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. This is an important document and I thank you for making it available to the public. I haven’t read the Gadfly Papers and I don’t want to promote them, but I think it crucial that lay members and lay leaders in the UUA track this culture shift and see that critical writings are considered part of white supremacy culture.

  2. Well, that’s that then. I think it is time for those who embrace logic and reason to break away from the UUMA, UUA, and other UU organizations and go elsewhere. What that elsewhere is, I don’t know. But I’ll do everything in my power to help create it!

  3. Many will agree with Rev. Scott Wells, and I am one. I’ve been an adherent of UU theology since 1964, but have to not agree with the UUMA letter at all. I am embarrassed for our denomination to read such pandering racist drivel. Who are these individuals at UUMA who think they can speak for our clergy? That is all.

  4. Victoria,

    I’m not sure of your meaning when you say, “I think it crucial that lay members and lay leaders in the UUA track this culture shift and see that critical writings are considered part of white supremacy culture.”

    In what way? Do you mean that critical writing and critique of theory, methods, and intentions are “white supremacist”?

    Can you clarify?

  5. Has Reverend Dr. Eklof responded? How will UUMA respond to those of us whose religion has been abandoned in the name of social justice?

  6. Even if you don’t like Eklof’s book–and I’m aware that there have been valid concerns raised that the book presents a slanted view of certain incidents–I have a huge problem with the fact that a book of dissent and its author have now officially been condemned as white supremacist trash by the UUMA as well as the earlier ad-hoc group of white ministers.

    How dare the UUMA accuse Eklof’s book of attempting to stifle dissent when it is the UUMA who are trying to silence dissent? If this is how the UU’s handle dissent going forward, then how is UU any better than Catholicism?

  7. As to the contents of the UUMA letter…

    I am distressed that logic has been labeled a tool of white supremecy. As if people of color are irrational? While different cultures may disagree on what constitutes good reasoning and good logic, every culture engages in reasoning. It is a very human thing to do. And our ability to engage in reasoning is part of all of us claiming our own power and authority.

    The prayer does not strike me as sincere. And the prayer does strike me as pious scolding masking itself in the format of prayer. As such I experience it as spiritually dishonest. And I would expect better from a professional association of ministers.

    The irony is that much of what the UUMA is doing, is being done in the name of anti-oppression. And it is becoming clearer to me each day, that UU anti-oppression is a form of utopian thinking. And this thinking has much in common with forms of Christian Fundamentalism that seek to rid the world of sin. Both forms of utopian thinking deliver less than they promise, and promote alienation on a path that insists on a perfection that can never be achieved. I dissent from the present ideology of anti-racism because it offers very few paths forward for reconcilliation.

  8. As a 1/2 Black & 1/2 Mexican queer man I am profoundly disturbed by what is going on in Unitarian Universalism. This unprincipled moral panic over white supremacy & white racism within the faith has lead me to leave this church after many years being a member. Hard not to be terribly disappointment after the core UU principles of “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning, & The right of conscience” are so clearly violated as they are in the case of Dr. Elklof, and in other cases and disputes around the racism issue in the last few years within the religion.

    In the name of “anti-oppression” a new anti white oppression based dogma has been enforced within the ranks of the leadership of the church. Whites are flagellating themselves and punishing others in the hope of ameliorating a guilt that, according the the precepts of SJW white-supremacy, cannot be washed away because racism is a white form of original sin and is integral to whiteness itself.

    All this egged on and encouraged by certain ambitious POC. “Diversity & inclusion” are not really the goals of this struggle, the goal is the naked attainment of power by certain POC, using this language, the theories of white privilege/fragility/supremacy, and liberal white guilt as a means to an end. If you look at it through this lens of gaining positions and power it all starts to make sense. The idea of “centering” is not about inclusion and diversity in this context, it’s about a group of people, numerically peripheral, becoming the center of power in an organization. This is certainly what is happening within the UU Church.

