Amid the angst surrounding Article II, the November 15, 2022, announcement of a single UUA presidential candidate has sparked yet another uproar.
With only a single candidate, there will be no 2023 presidential election, as required by the bylaws. Instead, the six people on the Presidential Search Committee decided that they alone would select the next UUA president. We now have the UUA’s final abandonment of democratic norms.
UUs have sent protest letters to the Association’s President, the Board’s Co-moderators, and Board Secretary. Complaints have been filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General that oversees non-profits. The Unitarian Universalist Association is accountable to its bylaws in selecting its corporate officers.
Violation of Association’s Bylaws
The Association has specific language governing the number of presidential candidates. The applicable bylaw reads, in part, the “Presidential Search Committee shall submit no fewer than two nominations for the office of President for an election.” The operative phrase is “for an election.”
Failing to comply with this obligation, the Presidential Search Committee concluded that an “appropriate course of action was to move forward with [a single candidate] rather than reopening the application process.”
Observe that the PSC recognized that it had the option to reopen the application process.
Disregard of Directive from General Assembly Delegates
In 2021, General Assembly delegates explicitly expressed the will of the Association’s member congregations for multiple presidential candidates. Delegates rejected a UUA Board-sponsored amendment that permitted the Presidential Search Committee to submit a single name.
The General Assembly delegates also rejected the Board’s rationale for this amendment. “Allows the Presidential Search Committee to submit a single candidate, if they determine that is appropriate.”
Prescient to abandoning democratic norms, the UUA Board continued, “forced competition may be harmful.” Contradicting its forecast of “harm,” the Board offered that “additional candidates may run by petition if there are concerns about the candidate(s) proposed by the Presidential Search Committee.” This invitation was demonstratively disingenuous.
A 2023 Presidential Petition Candidate Comes Forward
In May 2022, Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof informed his Spokane congregation that he was considering a run for UUA president. A petition candidate must have sufficient visibility across the denomination to secure petition signatures from 50 certified member congregations across three regions. The governing body or a called congregational meeting must approve a congregation petition. This lengthy petition process, however, never began.
The Election Campaign Practices Committee (ECPC), whose members are appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees, immediately informed Rev. Eklof that his May announcement violated the Association’s bylaw prohibiting “active campaigning” before November 15. There are only 11 weeks from November 15 to the February 1 deadline to announce, communicate, schedule, and gather congregation petitions. This insufficient timeframe is further exacerbated by the holiday season.
The ECPC informed Rev. Eklof that he must cease all activities, or his “name will not appear on any ballot for President of the UUA in 2023.”
The ECPC left unsaid that the Association’s bylaws are utterly silent on when a person may begin the collection of presidential petitions. Instead, the ECPC referenced the sloppy bylaw language intended for internally nominated candidates. Nonetheless, the ECPC was emphatic, concluding, “Our rules on the length of campaigns are clear and not negotiable. There will not be a subsequent warning.”
Why the hostility?
2018 Presidential Search Committee Report
In April 2018, the Presidential Search Committee issued a report recommending changes to the election process. The report is long, thorough, and contains some good ideas, such as nominating three candidates instead of two. The report’s central theme is clear; the creation of an environment in which the Presidential Search Committee has maximum control over the presidential selection process. Maximum control includes excluding petition candidates.
Consistent with this strategy, the report recommended doubling congregation presidential petitions from 25 to 50. This new threshold was considered a sufficient barrier to prevent or discourage petition candidates. This recommendation was later incorporated into the Association’s bylaws.
The PSC’s real objective was the complete elimination of the petition bylaw. However, “In the absence of the will to eliminate this by-law completely, we believe that the threshold for petition candidates should be raised significantly—to at least 50 congregations.”
The Presidential Search Committee was candid. “Our committee was concerned from the beginning of our work that the potential candidates could choose not to engage with us and easily run by petition.” Control, not an open election process, was paramount.
We now come full circle. Six people have decided who will be the next UUA President.
In response to protest letters, UU leaders indicated that the Presidential Search Committee was independent and immune from oversight. The UUA President wrote, “I have no authority or oversight over the committee. There is no action that I, or the Board can or could take to change the outcome of the PSC decision.”
