Rev. Charlotte Arsenault recently made this powerful observation: that when Unitarian Universalists covenant ourselves to our seven Principles, we are covenanting ourselves to dangerous things. Standing together for our Principles has meant throughout our history individuals giving their lives for what they mean.
We covenant. What does that mean? To covenant means to come together, to gather ourselves around something, to form community and relationships around and because of something (from Latin, convenire = to come together).
We come together and create community around the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
In my experience, this may be one of the more difficult of our principles to live and work with. I find that difficulty to be rooted in two other religious and social realities:
- that western religious tradition is built on the notion that religious teachings are more important than people and their experiences.
- that the common notion of democracy is that the majority rules, and majority rules means that the minority has no voice in public decisions.
We take these largely socialized ideas with us everywhere we go, even into our Unitarian Universalist communities. When, for instance, a person’s experiences allow for mysticism or complete rationalism and one of those kinds of experiences predominates in a congregation, the other is often looked at and treated as alien. I hear of UU congregations where the mention of “God” is met with open hostility. That’s an example of religious ideas (rationalism in this case) being more important than people.
I’ve been in churches all my life where a vote of a particular board or committee was reduced to majority rule and the silencing of the minority voice. That approach matches the notion that most people have of democracy (including those who lost the vote) and sets up and deepens hostilities between peoples. The ideal of American democracy, however, was that the minority voice would always be protected in checks and balances–even in the electoral college. Because the idea of protecting the minority voice has never been fully lived out, we have few people who really experience it.
And the primary danger? We risk losing control OVER others who think and experience life differently than we do. It strikes me that we have developed in our community a way of working with these misunderstandings: Compassion, Trust and Inquiry. Compassion opens us to the “alien” in our midst. Inquiry invites us to engage, to learn, and to create community. Trust reminds us that the spiritual path is always a movement and never a bunker. We need each other to keep moving on the path.