Bylaws revision: can’t we do this in fewer words?

The drafted successor to the Unitarian Universalist Association “Principles and Purposes” is a rambling document discussed here and at other blogs.

I can’t shake the feeling that, in drafting a document far longer than the last version, there’s more opportunity for exclusion, division, misunderstanding and mis-proclamation. Long passages suggest we don’t know ourselves — or perhaps trust ourselves — well enough to speak plainly and briefly.

I went back and looked to the Object of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (UK). They come from a different historical place than we do and the document has an inelegant legal tone, so I don’t expect us to emulate them, except to the degree that it doesn’t say more than it needs to.

Eliza, scolding Freddy, was right.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. At some point, I was going to say that the document needed to be cut in half in terms of length because it read like blah, blah, blah. But that sounded too much like I was a heartless guttersnipe. It’s actually typical in style of lots of academic writing in which too many words are used to say something fairly simple.

  2. My experience working on my Church’s Peace Making group is the desire to write a document almost everyone can sign yields a mushy and vague product. It’s longer than it needs to be (to accomadate everyones points). One can read it, and draw almost any conclusion from it. Someone noted this elsewhere, but the most revealing thing about UU practice in these documents are our disclaimers about not being a binding creed. It’s the thing one remembers after reading it (it conjures up an image of dissenters… whow…how does the pacifist at this Church sit among these warmongers or vs versa) and the preceding muddled paragraphs are forgotten.

  3. Well, from a conversation with a member of the CoA today, I can say that there’s an awareness that it got too long, that there are too many words.

    But… what we’re seeing is the result of language which really only got written in August and was released three months earlier than originally planned, in order to get comments, criticism and feedback.

    So don’t stop. They really do want it. And they’re aware that it’s going to come mostly from individuals, because the time frame for comment is very tight for a congregation to pull together any sort of response.

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