    It’s all there in the Cristina Rivera letter that started this mess in UU circles in the first place. Cristina was woefully under-qualified compared to the the person who was hired for the position she interviewed for. She decided to use all the tools in the critical race theory toolbox to invent a racism/white supremacy based conspiracy as to why she didn’t get hired. Using shame, and aided by liberal white guilt, her plan worked spectacularly well. People who asked questions or disagreed with her assessment, or BLUU which quickly leaped into the breach although Cristina is not black, were shouted down and sometimes even fired. Meanwhile Rivera, BLUU, Druum, and other ambitious POC of her ilk have gained an enormous amount of outsized power (and the promise of millions of dollars) using fear and punishment to consolidate their power. The punishing theories of all pervasive white privilege/fragility/supremacy makes any and all constructive criticism or questioning from the 85% of the UU church that is white a sign of problematic racism that will be punished, as we have seen with Rev. Eklof. Not even logic can be used by whites to confront the new UU racial doctrine. Part of the new creed is that POC cannot be questioned because racism is whatever any one of say it is and we are now considered infallible. This of course gives racial minorities in the church who wish to act upon it, an enormous amount of power, carte blanche, and freedom from any criticism… for now.

  9. Hi Munro,
    I’ll try to be clearer! Unitarians and Universalists have always been part of the tradition of rhetorical and theological debate and pamphlet wars. I see Eklof’s book as standing in that tradition. There’s nothing new about it and there’s nothing new about a clergy polemic or critique creating a lot of heat and dissent. What IS new is the accusation that not only is the content of Ekloff’s work racist (I haven’t read it, so I don’t have an opinion but am just repeating what the UUMA has said) but the *act of critique itself* and the distribution of his tract is part of white supremacy culture and not to be borne.

    The UUMA has never censured serial sexual abusers, embezzlers, liars, frauds, perverts, serial adulterers– or any clergy who have done serious and direct harm through their actions. The fact that they are censuring a clergyman for his ideas and words is a stunning decision that boldly announces how the UUMA leadership intends to attempt to bully and shame its members into ideological conformity. I will stay in the conversation about the new guidelines for this year but intend to resign in June of 2020 since it doesn’t seem that there will be any actual conversation. The die is cast.

  10. I was shamed at the UUA GA in Spokane, in June, for the radically incorrect behavior of carrying the book, “The Gadfly Papers,” in open view. I was made aware of the great harm that befell innocents who inadvertently glanced at the title of the book. I use the verb ‘shamed’ in the spirit of the UUMA and their white collar authority. My joy at finding a church which urged a free and open search for ‘meaning’ by the individual has been shaken. Now comes the received wisdom from the holy of holies, the UUMA and the UUA. Happily, my church, in Spokane, is an oasis of traditional UU values. My loyalty to it has been enhanced. Furthermore, it is both a comfort and a blessing to know and be able to share this measure of good news: The Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof’s sermons are available live steamed every Sunday morning and are achieved for those whose schedules do not permit Sunday attendance.

  11. Thanks for replying, Victoria.

    I thought that was what you meant, but I wanted to be sure.

    Making the act of critique itself into unacceptable behavior is another self-serving rule change (without notice or discussion), and also means that the UUMA is no longer affirming and promoting one of our sources: Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

    Which means they are no longer UU ministers in my book.

    I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick around either, but I won’t go quietly….


  12. I quit the UUMA, this week, an organization that I had longed to be a part of for most of my adult life. I continue to share the same commitments to anti-racism that they do and I am a minister and life-long UU. While I continue to love and care for my friends, I no longer see myself as sharing the same religion or interpretation of covenant as my colleagues in the UUMA.

    I am a UU Christian and I serve one of our Christian churches. Many of my congregants would certainly be censured by the UUA and UUMA for many reasons, from political and ideological to theological. But my call is not from the UUA. My call is to serve the people of God, and all people are people of God. My call is to live out my ministry by following Jesus, which to my mind means to work for the kingdom of God on earth. I am to follow not the letter of the Law to do so, but the Law of Love, as Jesus commanded.

