Friday, June 11, 2021

Update 2021 - Contribute and Get Involved

 After a long hiatus the Unitarian Universalist Association has undertaken the project to review Article II of the bylaws that concern our Principles and Purposes, including the First Principle.  They have established an Article II Commission. The hope of this work is to see how Unitarian Universalists can best covenant with all of life.

To learn more about this Commission, go here.

To become involved at General Assembly 2021 (Virtual) go here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Post General Assembly 2018 Update - What's next for the FPP?

Dear First Principle Project Sponsoring Congregations and Interested Individuals,

The First Principle Project has now been in existence five years, starting after the 2013 General Assembly. Since that time we have reached with our programs and leadership every single UU congregation. Our goal of supporting life on this planet through encouraging conversations about how we respond to a multispecies existence has been partially achieved. There is still much work to be done.

As the facilitator of this project I am asking you what you need from this network of congregations and from the social capital that has been produced.  I am unsure of next steps, as it is up to you and your guidance about what we all do together.

If you are willing, please respond to this email and discuss with one another what we might do.

In the  meantime, here are some updates that might inform the discussion:

1. The UUA Board will not be forming a Study Commission on how we might change our principles to reflect the issues that the First Principle Project (FPP) raised, which also includes the 8th Principle Project which we supported during the 2017 General Assembly. Instead the Board will be guiding a conversation with Unitarian Universalists over the next year to see how "who we are" and "where we want to go" might be better reflected in our principles. Your congregation engaging in this process will continue the goals of the FPP.

2. Our efforts to support a Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI) on multispecies aspects resulted in two congregations adapting the original template to one single one that was more oriented towards intersectionality with a multispecies emphasis. One congregation went forward with this CSAI to General Assembly. The delegates voted instead for another CSAI that concerned white supremacy and intersectionality. Your congregation engaging in this CSAI will continue the goals of the FPP.

3. The UU Animal Ministry continues its good work and would be a place to engage with others your continued multispecies ministries. Please visit them at to see their resources and how you might get involved.

It may be that the FPP will not continue as it has been. If that is the case, I thank you for the honor and privilege of serving.

Yours in the hope for all beings,

Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Understanding Intersectionality for the Freedom of All

First delivered as a sermon on Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend 2018 at the Community Unitarian Universalist Community at White Plains, NY 

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner

I was born into a racist culture and family – specifically in Atlanta, Georgia. We moved to Northern Virginia in 1968, only a few months before Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. My parents enrolled me in Louise Archer Elementary School an all African American school, founded in a black neighborhood mostly fenced off from white suburbs. I started only a few months after the school had been desegregated and I was in the first batch of white children to attend.

I found myself making friends quickly Thea, who I invited home so that we could practice a school play. She lived nearby, but on that the other side of that fence, which we climbed to get to my house. My mother came home from work and saw us playing in the living room and told me to get Thea to leave. As soon as she left my mother slapped my face and said, "Don’t you ever bring another _______ into this house again."

My family has a lot of work to do and so do I to combat that training of seeing more worth in some than others, undoing the fear that I would be loved less if I thought any differently. Though my example is more extreme than many, none of us escape this enculturation.


My family is not just my biologic nuclear family, but it is my cultural family anchored here in the USA. I didn't know how that family had trained me into a dominating colonizing culture until I started to work in Latin America. I consulted with the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery project. Once a million of these lived on the island precolonization, but by 1973, only 14 remained

The indigenous people were long gone due to European colonization, and the parrot nearly went extinct due to the large deforestation of the island after the USA invasion and colonization in 1898. The USA collapsed the Puerto Rican economy and put sugar cane all over the island. Due to extreme efforts the parrot numbers somewhat rebounded. But the recent hurricanes this late summer, Irma and Maria, devastated the people and the parrots there, vulnerable due to past and ongoing extraction economies, and instutionalized racist and speciesist business, taxation, and aid practices.

My human, USA family has a lot of work to do, and so do I because I benefited and continue to do so at the cost of the many. None of us escapes the work to stop this extraction and domination economy that marginalizes and colonizes.