When pressed on accountability, the UUA President further explained that the PSC was “only accountable to the General Assembly.” It is unknown if the UUA President instructed the PSC to review the 2021 General Assembly delegate vote that required the PSC to present at least two presidential candidates.
Most astonishingly, the UUA President confessed helplessness to address this situation, stating, “The PSC is accountable to the GA (General Assembly) and the Bylaws but there is no mechanism to force them to do something and no recourse if they take a different path.” Breathtaking.
Our UUA President is not without recourse. A press release could have been issued condemning the rogue and undemocratic actions of the Presidential Search Committee.
Additionally, the sole presidential candidate could negate the Presidential Search Committee’s actions and its lack of accountability to the Association’s bylaws and the expressed will of General Assembly delegates by withdrawing.
For years, UU leadership has pressed accountability. Let’s see how committed UU leaders are to accountability.
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This is a truly stunning development. The President of the UUA has declared that the PSC, a board-level committee, bears no accountability to any other committee or person within leadership, except the GA. But how can the PSC be accountable to the GA when they are defying the vote of the delegates at the GA of 2021, who voted to prevent the PSC from doing what they are now clearly trying to do, offer only one candidate of their choosing for the office of President of the UUA? So, according to our President, the PSC is evidently accountable to no… Read more »
One other note. Watch the charges of racism come cascading down on us for being opposed to a rigged election.
This is horrifying. I frequently felted as helpless and angry when Trump was in office.There was no recourse to his disregard for our country’s laws and traditions. It seems to me that the UUA is now resorting to similar tactics.
Appalling, yet consistent with the direction the denomination has been heading for years now. Saddening as well.
I’ve posted the link to this piece to the Facebook group of my local congregation. It’s not a very active group, so I don’t know if anyone there will even read it. But I did add a comment that this moment marks the end of my membership in the congregation, unless the congregation divorces itself from the UUA. I will not remain a member of UU. The UUA has become too toxic. It’s no longer a religious organization at all. Not that I was ever religious, but as someone once said, “This is shit up with which I will not… Read more »
Sorry to hear you might be leaving our UU faith, but I understand your frustration. I’ve read some of your previous posts & you seem to have a good understanding of the type of future UUA has planned for the rest of us. Kind of reminds my of my Vietnam tour, in which I felt we were going to lose & hoped I would get my 12 months in & return Stateside, before the end happened.
Leaving a congregation, or even a congregation leaving the UUA, is not an abandonment of faith – it is abandoning an organization, in this case, as I see it, an organization that has abandoned a principle of faith.
Thank you for this clear explanation.
I am so sad about my religion.
I found that two recent op ed pieces have important ideas. I recommend you have a look.
I think there are ideas in these two ieces that may identify actions that might actually reduce disparity.
I believe open discussions in congregations might led to effective ways and policies to that is often called structural racism.
They are either taking lessons from or giving lessons to the Republicans about election manipulation and vote suppression.
Three legal questions:
1. Is there any significant probability that the complaints to the Massachusetts Attorney General will result in anything?
2. Is there any legal basis for a lawsuit over this?
3. If the Presidential Search Committee is accountable to the General Assembly, can the next G A reject their report? What does accountability mean unless the GA has some such discretion?
Tim, the Massachusetts Attorney General does NOT respond to all complaints. Maybe more complaints will engage that office. You can register a complaint asking for an investigation if the current selection process of a new corporate officer, president, is valid under the Association’s state charter. See the hyperlinked text in the Discussion above for the Massachusetts Attorney General to access the appropriate online form.
But is anyone reading this a lawyer who can comment on my other points? Someone who specializes in non-profit law.
For example, if it was possible to file a lawsuit over this, it would be interesting for a discovery process to look at any emails exchanged between the Nominating Committee and UUA Leadership during this processes. Maybe the Nominating Committee did not communicate with UUA leadership, and just did its thing. But maybe not….
There’s one obvious response. It may be the only logical response. Individual congregations who disapprove the current actions must quit sending money to the UUA. Don’t reduce the amount sent. Send nothing. Never mind any prior agreements, because the present “leadership” has made it clear that previous understandings need not be respected. Understand that the authoritarian mindset seeks control because control produces power and money. Cut out the money. The bad guys will have to decide whether to sever ties with non-paying congregations or try to make a deal. They’re not likely to respect any deal, because they already don’t… Read more »
Agreed. Full congregational autonomy is likely to be the most effective response to institutional capture at the UUA level.