    I have read Eklof’s book. He respectfully raised issues that deserve conversation. He did not do so using the language of white supremacy…though I am aware that concept creep makes all language the language of white supremacy. He respectfully and dare I say, humbly, dissented. And the UUMA proved his point for him.

    I experienced my 500 colleagues who signed a letter calling for the censure of his writing as out of covenant, not Todd. I was disappointed in so many friends to read their names, but I know the professional hits they would take if they didn’t sign.

    And now the UUMA leadership. I don’t know why I was shocked they sent this letter. I guess I thought that they would uphold their members’ individual rights to disagree with one another as sort of a minister’s “union” who advocates for the rights of all of us to interpret the world and the sacred through the fire of our own thought.

    Any organization attempting to shun and shame its members using the tools of orthodoxy is, to my mind, anti-Christ and using my congregation’s money to fund it is immoral. It pains me to say it. I love and respect all the people in UUMA leadership, and I know with all of my heart that everyone here is just trying to do the right and righteous thing.

    And I pray at night for all of us in these hot mess reactive times, “forgive us, Father…for we know not what we do.”

  13. Perhaps UUs should remove “The free and responsible search for truth and meaning” from our principles, and “Di Gedanken Sind Frei” from our hymnals.

  14. Thank you Scott, Robin, and other UU ministers for your leadership and giving a voice to those of us in the pews who read the UUMA’s censure as a censure of our own thoughts and conscience.

  15. Thank you.

    “[T]hose of us in the pews who read the UUMA’s censure as a censure of our own thoughts and conscience” just says it all.

  16. To my mind, this is a valid criticism which does not rise to the level of censure:

    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.

    The sentence before about logic is astoundingly stupid; don’t let it blind you to the sense in this part.

  17. Thank you for providing a forum for discussion and thoughtful reflection on the surprising events of this somewhat less than refulgent summer when it has not always been a luxury to draw the breath of life. 🙂 (My reading group at Shawnee Mission UU in Lenexa, Kansas is currently on Robert Richardson’s Emerson: The Mind on Fire.) We took a break from that to discuss Todd Eklof’s book The Gadfly Papers at our August meeting.

    Many of us have been absorbed in Rev Eklof’s book and the controversy around it. We share his concern about the divisive identity politics, censorship, and suppressive behaviors rampant in the UUA. We are dismayed by the intolerance, hubris, and betrayal of UU traditions and values flagrantly exhibited by our national organizations. It is a shameful disgrace as others here have attested.

    Despite several highpoints in the 2018 General Assembly held in Kansas City last summer (the Evensong gathering led by Keith Arnold and David Burrows, and the Growing UU Churches session led by Rev Dr. Thandeka and Rev Marlin Lavanhar), my overall experience at the assembly left me troubled and discouraged. I walked out of the Sunday service 15 minutes into Susan Fredrick-Gray’s sermon, shocked by her lack of judgement, lack of wisdom, and the belligerent polarization of her arguments. And did what I have learned to do in the eight years since joining Shawnee Mission UU – I turned to others in our community who I trust and respect for counsel and dialog. What long-term members of our congregation said is that they never attend GAs and ignore the UUA. That what matters is the life of our church community, which is loving and supportive, regardless of our mistakes and disagreements. My sense is that this is true across our congregations. Most of us simply turn our backs on such folly and hostility. Thankfully.

    The Social Justice dogma proclaimed by the UUA, and it is dogma in the fullest sense of the term, is the product of arrogance and a lack of faith in whatever one holds to be transcendent, whether that is the inherent worth and dignity of all people (yes, including white men), or in God (for the theists among us). It is borne of ignorance that we do not control outcomes. That we are not in charge, and cannot force the right thing to happen, if we even know what that is. “And so if I value mystery in life, then God becomes very important to me. It helps me in some ways toward a path of humility, peacefulness, rather than imperialness, and to understand that I do not and will not ever understand or command this place.” Walter Brueggemann, An Other Kingdom. (My atheist friends might translate the G-word into the emergent, creative, self-organizing capacity of the cosmos, or not, which would probably result in a lively Spiritual Texts debate accompanied by liberal amounts of wine.)

