The first principle that Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Everyone, everybody is important.
That’s a principle, rather than dogma or doctrine, or an article of faith. A belief is a mental acceptance of a claim, whereas a principle is a fundamental assumption. Similarly, our legal system has a related principle of innocence until guilt is proven.
In the Hebrew Bible this comes from the first chapter of Genesis, verses 26 and 27. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ Notice that that’s plural, not singular. We can think of it as God saying to the assembly of the Heavens, “Let’s create humankind in the likeness of our beautiful diversity. Let us create them male and female, short and tall, fat and skinny, and all of our colors.”
In the New Testament, there’s the question about paying taxes. Some folks trying to trap Jesus, first flatter him. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.” In other words, Jesus treated all people with respect.
They go on to ask, “Should faithful people pay taxes to the government, or not?” Jesus asked someone to give him a coin. Holding it up, he asked, “Whose image do you see?” Nowadays, in this country, you might see suffragist Susan B. Anthony or Shoshone interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacagawea. Also, if it were a commemorative coin, it might feature a Black historical icon.
Part of this acceptance of inherent worth and dignity is the recognition that every human has a deep interior world of feelings, thoughts, attitudes and desires. We all have the potential for deep connections to each other and the world around us. We strive to teach common moral decencies to our children: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness and responsibility.
Corporations have come around to the value of diversity. Homogeneous teams are bad for business and the economy overall. Diverse teams literally strengthen profits and innovation within workplaces. Study after study has proven this. More diverse teams produce financial returns a third higher than less diverse teams. When there are more women on a team, collective intelligence rises, and those teams are radically more innovative.
All people are important – people who don’t look like us, don’t sound like us, or don’t think like us. People who are strangers to us now, formerly incarcerated people, differently-abled people, immigrant people, elderly people, and children are all important. As faithful people, we throw no one under the bus, and we rise together. Our value, our worth, and our dignity are not conditional.
Anyone willing to make this bold proclamation that each person inherently matters must strive to live up to that claim. We do so by working toward a future in which all lives are truly valued in our society. Those who especially need attention now have historically – and are currently–threatened, marginalized, and forgotten by our society: Blacks, Indigenous, and people of color.
Acknowledging that these people have indeed been threatened, marginalized, and forgotten by our cultural norms and institutions is the first step toward embracing them as God’s children, inherently worthy of dignity and respect.
The Golden Rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated, love others as you wish you were loved. And the corollary is just as important – don’t treat others as you don’t want to be treated. This is how we practice, day to day, that first principle.
In Hinduism, there’s a term that expresses this notion wonderfully: namaste. It means the divinity in me honors the divinity in you. The worth and dignity in me holds in deep respect the worth and dignity in you. The image of God in me appreciates the image of God in you.
David Soliday is the minister at the Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.