Dear UUs, First, grateful thanks to the Fifth Principle Project for keeping UUs informed. Second, as we all know, democracy is much more than procedure: it is how we come together. It determines who we are as a community and as persons in our community. Third, the last information indicating a flagrant violation of our bylaws on the next election of of our president raises a serious issue of whether the election can be valid, whether a president can be elected in such an election process that would be invalid. Fourth, the newly elected president would not be legally legitimate,… Read more »
David, your comment well highlights the “dishonesty and hypocrisy” that have become the norm within the Association. This norm is well illustrated by the link you provided to the November 2022 UU World article by the UUA President, Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gary, “Our Faith Demands We Protect Democracy.” She writes, “we hold the practice of democracy within our denomination and among society at large as sacred.”
However, a better source of counsel is from the MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. “Watch what they do, not what they say.”
Let me guess…the candidate for President of the UUA is Black. Obviously, the UUA Board and its President view having a POC at the head of our church as more important than following their rules or their principles for it demonstrates a commitment to “centering the voices of POC”. They cannot risk a fair election, so they justify their authoritarian actions as the only way to make things change. You can do atrocious things in the name of “righteousness”.
It’s telling that the bylaws limiting campaigning to 15 weeks must be rigorously followed while the part requiring at least two nominees can be thrown in the trash. This is hypocrisy on a stick. But of course, Rev Eklof scares the dickens out of them because he called out much of the UUA’s skullduggery in “The Gadfly Papers.” So, Sophia Betancourt will simply be anointed as our president at the next GA. Why don’t they at least have a straight yea/nay vote on this? I would think that GA, as a group, would be mighty annoyed that their directive about… Read more »
I know what Rev. SS, and others, would say about all this whinging. We are a small nefarious group of bad actors impeding the Noble Righteous Cause, demanding to be able to continue to be super-callous-fragile-racist-opprossive-white-supremacists whose fear-mongering is victimizing weak-minded sheep with no agency of their own into questioning their faith. It is no wonder that the cynical take on all this UU machination is resonating; given the lying, bad faith, history of the false narrative of the “hiring controversy” and the resignation of UU President Peter Morales; the dishonest hypocritical treatment of Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, Rev. Dr.… Read more »
I suggest we boycott the UUA and cease all donations, personal and congressional. Also, register for GA with the no-fee business only option. We are considering rescinding our legacy gift.
A woman on the Free Range facebook list wrote “. . . my religion . . . a religion that encourages and empowers members to be true (and) responsible to be true to my own beliefs, in spite of what others tell me I should believe.. . .” . Yes, that’s why I consider myself a liberal in religion. In my opinion, the UUA president, board, nominating committee, article II committee, GA, and a huge number of our clergy and churches have lost their way. That makes me said. It certainly does not change my religion. I remain a religious… Read more »
John, you wrote, “So, let’s look outside the UUA to make our own efforts effective in giving ourselves spiritual sustenance and in bettering the world.”
With the tone-deafness displayed by the Article II Study Commission and the Presidential Search Committee, it may be time to discuss an alternative to the UUA.
Hi John and others have been posting recently. I appreciate and agree with your conclusions about the UUA (and our Canadian CUC) that are driving our religion over a cliff in their hunt for heretics and change for change sake. I too thought that there was no future for me (after a 50 year past) within the “new” UU movement and resigned from my congregation. However, my hope and faith has been rekindled since attending and hosting the ZOOM sessions from UU Spokane. Each week, we not only enjoy a very high quality UU service – I’ve attended many UU… Read more »
That is a defeatist attitude and will allow the UUA to continue unabated. The delegates that attend GA comprise less than 1% of all UU’s. They are supposed to represent the will of their congregations. But most ordinary UU folk do not follow the machinations of the UUA and have no clue about anything on this site. They have no clue about what is going to hit and how our principles will be thrown out. So, how can the GA delegates know how to vote? The UUA is trying to exploit that by not widely advertising what they are doing.… Read more »
According to our minister who is on very good terms with the UUA and I’m currently on good terms with him, though we have very different opinions on many topics, 2 candidates were submitted but 1 resigned. It seems to me that would be a tough thing to contest in a court, but it effectively means there will be an anointment rather than an election
The question is, has the PSC fulfilled their responsibilities? Are they not obligated to find another candidate?
