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Unitarian Universalist Fifth Principle

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Oct. 15th, 2010 | 11:11 pm

We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

Unitarian Universalists are congregationalists who believe in the rights and powers of individuals and individual congregations to make decisions.  We do not have bishops or outside leaders who direct the ministry or the congregations.  This congregational polity, as it is called in theological circles, has long historic roots in both of the Unitarian and Universalist traditions.  In fact, many of the founders of democracy in the United States were Unitarian (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere, for example) or from other congregational denominations who valued the right of a community to make decisions based on the membership.

Democratic process varies from church to church.  However, one clear form of this democracy is clear in the make of the Unitarian Universalist Association which creates programs and acts upon initiatives based on the voting at General Assembly.  General Assembly is an annual gathering of representatives sent by the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  These votes direct the national organization in the annual tasks of the religion.  That said, no church is required to agree with or even directly involve themselves in those initiatives.

There is a clear theological foundation for this kind of decision making process.  Clearly UUs believe that religious community matters.  There is a reason to be a part of a church, congregation, fellowship, society, or community.  (As a result of this democracy, Unitarian Universalist communities have many different names often reflecting the history of that community and the current membership).  We come together because our spiritual development and growth are encouraged, our spiritual lives are nourished, we find hope and grace, and so much more.  Once you agree that meeting as a community or joining a religious community matters, then the question is: how should we be organized?

Some religions believe that the divine selects those among the community who should lead and directs them accordingly.  The Roman Catholic church follows this model with a Pope and Bishops, etc.  In Christian history, Martin Luther said no to this way of understanding church.  Martin Luther said that people can have a direct line to the divine and should engage with the Bible and G-d directly.

Unitarian Universalists have a wide array of religious traditions and philosophies present within their religious congregations and societies.  This principle begins with "we affirm and promote the right of conscience."  Early Unitarian Minister William Ellery Channing described each person as having a divine seed within them.  This, in direct opposition to the popular Calvinism of the day that said that all people were "naturally depraved."  One of the core values among most Unitarian Universalists is that we all have divinity within us and the responsibility to cultivate and grow it.  Our conscience is our own and we have a right to share that conscience within our religious communities and have our voice hear in making decisions about our religious communities.

We hold that our religious communities helps each of us to foster a strong moral compass and a blessed world in this life.  The individual members commit to doing this, having their voices heard, and experiencing transformation and grace by working, learning, and hoping together.  "We are the ones we have been waiting for."  "Heaven's here on earth."

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