Seven persons were in attendance for the May discussion where we discussed the 1899 Universalist Declaration of Faith and the Seven Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We started the meeting with a prayer quoting our mission statement: “We respect individual beliefs as we grow together.” This statement is the guiding principle of all our theology discussions as there is always a wide variety and different degrees of belief in our discussions.
Participants were asked to start with stating their basic approach to these UU statements. Some individuals reported more identification with Unitarianism while some identified more with Universalism. There were varying degrees of belief expressed with some making strong theistic affirmations while others expressed “hopeful agnosticism”.
There was broad agreement on the two statements in that they needed revision, as they were no longer suitable for our times. The five principles were examined and there was a broad consensus that the male gender language was no longer suitable. The most energetic discussion took place around the discussion of the “certainty of the just retribution for sin.” Historically, this statement was a response to the 19th century criticism of Universalism as not taking sin seriously because of the rejection of the eternal punishment doctrine. Several participants felt that this statement could be confused with current fundamentalist thought that sin is the cause of suffering such as AIDS, earthquakes, etc. There was general consensus that this statement should be modified. Hosea Ballou’s idea of sin as always being followed by misery was discussed as was his general definition of sin based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians: 5: v19-26.
There was general agreement that the 5th principle of “the final harmony of all souls with God” was a basic expression and definition of Universalism. But the question was discussed: “What about Hitler?” It was affirmed that our statement about sin makes the last principle stronger. Several persons liked the first principle of the Washington Declaration of 1935: “We avow our faith in God as eternal and all-conquering love” as wider in scope and as leaving more room for agnosticism. We discussed the possibility of the declaration being modified with this as the first principle, which would solve the problem of gender language but would still be linked to a historic Universalist declaration.
We then moved into a discussion of the seven principles with wide agreement that the first principle, “ We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons,” has strong links to Universalism. The seven principles were criticized for being too generic with general consensus that no one could disagree with them in principle. But the point was made that to live the seven principles in one’s life was a tremendous challenge and this was perhaps their main value. A general consensus was reached that the seven principles could be revised to reflect the call for: “a renewed emphasis on the language of reverence.” One participant proposed an alternate statement based on the principles of the American Unitarian Conference.
We acknowledged the tremendous time, thought, debate, and compromise that took place in the development of these two statements of principle and we affirmed these statements as a living part of our UU heritage as evidenced by our spirited discussion.
Our next third Wednesday discussion will take place on June 15. Participants are asked to continue the discussion of the five principles by writing your own five principles. These principles can be based on the 1899 declaration, the seven UU principles, or based on your own statement of faith. Bring your five principles to our discussion. Reminder: We are not asked whether we agree with each other’s belief. We are asked to hear and affirm each other as we walk through the different places of our spiritual journey.