Letter to Congregations

On January 4, 2020, the letter below was emailed to more than 1,000 UU congregations in the United States.  This letter was the start of an organic grassroots initiative to gather into community Unitarian Universalists who want to reinvigorate the right of conscience and renew the democratic process in the governing of our denomination.

We hope your will learn more About the Fifth Principle Project and add your voice and Join.

Every Voice Deserves a Vote.

The Letter

We are writing you to solicit your interest in helping to reclaim our Unitarian Universalist 5th Principle.

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

Since April 2017 our denominational leadership, specifically, our UUA Board of Trustees, have endeavored to impose what is tantamount to a religious orthodoxy on our historically non-dogmatic faith community. In the wake of the 2017 hiring imbroglio over the Southern Region Executive Position, resulting in the resignation of UUA President Peter Morales, the UUA board voted to declare that Unitarian Universalism is white supremacist both in its structure and values. Consequently, they advocate and have started to work toward dismantling that structure and the values upon which it is based.

And as the events surrounding the recent publication of Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof’s book “The Gadfly Papers” clearly show, this new religious orthodoxy will brook no criticism. Rev. Eklof’s book examines this new orthodoxy of White Supremacist Culture and criticizes the tactics employed to dismantle it. The response by denominational leadership was instantaneous and overwhelmingly condemnatory, resulting in Rev. Eklof’s public censure by the UU Ministers Association (UUMA). Regardless of one’s views on the merits of his book, the response by leadership reveals a disturbing effort to quell dissent and to stifle differing views. Some of our ministers who have questioned the UUMA actions have themselves been disciplined. These trends should be enough to give any UU cause for serious concern.

While all UU’s agree that there are vast racial disparities and inequities that need to be addressed in our society, it is also true that the UUA board is not a democratically elected body. Whatever nobility there may be in their current efforts, the UUA Board of Trustees are not accountable to the members of our congregations. Our yearly General Assembly (GA) provides little  check on the institutional power wielded by UUA Trustees. For example, during the 2017 GA when a new UUA president was elected, only 1.6% of members of our denomination cast a ballot. We seek to remedy this situation. This lack of democratic representation was recognized over 10 years ago.

In December of 2009, The Fifth Principle Task Force, chaired by Denny Davidoff and comprised of nine other respected leaders of our UU faith community, issued their report to the UUA board, concluding that the annual General Assemblies at which the UUA board is elected, is

  • undemocratic
  • expensive
  • economically discriminatory
  • does not align with the board’s embrace of policy governance

The report further found that over the years there has been “Little clarity or consensus existing over what constitutes the business of the Association, what policies carry out its purposes, and how a General Assembly directs and controls its affairs.” It goes on to say that it is “questionable how well the delegate body represents and is accountable to, member congregations.”

In recent years, on average, less than 60% of member congregations had more than one delegate in attendance. In fact, the average number of delegates at GA (2200) since 2001 is actually less than 45% of the number that would be eligible if all congregations were able to send their full complement of delegates. Since the publication of this report, little has been done to address and correct these deficiencies.

As long time UUs, we believe that we need to renew our commitment to our fifth principle. We seek to build a groundswell of support for this renewal in several ways. First, by fostering congregational conversations to raise awareness of these dangerous trends and to remind us all that we are an association of free and autonomous congregations. These conversations should engage us in critical questions about these trends What it is that we need from our national leadership, and what are the alternatives to the direction in which a handful of people at the UUA seek to take us?

Second, we need to create a truly representative system that changes both the way the candidates for the UUA board are nominated and the way they are elected. We need to hear from you. We need to know if your congregation is interested in helping advance this effort toward more accountability in our system of government. Having 1.6% of all UU’s able to vote for at-large candidates is undemocratic. A better and more responsive system must be found.

We ask that you:

  • Put this before your membership for discussion and if necessary, a vote.
  • Let us know of your level of interest with a reply to this letter.
  • Please try to reply within 30 days after receiving it.

In faith
Frank Casper, Member – Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA)
Jay Kiskel, Member – Northwest Congregation of Atlanta (NWUUC)

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[…] January 24, 2020, apparently in response to our letter of January 4, 2020, the UUA issued what they titled Call for Reflection on the Fifth Principle Task Force Report. I […]

WebMaster
WebMaster
8 months ago

In a list of Social Justice Statements since 1961, provided by someone on FB, this one is of particular and poinient relevance to the Fifth Principle Project.

https://www.uua.org/action/statements/our-democracy-uncorrupted

Millie Phillips
Millie Phillips
8 months ago
Reply to  WebMaster

I really like this and hadn’t been aware of it before. I’m surprised because it contradicts the UU leadership’s lack of democracy and reflects a left-wing critique of it. Maybe there is hope after all.

Millie Phillips
Millie Phillips
8 months ago

I’m a new minister serving a small rural congregation who shares these concerns. Being new, I admit to feeling intimidated (I had a tough time getting preliminary fellowship, for example, because I expressed some differences) so I’m reaching out trying to meet others who share my dislike of the UUA’s current approach to antiracism, but not sure quite where I fit in or what commitment I can make right now. I’m also from a socialist and labor union background, which is not typical of those who share my dislike of the counterproductive WSC approach. I do think a lot of… Read more »

Cynthia
Cynthia
8 months ago

Millie, there are a few groups of concerned ministers and your perspective would be valued. I for one would love to hear your thoughts on US imperialism and anti racism.