I am a slow reader with a day job. So I am less than a third of the way done reading The Gadfly Papers, but do have some general observations both of the book and the three letters denouncing it.
First, I never intended to read it. My very first instinct was “not again.” Itchy political analysis of the UUA was common fifteen to twenty years ago, created “more heat than light” and inspired me to be more strategic and analytic whenever I met something in the UUA that seemed like a bad idea. I spiked a lot of my own stories. The table of contents reminded me of the old days. It was the denouncing letters that prompted me to buy and read the book.
Why? The letters were sure of their reasons, were very confident but gave no examples. (The UUMA POCI letter cited an Christina Rivera as an injured party, but not what in the book caused the injury.) And the lists grew so fast, that I thought “surely they didn’t read it yet,” which raised a red flag. So whatever the motives of the signatories — which I trust as a matter of principle was based on conscience, duty or both — the letters read to me as a pile-on. For example, does being “intentionally provocative” (white ministers letter) merit hundreds of signatures against a single colleague?
I took it both as a matter of conscience and duty to not be swayed by numbers and see for myself. And for this I was criticized and chided for buying the book. By ministers. It is currently the #1 and #2 books (Kindle and paperback respectively) about Unitarian Universalism on Amazon, despite an attempt to displace it by strategic purchasing of another book. Clearly, others want to read it, too.
You can quietly ask someone to stop writing. You can make a reasoned, convincing argument why someone is wrong. You cannot make forceful, public demands, and then expect people to not start Google-ing.
As for the book, so far it’s not great literature. It could use a copy editor and is a bit self-conscious of its place in history and the weight of criticism that did, in fact, come. Even the “white ministers letter” calls it a treatise, and I think that’s the right genre. The interpretation of Unitarian history, in my opinion, is not good. But it is exactly the kind of folk-history, transmitted through sermons and pamphlets, that built the long dominant idea that Unitarianism is the “faith of the free.”
I will provide examples of some recent embarrassing Unitarian Universalist episodes later, but again I’m a slow reader trying to read for comprehension and the meaning of the controversy. So far, I do not see in Eklof’s book a narrative equal to the outrage.