As you all might know by now, the Article II Study Commission has issued another and perhaps the final version of the Article II report, pending amendments. We will follow up with another Fifth Principle Discussion once members have had time to review the report.
It is clear that if UU leadership gets its way at General Assembly, the Principles will be gone, and UUism as we’ve known it will go with them. This essay was written by Rev. Dr. Kate Rohde last September for those lamenting its passing, but the question it raises and the advice it gives are even more timely now.
Rev. Rohde shares with Rev. Dr. Todd Ekloff the pain and misfortune of having been disfellowshipped with charges that were never specified that came from anonymous sources. Rev. Rohde started her first parish ministry in 1980 as the only UU woman minister serving full-time in 8 states of the deep South. She served in eight churches over the next thirty-two years, several as interim, and at her retirement in 2014, was the living female minister with the most years in parish ministry. Her social activist history reaches back to her teen years when she organized the first program to address the Civil Rights Movement in her hometown to after retirement when she organized to get her country officials and law enforcement officials to agree not to cooperate with the crackdown on immigrants by ICE. Throughout her career, she was active in women’s rights, Civil Rights, gay and lesbian rights, immigration reform, peace, and U.S. policy in Latin America, especially genocidal policies in El Salvador and Guatemala.
The Institutional Capture of the UUA and Possible Strategies to Deal with It.
by Rev. Dr. Kate Rohde
“Institutional Capture” is a reference to the many institutions that have been completely or partially captured by the new, illiberal leftist ideology, which goes by many names: “woke,” “the successor ideology,” Critical Theories, “The Elite,” and so on. This ideology sells itself as a social justice ideology, but has not, in fact, had demonstrable success in changing the lives of those it purports to help – usually referred to loosely as “members of marginalized groups,” nor does it have support from the rank and file of most of these groups. The typical adherent of these ideologies is white, college educated, and has a history of being on the left or progressive. They both claim to speak for the “marginalized” while at the same time saying that the voices of the marginalized should be centered. However, they continue to take positions that are anathema to majorities in those groups.
Latinos overwhelmingly dislike the term “Latinx.” The black community in Minneapolis soundly defeated police reform centered on defunding police. Few trans people support California’s new policy of allowing any male who will claim a female identity to be housed in women’s prisons.
Institutions that are captured are characterized by a lack of free expression of ideas, members fear contradicting some often-fuzzy norm, shunning, punishments, or firing of those who resist the new ideology.
Ideologues do not deal in evidence and reason and even denounce reason. Beliefs should be based not on a careful examination of evidence but on “lived experience.” They decide whose “lived experience” counts. Their approach and framing are the only true doctrine. Those who argue with the “woke” are not met with considered, reasoned, counter-arguments. Rather they face attacks on their character and are called “racists,” “transphobes,” “homophobes,” right winger, or a FOX news addict. You are even accused of promoting violence and genocide. Language is used not to elucidate but to confuse and has ever-changing meanings, not unlike “newspeak.” Orthodoxy is paramount. Intent doesn’t matter. Hurt feelings are evidence of malfeasance, but if your feelings are hurt, you are fragile.
Institutions of Higher Education
Institutions of Higher Education have been institutionally captured all over the country, in part or in whole. The most famous instance is Evergreen College, but many of the elite schools: Harvard, MIT, Yale, Smith, Reed, Middlebury, Berkeley, and not-so-elite schools, have fallen to this illiberal culture that seeks conformity over truth.
- The ACLU has stopped its robust defense of free speech and has taken extreme, illiberal positions on freedom of information, cruel and unusual punishment, etc.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center has been captured. NPR, the NYT, the Guardian, and most liberal media has skewed coverage to appease the “woke” members of staff.
- Publishers have been pushed to decline books by the younger, woke staff members; even books that were selling very well in England could not find a publisher here for political reasons.
Again, these books and articles are not extreme and are usually written by people who thought of themselves as Left or moderate until that position seemed to be captured. Due process in firing has gone by the wayside, and democratic processes have been undermined in many of the ”woke” institutions.
Unitarian Universalist Association
The Unitarian Universalist Association headquartered in Boston has been institutionally captured.
- Theological education and the certification of UU clergy have been captured.
- The UUMA has been captured, and thus the institutional arms of the ministry.
