Don’t Trust The Fifth Principle Project

Note: I recently made a video about this same subject, which you can find here.

If you’re a Unitarian Universalist and you’re not familiar with the Fifth Principle Project, great! I’m happy for you. And somewhat jealous. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be aware of them soon, so let’s cut to the chase: they‘re awful.

Last month, the Fifth Principal Project sent out yet another round of emails to congregations. One of their founding members — Jay Kiskel — is running for the UUA’s Board of Trustees this year, so they’ve kicked off a “grassroots campaign” to garner support. (Do not support them.)

The important thing to note here is that the Fifth Principle Project’s mailings target office admins and lay leaders — deliberately avoiding the attention of ministers, who would typically be the first point of contact if you wanted a church to get involved in some project or initiative. The thing is, most ministers are already aware of this group’s nonsense. So their “grassroots” campaign is really a campaign of deception and sabotage.

The entire point of the Fifth Principle Project is to oppose our denomination’s racial justice work under the guise of “freedom” and “democratic process.” In other words, they’re fighting for the right to stay racist and not be called out on it.

Which is why deception is crucial not just to their email campaign, but to their entire project. On the surface, the Fifth Principle Project bills itself as being about the “right of conscience” and “renewing the democratic process” — two things that any Unitarian Universalist would, ostensibly, support. Even their slogan, “Every Voice Deserves a Vote,” seems on the surface like something no one could disagree with.

Of course, they couldn’t come out with a slogan like “We Don’t Want to Have to Listen to Minorities” or “Don’t Make Us Learn New Pronouns,” so they came up with one that was palatable — but deceptive.

This isn’t about democracy. They’re not organizing “Get Out the Vote” drives. They’re not shuttling elders to the polls. Rest assured, the Fifth Principle Project exists to fight for white people’s right to remain unbothered. And they have framed it as an issue of “democracy” because the truth is problematic.

And so an office administrator might look at one of their emails, containing no references to race or racism, and think “Oh, cool! The Unitarians love democracy. I’ll throw this in the newsletter for them,” without running it by the minister. It has happened to churches I know; it’s working. That’s why the Fifth Principle Project targets lay leaders and office staff.

Another important thing to know about the Fifth Principle Project is that they promote a kind of vague conspiracy theory about UUA leaders forcing a “top-down approach” and forcing all of us to follow a creed. Translation: the denomination as a whole has collectively decided to try to be less racist, and this feels like oppression to the white founders of the Fifth Principle Project. Now they have painted denominational leaders as brutal tyrants who must be overthrown.

Hence Jay Kiskel running for the Board. I’ll have more to say about this at a later date, but suffice it to say for now: for the love of God, please do not vote for this man.

As a side note, whenever I see or hear the phrase “top-down” related to the Unitarian Universalist Association, I pay 50% less attention to whatever is being said. It is the hallmark of one of our most popular, yet easily-refuted, home-grown Unitarian Universalist conspiracy theories, and it’s tiresome.

Anyway, the Unitarian Universalist Association is, and remains, a democratic organization, and we’ve focused on racial justice work because it’s in line with our religious values, and because a majority of UUs think it’s important. It’s literally an example of democracy working.

I need to mention here that even if a majority of UUs hadn’t yet come around the fact that we have serious work to do, dismantling white supremacy culture would still be the right thing to do. Unitarian Universalists have been on the wrong side of history before, and we have to keep a sense of honesty and humility about that. But a majority of UUs have come around to racial justice — so the idea that the Fifth Principle Project is somehow “restoring democracy” by opposing it just doesn’t hold water.

On their website, the Fifth Principle Project insists that “only by exercising our collective voting power can we have a voice in setting the direction of our faith movement.” In other words, the two white men who founded the Fifth Principle Project want to regain control, but they know they can’t do it on their own. And since a majority of UUs don’t agree with them, the only way they can gain power is by tricking enough UUs into supporting their fake cause.

Rest assured, if they’re allowed to “set the direction of our faith movement,” that direction will be the racist one.

And they’re trying to pull this off by sneaking behind your minister’s back to trick your poor office admin (who probably does an amazing job on the newsletter, by the way, and should not have to screen every article for active denominational sabotage).

Yes, the Fifth Principle Project has been told by ministers that what they’re doing is not okay. I don’t think they care.

Regardless of what they claim their project is about, I think the real work of the Fifth Principle Project is to preserve white supremacy culture, all while arguing that white supremacy culture isn’t real. This is one of the most pernicious and dangerous groups associated with our faith movement — which I why I wrote this article.

At this point, every Unitarian Universalist pastor who has kept up with the times is aware of why the Fifth Principle Project is problematic. And apparently, the Fifth Principle Project is aware that we’re on to them. And that’s we should also be proactively warning our office staff and board members not to fall for their bullshit.

As a denomination, we need to stop quietly tolerating this group’s relentless nonsense, and start speaking out about why both their tactics and their beliefs are unacceptable. Ours is not a faith where you can believe — and do — anything you want.

No matter how white you are. No matter how entitled to power you might feel.

I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister living in Austin, TX.

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