#71 | Jay Kiskel | Keep the Enumerated List of Sources

Submission 71
Jay Kiskel

What is your suggestion or idea?

Section C-2.3. Inspirations.

As Unitarian Universalists, we use, and are inspired by, sacred and secular understandings that help us to live into our values. We respect the histories, contexts and cultures in which they were created and are currently practiced.

These sources ground us and sustain us in ordinary, difficult, and joyous times. Grateful for the religious ancestries we inherit and the diversity which enriches our faith, we are called to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.

Section C-2.3. Sources of Inspirations.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

  • Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;

  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature…

What is the reason for your amendment idea?

Unfortunately, the Article II Study Commission has eliminated the enumerated list of Sources. The 2009 Article II Commission also replaced the list of Sources with narrative paragraphs and met with strong disapproval. Unitarian Universalism is home to a wide diversity of beliefs. Our Sources are a public statement of those beliefs. Our Sources support our Principles. The breath of our Sources from Jewish, Christian, humanist, earth-centered, and other teachings demonstrate our acceptance of one another and our encouragement of spiritual growth regardless of one’s underlying belief system. The A2SC urges change citing that UUism is a living tradition. UUism is a living tradition. Our 1961 Principles, at the time of consolidation, did not contain any Sources. The current outline of our Principles and Sources was adopted in 1985 by an initiative sponsored by the UU Women’s Federation (UUWF). A sixth source (Earth-centered teachings) was added in 1995. In 2018, the wording of the second source was adjusted, replacing “men and women” with “people” to reflect a more refined understanding of gender-neutral language. The A2SC is aware of the value that UUs place on our list of Sources. In their report, they stated, “With Inspirations, we are aware that many value the current list of Sources.” Nonetheless, our Sources are to be represented by an unclear articulation of UU inspirations described as “sacred and secular understandings.” Our Sources are public statements to a wider world of people seeking a spiritual home free of dogma. It is unclear what value we achieve by eliminating the clarity of our Sources and substituting the ambiguity of a term such as “sacred and secular understandings.” The 2023 delegates are urged to reject the elimination of our Sources.

Have you discussed this idea with your congregation or other UUs?

I have had many, many discussions with fellow UUs. I follow a very active discussion group on the website Save the Seven Principles (https://savethe7principles.wordpress.com ). My congregation’s Men’s Group discussed Article II at our weekend Retreat. My congregation will be holding a congregation-wide discussion on June 3. BTW: Much of the discussion on Article II has not been supportive of changes. There is generally a lack of awareness of this rewrite. Those who are aware do not understand the rationale for making such substantial changes to the Seven Principles.


I appreciate and agree with Jay Kiskel’s well-stated defense of the six Sources. The Sources indicate UUism’s relationship to our species’s historical past, in a way that’s much more concrete and therefore more illuminating than general terms like “love,” “wisdom,” and “understandings.” The Sources say: If you value any of these specific traditions, there’s a place for you within our big tent.


BlockquoteThe Sources say: If you value any of these specific traditions, there’s a place for you within our big tent.

This quoted language captures so well the strengths of the enumerated list of Sources. It’s our history, which is precious and something not to be forgotten.

The one thing I would do to update this is to combine the third and fourth Sources, as follows:

Wisdom from world religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and more, which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

If there’s discomfort with a ‘world religions’ formulation that leaves out specific language on Jewish and Christian teachings and God, or God’s love, that’s something we can discuss comfortably.

I find myself wanting to hear how other UUs feel about the prospect of living for the next year, until GA 2024 that is, with an enumerated list of Sources that leaves out the word God or the phrase God’s love. It’s an intriguing topic.

Whereas my heart sinks at the prospect of a GA, and then an ensuing year in my congregation, where the focus is on quite abstract discussions about the meaning of values.

We have an interesting history, interesting and distinctive. Sometimes I think the best metaphor is islands in an ocean. If you look across from one island to another, the latter seems isolated and far away, separated by a blank expanse of ocean. If you look below the water’s surface however you realize that everything’s connected, that the earth is continuous, and the island you’re standing on at the moment is one of many elevations that (at present) rise above the level of the ocean.

Katherine Hyde
Unitarian Society of Ridgewood (NJ)


Thanks, Katherine Hyde. I personally don’t need the word “God” in the Sources, though it’s a word that I myself use freely. I like very much your metaphor of the islands that are connected beneath the surface. It would serve well not only for “religions” but also for us human individuals. As John Donne said, “No man is an island…”—but in one way it’s perfectly natural for us to think of ourselves as islands.

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I agree with Eric’s changes to section C-2.3. THe revised language is too ambiguous and lacking in spiritual value. The existing sources are critical to my understanding of UUism. The few buzz words in the revision C-2.3 would alienate me and many of my UU friends from the UUA.

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I strongly agree that the sources need to be retained as is. The proposed replacement is so general as to be meaningless. I like the specificity because it reflects our history and encompasses the range of sources from which we might draw.

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absolutely; quite true

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I love your island metaphor, but am perfectly happy to leave god out of the picture

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Thank you Jay. I feel it’s important for anyone from the outside who is curious about our faith, to know the sources that have inspired us. Sacred/Religious and Humanistic/Secular. It’s where we’ve come from. I also like Katherine’s combining the third and fourth sources into one statement.

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Dear Friends,

I enclose below some thoughts advocating for keeping the current Sources with minor additions. Our Sources trace our evolving history while the proposed well meaning revisions lack substance and clarity. How does ‘love’ compare with ‘justice’ as a focus in a clearly out of balance world with such disparities in opportunities and wealth?

The suggestion from KHyde above to combine the 3rd and 4th Sources is appealing to me as a recognition of specific religions and philosophy that UU’s find inspiring. Newcomers to UU can chart our response to a narrower previous European/North American world mindset that now encompasses Islam, the religion of 1/4 of humanity and a group historically oppressed and recently disparaged by powerful forces.

We need specific mention of Islam and Buddhism especially since numerous UU ministers themselves draw wisdom from these traditions as well as Humanism.

I invite your thoughts on this letter below from distinguished colleagues.

December 12, 2022

Dear Colleagues of the Article II Commission and UUA Board of Trustees,

We appreciate that the concerned officials of our Unitarian Universalist Association bylaws stipulated a regular review of Article II (including our Principles and Sources of Inspiration). Such a review is crucial in order for any organization, including our faith-based Association, to remain relevant.

This letter is written by a group representing The Salaam Network (TSN), a like-minded organization which wishes to collaborate with the UUA for shared learning, and for finding creative ways to work together to promote dignity, equality and justice. TSN includes several Unitarian Universalists (UUs), clergy and laity, alike.

TSN was founded in 2016 by Dr. Riffat Hassan, Professor Emerita of the University of Louisville, an internationally-renowned scholar of religion, feminist theologian, and social justice activist who has devoted her life to promoting dialogue and peacemaking amongst different -oftentimes conflicting - groups in many countries.

From the start of TSN, Dr. Riffat Hassan has partnered with Dr. Dennis Neyman and Dr. Joe Brennan, distinguished members of All People’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation (All Peoples) in Louisville, KY. Since 2019, with the strong support of All Peoples’ administration, TSN has organized a large number of programs aimed at promoting better understanding and relationship among diverse religious communities in Louisville. Of special significance in its many educational and activist programs, is its work “aimed at disseminating accurate information about Islam, the faith of one-fourth of humanity.”

Since 2020, a UUA-Muslim planning group has led a concerted, continent-wide effort to amend Article II as follows:

Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving
our neighbors as ourselves.

We at TSN think this revision of the fourth Source is an important theological admission as well as a way to be more inclusive of people within all three Abrahamic faith traditions. The current recommendations from the Article II commission present a radical change to our Principles and Sources of Inspiration. A leadership team within TSN has followed the various comments regarding the proposed changes and feel compelled to share our collective concerns with you.

