The UUA's New Covenant

The latest draft of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s New Principles and Purposes starts with an interesting twist: The “Principles and Purposes” heading has been replaced by the term “Covenant.” I suppose that’s forgivable, but I feel a strong urge to admit that the word “covenant” makes my skin crawl. Maybe it’s just because I was raised a Bahá’í, or perhaps others such as Mormon apostates get similar cases of the creeps from the word.

But maybe the word, like so many others, needs to be reclaimed and redeemed. My guess is that Unitarian Universalists want to make it clear that they’re serious about their faith, serious enough to take vows. Why should covenants be the exclusive domain of closed minds?

The next thing that one is likely to notice is that this new Covenant is twice as large as what it’s replacing. Much of that bulk is due to the introduction of elaborations on the UUA principles, which I can generally do without.

Phrases like “we … move toward solidarity with all beings” and “protecting all beings” prompt me to ask, “shall we seek solidarity with tuberculosis?” I can do without such brotherhood.

One elaboration suggests that we be “grateful for the gift of life”. I prefer to celebrate the life that is essential to our very being. I have no one to thank.

Another elaboration asserts that “we are called to live in right relationship with others.” What does this mean? Is it a Buddhist thing?

Another elaboration suggests that “we become more willing to relinquish material desires.” Yeah I get it, but it sounds too dualist and negational to me.

Sometimes the Unitarian Universalist idea of “liberal religion” seems more like a cross between a new age fad and the Green Party than a philosophy of open religion. And, yes: I am a Green.

I’ve generally been of the opinion that the UUA is more an interfaith association than a religion, but perhaps I’m prepared to change my mind. The liberal idols that once lurked behind the principles and sources are now in the process of being canonized.

These new elaborations of principles do have some highlights that I happen to like.

The text for Principle #2 suggests that we be “mindful of our own mortality”.

The text for Principle #4 asserts that “Unitarian Universalist religious authority lies in the individual”. I like this one very much. Still, I would not call it a statement of faith.

The new “inclusion” section suggests that we be “Dissatisfied with mere non-discrimination”. Unfortunately, this would-be UU happens to be dissatisfied with mere dissatisfaction.

One new feature of this draft Covenant is its identity statement, which I find to be a good idea, though it serves to remind me why I have mixed feelings about Unitarian Universalism:

The Unitarian Universalist Association is composed of congregations rooted in the heritage of two religious faiths: the Unitarian heritage ever questioning and ever seeking the unity in all things, and the Universalist heritage ever affirming the power of hope and God’s infinite love.

From my perspective, this statement draws a sharp line between Unitarians and Universalists. Whereas I strongly concur with the Unitarian “heritage” described here, I consider the Universalist heritage somewhat regressive. Should love be regarded exclusively as a possession of God? We need not look to God for love; it’s right here within us. Love could be made the heart of the UUA, but it seems that love will have to remain a mere attribute of the Trinitarian side of the UUA heritage, and just another descriptive term for how church members should interact.

In Unitarian Universalism, “Unitarian” remains a mere adjective. I wouldn’t mind that so much if the noun it modifies meant “love.”