I responded to the work my human family and I had to do by taking up the call to Unitarian Universalist (UU) Ministry. My sense of family grew to incorporate Unitarian Universalism. While preparing for the ministry I learned the long, hard, and painful history of how Unitarian Universalists had made many mistakes in how people of color were treated in our movement, as evidenced by the book, "Black Pioneers in a White Denomination," multiple painful episodes since, and ongoing ones as evidences in this book.

My UU family has a lot of work to do. I know this because I am at the forefront of a UU movement to understand how what harms animals, also harms humans. We ask how extending our sense of the inherent worth and dignity to individuals of all species helps humans too. This work brings up the pain and loss of how deficient UUs have been with people, as well as other species. This is uncomfortable, painful, and stressful, and it seems that none of us can say or do the right thing. Sound like fun? It is hard, but there is a tang of freedom in the air. Even if you aren't UU, join us as various possible denominational change, votes, and study groups are coming in the future. My family is doing the work, and we need to do more, for we have not won freedom yet

Our work for freedom means addressing intersectionality. Intersectionality means that oppression is experienced differently based on our various identities. Women experience oppression differently than men, and blacks different from whites, and hence black women experience oppression from being both black and female. The corollary is also true - we benefit from a system that oppressed others based on our identities and locations of privilege. I am white human North American from the lower middle class -this gives me privileges that others have, and oppressions that others don’t have.

Intersectionality also means that there are core oppressions that intersect all identities. Some call this core oppression patriarchy, which isn't really about men, so relax guys. It is a culture based on seeing different others as less than, which is tied to dominance, power over, white supremacy, and inequality, all of which catch each of us in a sticky web of harm and benefit.

What does the work of intersectionality look like?

First off, it is not shame or blame or pointing fingers at who oppresses more or is oppressed more. We all are enculturated to be oppressors and oppressed. We are not to blame, but we are responsible. All of us.

The world has lived with 500 years of modernity and colonization to hide the reality that we are inextricably tied to one another and all life in beauty, tragedy, and death. "Wishing for life at any price continuously calls forth death - the death of other people, other beings, the extinguishing of languages, ideas cultures, and worst of all, possibilities and degrees of freedom" (Andrea Weber). We all are trapped. Our work for freedom is undoing the core oppression for our co-liberation. For this liberation we must learn to "live without fear and to die courageously."

This is a death of individualism so that all are centered. In the circle of life, the suffering of another is also ours. In the countries I work in Latin America there is constant evidence of the devastation of colonialism and USA foreign policy. The people I work with, descendants of disappeared indigenous cultures and slaves, and the dearth of wildlife, do not let me forget it. But I am so alive there for it takes everything I’ve got to show up and be vulnerable. What began as a wound ends in a caressing touch. I’m undone and then made whole.

The work for freedom means we center the marginalized voices. Our individualism dies every time we allow another to speak. And we are born again.

We must center what we marginalize within ourselves. Miki Kashton, a leader in Nonviolent Communication, told me a few weeks ago to not believe a thing you grew up thinking or doing, for it was all based on core oppressions. We need to lay aside the armor that doesn't protect us, but fetters us. Let us lay that burden down.

We must center ourselves in history, ecology, and biology. We must look at past societal practices and how we have been harmed and benefited. Thanks goodness for our neuroplastic brains which are ready to believe that power over is the only way to meet our needs, but can also learn that cooperation and co-liberation brings flourishing to many lives. We must accept that we will die and no level of control will stop that. We must embrace  reality - to accept all that is now and also, paradoxically, do everything in our power to change it. We are so powerful in freedoms return embrace.

 (photo by Dagmar Ollman)

We need resilience because we tread a fragile path of feeling shame, separation, and oppression, but there is joy lurking in that journey. We can take a beginning step by sharing our social location when we meet with others, without shame or blame, being honest of our privilege and oppression. We confess. Here is an example.

My name is LoraKim Joyner. I identify as a white human heterosexual female of European descent raised in the southern USA in the lower middle class, 2 generations from Alabama sharecroppers, currently living outside of NY City. My childhood was full of experiences and hard lessons taught from family, friends, the surrounding society, and a dominant oppressive culture that acculturated within me the trappings of privilege, white domination, human domination, as well as victimhood. I am also a mother and grandmother of people who identify as of European/indigenous descent from Honduras. My work in the world is as conservationist throughout Latin America, wildlife veterinarian, Unitarian Universalist minister, and a Compassionate Communication trainer and practitioner.