    What I see in this blog and many of those leaving comments here is leadership sorely lacking elsewhere in our religion. With appreciation and gratitude, it is my hope that informal leaders may emerge from sites like this, moderated and contributed to by persons of faith and patience, humility and compassion. Persons whose words and beliefs truly do honor the inherent worth and dignity of all.

    Blessed be, may it be so.

  18. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary, Fiske.

    I fear that simply ignoring the UUA will no longer be possible. Their is a movement afoot to have have congregations recertify and recovenant, and that will mean getting onboard with the dogma, or be cast out.

    Profess your guilt and bend the knee, or be apostate.

    They have fallen into the neoCalvinist trap of condemning people by their very nature.

    My Board president came back from the Spokane GA with a large pile of leadership documents, and the gist was that the Board is now responsible for leading the congregation in rooting out White Supremacy Culture from our pews and presumably our souls too.

    We are, of course, not at all interested in doing something so divisive and downright stupid.

    But lines are being drawn and it’s looking like being in the middle is no longer acceptable.

    In faith,

  19. Munro, where have you seen a call for “congregations [to] recertify and recovenant”? That deserves examination.

  20. Hmm.. It’s one of those things that seem to be floating around. Maybe just rumor, but it seems to have found a regular appearance in conversation with a few colleagues.

    Maybe something that got informally bandied about.

    I’ll see if I can track down the source of that.

  21. Scott, This was raised up in one of the plenary sessions at GA in 2017. Haven’t tracked down the exact one yet….

  22. A quick search of the plenary/general sessions on YouTube (did you know you can read the transcripts, and therefor search them?) suggests you were thinking of the Renewing the Covenant Task Force. But its activity seems to have petered off, or perhaps morphed into something else. Or perhaps, being an initiative of the late Moderator Jim Keys, did not survive him.

    Can someone else pick up this research?

    Here is that task force’s report from 2017. (I’ve only watched the first bit.)

  23. Scott,

    That allowed me track down the transcripts and the report of the task force.

    The transcript is at the bottom of this page:

    The recommendation of the task force is here:

    UU Article here:

    Quote from the article: “The Task Force recommends that the UUA moderator call for a General Conference of UUs as soon as possible and no later than the fall of 2018, for the purposes of exploring what the UUA is called to be in today’s world,” said Ritchie.

    It is clear that the UUA has unilaterally decided what it is called to be, and is (has been) ignoring other voices within the association. Such as those voices pointing out that the climate crisis is of far more pressing concern, etc. As Victoria pointed in the first reply, the question has been called, without the real discussion that the task force proposed.

    I predict that congregations will be invited to recovenant without a General Conference ever having been convened.

  24. This last GA has been described as having Conference-like qualities. I expect the congregations was give it a pocket veto.

  25. John Arkansawyer,

    Having read the Gadfly papers and been in conversation with Todd, I’m not sure that the UUMA letter assertion 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.”

    is correct. I think it misrepresents what he said in self-serving way, one calculated to promote outrage and divert attention from the problematic ways in the UUA and UUMA are behaving.

    My opinion. YMMV

    In faith,

  26. Scott,

    Could be. I wasn’t there. But blurring the lines between the two, and being unclear about intentions and outcomes leads to bad decisions and abuses of power.

  27. Could someone explain to me what re-covenant means in this context? I think I know, but I want to make sure.

    My interpretation: The UUA is making substantial changes and the member congregations have to proactively state that they accept these changes.

    Is that correct?

