The UUMA is dead to me

Just when you think you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, the bottom falls out. A public censure of Todd Eklof just issued leaves me stunned. No hint that adults can disagree, or that people put themselves out on principle. Or that some people think he’s correct.

The ideological basis, the high-handed tone and the cringing prayer. This is calculated to hurt and embarrass Eklof, so no irony there. “Honest and diligence” indeed. Lord, spare us. This letter is a betrayal of our heritage.

I’ve not been a member for years, but the UUMA is now good and dead to me. The signatories can (to put it nicely) get lost. I’m embarrassed for them; they should be ashamed of themselves.

Read for yourself. The original is at I’m reposting it here as, though it’s a public letter, documents tend to vanish.

UUMA Elected Board of Trustees and Executive Team Issues Public Letter of Censure

16 August, 2019

Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane

Dear Todd,
As the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, we are writing this letter of censure regarding the content and the manner of distribution (at the 2019 General Assembly) of your book, The Gadfly Papers. We hope this action will be received as an invitation into awareness, acknowledgment of the hurt that has been caused, and an opportunity for restoration, reconciliation, and engagement in the ongoing work of the UUMA, not as an attempted resolution of an “issue.” The content of your book has caused great psychological, spiritual, and emotional damage for many individuals and communities within our faith. Because of the widespread impact, we are making this censure public and distributing it to all members of the UUMA.

As the continental leadership of the UUMA, our responsibility is to uphold our values and our covenant. We believe you have broken covenant. We write this letter to ask you to seek understanding of the harm that has been done and to work toward restoration. We would welcome the opportunity to help guide and support a public process of restoration, which we expect would foster widespread learning about what it means to be a covenantal faith.

We understand from your book that you want to encourage robust and reasoned debate about the direction of our faith. However, we cannot ignore the fact that logic has often been employed in white supremacy culture to stifle dissent, minimize expressions of harm, and to require those who suffer to prove the harm by that culture’s standards. Further, we believe that dismissing testimonies of real people to the profound and pervasive pain of white supremacy culture and its many forms of oppression by simply categorizing them as safetyism or political correctness is both morally wrong and antithetical to our values as a faith tradition.

We believe that you have violated the spirit of the Ethical Standards in our Code of Conduct detailed in our Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry, which call us to:

  • Honesty and diligence in our work
  • Respect and compassion for all people
  • The work of confronting attitudes and practices of unjust discrimination on the basis of race, color, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability, or ethnicity in ourselves and our ministry settings

As we call you to be accountable to your colleagues, we also call ourselves, as UUMA leadership, to be accountable to our members and to our covenant and values. We recognize that our current ethical standards leave room for ambiguity about what kinds of speech and behavior are racist and oppressive. Our commitment to the ongoing work to revise our Guidelines, clarifying expectations of anti-racist, anti-oppressive conduct in the practice of ministry, seems more crucial each day. We are also working to revise the accountability processes to ground them in values of justice, integrity, and healing rather than in their current legalistic frame.

It is our deepest desire, not to exclude people, but to welcome everyone into this work, recognizing that our members represent a wide spectrum of perspectives, experience, readiness, and willingness to engage. While we wish to be sensitive to that spectrum, we also must balance that against the stark and painful fact that people of color, indigenous, trans, disabled and other marginalized communities have testified over and over again to the spiritual, psychological, emotional, physical, and moral damage that racism and oppression have caused. Those impacts are not up for debate.

Grounded in our mission, with profound sadness for hurt that has been caused, and with deep longing for the promise of what can be, we close with this prayer of lament:

Spirit of Reason and Passion,
We hear again the cries of pain from those of marginalized identities
Pain inflicted all too often in the name of UU values and principles.
Their hope is dying, crushed once again by dismissal and devaluation
Is there room for all of us in this faith?
Yes, this is a faith for us all.
This is a faith where love is stronger than hate
Where justice is our mission and beloved community is our vision.
Where relationships are key to our individual growth and understanding.
We are a faith that balances mind and heart, and embraces both in spirit.
May we live into that balance.
Recognizing the power of our words to manipulate and harm.
May we remember the power of relationship,
And work toward restoration when covenant is broken.
Embraced by Love,
Striving towards Justice,
We pray.

Blessed Be

In faith,

The UUMA Board of Trustees and Executive Team
Wendy Williams, President
Rod Richards, Vice President
Richard Speck, Treasurer
Elizabeth Stevens, Member At-Large
Walter LeFlore, Member At-Large
Christana Wille McKnight, Member At-Large
Darrick Jackson, Director of Education
Janette Lallier, Director of Operations
Melissa Carvill Ziemer, Director of Collegial Practices

54 Replies to “The UUMA is dead to me”

  1. One wants to be cautious on an open mike, John.


    (Okay, open mic seems more correct, but it looks weird.)

