The Gadfly Affair

Below is a review by Frank Casper, co-founder of the Fifth Principle Project, of Rev. Todd’s Eklof’s new book The Gadfly Affair: A 21st Century Heretic’s Excommunication from America’s Most Liberal Religion that documents his experiences following the publication of The Gadfly Paper in 2019.

About the Book

The Gadfly Affair book cover
The Gadfly Affair

Freedom, reason, tolerance. These are the values American Unitarianism was founded upon in the late 18th century: the same Enlightenment principles that had also inspired the nation’s founders. Until recently, it was unthinkable that this liberal religion would be capable of banning books and silencing dissenters. But this is precisely what happened after Unitarian Universalist minister Todd Eklof wrote his book, “The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister.”

Just hours after he began distributing it during the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2019 General Assembly, he was surrounded by five angry representatives of the Association, chastising him for the “harm” he was causing with a book none of them had read. Before the day ended, he was banned from returning to the Assembly and boxes of his book were soon confiscated and thrown away. He was then publicly condemned by hundreds of his colleagues in a letter calling his book racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and classist, without citing a single example from within its pages. “The Gadfly Affair” is this 21st century heretic’s gripping and meticulously documented account of what transpired between the time he was banned and eventually excommunicated from America’s most liberal religion.

“The Gadfly Affair” further exposes the ideological intolerance now manifesting in progressive organizations everywhere, a social phenomenon that is ushering the whole of Western culture into a new Dark Ages. “The Gadfly Affair” is about finding the moral courage to respond to what’s happening in our society with the same forces that have always illuminated humanity’s path in the darkest of times—freedom, reason, and tolerance.

Available on Amazon.com.

Review The Gadfly Affair

by Frank Casper

Imagine this scenario.

Two policemen come to your home and tell you they’ve received complaints. They say you must come to court and face charges, but they will not tell you what the charges are nor who lodged them. They tell you that a special investigator has been assigned to your case, but also that the said investigator has already signed a document stipulating your guilt. If you ask questions about the nature of the charges and who lodged them, they will be ignored as protecting the anonymity of the accusers is more important than any claim you may make of having a right to know.

You further learn that all conversations regarding your case will be held in private and no recordings will be allowed. There will be no public record of the proceedings. Your refusal to agree to this will be regarded as your choice to not cooperate and you will be punished for this alone. You will be allowed council, but should that council actually support your innocence the council will be disbarred.

This is essentially the story as contained and thoroughly documented in all but the last chapter of this book, replete with the glaring inconsistencies of the UUMA as it seeks to avoid accountability while imposing it on others who refuse to tow the party line on the issue of anti-racism.

It is the kind of process endured by Rev. Dr. Eklof and others, and a window into the kind of governance that has developed within the leadership of Unitarian Universalism. It is a kind of governance that allows for what is clearly the abuse of power and is completely at odds with the liberal religious legacy of the denomination leadership claims it supports.

This is the liberal religion that Rev. Dr. Eklof poignantly defends in the final chapter, a defense he started in The Gadfly Papers and carries into this book. It is a defense that UU leadership has so far either completely ignored or, more ominously, now regards as the source of white supremacy they persistently accuse Rev. Dr. Eklof of supporting.

I hope there are some religious historians paying attention to what is going on within Unitarian Universalism. It may be small as religious denominations go, but it is a mirror of religion in the modern world, committed as it has been to the values and principles of Enlightenment modernity. It is disturbingly evident that the leadership of the denomination has lost faith in its own religious legacy and so, in its own way, joins with the right in advocating the demolition of liberal institutions.

Join The Fifth Principle Project

Join the Fifth Principle Project (it’s free) so you can stay connected with others who want to reinvigorate the right of conscience and renew the democratic process in the governing of our denomination.

Used to Be UU

Used to be UU book cover
Used to be UU

Our book Used to Be UU is available on Amazon.com (search by the book title).

Reader Reviews

As a Unitarian-Universalist of more than forty years, it is clear the UUA has lost its way. This well-written book helps explain what has happened.”

Even upon its debut, “Used to Be UU” deserves to be heralded as a vital historic document in the annals of Unitarian Universalism.

This book does a fine job documenting the deliberate and methodical dismantling of a once-liberal denomination. Unitarian-Universalism has been a small but influential denomination on the forefront of environmentalism and combatting discrimination of all kinds.”

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Mark Perloe
Mark Perloe
4 months ago

This book clarified and amplified Rev. Dr. Eklof’s experience. I would have liked to see two additional chapters. The first would be a discussion on the cause for the toxic behavior by UU leadership while the second would focus on how we might confirm our principles and put an end to the authoritarian drift.

eric limbach
eric limbach
4 months ago

Brother Todd Eklof, whom I’ve never met, but followed, is a bulldog hanging on the ass of the UUA & he won’t let go. Right-On, Right-On, Right-On! I stand with him. (Y)

Marian Hennings
Marian Hennings
4 months ago

I plan to attend GA this year, helping to represent the UU Church of Spokane. We are entitled to 8 delegates based on congregation size, so Jay Kiskel will get at least our 8 votes, plus those of many other groups I hope.