  28. Jason,

    My understanding is that instead of a membership model, it will be based on covenants about belief and action, with accountability to the UUA.

    Essentially throwing congregational polity out the window.

    I could be wrong, but that’s what I see coming out of that. And if they try and implement it, it’s going to be even more divisive than what’s going on now.

  29. First, thanks to all for an engaging and civil conversation about these matters. And to Munro for digging up the Task Force Report link. Here is a bit from the report:

    “The UUA is organized as a standard nonprofit enterprise, an organizational structure that grew out of a nineteenth century small business model that saw virtue in consolidating power in a limited number of patrons…

    Therefore, the Task Force believes that the organization of the UUA should be reassessed given the racist, sexist, and class biases that are reinforced by its structure, which preclude the full realization of covenantal relationships.”

    So, if the argument is that concentrating power in the hands of a few is a structure that reinforces racist, sexist, and class biases, does it follow that the UUA Board and leadership structure should be dissolved? Because that is starting to sound like a plan worth considering. 🙂 And since I’m guessing the UUMA demographics is primarily white (so clearly racist and supremacist by guidance from our leadership), perhaps it should also be dissolved?

  30. I think the idea of a General Conference is wonderful, for two reasons. First, we do not get to discuss things that deeply matter very often. Almost never, in my congregation. Second, it is not a business meeting has no power to implement decisions.

    I understand that the people who organize such a conference have the initiative in setting the tone and the agenda. I also know that, if enough people disagree strongly enough with that tone and agenda and pay the costs of that disagreement, they can change it.

  31. Munro,

    I don’t know Rev. Eklof, so I have to go strictly by what he’s written, and I stand by my reading.

    I was curious about him and poked around. He’s clearly a stand-up guy on a lot of things that deeply matter. I’m convinced his heart is in the right place, even if his head is not, and his disagreements are not entirely but mostly about goals than methods.

    I also spent time wondering how a smart guy could write that silly second essay. There’s no need to break up the UUA for congregations who wish to be classically Unitarian or Universalist. They can disaffiliate at will. There are several American Unitarian groups they could associate with and one American Universalist group. They could also simply go it alone. Some would probably affiliate with local freethinker or atheist groups. (My home congregation might.) Surely he must know these facts.

    And in the last day, as I’ve pondered that point, I’ve come to wonder about his intention in. If he feels his congregation ought to disaffiliate, there is nothing stopping him from advocating that. There’s nothing stopping him from advocating that to other congregations, either. What he’s advocating is less Moses leaving Egypt than Sampson taking down the temple. And as someone who values that uniquely empty, and thus useful, theological space in Unitarian Universalism where a new thing can happen, I resent that.

    So I’m coming to see that essay as less as silly than destructive.

  32. John:

    It seems to me that Eklof’s disagreements are more about methods than goals, rather than the reverse. He calls for issue based activism that emphasizes shared humanity to accomplish social justice goals rather than identity based politics that emphasize differences and privilege/marginalize groups depending on their identity. He is committed to social justice goals, and argues that we are going about trying to achieve them the wrong way (wrong methods).

    Like you, I disagree that a forced break up of Unitarians and Universalists is a good way to proceed, but Eklof’s argument for doing so is that attempting to combine humanist and theist ideologies in the same religion has resulted in a persistent identity crisis that caused the emergence of identity politics in our religion. Eklof says: “The cumulative impacts of this identity crisis have resulted in the denomination’s current identitarian paradigm, reinforced through its linguistically restrictive philosophies of safetyism and political correctness.”

    He goes on to say that “Universialism’s original identity” (ie its irrational/nonlogical stance versus the Unitarian emphasis on reason/logic) “has most easily been parasitized by today’s identitarian wave.” The somewhat innocent assertion here is that people who think logically won’t behave irrationally. 🙂

    My own spirituality is much closer to Universalism than what is now understood by Unitarianism (which was originally a Christian denomination, of course). Eklof lauds “Unitarianism’s historic commitment to reason, freedom of conscience, and our common humanity” now betrayed by the UUA which “pays little homage to these cherished principles.”

