faith, I don’t see us as having been as progressive as we think about being anti-racist. The 8th Principle offers a spiritual path that I can act upon, as do our other principles, by engaging with action, introspection, study, discussion, worship, community, and healing.
It’s my experience that our seven principles are not typically assumed to refer to racism or other oppressions. An 8th Principle would mean covenanting to be on a journey to an oppression-free world for people of color, LGBTQIA+, our older and younger generations, those differently-abled, etc. You can add to the list. In other words, truly all. Our progressive faith can progress. In Mission, Vision, Board goals, Team & Committee work, community partnerships, governance, and more, East Shore can commit to being on a journey towards a beloved community by ratifying the 8th Principle.
“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” The Eighth Principle, written by the Black Lives UU Organizing Collective
“Why ratify the Eighth Principle?” is such a good question! Yet, as I sit at my desk thinking of what I want to say, I realize that I’m also asking myself “Why not?” Why wouldn’t I support ratifying such an important and affirming statement? Why wouldn’t I want my own journey toward spiritual fulfillment to include participating in the creation of a Beloved Community at East Shore and beyond? As a member of this community, I hope my deepening understanding of the privileges I enjoy will connect with others who are also committed to learning about their privileges and what we can do together to achieve the multicultural vision expressed in the Eighth Principle.
I believe that learning about and ratifying the Eighth Principle is a major step that marks East Shore as a hub of social justice in which its members are engaged in developing awareness and acting upon practices and structures that oppress many of our neighbors. We can come together to recognize the importance of voicing our stand as an anti-racist church and join over 40 UU congregations around the country that have already voted to adopt it. I look forward to the day that I can say that together we have shown our commitment to upholding an anti-racist and anti-oppression vision in ourselves and in our denomination.
Over the past several years and in the midst of the COVID pandemic, I have often found myself discouraged and saddened as I learned about another attempt at voter restriction, another hate crime, another environmental injustice that confirms the harmful forces at work throughout the US and in our institutions. In response to events such as these, I am taking the time to learn about policies and actions that harm BIPOC communities as well as about people and groups engaged in ongoing activities to improve their lives and their communities. This step is part of my personal journey toward realizing that action and accountability are required if I truly want to be committed to changing my own attitudes and to live the UU values I hold dear. Learning about the Eighth Principle helped me realize the importance of moving beyond talking about a better world, making financial donations, and going to occasional meetings. The Eighth Principle helped me realize that consistent action and accountability are required if I truly want to live the values that it states.
I feel a renewed energy and hope as I talk with East Shore members who are also interested in learning about what the Eighth Principle is and what it means. This support and positive curiosity helps me believe that East Shore will become part of the Beloved Community by ratifying a statement explicitly calling us to dismantle racism and other oppressions. What a powerful moment, what an inspiring opportunity, we have in front of us!
Lynn Roesch, Congregant and member of the Pathway to 8th Principle Team
To start my discussion of “Why”, I need to define the Eighth Principle as it relates to East Shore.
“We, the members of the East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Bellevue, covenant to affirm and promote journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other forms of oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
My desire to dismantle racism in myself and our nation’s institutions is at the core of my belief systems. I am the second generation of my family to actively try to dismantle racism and oppression. My mother was ostracized in South Africa for teaching non-whites to read and my Uncle was very active in the NAACP. I and my family have benefited from the uneven imbalance of power and influence that is endemic in American Culture for 15 generations. In the last two generations, my parent’s homes and my education were obtained through Federal programs (the GI Bill) that were not available to People of Color. I wish to change all systemic privilege and include all Americans in the benefits of being an American. Why should I have more at the expense of those getting less?
Further, the UUA is evaluating the first Seven Principles and the Eighth principle as a possibility this next year. If enough congregations have passed it, it may be incorporated nationally. So, I am all in on making the Eighth Principle a reality at East Shore and proclaiming to ourselves, our children and the world who we are and what we are about.
I have heard East Shore opposition say, “The Eighth Principle is already covered in the First and the Seventh Principles”. Our principles are a living concept. The first six were adopted in 1985 and the seventh in 1995. And here are my thoughts on the First and Seventh covering systemic racism and oppression:
The First Principle deals with how we treat each other as individuals. It doesn’t address institutional and systemic racism and oppression. The Eighth Principle directly addresses that.
The Seventh Principle talks about the interdependent web of all of us. It only by inference covers the topic of racism in that we do no harm. The Eighth Principle brings accountability into the conversation and is direct.
Last summer, Chief Steve Mylette of the Bellevue Police Department and I were having a conversation about his perspectives at an East Shore BlackLivesMatter Flash Stance. Chief Mylette told me he “actively” recruits candidates for his department who will embody anti-racism in their day-to-day work. In other words, he isn’t just “doing no harm”, but actively working to avoid bias and dismantle racism and oppression. As a result, there is a noticeable difference in the amount of racially charged violence committed by his officers compared to Seattle or Tacoma. Chief Mylette is being active, not passive.
In our Unitarian history, we have always been on the vanguard of social justice: This is no time to lay that mantle down. As a 19 year old, I marched with my Unitarian elders from the Edmonds Unitarian Fellowship in protest against the Vietnam war. Unitarian clergy and lay people stood with and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Our Unitarian thinkers and leaders were prominent in the fight for Women’s Suffrage. Many, many of us from East Shore have stood on street corners throughout the eastside to create a conversation around race and privilege.
We are already living the Eighth Principle. Our local police department is working to dismantle racism and oppression. This is why I want to ratify the Eighth Principle at East Shore. I want us to be and be seen as accountable and proactive in the fight to dismantle racism and oppression. This is our time as Unitarians and the time is now.