Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society

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Commission on Social Witness

A Draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience - August 2006

Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society

INTRODUCTION

Unitarian Universalists have strong convictions about right and wrong and have a long tradition of advocacy on moral issues. Our history honors many heroes who have taken public positions and acted vigorously on issues of great consequence including religious freedom, abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and, in the present day, the freedom to marry. As Unitarian Universalists, we must affirm and reclaim the moral influence of liberal religion in society.


Our moral values are drawn from many sources. We are a blended family who come from varied backgrounds. We are drawn to a welcoming and inclusive religious community in which we might nurture our spirits and make a positive difference in our world.


What is the moral and ethical grounding of our shared faith? How might the moral and ethical grounding of Unitarian Universalism be given greater voice in civil discourse? We are called to respond to these questions, not only with a statement of conscience, but through acts of conscience that honor our individual and communal experience.


We understand “values” to be principles, standards, or qualities considered worthwhile or desirable by the person or group holding them. We understand “morals” and “ethics” to overlap with the primary emphasis in morals being the customs and habits of behavior deemed right and wrong and the primary emphasis in ethics being the interpersonal context in which behavior deemed right and wrong plays out.


The Public Square is a forum for issues increasingly framed by moral values. Those of other religious faiths often speak clearly and passionately of their values and moral beliefs related to controversial issues such as abortion, stem cell research, the death penalty, and the teaching of evolution. Their efforts are proving effective at influencing every branch and level of government. Consequently, the United States is moving away from its constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, which is designed to prevent the undue influence of government on religion and of religion on government.

COMMON MORAL GROUND

A common expression of ethics and morality is found in faith traditions that include Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. Known as the Golden Rule, it is commonly stated as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This expression coincides with important philosophical statements such as Immanuel Kant’s Ends Principle, which tells us to treat all persons as “ends in themselves” and not as “mere means to our own ends.” These ideas form a strong foundation for Unitarian Universalist morality and ethics.


An alternative way of stating the Ends Principle and Golden Rule appears in the Declaration of Independence, which says that “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It asserts that people have the right to choose their own values and chart their own paths as long as they do no harm. Abraham Lincoln called this statement “the father of all moral principles.”


An international manifestation of these common principles is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The very first sentence of the Preamble states: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world….”


In fact, it can be argued that all seven of the Unitarian Universalist principles derive from the Ends Principle and the Golden Rule. History shows us the dire consequences that follow when this common morality is rejected. We have a responsibility, therefore, to give voice to our morality.

AMERICAN VALUES AND UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST VALUES

The moral values of Unitarian Universalism correspond profoundly with those moral values embodied in the founding documents of our nation. Like our Unitarian Universalist values, the values to which we aspire as Americans are distilled from the experiences, hopes, and dreams of all who subscribe to them. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution embody freedom of religion, the right of conscience, and the worth and dignity of every person.


Yet the United States came into being on a land already inhabited. The subsequent violation of Native Americans, the horrors of slavery, and the oppression of countless others fly in the face of the idealism of these founding documents. Our history involves the gradual realization of these ideals which continue to challenge us. Ours is still far from “a perfect union.”


We aspire to a democratic pluralism, where each voice is heard and each person respected. Like the religious liberals who went before us, it is time for us to work together with those of other faith traditions to defend a basic principle of freedom: the right of all Americans to follow a life of their own choosing, unencumbered by government, as long as others are not harmed.

RAISING OUR VOICES IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE

How might we be proactive rather than reactive in the public dialogue on moral values? How might we bridle our own temptation to arrogance and recognize and affirm the common ground of our Unitarian Universalist faith and the freedom of faith espoused in the founding documents of our nation? How might we discern, affirm, and live what we deem as our moral values in our pluralistic society?


As individuals, let us:

· Take every opportunity to draw attention to the agreement between the moral values embodied in the founding documents of our nation and the moral values of Unitarian Universalism;

· Reflect upon how our moral values inform our political views and behavior;

· Consider the formative influences of our individual conscience and how to evaluate what our conscience calls us to do measured by a criterion of the common good;

· Educate ourselves on interfaith matters;

· Listen to people with whom we find ourselves in conflict, recognizing them as our neighbors, our kin;

· Offer our fellow citizens a model of religion that embraces liberalism and morality; and

· Amplify our conviction that the application of our Principles and other moral values can improve our society.


As congregations, let us:

· Respectfully affirm and celebrate the unity that underlies the diversity of our congregations;

· Utilize small group ministry as a tool for congregants to discern and apply our moral values;

· Explore and articulate the moral grounding for our social justice agendas;

· Craft and implement a process by which congregational positions on moral issues can be established and articulated in the local community and beyond;

· Give our children and youth the language to describe themselves as Unitarian Universalists and the confidence to express their convictions and moral values;

· Encourage our religious professionals to proclaim our moral values in the public square;

and


· Work with like-minded organizations such as the Interfaith Alliance and the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) to more profoundly recognize the pluralism of Unitarian Universalism and the religious pluralism of our world.


As an association of interdependent congregations, let us:

· Realize media opportunities to articulate Unitarian Universalist values and their application to living with respect and compassion;

· Do all possible to support civil liberties and the separation of church and state; and

· Work across faith, cultural, and national boundaries to cultivate a Beloved Global Community.

Through the exploration, discernment, and articulation of our moral values in concert with affirmation and celebration of the pluralism of our society, we will rediscover our faith as a living tradition whose grounding and practice will then be visible, audible, and valued in the public square.