All of this history and categories of oppression and oppressor cannot be unwoven from my relationships. They form me but they do not bind me. We can help each other loose these chains of bondage by sharing how this message  intersects with your identities, experiences, and locations of oppression and privilege.

I am held rapt by the power and hope of freedom won together, for none are free until all are free. My father in his older years nearly died of heart failure, but miraculously a heart match was found for him quickly. He was a small man so the heart of an African descent girl who had died in a car accident became his. My parents were grateful, and softened.

Let us not let death, or the fear of death, keep us from giving our hearts to one another.

They who bind to themselves a joy
Do the winged life destroy
But they who kiss the joy as it flies
Live in eternity's sunrise
(adapted from William Blake)

What You Can Do

1.  Join our new Freedom Project. This is an international campaign aimed at stopping the wildlife trade - most notably in parrots but also in other wildlife. We will use multimedia to show the vision of all beings being free, such as the picture below of a rescued yellow-naped parrot chick that almost ended up as a pet but was released to fly free. Materials and resources will be available that highlight our slogans, "No Cage is Big Enough," "None are Free until All Are Free." and "Tu Casa No Es Mi Casa." 

 (photo by Christianna Martynowski)

2. If you are Unitarian Universalist, join the First Principle Project and engage in the work of intersectionality.

Monday, June 19, 2017

General Assembly Updates

One of our First Principle congregations, along with help from the congregations in Athens, PA and New Orleans, LA, and the Commission of Social Witness, submitted a Study Action Item to be brought to the General Assembly in June 2018. Please vote yes for it.  For a current copy, go here. It is titled, "Dismantling Intersectional Justice."

The UUA Board at General Assembly June 2017  announced that it will appoint a Study Commission to look at possible changes to our Principles and Purposes.

We are organizing further events and projects. To find out more, read updates on the resource page.

The resources on this website were tuned for General Assembly. We will be updating them once we understand how the Study Commission will function.  To get regular updates, visit our facebook page.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

FPP: Interconnections

By Nikki J Hunt

The First Principle Project is more than a bylaw change. It is a deepening of faith and relationships through conversations with each other when we ask heart and mind challenging questions:
What does it mean to be human in a multispecies world? And what is our compassionate response to that understanding? How can we live more deeply connected to all of life? How can we love both human nature and all of nature? Exploring these and other questions together will help us grow stronger, flourishing communities.
The FPP challenges us to ask to go beyond this, to look deeper. There is so much suffering in the world. How do we fix this? It is easy to fall into ranking suffering and say we need to fix this oppression first before this other oppression. This way of thinking is both symptomatic and prescriptive of a worldview rooted in domination. When we rank suffering as part of our strategy of change, we will create solutions that have within them the seeds of domination.
Instead of using the tools of domination, the FPP asks us to use the tools of love--cooperation, compassion, individual and collective responsibility, and justice. We can help each other widen our caring and accountability so we can see, more and more, how everyone and everything is interconnected. When we each do the work of undoing oppression from this place of our interconnections, then we find solutions to suffering that do not rest upon or perpetuate the suffering of others. Instead we find solutions that heal deeply and transformatively. We find solutions that create flourishing for everyone and everything.
This is why the FPP’s goal is to foster, grow and deepen conversation around the idea of shifting from “every person” to “every being.” There are no simple answers and no simple fixes, and such conversations can be hard and even painful. Yet we are called to rise to engage these questions together, for this is how we create Beloved Community.

We hope you will vote yes at General Assembly to continue the conversation. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Our Principles Daring Us to Rise in Spirit and Justice

A Letter from Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner

Wildlife Veterinarian
Unitarian Universalist Minister
First Principle Project Facilitator

To my fellow Unitarian Universalists:

The time has now come upon us after many years of hard work. This coming General Assembly in New Orleans, June 2017, we will vote to appoint a study commission considering how we might change the First Principle (and/or other principles) to reflect the inherent worthy and dignity of every being. 

It has been a beautiful process, full of joy and of pain, both of which are needed for change.  During this time I have seen in you a growing depth, increasing connection to life and to others, startling and unexpected awe and wonder about what life might hold for us, and a greater hope for justice of all kinds in this time of peril. I have recorded a few comments from others:

"Reflecting on the First Priniciple Project (FPP) has changed my life. I feel so much
more compassion for myself and others."