    An interesting question is whether our theological diversity is an opportunity for dynamic and creative engagement or an unsolvable conundrum leading to disunity and confusion.

    My church is thoroughly diverse — a survey taken several years ago found the congregation divided equally in thirds between atheists, agnostics, and theists. Most of the people in the spirituality reading group I lead our atheists, which creates an interesting dynamic because I am a theist. This has not prevented our friendship or intellectual engagement and has been the source of many lively and thought-provoking discussions. (We also drink a lot of wine.) And of course, it has not prevented us from acting together to help others in our church and in the world. We don’t have to believe alike to love alike, as the saying goes.

  33. Fiske Miles, when you say, “It seems to me that Eklof’s disagreements are more about methods than goals, rather than the reverse”, I agree. I wrote that backwards. Sorry for my mistake! I wish I could edit that comment to say what I meant.

    Now, I swear I’m not going to Fiske you just because I’m responding to the next sentence in detail:

    “He calls for issue based activism that emphasizes shared humanity to accomplish social justice goals rather than identity based politics that emphasize differences and privilege/marginalize groups depending on their identity.”

    I don’t see how we responsibly do one without of the other. We live in a society that does systematically “privilege/marginalize groups depending on their identity.” How we can live together without a conscious effort to level that power differential among ourselves?

    I just don’t think it’s possible to do that outside a context of shared humanity. When push comes to shove, as it always does, the shared humanity is fundamental to keep the shove from coming to punch. The ease with which one turns on an “ally” warns us about that.

    Having one without the other, or having them greatly imbalanced, is dangerous. My reading of the last half-century is that UUism had a pretty pure shared humanity model, which caused trouble, just as the imbalance toward the identity model is causing trouble now.

    It’s hard to correct a dynamic system without Going Too Far. Stable dynamic systems allow for Going Too Far, unless it’s really too far, and things often get weird when you near those limits. I think we’re about to find out which it is.

  34. John:

    Thanks for your reply. My first name is Fiske, BTW. This has been confusing to people my whole life. 🙂 So if you were wondering which was my first name and which my last name, now you know.

    There is a significant difference between common humanity identity politics and common enemy identity politics. The first can be a force for good. The latter is destructive and divisive. This is a significant problem with the UUA stance. Definitely common enemy. Essentially white men. lol When I raised this point during our Gadfly Papers discussion last Sunday one of the participants pointed out that isn’t coming from marginalized groups but from other white people. It was pretty funny, but also a telling point. Essentially, liberal self-flagellation.

    Haidt has quite a bit to say about common enemy group orientation, and particularly in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Our reading group took that book up last year, and it is insightful and thought-provoking. Definitely worth checking out from your local library.

    When you say “we live in a society that does systematically privilege/marginalize groups depending on their identity,” can you give me examples of that happening in your own church? Or direct life experience you have had with that behavior? I want to better understand what you mean before responding.

    Sort of wondering how long Rev Scott will tolerate this rambling comment chain. I guess as long as the discourse is civil and well-intentioned he’ll probably let it roll.

  35. I can tell you about my church experience. As a person of color I’ve been to many a UU church in my travels and have never felt unwelcomed or seemingly treated differently than anyone else who is a newcomer. When I do talk to other people of color in my home church, away from whites, the issues of white supremacy or discrimination in the church never come up. This seems like a concern that is coming from the top, not the grassroots, at least here in the Southwestern region.

  36. I read the Gadfly Papers and mostly found Rev. Elkof guilty of the same sins he accused those he criticized of having (namely, a lack of charity, a lack of giving a full view of the facts, and a lack of reaching out to people he disagreed with to understand where they were coming from – all while taking refuge in throwing jargonized accusations at his ideological opponents.)