Dr Teresa Goodell
Dr Teresa Goodell
4 months ago

I belong to a UU congregation where any reference to concerns around the UUA’s direction is met with opposition. If we aren’t talking about our areas of disagreement, we are setting ourselves up for conflict and division. We’re a certified Free Thinker congregation where thinking freely is discouraged, and that’s painful to many of us.

Jim
Jim
4 months ago

My review: This account of the actions of official UU organizations is revealing. It reveals how the activities of a few ideologues and Theorists can undermine an entire faith tradition if those ideologues and Theorists can create a climate of fear that stifles free thinking and dissent. Unfortunately there is a strong current of guilt running through well-off white liberals that leaves them vulnerable to the machinations of confidence artists playing on this well known vulnerability. The treatment of Rev. Dr. Eklof would argue persuasively that the “marginalized identities” within UUism, have already succeeded in their goal of “occupying a… Read more »

Lee
Lee
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim

The reviews start the story at the point of the UUA’s reaction to the Gadfly Affair. I would like to hear more about what the Gadfly Affair itself; what specifically did it criticize about the UUA that led to such a reaction?

Lee
Lee
4 months ago
Reply to  Lee

Apologies … my last post was not intended to be a reply specifically to @Jim.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Lee

There are several sources of clarification on what The Gadfly Papers got wrong, which just a bit of more careful research could have prevented. Here’s just one resource on that: https://link.medium.com/4OhyVdqTbhb

Webmaster
Webmaster
3 months ago
Reply to  Amy Carol Webb

That perhaps merits a thorough reply, but the gist of it seems to mirror your into, that if Eklof had only done this, or not done that, or spoke to this or that person, then he never would have written his book in the first place. I imagine that’s what Rothbauer means when he says up front that there are a host of reasons for not reading the book at all.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
4 months ago
Reply to  Lee

Read the Gadfly Papers. That is the best way to find out just how he criticized the UUA.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Delegates should be able to get answers from the candidate without buying a book.

Burton Brunson
4 months ago

Is the UUA really necessary? Or even worth the bother? Wouldn’t it be more consistent with traditional Unitarianism for each congregation to be totally independent, making temporary specific alliances with other congregations as appropriate? The association is actually the creature of the congregations, but sees itself as master of the congregations. It’s a high price being paid for being able to consider oneself a member of a powerful national group.

Katie S
Katie S
4 months ago
Reply to  Burton Brunson

Most congregants have paid little attention to the national group(s). They are focused on their own congregations, which is as it should be. Disconnecting from the national group(s) sounds like a good option. Hiring from other Theological schools might also be advised.

How is Beacon Press faring these days?

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Katie S

The myriad means and methods of support and sustenance provided to congregations through this pandemic has been unparalleled — and free of cost. In a time ministers, educators, and congregational leaders have been working triple-time in body and spirit, the UUA has gone quadruple-time to help us to not just make it through but to thrive.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago

Given Eklof and his adherents’ “championing” of free speech, reason, and democratic process, why are comments turned off on most of the topics on this website?

Webmaster
Webmaster
3 months ago
Reply to  Amy Carol Webb

Only one thread was intentionally ended. If there are others, it’s a technical glitch, your insinuation notwithstanding.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Webmaster

I just double checked. Comments are turned off on these. Speaks for itself, no need to insinuate.

When Democracy Dies
The Harm Principle and Wise Discernment
The Anti-Semitism in Critical Race Theory
Break Glass in Emergency

Webmaster
Webmaster
3 months ago
Reply to  Amy Carol Webb

You’re right. There is no need to insinuate. But you’re intent on doing it anyway. Despite your attitude, this problem should be fixed. You should now be able to insinuate in those other threads.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Webmaster

I just found it contradictory that free speech proponents would shut it down when there’s so much more we can learn from lively discussion. I appreciate your willingness to fix this problem.

Webmaster
Webmaster
3 months ago
Reply to  Amy Carol Webb

So now you’re a free speech absolutist? Is this the same person who so often whines about the lack of moderation on just about every UU Facebook group? Oh dear.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  Webmaster

Honestly, I don’t know who “webmaster” is, but you sure do make a lot of presumptions here. And. There’s a very real difference between “moderation” and just plain old refusing to field challenges to one’s positions— which any serious candidate should be prepared to do.

Amy Carol Webb
Amy Carol Webb
3 months ago
Reply to  WebMaster

I attended that forum. This refusal to engage with his proposed constituents as a candidate does not bode well for the behavior we could expect from Mr. Kiskel as a board member. It looks for the world like he intends to engage only with those who agree with him. And it’s not just my posts, as we’re seeing it on all the “discussion” threads in this place where he is purportedly open to queries from the delegates whose votes he desires.

Arthur Ogawa
Arthur Ogawa
2 months ago
Reply to  Webmaster

I find the tenor of the conversation in this thread to be quite distinctive—and revealing. I wonder at the fact that one correspondent is identified only as “Webmaster” and yet is expressing such vehemence in their comments. Would you care to name yourself?

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