Sometimes We Make Mistakes. What Comes Next?

As we approach the Jewish Day of Atonement (September 24), our religious association modeled apologizing for a misstep this week.

On Monday, the Unitarian Universalist Association posted this meme on the UUA Facebook page that said, “You’ll feel at home in a UU congregation if you’re looking for a space in which you can be open and be your true self. We honor all people for who they are, regardless of their actions and decisions. Unitarian Universalism welcomes us holistically. To many people, our faith feels like coming home.”

The world of UUs … or the UUs who are on social media…exploded.

228 people responded in comments (before the comments were closed), most of them with dismay, at that phrase, “regardless of their actions and decisions.” To many, this felt like a message saying that accountability meant nothing. “Cheap grace” as some theologians might say. Others felt that it effectively sent the message that covenant means nothing, and people may do as they please, no matter who it hurts.

The next day, the new President of the UUA, Rev. Sofía Betancourt, PhD, posted this response:

“Unitarian Universalism is a progressive religious movement in the midst of deep work around accountability, covenant, and the ethics by which we hold one another’s relative safety and wellbeing. Yesterday, our main Facebook page posted language stating that we honor all people “regardless of their actions.” This is simply untrue, and I apologize on behalf of the UUA for the distress raised by this language. I want to take the space here to explain why this language was rightly such a cause for concern.

To imply that any and all actions are honored here is not only incorrect, but it conflicts with the theological center of our tradition. Universalism is about personhood, not behavior — in other words, our faith makes the radical claim that everyone is born beloved, that no person is beyond the reach of Love’s embrace, and there is always the possibility of redemption and repair. But because our faith is communal and covenantal, it also calls us to directly address harm, both interpersonal and systemic.

We are called to hold one another in love across a range of past mistakes, across a range of beliefs, across a range of identities and perspectives and a great many other things. We teach that there is always a path back into beloved community. But the covenant that lives at the center of our faith is grounded in love itself. And that love requires that we hold one another accountable for our actions, and that we do the work of repair when we have caused harm. Thank you, Beloveds, for your feedback and your depth of care for our values in the public square.”

I was impressed with the swift response, and that President Betancourt explained how the meme was not in alignment with UU theology or sense of covenant.

And I am also impressed with the modeling I see in this, not only for an institution, but for individuals. We’re going to mess up. That’s simply part of being human. And when we do, we can apologize, and as it says in our teal hymnal, “Begin again in love.”