June 12, 2020
Over a number of years the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof grew increasingly alarmed by a disturbing trend he noticed in Unitarian Universalist leadership circles – a move away from the historic liberal, democratic principles that had drawn him (and many, many others) into the Unitarian Universalist community, towards authoritarian, dogmatic, top down styles leadership.
Prominent UU leadership proponents of this shift have proclaimed that historic UU values were based on false premises which they have characterized as a “trinity of errors”: individualism, mistrust of authority and the conviction that UUism has exceptional characteristics as a non-dogmatic free faithmovement. In other words, the values, ideals, and wisdom that has evolved in our tradition and provides our spiritual foundation, are now declared null and void.
Out of concern for the integrity and well being of our free faith tradition Rev. Eklof began examining this trend by conducting a number of interviews and doing considerable research. Rev. Eklof described the nature of this disturbing trend in a small, self-published book (“The Gadfly Papers”). which he felt called to distribute for free to other UU members.
The reaction of the UU leadership – who grossly mis-characterized this book – was uniformly negative and shockingly vitriolic, devoid of any faint signs of openness, tolerance, grace, or compassion – just strident denunciation. In fact, a number of those who opposed the book, staged what is close to a modern version of a “book burning;” they literally took (free) copies of the book and publicly, self-righteously, and angrily threw them into the trash.
Subsequently, Rev. Eklof was given a “letter of censure” by the UU Ministers Association (having been given no opportunity to hear the specifics, nor present his own case) This was followed by a year-long campaign by UU leadership to discredit him.
He was repeatedly criticized (quite falsely) for “failing to engage” with his critics, when in reality, his critics refused to allow him any opportunity to engage in genuine dialogue.
Indeed, many of his fiercest critics acknowledged (some even proudly) that they had not even read his book, but were nonetheless convinced it was heretical, beyond the pale.
This vindictive campaign against a UU minister, who was responsibly exercising our liberal ministry’s historic freedom of expression, has now culminated in his removal from ministerial fellowship (essentially an excommunication) by the UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee, or MFC (set in motion by completely baseless charges about how he wrote his book).
In classic “kangaroo court” style it began an investigation led by an individual who was on record as having condemned Rev. Eklof’s book. This was little more than a setup to provide a predetermined outcome.
Rev. Eklof quite naturally objected to the process, not only because of the investigators’ compromised standing, but also to the fact that the spurious complaint upon which it was ostensibly based violated any reasonable interpretation of freedom of the pulpit. He argued that until these problematic issues were addressed, he could not in good conscience participate in this MFC process.
The MFC then flipped around. Instead of charging him with the original (clearly bogus) complaint, it instead charged him with refusing to participate (cast as a violation of UUA’s Rule 28). It was a Catch-22 for Rev. Eklof – participate and be guaranteed to get “convicted,” or opt out and be convicted for non-participation.
Yet, on this flimsy basis, the MFC decided to remove him from fellowship. In effect, the UU leadership has declared Rev. Eklof to be a heretic (to the new UU trends) and thus no longer worthy of remaining a UU minister. (Fortunately, in our tradition the local congregation has sole power to call and ordain ministers, thus Rev. Eklof can continue to serve his congregation in Spokane.)
This is a sad story, not just for Rev. Eklof, but for most of us who wish to preserve the historic, core UU values.
Here you will find my letter to the MFC (see below) spelling out in more detail Rev. Eklof’s concerns and objections (which the MFC effectively ignored).
Rev. Rick Davis
Acting as Rev. Todd Eklof’s Good Officer
Rev. Rick Davis Letter
To: Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
As a preface to the following communication from Rev. Eklof let me affirm that I share his concerns in regards to the manner in which you, the MFC, have handled this matter from the very beginning. Your unresponsiveness and lack of transparency in regards to our expressed concerns about the impartiality of your proceedings continues to be troubling, to say the
least. Then there are your misstatements in regards to the UUMA’s censure of Rev. Eklof and internal matters in his congregation. This is very alarming and only serves to validate our mistrust in your proceedings.
Given all of this and more, I urge you to pause in this process and re-consider your next steps. Rev. Eklof would be willing to engage with you once you have satisfactorily responded to his legitimate questions and given genuine assurances that this process can truly be fair and unbiased.
Rev. Rick Davis, acting as Rev. Elklof’s Good Officer
Reading this makes me proud to be a lifelong UU. Keep up the good fight.
Rev. Davis, thank you for your support of Rev. Eklof ! As a 20 yr. member of UUFG, I’ve seen several ministers forced from my fellowship unfairly. After speaking with one of them after her dismissal, she told me a book entitled “The Wounded Minister” helped her process the victimization. I was very unaware of church politics and this book has made me realize the importance of having friends, to support you in difficult times.
I am on Eklof’s side, here. I basically agreed with most of what he said in his “Gadfly Papers”. Sorry to see that he has been removed from fellowship in Spokane. I have a sense that pc-ism run-a-muck & cancel culture, for want of a better comprehensive, has usurped what used to be widely held Unitarian Universalist principles. I think Rev Eklof was rail-roaded out the door. (N) But the man lives by his principles! (Y)
I have long felt unease with the puritan trends in the UUA and the obvious attempts to impose a top down management style and ideology that is not based on love and compassion, but rather on righteousness. I read Rev. Eklof’s book after hearing of the event at General Assembly, and could not find anything so egregious as to publicly shame him and censure him. Now he has been “excommunicated”. I am stunned. This is not an attitude and action I expected from the religious organizations I joined 30 years ago, because back then it welcomed free thinkers and shunned… Read more »
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Here we are 3 years after the big blow up. Regardless of what happened or didn’t happen, who said what to whom, why and when — it’s past time for our UU ministers to reach out to Davis and Eklof and make peace. Their apparent inability to do so, or even try, disqualifies them as religious leaders. Widening the Circle has become a cruel joke.