Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New Try at our Purposes and Principles

The Commission on Appraisal has come up with a proposed draft of the first few articles of the UUA bylaws, commonly called our purposes and principles. It's here.

I have liked our current purposes and principles, and while I agree that such statements should be revised from time to time, I don't like this revision. One reason I don't like this revision is that I don't like the way the purposes and principles have moved into a creed-like place in our life together. People are taking them way too literally. I heard it just yesterday: "Our purposes and principles say we are for Peace and Justice. Therefore YOU SHOULD support (our idea of how to gain these two things.)

The Purposes and Principles have taken over RE in the same, concrete way. Ugh.

Given that background, I have to say that I don't like the basic format of the Commission's work. It has given us too many more words to make concrete in the "principles" section, and it has collapsed the "sources" section into a paragraph of prose (verbose prose at that) which is not suitable for use in liturgy. That will mean that those italicized principles will be all the more elevated and concretized in our life together.

It also elevates our paranoia about "cultural misappropriation" to by-law level and seems to permit others rather than ourselves to decide what is appropriate and respectful. I can tell you that there are millions upon millions of Christians who would say that our use of any kind of communion service is disrespectful to their doctrinal Christ, and that any prayer which does not end in the name of Jesus is an insult to the word prayer. These bylaws would allow them to criticize us and give us no way to make our own decisions. Even worse, they would allow some us to criticize others. I'm all for exercising sensitivity to other's sensibilities. But my experience with discussions of cultural misappropriation leads me to believe that this "sensitivity" is mostly used amongst us to distance ourselves from spirituality and dis those spiritual leaders who take the risk of introducing us to spiritual practice. With a bylaw like this, we will reduce ourselves again to classical music, intellectual sermons, social action and a moment of silence as our only legitimate shared spiritual practices. It just won't do.

And there's the statement that the highest purpose of our congregations is to "worship together to create beloved community" (sorry, that's not my primary goal and I think it is a very dangerous one)

It's been hard enough navigating the shoals of congregational life around seven principles. (see above). Navigating around seven principles, cultural misappropriation, and beloved community is not going to make us healthier.


ogre said...

I'm waiting. I'm with you, and I was predisposed to be enthusiastic about the whole scary revision project.

I bumped into the misappropriation part and it rang funny... but I was busy looking at the rest and the concern didn't stick. I think you're right, it doesn't belong as a bylaw concern. Unleashing the police of a very amorphous sensitivity with a bylaw stick to beat those less appropriately sensitive would be a Bad Move.

kim said...

Have you sent your concerns in to the appropriate committee? I think they are worth sharing.
Have you read Mr. Crankypants' version?

PeaceBang said...

Thanks for this, Christine. I linked to you over at my place.

fausto said...

The think that most grated on me was the use of the word "heretic". It seemed entirely gratuitous. And it also seemed to tacitly acknowledge the validity of the dominant religious opinion of us through the centuries -- that our beliefs are, not to beat around the bush, just plain wrong. What's the purpose of that?

I agree with CC that Dan Harper's revision is more inspired and inspiring.

mjae said...

One thing I do like about the proposed revisions is the explicit acknowledgment of ongoing multiculturalism as a good and necessary thing to promote.

Our current ones always struck me as wishful thinking at best and white liberal blindness and disrespect at worst.

Still, not much in the italicized principles changed. So other than adding explanatory paragraphs and way long prelude, did anything significant CHANGE?

Kelsey Atherton said...

My response to your response (boy, this is getting awfully meta) can be found here:

thought-provoking, certainly