What are ten things that all Unitarian Universalists need to know about their faith community? Ten things that are distinctive and unique? Each month we’re counting down, from Number 10 all the way down to Number 1, as a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in May 2011.

This month, we’re looking at item number 5. You can find number five in a lot of different places in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Sometimes people post it on the wall, in a place of honor; other times it’s featured in the order of service. In every one of our grey Singing the Living Tradition hymnals (the page right before the first hymn begins) it’s there.

Number 5 has also been a source of guidance for institutional planning and development. For example, UU World writer Christopher Walton mentions that it has “guided the development of a denominational religious education program that both expresses and nurtures a UU sense of identity, with curricula ranging from Around the Church, Around the Year, for the youngest kids, to one called Being a UU Parent.”

Most important of all, number 5 is the source of some of the best known UU phrases and ideas in our religious community, which come up constantly in the context of worship and sermons, RE classes, as well as ordinary conversations. Phrases like “inherent worth and dignity,” “free and responsible search,” “interdependent web.”

What is number 5? Our Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles:

• The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
• Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
• Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
• A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
• The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
• The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
• Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

From earliest times in Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Univeralist history, there have been statements of shared principles and values. They serve to rally the community. They help to bring up our children; they remind us of what’s important. One famous statement comes from our Unitarian side, from the late 19th century: “The Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, the Leadership of Jesus, Salvation through Character, and the Progress of Mankind Onward and Upward Forever.” As powerful as this was in its own era, clearly, new times require new ways of giving voice to who we are. Adopted in 1985 by the Unitarian Universalist Association, and reaffirmed in 2009, the Seven Principles statement is our most recent expression of our shared Unitarian Universalist values.

But what do we do with the Seven Principles? The answer is to “affirm and promote,” as congregations and as individuals. Our religious job is to make them real in the world, for ourselves and as for many other people as possible.

Reminds me of a saying by the 20th century UU theologian James Luther Adams (or JLA): “By their groups ye shall know them.” This is a riff on an old saying from Jesus: “by their fruits ye shall know them.” What JLA was trying to say is that the test of our validity and vitality as a faith community is in how we’re making the world a better place. The Seven Principles show us the way forward, and they hold us accountable.

That’s number 5 in our Unitarian Universalist Top Ten countdown!



Rev. Anthony David