    I found it mostly silly that in a religion where people will bend over backwards not to say the “G-word” lest we offend humanists and change the lyrics to classic Christmas hymns to avoid offending various congregational theologies that we have the DRAW THE LINE at removing “standing” from “Standing on the side of love” even though the author of the hymn himself was cool with it.

    But I digress.

    My tl;dr is that I found the Gadfly Papers ill-thought out and mostly both hypocritical and incoherent.

    But it was hardly material worth of CENSURE. Good lord it’s not even material worth reading. The amount of opprobrium being put upon a cranky self-published book that serves as proof of the value of editors is against UU values, pure and simple.

    Searching for truth oftentimes means falling into alleyways of folly, and the cure for that is dialogue and critical reasoning, not creating an Index Librorum Prohibitorum for Unitarian Universalism.

  37. James:

    Thank you for your response. And I want to congratulate you for your comment of 8/18 above, which in my opinion is the most succinct and definitive summary of what is happening amongst UUA leadership that I have read in weeks of following discussions and commentary about The Gadfly Papers. Well done.

    I am Caucasion and my parents were teachers in the KC public school district and were committed to helping urban children in that district, almost entirely persons of color. It was no unusual thing growing up for us to be around POC at school events with our parents, on picket lines when teachers went out on strike (talk about back in the day 🙂 ), etc. Dinner conversation often involved things that were happening at their schools and in their classrooms, challenges they faced, challenges the children they cared for faced, and the complicated and difficult problem of the cycle of poverty and violence. Although not necessarily by design, at least initially, my subsequent life path resulted in my being with and being comfortable in diverse communities. For example, I went into the Air Force immediately after high school in the early 80s, and the military had been thoroughly integrated for decades by that time.

    The point of this is that I suspect many of the people in my congregation (not all but many), and in most UU congregations, spend relatively little time with POC. They look around their churches, notice that their congregations are anything but diverse, something they dearly wish for, and wonder what they are doing wrong. Wonder how they are making POC feel unwelcome. This feeling of disquiet and confusion is a primary factor that has allowed White Supremacy dogma to take hold in the UUA. And it is about power, exactly as you say.

    Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, mentioned in a previous post, speaks directly to why our churches are not more diverse. People want to be with others like themselves. This is a consequence of our evolution as a species, our dependency for our very survival upon small group coherency and cooperation for a million+ years at least. We have evolved to live in tribes, and we are still drawn to that. Haidt’s point about this is not that our groups must be disbanded, but that we must learn other groups are not our enemies. That we can live in harmony with others who are not like us.

    Another quite interesting book that treats the subject of church organization, and how mega-churches came into being, is The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop. According to Bishop, the insights crucial to mega-church development originated with a Methodist missionary, Bishop J. Waskom Pickett, who began working in India in 1910 and published a book in the 1930s about how he was able to effectively convert Indians to Christianity titled Christian Mass Movements in India. His work was subsequently found by another minister, Donald McGavran, who was amazed by the ineffectiveness of his organization, The United Christian Missionary Society, in converting Christians and set out to find a better way. He published a book in the 1950s titled The Bridges to God, which was essentially ignored until he got a call from the Fuller Theological Seminary, an Evangelical school in Pasadena, asking him to join their college. And where Rick Warren subsequently became a student…

    McGavran concluded that “a church grows when it is based within a ‘homogenous unit.’ People live in groups, and they develop group solidarity and awareness, a ‘people consciousness,’ as ‘members think of themselves as a separate tribe, case or class.’ McGavran believed that any church – any religion – that asked people to abandon their tribe, caste, or class would fail.” Ahem.

    I have ideas about the cultural differences which make it unlikely for UU churches to become racially diverse. But, rather than sounding those off, I would like to hear your assessment of them. That is, if you are willing to share them.


    PS: My own belief is that the way forward for UUs is to seek engagement with other churches, including POC churches, as a way to pursue compassion and social justice work.

