Letter concerning the proposed changes to the 7 Principles January 2023
The UUA Welcomes the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt
as the Tenth UUA President
July 10, 2023
It is with great enthusiasm that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) welcomes the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt as the tenth UUA President. We also note that this is Rev. Dr. Betancourt’s second “first day” as a president of the UUA. She was appointed co-president for an interim period in 2017 and provided guidance and care during a significant moment in our history. This time, she will be in the presidential role for a six-year term and we are eagerly anticipating her leadership, working together to continue to advance
Unitarian Universalism and live our values deeply in the coming years
Q&A: New UUA President Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt
Her presidency comes with a number of historic firsts – she is the first openly queer person and first woman of color to be elected UUA president. She has served Unitarian Universalism for more than twenty years as a religious educator, minister, scholar, and member of the UUA national staff and many volunteer committees at the regional and denominational levels. She most recently served as Resident Scholar and Special Advisor on Justice and Equity at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
Rev. Dr. Betancourt holds a Ph.D. in Religious Ethics and African American Studies from Yale University as well as an M.Div. from Starr King School for the Ministry, where she also served on the faculty. She is the author of Ecowomanism at the Panamá Canal: Black Women, Labor, and Environmental Ethics (2022). You can learn more about her in a new Q & A with UU World magazine, including how early life experiences shaped her path to ministry.
As significantly, she also brings to the role theological depth, a commitment to communal care, and a pledge to continue to organize for justice. She has also expressed an appreciation for the diverse voices and leaders in our community as well as for the hard work that UUA staff does every day. We know that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) across the country and UUA staff will all benefit from her experience, wisdom, and sense of care.
Carey McDonald, our Executive Vice President, expressed his keen anticipation in this way, “we are excited to have the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt at the helm as UUA President to lead us in the next chapter of our faith’s journey. We are already inspired by her deep theology and commitments to community care and imagining the way forward together.”
We are entering an exciting time for both the UUA and Unitarian Universalism. Rev. Dr. Betancourt’s presidency and the General Assembly vote by delegates to continue consideration of changes to the Article II bylaws mark a key moment in our faith tradition. With her leadership, we are positioned to move forward in faithful community, in recognition of our shared values and the important work ahead.
Dear UUA Member,
Happy New Year! I am sending you care as we begin another year. This, 2023, is an important year for Unitarian Universalism.
We are currently in a multi-year process to consider changes to our UUA Principles and Purpose. This process began in 2020 when the UUA Board appointed an Article II Study Commission. This is a dry name for such important work. The reason is our Principles, Purpose, covenant and Sources are contained in Article II of the UUA Bylaws.
Our seven Principles and six Sources – which we know and love – were adopted in 1985. They offered a substantial (even radical) change from what preceded them. The changes came through years of effort by UU women, particularly the UU Women’s Federation, to push for greater gender equality in UUism, support for women in the ministry and to eliminate sexist language from our Bylaws, hymns, and yes, from the version of Article II passed in 1961 (at the time of consolidation).
But the changes didn’t just address gender, they made significant language changes that reflected the times. It removed language of God, man, and brotherhood and added the language of interdependence and the Sources reflecting the growing theological diversity of our tradition.
As a lifelong UU, coming of age after these changes, I am grateful. They changed our movement in ways that were important for the success of women leaders, ministers, and for me, as our first elected woman President. These changes, at the time, brought fierce dissent. But more, they inspired excitement and possibility.
Why do we need a review of the Principles and Purpose?
In the mid-2010’s, the ground began to shift again – much as it did in response to the women’s movement. The emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the election of Donald Trump with his racist and misogynist campaign, and the urgent calls to confront white supremacy culture in our own movement – all of these compelled UUs to ask questions about whether our Principles reflected fully who we are and who we need to be.
By the 2017 General Assembly, there were multiple grassroots efforts to change our Principles. The first was overwhelmingly adopted, to change “prophetic women and men” to “prophetic people” to move beyond gender binary. There was also a proposal to change the first Principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of all people” to the “inherent worth and dignity of all beings.” This proposal was ultimately tabled as delegates grappled with the reality that we still had a lot of work to do on living the first Principle for people. Discussions of the Eighth Principle were also happening and by 2020, hundreds of UU congregations had adopted it! The Eighth Principle recognized the need to go beyond aspirational principles to commitments to dismantle systems of oppression – calling us from aspiration to action.
It was within this context that your UUA Board appointed an Article II Study Commission to integrate these conversations and lead a discernment process for our whole Association about core values, covenant, and purpose. The Board gave the Commission a broad charge to review, change, or reimagine Article II to “enable our UUA, our member congregations, and our covenanted communities to be a relevant and powerful force for spiritual and moral growth, healing, and justice.”
After two and a half years of study and conversations with thousands of Unitarian Universalists, the Article II Study Commission submitted their report and proposal to the UUA Board of Trustees for its January 20th meeting.
This spring, congregation delegates and the Board can propose amendments to the proposal. The proposal and amendments will be considered at General Assembly this June and a majority vote is required to continue consideration at GA 2024. If any of the delegate amendments are accepted, and if the proposal receives majority approval, then the Article II Study Commission will make any necessary changes to create a final draft for consideration at GA 2024. The final proposal will require a two thirds majority vote at GA 2024 to be adopted.
Seven years ago, when I was beginning my campaign for UUA President, I approached the process with an intention to be open to the process while letting go of outcomes. My hope for us as Unitarian Universalists is that we approach discernment about Article II with similar openness. May we enter our conversations with a spirit of curiosity, holding off attachment to outcomes, and listen with our whole hearts and to the fullness and diversity of voices in our community. May the process itself deepen our understanding of and commitment to our faith.
Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray