Is U or Ain’t U U?

Regular readers of this space will recall my posts, over the past couple of years, discussing a controversy that is roiling (in some small way) the Unitarian Universalist denomination. I’ve been a member of the local UU church for the past three or four years. I’ve been dreading the moment when members are asked to make financial pledges, because some portion of my contribution will be sent up the line to the UU Association, an organization that I cannot in good conscience continue to support.

Today I got an email from a member of the stewardship committee. Rather than rehash, I’m just going to paste my email reply into this blog post. Make of it what you will.

I’ve been pondering this stewardship business for months now. I’m still not certain what to do.

I love the people in the [local] congregation. I consider you all my friends! In addition, I’m aware that there is some very worthwhile community work being done by the social justice committee, and I’d like to support that (as well as the music program, obviously, which I did support as recently as last week). I’d like very much to continue to be part of the congregation.

However, I’m aware that a portion of the money that I contribute will be forwarded to the UUA. And in good conscience, I can’t consent to that. The UUA has turned into a heavily authoritarian organization that is not accountable either to individual UUs or to member congregations. There’s some very bad juju going on there.

In the past couple of months I’ve had the privilege of editing a couple of soon-to-be-released books on this topic. Jay Kiskel and Frank Casper’s book Used to Be UU should be available within a couple of days on Amazon. I also edited Todd Eklof’s next book, The Gadfly Affair. This is not due out for a month or two, partly because Todd doesn’t want to overshadow the book release by Jay and Frank.

In a nutshell, I am now very much a part of the dissident faction within Unitarian-Universalism. The way Todd has been treated by the UUA and the UUMA is appalling and shameful. Those organizations will get none of my money.

If there’s a way to shield my contribution from the UUA, then we should talk about it. But if the contribution goes into a general pool of funds a percentage of which is forwarded to the UUA based on our membership rolls, then it would be necessary for [the local congregation] to lie to the UUA by claiming one fewer member, and correspondingly less money, than we actually have. Or perhaps several fewer members and a lot less money, if some others feel as I do. I don’t know whether this is a practical option.

For that matter, [the local congregation] could resign from the UUA. I don’t expect that to happen, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, because I imagine our membership may have some utility. I mention it as a possibility simply because I want to be logical.

I’m pretty sure that a few others will agree with me after reading these two books. The UUA benefits materially from the fact that ordinary UUs mostly don’t know what’s going on at the national level, or have succumbed to the idea that they need to engage in virtue signaling by going along with the program. I’m not at liberty to share the texts of the books prior to their release, but I can assure you that to the best of my knowledge and belief, both books are factual, and they paint the UUA and the UUMA in extraordinarily bleak terms.

I fully expect that when the books are released, they will be attacked. And I confidently predict that the attacks will be liberally (if you’ll forgive the term) laden with innuendo, deliberate misunderstandings, a general failure to engage with the content of the books, and perhaps a few outright lies. Those are the tactics the UUA and UUMA have demonstrated thus far.

I also have serious reservations about continuing to contribute to [our minister’s] salary. [She] signed the Open Letter denouncing Todd’s earlier book. Having done so, she is clearly in violation of her covenant with her fellow ministers through the UUMA (a fact that the UUMA itself would resolutely deny, but there it is). I can’t lay my hands on the text of that covenant at the moment, but part of what a UU minister promises is not to attack other ministers publicly without having first engaged in personal conversation with them. Needless to say, nothing of the sort happened before several hundred UU ministers affixed their names to the Open Letter. But rather than discipline them, the UUMA turned on a dime and attacked Todd.

The UUMA Guidelines say this: “The history and expectation of the Unitarian Universalist movement is that ministers are free to speak the truth as they understand it. The long standing tradition of freedom of the pulpit extends to ministers in all professional settings. This freedom applies to both spoken and written public statements.” This freedom to speak the truth is what Todd Eklof was exercising. It is for speaking the truth as he understands it that [our minister] participated in a very public attack on him — an attack that entirely failed to mention a single problem in the text of The Gadfly Papers, because, frankly, there was nothing wrong with the text. The signatories of the Open Letter, all of them UU ministers, were in essence no better than a lynch mob, and [our minister] joined the mob.

I don’t have a solution to the stewardship problem, but I can offer a compromise. If [our minister] will have her name removed from the Open Letter and preach a sermon in which she apologizes for attacking Todd Eklof, a fellow UU minister, and acknowledges that in doing so she has violated her ministerial covenant, then I will agree to continue to contribute to her salary.

I don’t expect that she would ever consider doing anything of the sort, but I offer this as a possible way forward.

Historically, Unitarianism has supported both the individual conscience (which is what I am exercising here) and the freedom of the pulpit (which Todd Eklof has been repeatedly and slanderously attacked for exercising — attacked by individuals and groups within the UUA). These traditions are now under concerted attack by the leadership of our own denomination. Somebody has to stand up to them, and I’m proud to help with that.

I hope you understand where I’m coming from. I’d be happy to address your questions and concerns, or anybody else’s, with regard to this. And to the extent that I can continue to support the local congregation without supporting or countenancing the authoritarian cabal within the UUA, I will be happy to do so!

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1 Response to Is U or Ain’t U U?

  1. Jay Kiskel says:

    I am one of the authors mentioned in Jim’s blog (Used to Be UU). It is difficult to convey to UUs who are generally (and rightly) focused on their home congregations, the changes ongoing at the national level. Jim is spot on in his evaluation.

    To be sure, all UUs will need to be engaged when changes to our Seven Principles are presented for a vote at the 2022 General Assembly. The Article II Study Group, commissioned by the UUA Board in 2020, scheduled this vote. Given that the Study Group was given the freedom to revise our principles, sources and other sections in Article II regarding the purpose of the Association and our freedom of belief statement, all UUs should be engaged in the vote.

    The has requested to be an official stakeholder in the Article II Study Group.

    The Fifth Principle Project is also sponsoring my candidacy to be a UUA Board of Trustee. A vote on trustee members will be held at this year’s 2021 virtual General Assembly in June.

    This is the time of all UUs to get involved.

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