Our First Principle,
The Inherent Worth and Dignity
Rev. Paul D. Daniel, Minister
Our seven principle are like the Legos my kids and grandchildren
play with to build rockets, robots and race cars and tall buildings.
Through trial and error,
they learned that these objects needed a firm foundation and
concentrated intent if they were not to fail and fall apart.
That is what our seven principles are;
the Legos, the DNA, the building blocks
upon which modern Unitarian Universalism is built.
Our first principle reads,
“We Affirm and Promote the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person” the topic of today’s sermon, and
the beginning of a series on what Unitarian Universalists believe.
These values are fundamental if we hope to build a moral, ethical community.
The genius of Unitarian Universalism is that we have the freedom to decide for ourselves
how we understand and strive to live these values,
which are readily adaptable to the realities of our times?
We have learned to welcome a
diversity of theologies, nuances and perspectives as gifts
each of us bring to fulfill our promise and principles.
We are committed as members to honor and respect each other’s worth and dignity
regardless of our sexual orientation, political persuasion, race or theology,
regardless of the limits of our ability to do or understand.
We have affirmed as a community to
strive to live out of these principles in all our human interactions.
Our First principle centers on what it means to be human
in Thoreau words, “One world at a time”.
To have dignity and worth, the human family must have access to
justice, in Charlotte, Tulsa and across this land. We demand:
equality of opportunity,
freedom of thought and religion.
Respect for each other must be an act of conscious will,
and go beyond mere words into daily deeds.
Our UU history and efforts in this direction are what makes our faith great.
It is in the doing and practice that puts flesh on the bones of our religion.
Our religion first arose out of the
religious turmoil of the renaissance and reformation;
a time when people began to reject the authority of others as secondary to one own understanding and experience.
While our seven principles are of a more modern time, they are the natural outcome of our history.
for freedom of expression,
respect and acceptance of religious pluralism
moved early Unitarian to flee to America for the right to be different yet reverent.
While our faith arises out of the Judeo-Christian heritage,
Unitarian Universalism broke new ground by placing the primacy of
conscience and the search for truth based on personal experience
over both authority and a literal interpretation of scriptures.
Rev. Marilyn Sewell reminds us,
we “believe that all people have spiritual needs,
and we invite whoever would come asking only that people give the same respect and tolerance too other that they would want for themselves”.
Unitarian Universalism is still a work in progress.
There are times when we are still
intolerant of each other’s differences, limits and right to respectful interaction.
I encourage each of us to search our own heart to test whether that is true.
This struggle to live our values with integrity is not easy but a is part of our ongoing religious quest and challenge.
With that understanding we strive to
offer a radical hospitality to those whose life choices and perspectives differ from our own.
Our acceptance of diversity is what makes us strong and somewhat
unique s a faith and obligates us by belief to respect the worth and dignity of all.
The primacy of love and acceptance
provides the theological underpinning for our faith and this principle.
Norbert Capek, the Unitarian Czech minister and martyr to Nazi medical experiments said,
“Let us renew our resolution sincerely to be real brother and sisters
regardless of any kind of bar which estranges….
In this holy resolution may we be
strengthened, knowing that we are God’s family;
that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us” ….
His legacy of abiding love for all people and his believe that
we must learn to love each other the way God loved us still endures.
Today, his courage challenges us to respect each other when we hold different views.
The example he set reminds us to forswear
gossip, rumor spreading, or triangulating; for they violate our first principle.
We are each called by Capek to do a moral self-inventory and decide if we are living up to his sacrifice and our proud history as UUs.
As Marilyn Sewell writes, that on the other hand of our [radical hospitality]
“allows for a foolish tolerance of individual behavior that should not be
accepted because it is destructive of the larger community.
Some churches allow unhealthy individuals to
exert extraordinary influence in the life of the church body because
members want to always appear “open”, “accepting” and loving”.
This tolerance of harmful behavior is not consistent with all our principles
for it is in violation of the law of love and healthy respect for the larger community.
Our church sits on private property,
yet anyone who comes and acts in way that harm others,
have in my opinion, lost the privilege of fellowship with us”.
Sewell concludes that, yes “these people have worth and dignity but
it does not follow that we should tolerate their or any one’s harmful behavior”.
As with any guiding principle there
are both contradictions and people who abuse our values and generous welcoming spirit.
For example, we believe in a women’s right to choose but
if every life has worth and dignity how can we support abortion?
A contradiction. If we believe in the worth and dignity of every individual
how can we not respect a woman’s right to make decisions for her own body?
or how can we support the death penalty which many Americans do? (contradiction, upon contradiction).
If we believe in the worth and dignity of all
how can we reject Islam or immigrant?
Life is full of contradictions that us
seven principles help us to navigate to an ethical place.
These are some of the moral dilemmas of our age and faith that
make us human and a work in progress.
Here our individual conscience is called into play.
We are forced to deal with issues of moral relevance.
We are called on to be Solomon.
Each of us are called to make the goal of fairness and justice
part of our spiritual lives and searching.
We are called to go deep within when
dealing with such issues or we risk
just being shallow thinkers about the application of justice and
about life and death, itself.
As someone once said, “We think because we said it, we done it”.
That’s why it is a challenge to be a Unitarian Universalist.
We believe in deeds not creeds.
We are called to action that will not wait for tomorrow.
Tomorrow hundreds more in Aleppo, indeed all of Syria and Iraq will be dead.
Sometimes, without intention or thought,
the fears in the world prevents us
finding the love, we need to show one another.
When our actions are counter to our stated principles
our faith becomes empty, our words meaningless.
If that were to happen, we all will suffer and the world will mourn.
Yes, we are imperfect in the application of all our principles.
Yet, I have hope for better days, for our hearts are in the right and holy place.
We long to do the right thing,
to bring justice where there is none;
to feed the hungry,
to bring hope to those who despair,
to remember to respect the dignity of the other
even as we exercise our right to disagree and
strongly but respectfully share our opinion.
Conversation and dialogue instead of conflict is our goal
never devaluing another person’s humanity.
It is in all of us to be in “right relations” but
we have to be mindful and listen to the siren song of our principles.
In faith, we forgive and are forgiven for our missteps.
We are all flawed, imperfect and when we fall short of our values,
we begin again with love.
Love and respect redeems us.
We can change our world tomorrow, starting with today.
We can rededicate ourselves to this high and lofty purpose by
Respecting the worth and dignity of all UUFP member, and all of humanity.
May it be so!