  38. Could anyone recommend a thoughtful, reasoned critique/review of The Gadfly Papers? (Something more than vague “this is harmful…etc”) Reading it & want to balance with another viewpoint

  39. Lucia:

    Rev Scott’s posts on The Gadfly Papers on this site, and the associated commentary about those, and subsequent posts regarding the UUMA and commentary here constitute the most balanced and insightful critique/review I have found after weeks of following The Gadfly Papers controversy on the web. At least, that is my opinion. 🙂


  40. Lucia,

    I wish I could recommend one, but most of the reviews tend to be interested in supporting one side or the other. Unfortunately, this may be one of those cases where you just have to read it and make up your own mind.

    I will say that at this point, the conversations seem to have moved on from where the book itself is right/wrong/harmful/thoughtful/whatever… to ones concerning the direction that our faith is taking about allowing the asking of questions, being able to dissent, who decides such things, etc.

    Which I find much more useful, interesting, and relevant to the future. YMMV of course.


  41. Fiske,

    I have an answer to your question which I was delayed in answering. I was traveling with my kid at the time, which had to take priority, plus I wanted to give a good example. But I don’t want to post it as a “last word” if you aren’t in a position to respond. Let me know!

  42. Fiske,

    Residential segregation. It’s one of the fundamental facts of living in this city. It’s excruciatingly well-documented how the city was deliberately segregated, and it’s one of the exemplary forms of systemic racism.

    That’s led to all sorts of effects on how our church operates.

    It helped determine where our church was located when people decided to build. That led to us being surrounded by apartment buildings full of people we don’t understand and can’t relate to. That led to us making decisions about how we use our building.

    None of that is due to bigotry on the part of any member. There’s been some thoughtlessness involved, but no hatred.

    And yet, we’re locked into paths I think we will be unable to escape, and which I think have a good chance of taking out the church.

    I could say more about it, but some of it is speculative. I’m willing to act on it, because we proceed in life on uncertain information, and because testing by acting is effective, if risky. But I can’t say I know, so I won’t represent it in that manner.

  43. John,

    I’m not sure when you say “this city” if you mean Kansas City? Because we certainly have residential patterns created by deliberate programs of segregation in home loans and etc. I was born in KC and have lived here most of my life, so am familiar with the issue to some extent. Certainly systemic racism. But why do you say “we’re locked into paths I think we will be unable to escape, and which I think have a good chance of taking out the church”?

    Because residential patterns are changing, albeit slowly. One hopeful sign to me is the diversity of children in the Overland Park school system, which is far, FAR more diverse than the suburban school district I attended north of the river in the 1970s. A friend tells me that her children, who attend Overland Park schools, do not distinguish their friends by racial background – they are just their friends. It may be true that a lot of the diversity comes from apartment complexes, but it’s a start, and a good one. Having better integrated schools provides a lot of long term advantages in terms of employment, economic outcomes, and etc.

    I have heard statements from social justice activists to the effect that no progress has been made on these issues. That is blatantly wrong. Much progress has been made, we just have a long way to go yet. There is just no quick fix. No magic wand to wave. It takes patience, dialog, courage, and love.

    The U-Theist group at my church hosted Rev. Michael Stephens as a guest speaker this Wednesday (September 18). He is the pastor of Southwood United Church of Christ in Raytown, Missouri. There are many apartment complexes in the neighborhood with significant populations of disadvantaged urban children. One of the many(!) outreach programs his church is engaged on is to distribute free lunches during the summer to supplement the free lunch program administered through the public school system during the school year. Volunteers take thousands of lunches to the apartment complexes and kids stream out to pick them up. Just one example of what churches can do to make a difference.


  44. Fiske,

    I live in Little Rock. Let me think about how deeply I should go into current congregational politics to explain fully as I can.

    Our church does a much smaller food program. I think it’s good to do that, because it makes you look at the people you’re helping and the conditions they’re in. It’s just not enough to do retail help. Wholesale systemic change is needed.

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