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The Power and the Peril of the 8th Principle

You can listen to Rev. Woodbury's sermon from Dec. 4, 2022 on the 8th principle below (this is just the sermon). A written re-cap appears in the FAQ below.

8th Principle Sermon - Dec 4th 2022 - First UU Omaha

8th Principle Sermon - Dec 4th 2022 - First UU Omaha

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Frequently Asked Questions

What IS the 8th Principle?  What does it specifically say?

The 8th Principle is a way that congregations individually commit to “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.”

How many UU congregations have adopted the 8th Principle at the local level?

Over 220 so far. This link will take you to a map of UU congregations that have adopted the 8th Principle. 

 

What is Beloved Community?  What does that mean?

Beloved Community happens when people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, abilities, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities come together in an interdependent relationship of love, mutual respect, and care that seeks to realize justice within the community and in the broader world.

 

Don’t the 7 principles already cover this?

The 8th principle was initiated by people of color within Unitarian Universalism because the first seven principles (codified in the 1980s) do not explicitly address anti-racism.As one of the authors said: “after working with congregations on these issues for over 15 years, I realized that a person can believe they are being a ‘good UU’ and following the 7 Principles without thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at the systemic level.” When we are trying to change culturally entrenched attitudes and generations of habit and history, making our commitments direct and explicit is enormously helpful. The 8th principle asks us to act, to go beyond beliefs to practice/action. It asks us to hold ourselves accountable and to fulfill the potential of our existing principles.

Consider also Paula Cole Jones’ observation (from the workshop she did with us):  2022 is the 25th year since our association voted to become an anti-racist association. A long time, and we are still struggling. The 8th principle could help get us over those invisible barriers that have held us back. We have learned so much about inclusion in those 25 years, but we never went back and reflected it in our principles. Or Beloved Community would be named there. If we had named it explicitly, we would be in a different place now.

What does it mean to be accountable?  What does that look like?

White UUs hold themselves accountable to communities of color, to make sure whites do what they say they will do. One way some UU communities do this is by having a People of Color Caucus within congregations, districts, etc., to discern and express needs and concerns to the rest of the community. UUs of color also hold each other accountable and help each other see and dismantle signs of internalized racism (and racism against groups other than one’s own). Similarly for other oppressions.

Rev. Woodbury addressed accountability in the context of covenantal communities in a sermon last year on “The Promise of Belonging,” drawing on the popular tv show Ted Lasso. You can watch the video here (sermon starts just before 29 minutes in) or read the text of the sermon at the bottom of this past eblast.

 

Why now?  What’s the historical context?  (Didn’t UUs already do this work decades ago?)

It’s been two steps forward, one step back in Unitarian Universalism with regard to antiracism work and building Beloved Community. Click here for a brief summary of the uneven efforts over the history of our denomination. If you’re curious about Bill Sinkford’s article about the earlier Black Empowerment Controversy (aka White Entitlement Fit) in UUism – and how it relates to this present moment – you can read it here.

Our own church has had its ups and downs too.  Rev. Woodbury shares her perspective on this historical moment and our church’s engagement in this new video:

Beloved Community: UU History

Beloved Community: UU History

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Why single out racism? 

Organizers of the 8th Principle movement address that here.

What is our process at First Unitarian?  When and how will a decision be made about adopting the 8th principle (or not)?

At the Mid-Year Congregational Meeting on Jan. 8, small groups discussed the 8th Principle, both in person and on Zoom, followed by a straw poll of those in attendance. The Beloved Community Team  was organized to continue our congregation’s engagement with the 8th principle and building beloved community at First Unitarian. At its first meeting in early February, the team reflected on feedback from the congregation, and decided to place priority on taking actions that will further the dream of building a justice-seeking church community, diverse in backgrounds and identities, grounded in love and mutual respect. There is no set timeline for taking a congregational vote to adopt the 8th Principle.

Haven’t we been talking about this for a while? How did we get started?
Yes, we have. While serving on the Board, member Sarah Copeland, a young adult leader (and mother of multiracial children) brought the 8th Principle project to the Board of Trustee’s attention in Fall 2020, and the Board agreed it was important for our church to engage with it.