  2. Fiske,

    That abbreviation question bugs me, too.

    Anyway, on the “in for a penny, in for pound” theory, here’s the situation: We’re pursuing what I believe to be a disastrously unwise expansion of our sanctuary at a site where we are already crowded on parking and have no plan for expanding it.

    It’s reasonable to want to keep the site–I think we should–because there is a memorial woodlands behind it, in which we’ve promised to keep peoples’ ashes. It’s not a bad site, but it’s reached its limit of growth.

    There are church properties in town for sale and the ones we can afford while also improving our facility are south of the interstate, which is the informal, not always followed but it’s the way to bet, deliberately created segregation line. One that turned up was a going concern recently vacated by a UCC church a block off our public university’s campus, with a sanctuary that holds about the number of people our planned expansion would hold, which we could have bought at about an eighth the cost of our expansion.

    It was rejected on the grounds of not being a nice enough building. It’s just a plain brick church with a huge oak tree in front, and the most unusual “stained glass” windows I’ve ever seen. The windows were bricked up with concrete blocks, and designs were made in them with thick colored glass. The designs are pretty though too Christocentric for our tastes; there are a two sanctuary windows not so filled which we could fill to our tastes. There is also a small cluster of progressive churches in that block.

    Down the road a quarter mile is a growing evangelical church which picked its location specifically because it wanted to be a multi-ethnic (by which they include class) church. Our favorite state senator, who has graced our pulpit many times, attends it.

    I think that its location in an increasingly non-white neighborhood which several of our members have recently left had as much to do with it as anything. I doubt very much that anyone concerned made a consciously racist calculation, but we ended up with a bad result.

    Instead, we are doubling down on a facility with grounds too small for practical expansion, at a time when we already have to allocate about forty percent of our endowment income for maintenance we can’t afford to pay for out of our general budget. The last plan I saw–which may have changed. I’ll know next Sunday–had a fifteen-foot high glass window facing west, with neither shutters nor shade. The ecological impact is bad; what it tells people about our commitment to the ecology is worse.

    The added expense is, in about fifteen years–by which time half our aging current membership will be dead–likely to kill the church.

    Or course, there’s more to it than the white supremacist residential segregation which helps shape our building decisions. Hubris is in there, too, and I think a Boomer unwillingness to accept mortality, and many of the characteristics of so-called “white supremacy culture”. I’m not entirely convinced that’s the narrative (if indeed such a narrative exists, which I doubt) which best explains those characteristics, but it’s sure singled out some destructive behaviors we undeniably practice.

    All that without anything I can point to as people being bad bigots. These are good and decent people who mean well. But I’ve been re-reading The Final Encylopedia and listening to Self-Destructive Zones. I think Mister Cooley, the Sage of Tuscumbia, Alabama, has the right of it:

    It’s easier to let it all die a fairy tale
    than admit that something bigger’s passing through.

  3. John,

    I am sorry not to have replied sooner. My last few weeks have been quite hectic with activity at church. 🙂

    One thing about church life is that the community does not always decide to do what we individually think it should do and that can be frustrating. And discerning motives and how decisions actually came to be made is not always clear either. In fact, frequently is not clear.

    Talk about “white supremacy culture” has been thoroughly discredited from my point of view by what has been brought to light over the summer with the Gadfly Papers controversy. I mean, that what UUs have been struggling with (for decades I now realize) is an original sin dogma adopted to fill the vacuum caused by the loss of a shared understanding of the transcendent. Nothing demonstrates that more explicitly than 485 white UU ministers signing a letter of condemnation about a book the vast majority of them had not read, attempting to suppress it. In another time, those people would have burned Rev. Eklof at the stake. Truly. What they did is exactly what Unitarian Universalism opposes. Wholly against our principles.

    The way forward for me is engagement with small, community based groups within the larger community of the church. To participate in church life, to accept that one is not in control and doesn’t decide how things are going to turn out (and, in fact, no one does), to have trust in God (however that can be translated to what is true in one’s inner world), to accept that the ground of our being is in mystery, even Holy Mystery, and to celebrate and share the life of the spirit with others.


  4. Fiske,

    The building plan has been revised and the worst aspect of it–that insane west-facing window–has been removed, and I’m relieved. It’s still a mistake, but not a fatal one. It’ll be money poorly spent that we wouldn’t get for a better use.

    When you deal with human beings, very few things are ever clear.
    So I’m skeptical about the “white supremacy culture” idea myself, but I don’t discard the idea out of hand. I just don’t think it explains nearly as much as its proponents think it does.

    If there were some other active plan for facing up to racism put forward by UUs–but there isn’t.

    I’ve heard three respected black UUs–Thandeka, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Mark Morrison-Reed– put forward different framings and white UUs haven’t noticeably responded to them, not as we respond to LGBTQ issues, which affect a lot fewer people than race.

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