They don’t want another candidate. They want someone who is on board with their radical anti-racism and extreme CRT nonsense, and apparently Betancourt is that person. I bet they could find one or more supremely qualified candidates but they are “disqualified” because they don’t toe the party line–or even worse are older straight white males.
I know Peter. I was addressing myself to their obligations. They’re ignoring them, but I believe they are obligated to find another candidate even if they have to reopened the application process.
And of course, if they were smart they wouldn’t have to start from scratch on the application portion because they would have kept the applications.
I read the bylaws- I don’t think it’s clear there, unfortunately. Clearly the intent was to avoid this specific situation
Those who find no problem with the Presidential Search Committee providing only one candidate for UUA president hang their argument on the very thin thread that “there were two candidates, but one resigned.”
The press release made clear another potential candidate “declined the nomination.” There never was a second candidate.
Also, the bylaws are clear as well. The PSC must submit “no fewer than two nominations for the office of President for an election.”
It is okay to hold the PSC accountable for doing its job.
I just raised this point because it seems to me it would be a tough thing to argue ‘in court’. It’s clearly against the intent of the bylaws, but I think they could wiggle out of consequences on the technicality.
The bylaws say something vague about a candidate at the GA.
And the nonviolent coup will soon be complete.
Might it be time for a class action suit?
to say this developing story has annoyed me… i am from spokane and have found this to be embarassing from the start. our minister has published an account of the whole mess that sells on amazon. still a book does not represent a revolt…and i do say we need to be ‘revolting’. we are far too civilized! names, adresses…and lots of letters and postcards. no e-mails…they can be blocked. something simple in organization, bullet points, and timing producing sacks of mail landing on the doorstep of the uua… or the individual doorsteps of the twits responsible.
It was mentioned in the article above that the single “candidate” could resolve all of this by withdrawing. I have sent her the letter below and I wonder if many of us did the same it might have an influence. Dear Rev. Betancourt, I am writing as a 20+ year UU, a member of the Eno River Fellowship in Durham, NC. I am very concerned about the upcoming UUA presidential election in which you are the only candidate. Let me emphasize that this has nothing whatsoever to do with you as an individual but rather with the future of Unitarian… Read more »
This is an excellent letter and I thank you for taking the initiative. I have “debated” this with some avid UUA supporters and they more or less merely say that what the PSC did follows the bylaw because they wanted to nominate two but one dropped out and that cannot be the fault of the PSC. I think your point about following the bylaws at their convenience is spot on, but will likely fall on deaf ears. It’s a point that has to be made to those who will do the voting, so this needs to be spread far and… Read more »
UUA is a sinking ship. It sinks on following by-laws, it sinks on a thing full of mush to replace Article II. It sinks on the one choice for next president, and the current president, and more. Some UU churches and clergy and doing good. That’s good, but the UUA ship is a shipwreck, and no patch on for 5th prin. or multi-choice real election for president will stave that off. So if we want organized liberal religion which makes sense, let’s either get with on-line to Eklof in Spokane, or others who, often without clergy or without UU clergy,… Read more »
Perhaps. But I’m not just going to let it happen. Neither I think should anyone else.
Looking at history, the American Unitarian Association had great growth, close to 5% a year, in the 1950s. Part of that growth was attributed to the focus and p/r provided by the Unitarian Laymen’s League (at a time when it was politically OK to have a layman’s league). Do Look at these words. I have tried to bold face those no longer used by UUA: ———————————————————————– Are You a Unitarian Without Knowing It? Do you feel as if you’ve lost your faith but still yearn for a religious community where you will be accepted as you are….? Do you feel… Read more »
But will there be any voting– a yea/nay on Betancourt? Or just an anointing?
I don’t know for a fact how they will do this, but I very seriously doubt that leadership will put themselves in a position where defeat is a prospect.