Our Sister Church Team supported this effort by bringing Paula Cole Jones, one of the creators of the 8th principle movement, to Nebraska (virtually) in August 2021 for a special worship service and a workshop, held jointly with other UU churches in Omaha and Lincoln. And 8th Principle Moments were shared occasionally during worship services that year.

In 2022, Mary Kay Peters and Della Bynum facilitated a discussion group on Widening the Circle of Concern, a report of the UU Commission On Institutional Change addressing racism and building Beloved Community in UUism at large. 
 

I think this is really important. How can I support our congregation’s efforts?
Actively participate in upcoming events sponsored by the Beloved Community Team.
You can also join the 
8th Principle UU Learning Community on Facebook, a national group of UUs working with their congregations. Contact the Beloved Community Team at belovedcommunity@firstuuomaha.org with any questions or concerns and to share your ideas about building beloved community here at First Unitarian and in the larger world.


I want that recap of Rev. Shari’s 8th Principle sermon.
Here you go:  The 8th Principle is inviting us onto a journey that is ultimately about love. Building the Beloved Community is the work that Love is calling us to do, not just Out There in the community, but In Here, inside our own church.
 
Rev. Shari’s top 5 reasons to go on this journey:

#1 - This church can be a beacon of liberal religious values and community for ALL who need it in our region.  (We don’t want to leave people out due to our lack of multicultural skill. But we probably have been. Good intentions are not enough.)

#2 – For our young people. Our children and youth (and for that matter, young adults) are more diverse than the older folks in our congregation, and they move in more diverse circles in the rest of their lives. Their spiritual community should be on the forefront – not the tail end – of the transformative work of building Beloved Community.

#3 – Joy and the expansion of our horizons.  There’s more joy available to all of us when we experience more of the rich variety of human cultures. We get a glimpse of this in UUism’s theological pluralism, and in the inspiration diverse music provides. So much more is possible!  (Respectfully, of course.)

#4 – Spiritual growth. Our mission is to “foster the whole person, compassion and justice.” Part of the journey toward spiritual wholeness is healing places of division or closed-off-ness or hurt within ourselves – places that almost every American has inside due to the legacy of our country – so that we can become more integrated, more open and free.

#5 – Numerical growth. When more people can experience belonging more fully in our congregation, including our own young people as well as new folks of all ages… when those who participate here now experience the joy of expanded horizons and genuine spiritual growth – this church can not only serve more deeply, but also serve more people.
 

Five perils Rev. Shari identified – things that might hold us back from participating in the journey of the 8th principle – and some antidotes:

#1 – The bad person fear: that I’ll say or do something wrong or be misunderstood, and end up feeling like (or being labeled as) a bad person.  (Antidotes: Remember your own inherent worth and dignity – no one is bad; use your curiosity and humility, learn, and “when you know better, you’ll do better”; remember we don’t have to be perfect and release your own perfectionism; remember there’s no cancel culture here – instead, we work to actively live into our ideals and our Right Relations Covenant.)

#2 – Fear among people of color of being under the spotlight when a predominantly white congregation undertakes anti-racism work. (Antidotes: Draw upon sensitive pastoral support as needed; we can create a caucus group for Nebraska UUs of color to be in your own space together, and there are national networks too; white folks can be mindful not to seek affirmation from people of color in the church, and to recognize the individuality of each person, and to not expect people of color to take on a teaching role; people of color can name any concerns as they arise, set boundaries and draw upon our Right Relations Covenant and committee.)

#3 – Change is hard for humans, in general, and the journey of the 8th Principle involves change. (Antidotes: Use your personal spiritual practices for strength and stamina; and support each other as a community in coping with change, honoring the efforts of everyone who participates in this journey in good faith.)

#4 – Not knowing what to do. (Antidotes: Learn from others. Learn from our own experience. Recall Dr. King’s sage words:  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” We will gain confidence as we act.)

#5 –