 “The FPP has surprised me about the depths of interconnection and beauty that is in life.
It has grown my faith in UUA and in my life."

“Our UUA needs this gift, for ourselves and others as we nurture each other, the earth
and other species. If we can pass this it will help us towards improving our anti-racism work,
understanding intersectionality, and promoting justice.”

Let me ask you:

Will you take the risk to hold difficult conversations and feel uncomfortable, slowing down and taking the time to reap rich rewards for the future?

Will you be willing to let go of a perceived sense of separation from life, that causes the malaise of disconnection and loneliness?

Will you heal yourself so that you can heal an aching and disconnected world?

Will you dare to rise to see all life as interconnected in beauty, worth, and dignity, growing compassion for humans, other species, and yourself?

Here is a video asking if we dare to rise:

I hope that the answer to these questions about growing love, compassion, and justice is yes, for the world needs us as never before. We can lead the way to help others surmount the challenges before us, but only if we say yes to life, and open ourselves to the risk of change and the responsibility that interconnecting beauty and worth places upon us.

Loving every part of the world and embracing reality is a great responsibility. I work in the  most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, Honduras. There I partner with the indigenous people in conservation and humanitarian projects that promote environmental justice.  This is my calling as a Unitarian Universalist minister and wildlife veterinarian - nurturing nature, ours, yours, theirs, the earth's.  I approach this deeply meaningful work by knowing that the health of each individual is inextricably interrelated - we are one earth, and one health.

I heard this same sentiment expressed by Tomás, an indigenous leader of the Miskito people in Honduras. I am there to witness and stand in solidarity with the villages that wish to resist the overwhelming forces that seek to extract their trees, steal their wild parrots for the illegal wildlife trade, take their land, and impose violence, corruption, and the drug trade as a way of life. 

Tomás stood up to these forces that were destroying his ancestral lands.  For his efforts, he made enemies who ambushed him one day, and he was shot 4 times.  He nearly died. His whole village had to flee because they were likewise threatened with their lives. Tomas's parent's house was burned to the ground. Yet, four months later he returned to the ghost-like village to work with me and others on parrot conservation.  We had to hire a squad of soldiers from the Honduran military to accompany us and keep Tomas and others safe.  I asked him why he was willing to risk his life. He replied, "Doctora, everything is at risk so I am willing to risk everything. If the parrots don't make it, neither do my people."

I agree that we must take care of the least of these, the most oppressed, and ourselves as well.  To do so we need to investigate the root causes that lead to domination, colonization, and injustice.  To do so I feel we need conversation, reflection, and study, which may eventually lead to a change in our principles.

I beseech you to vote yes at the General Assembly and encourage other delegates to do so as well..  Let us together bring our principles to life.

Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner
Community Minister, Community Unitarian Universalist Congregation at White Plains, NY

In the last 3. 5years there has been much produced documenting the views of Unitarian Universalists and how we struggle and benefit from engaging in these issues. Please see the ample materials at our main website: and at our blog:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Principle Project: A Sermon by Nikki J Hunt

I gave this sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chico on April 23, 2017. Before I spoke, we showed this video: “How Wolves Change Rivers”  

For the past several years, a group of UUs has been working to officially change our first principle from “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” to “the inherent worth and dignity of every being.” This group formed the First Principle Project and are working their way through the UUA steps for amending our bylaws. This June at General Assembly, delegates will vote on whether or not to send this proposal to a 1-2 year study commission.

What does it mean to be human in a multi-species world? In many ways, this question is at the epicenter of the First Principle Project. Changing our first principle from “every person” to “every being” is much more than a shift of one word. This simple change invites us into a deeper, more complex conversation about what it means to be human, how we understand the divine, and why we are here.

When I was five, my mother taught me how to catch butterflies. There were patches clover in the stretch of green between the apartment buildings where we lived. She said I had to be able to be very still on the outside and on the inside too. I remember the first time I caught a butterfly. I was thrilled, feeling the soft flutter of wings on my palms. I could open my fingers a crack and peek inside. Sitting there in the sun, smiling at my accomplishment, the soft fluttery touches slowly drew me in until I was able to really feel the little life between my hands.