We understand that the changes are intended to “avoid the inclusion of some that simultaneously means the exclusion of others” and that a “unifying statement” will attempt to cover all and offend none. Realistically, there cannot be a statement that will please everyone and will not offend someone. While we understand that listing specific traditions risks omitting others, it is important to remember that there are UU’s in the listed other traditions, for instance, Humanism (Source 5) and Earth-Centered Spiritual Traditions (Source 6), and that members of other traditions are included in Unitarian Universalism; e.g., from world’s religious and wisdom traditions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahaism and others (Source 3).

The dramatic change offered by the Article II commission replaces the Principles and Sources that reflect our evolution and growth throughout our history. As observed by Rev. Dr. Tom Owen-Towle, the proposed “unifying statement” is too generic and vacuous and can easily lead people (both UUs and non-UUs) alike to think UUs can believe anything, everything or nothing at all. That is neither true nor accurate.

UU lay leader, Dr. Dennis Neyman reminds us that the inclusive language present in the Sources of Inspiration statement is indicative both of the unity and diversity of humankind. He expresses his profound gratitude “for the religious pluralism embedded in the Sources which enriches and ennobles our faith, and inspires us to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.”

Dr. Riffat Hassan, executive director of TSN and partner with many UUs, writes, “In my opinion substituting a generic ‘unifying statement’ for the Six Sources of Inspiration will not serve UUs well. The Six Sources of Inspiration are substantive and connect UUs in a number of ways to the core concepts and values of the world’s religious, spiritual and wisdom traditions. A statement which equalizes all perspectives will, in fact, neutralize them. This, in my judgment, will not make Unitarian Universalism more inclusive - it will simply do away with the distinctness of various traditions and create an empty space. It is the challenge of delving into different traditions in quest of pearls within them that gives Unitarian Universalism both its uniqueness and its universality.”

Finally, the Article II Commission’s work is to offer revisions “that will 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. Proposed changes should articulate core UU theological values.” Rev. Kathleen Owens says, “With the inclusion of Islam in our fourth Source, UUs can trace their own and the Association’s spiritual and moral growth through the Sources of Inspiration; the amended list can also help a person see and know, that to UUs, revelation is not sealed but is an evolving and ongoing experience, inspired by living our principles of ‘acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations’ and doing that with ‘a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.’”

We thank you for the opportunity for sharing our concerns about the proposed “unifying statement.” We remain “Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, and we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations, we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.” We affirm that we are writing this letter in the spirit of collegiality and the desire to see Unitarian Universalism thrive and grow into the future.

Respectively and faithfully,
Dr. Riffat Hassan,
Rev. Tom Owen-Towle,
Dr. Dennis Neyman
Dr. Joe Brennan,
Rev. Kathleen Owens


And from Katherine Hyde in her comment to Jay Kiskel: From The one thing I would do to update this is to combine the third and fourth Sources, as follows: Wisdom from world religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and more, which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

Listed Sources, as in our current bylaws, are by far more concrete and understandable that the proposed "C-2.3. Inspirations phrase “sacred and secular understandings that help us to live into our values.” Keep the listed Sources, though titling them “Sources of Inspirations” is good.

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I like this formulation of the current sources, which combines the 3rd and 4th sources. It does a much better job of capturing our inspirations, and it names the most common religious traditions (world religions) that many UUs turn to for inspiration and places them on an equal footing. This is much preferable to the proposed language for inspirations, which I found to be uninspiring at best.

Note to authors and proponents of amendments that weren’t prioritized or presented: This forum is closing for comment tomorrow, but our lay-led public Facebook group, Blue Boat Passengers, will remain open for another few weeks for commenting (and still be viewable after that).Those who want to find others to coordinate about the 15-congregation amendment process may use the group to do so while it is open.

Please read both the rules and the pinned post before posting or commenting there.

Thank you.

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