On her web site, Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt lists this description: “Growing up as a queer AfroLatine cis woman of mixity, complexity, and multicultural, multiracial heritage was not easy in a world that likes to govern whom we can love, how we can have family, and who gets access to power based on our collective racialization. But it has inspired in me a deep appreciation for opportunities to work in diverse settings, where the assorted experiences and perspectives of those involved create a richer experience overall. I often describe my sense of call as preaching from the crossroads, or building… Read more »
Here is also from her candidate website: During the 2022 election for members of the UUA Board of Trustees, the Rev. Beverly Seese used a term that set many UUs on fire. Many understood her candidate statement, and the discussions about it that followed, as a suggestion that the learning and growth we have undertaken together as a movement for the last thirty years and beyond, growth that calls us to “long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism,” had gone too far. These words from the opening of Widening the Circle of… Read more »
Well, that is strange. Today I went to her candidate website and that passage is nowhere to be found. Hmmm… Nonetheless, it is clear that the one candidate for UU President is representing one Party and, furthermore, that one candidate and one Party are clearly running against Western Enlightenment values as represented in the present bylaws and Principles and Purposes. It is definitely a campaign aimed at defeating “White Supremacy Culture in UUism” and any of its representatives – like the founders and organizers of this website, so called “Gadflies,” and anyone who dares dissent against the current takeover and… Read more »
Well, I’m sure many of you have seen this, but the following statement just came from UUA (12/1/22): The UUA Elections Announcement: https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/board/announcements/board-statement-uua-pres-nom and here is their 3 point statement of UUA priorities for the President and Board: “Whoever becomes our next President, the Board will remain focused on the work in which we are deeply engaged: A systematic exploration of our purpose and guiding covenant, as led by the Article II Study Commission,A rewriting of our bylaws to allow us to be more responsive and effective, andContinuing the transformative work of dismantling white supremacy culture and implementing the recommendations… Read more »
Reading the whole statement actually gave me a chill. It couldn’t possibly be more authoritarian.
I have been commenting on the lack of an election on two posts the UUA has on their Facebook page. Those comments, and those of others, are now deleted. I suggest that folks continue to post their concerns there. They can’t delete everyone.
Interesting…. I’ve just posted to the UUA FB page, under the candidate announcement: “We need a true election with multiple candidates, as required by the by-laws”
It will be interested to see if that is deleted.
Please keep us updated.
Yes they can.
Have a look at minute 13 in vieo at the link. It will be intereinting to see your comments.
I just listened to a speech by Rev Betancourt. I was quite concerned at 13 minutes by
1. Her promoting the teachings of CRT and
2. “…let us not make a FETISH OF HUMAN REASON…”
There is more in the Reason comment. Tough to know what it means. I suggest one listen to the video itself.
Here is link.
The link takes you to a list of her speeches. Which one is it?
To to the one that states “Sermon: Tongues Wrapped in Fire”.
I googled “Tongues Wrapped in Fire” and found this URL that seems to work: https://youtu.be/6BuIcE8MJJA
My opinion of Rev. Sofia Betancourt is different from that of the nominating committee, who fixed on her and could find no-one else. From what I’ve seen from her, she would not be an excellent president, though she might be disastrous. I hate to think so, but I do. Perhaps one of you would fill me in on where you think I’m off base in my assessment.
i am rather struck by the notion of the “magic negro” when considering the fixation of the nominating committee on Rev. Betancourt. Disturbing, deeply so.
It seems clear that she was chosen because she is in agreement with the current UUA Board that UU should be changed from a bottom-up liberal religion into a top-down racial justice organization. Which would indeed be a disaster.
All this talk about the evils of individualism and a theological mandate for covenantal collectivism turns my mind to the Borg: “Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated into our Beloved community…”
Does anyone remember when UU World stopped publishing letters to the editor? Was rationale given?
I don’t know about letters in the magazine, but the online commenting feature was closed on October 2, 2017:
There was some informative discussion in the comments below the articles on uuworld.org. At the link above, there was no rationale given for shutting down comments. But it appeared that the discussion became too lively for the UUA, when skepticism began to be expressed about Morales’ resignation, and the UU White Supremacy workshops that began in Fall 2017.
And do not forget that Susan Frederick-Gray was elected president of the UUA to a six year term starting earlier in 2017. A disastrous president, who might well have had more than a little to do with shuttering up dissent.