And I realized how frightened it must be! My mother had warned me not to touch its wings or it might not be able to fly, and not to hold it too long. But once I connected with the butterfly as a being and not just an entertainment, I could no longer ignore its fear. Then I understood why I had to let it go. Over the next few weeks I caught a few more, but eventually the joy I felt in this new skill paled in comparison to the echo of pain and fear I felt in the desperate flutter of butterfly wings. 

I learned some important lessons about being human that day, beyond realizing that I could feel a connection with insects as well as with my mother and other humans. I learned what it felt like to hold the power of life or death in my hands. And I learned that power comes with responsibility.

We live in a tumultuous time. Many of us are challenging the system of domination with its reliance on power-over. Many of us are working to shift away from a world rooted in oppression to a world where flourishing is nurtured for all—for individual humans, for human communities, and for the earth and all the many beings that live here with us. Much of the chaos and crises that explode across the daily headlines are directly connected to this struggle to birth something new.

Because this something new would benefit everyone, we have a hard time understanding why anyone would stand against this ideal. Why would anyone be against flourishing for everyone?

I offer that the difference goes back to what we believe about human nature. Are we humans basically good or are we basically bad? How we answer this question leads to very different societys.

If we believe that humans are basically bad, then things like obedience-based education, and punishment-rooted criminal justice make sense. In this world view, human nature needs to be firmly and clearly controlled, and it is a lack of appropriate and adequate control that results in poverty, drug use, crime, homelessness, and all of the other problems of our modern world.

If we believe humans are basically good, then obedience and punishment smothers and harms the divine spark born in each of us.

My understanding of human nature basically arises out of a mix of what is called process theology, and science. Process theology says that we are all a part of divinity and, as such, are co-creators with God. This means that we all play a part in creating this world every day. Process theologian Catherine Keller says, “In the image of the creator we are invited to a creative responsibility—an ability to respond in appreciative relation to the others, human and nonhuman. To respond not just dutifully but resourcefully, in the flow of creativity and in the beauty of grace.”

Unitarian Universalists also value science as one of the sources that informs our understanding humanity. So what does science say about human nature? From what I have read, on the whole, we humans are born with the potential for both good and evil. The relationships we develop and the environment we collectively create plays a large role in whether we act for the good of others or whether we act in ways that harm and oppress others.

In Trauma & Evil: Healing the Wounded Soul minister and psychologist Jeffery Means says, “While the embryonic self is innate and ordinarily contains the capacity to organize experience, it requires a matrix of relationships within which to develop and mature to its potential. This means that the structuralization of the human mind grows out of human relationships… Relationships and connection with others is more basic and necessary for our survival and development than is pleasure”.

I learned one beautiful way of summing this up from Rev. Ben McBride at a PICO training last year. He shared with us a part of traditional Zulu culture. In greeting each other one would say “I see you.” And the traditional response is “Because you see me, I exist.” This understanding of our interdependence is reflected in our seventh UU principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

Which brings me back to that butterfly and our first principle. I am called to use the power that I have responsibly. We are all called to use our power responsibly. Our UU principles exist as a guide for how we can do this. It is subtle, but the inherent worth and dignity of every person elevates humanity above other forms of life.

I see in this an unconscious reflection of the power-over domination model that permeates our society. This is the model that gives humans dominion over the world, and we have seen how well this dominion as fared—it has given us poisoned water in Flint Michigan, the Tar Sands wastelands in Canada, massive species extinction, and more. This model is also the model that supports some humans having power-over other humans which we see in racism, sexism, classism, homophobia. It is a model rooted in fear and obsessed with control.

Speaker and writer Winona La Duke says, “One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

What would our world look like if we stopped believing we are powerless? What might we create if we used power-with to grow a world where everyone’s divine spark was supported and nurtured? What would our world look like if we saw nature as our partner instead of our competitor?

First Principle Project Director Rev. LoraKim Joyner says, “This work of living out our principles is never easy, for our principles are not an acceptance of the reality under which we live with imperfect justice and compassion, but a vision for which we ache and long.” 

When we open up and let go of trying to control the world—that is where co-creation begins. Words matter. Changing our first principle from “every person” to “every being” would open us up to a sharing of power—with each other, with the earth and with the divine. What will you create today?