However, we do not know about our churches. Some are captured. Some are not. There are many in between. We have no idea what the numbers are. We also know that most UUs in the pew have little idea what is happening or has happened and tend to find out from a captured minister — one already in place or, more often, a newly minted one. Some new “woke” clergy have been ejected. Many “unwoke” parish members have been ejected or slipped away. The nominating committee has violated the will of GA and our By-Laws for nominating only one candidate for President of the UUA, an admitted CRT ideologue who has racial intimidation to silence others.
Amongst us, there are the folks who see this new, illiberal, ideology, as an orthodoxy – a new religion of sorts. Of these folks, John McWhorter says, there is no dialogue because they are not operating out of the same frame of reference, nor do they believe in a meeting of minds – trying to change their minds is like trying to get a Fundamentalist Christian to give up Jesus.
There are those in an in-between space. Amongst those, the ones who can be reached are the ones who share a belief in freedom, reason, and tolerance and the idea that talking to people who differ can be educational and even help us refine our own thinking. The truth is more important to them than any particular ideology. Then there are those who see the capture and grieve the loss of freedom, reason, tolerance, and grace, in Unitarian Universalism and want to return to or keep what I would call, “UU Classic,” a democratic faith, without orthodoxy, that believes in continuing revelation, a search for truth, and that only with a free exchange of ideas can we refine and develop our beliefs and commitments. It does not divide people by race, ethnicity, sex, age, or other “identities.” Still, it seeks to help all kinds of people find access to our religious communities and contribute to them.
What Can be Done?
So, in this time of institutional capture, what can those of us who are classic UUs and would like to nourish those traditions for the future do?
I would put responses in the following categories:
- Nourish and strengthen churches where classic UUism is still the norm.
- Publicize far more widely the attack on classic UUism by the UUA, MFC, UUMA, and Theological Schools.
- Create new churches or online churches for classic UUs who no longer can find a home in their home church.
- Keep pressing the institutions within the UUA to keep living up to Classic UU values.
Nourish and strengthen churches where classic UUism is still the norm
How can we support classic UU churches going forward? I would say for these congregations, there needs to be a new organization that will do for them what the “woke” UUA will not. It would be a membership organization and need not exclude congregations who chose to remain in the UUA, but it would encourage those congregations to donate a substantial portion of UUA “dues” to UU Classic.
The most important task for classic UU is to find and make available ministers who are classic UUs in philosophy and temperament. Again, these ministers could be approved by the UUA or not, but the organization would check to see if they had education and training suitable for ministry and a view and understanding of UUism that is in line with Classic UUism.
Create and/or collect of curricula suitable for Religious Education for children and adults.
Create programming to connect congregations with one another for support and for learning, including some sort of way to share “best ideas.” Create more spaces for interaction with Classic UUs beyond the local church.
Publicizing the Institutional Capture
Many of us first became aware of the institutional capture of the UUA in 2017 when there was a complete turnover of leadership due to forced resignations and death, as well as a sudden declaration that we were a “White Supremacist” organization. This was followed by the Gadfly Papers, the mobbing, the book banning, and the throwing out of all rules and precedents to get rid of Rev. Eklof. None of these things happened in an orderly, reasoned, nor well thought out manner. Elected people were replaced by unelected people, and the only election was disrupted.
Some thought that this capture might have been aided and abetted by the anxiety around the rise of Trump and the onset of the pandemic, but it continued when I was removed from Fellowship for private Facebook posts. Elections have been rigged, with challengers forbidden from disseminating information at General Assembly and not given opportunities to get their message out. Lay people have been harassed and punished at GA and in churches. A new church was banned from using the UU name. There are many incidents, but most UUs in the pews are unaware, nor do they understand how that may affect them in the future.
We can publicize and get reading groups for the many good books that are being written about what has happened – such as Used To Be UU.
We can raise money for a lawsuit and publicity campaign to get coverage of a liberal denomination canceling ministers for heretical views in a religion without heresies. We have some media contacts and there are a host of substacks, podcasts, and YouTube channels, looking for stories about cancellation culture and institutional capture.
We can create business resolutions to ameliorate cancel culture in the UUA, thus forcing a conversation. We could do this with candidates as well, but we would need to start early.
We can propose alternatives, as FAIR does, (perhaps using some of their materials), for addressing race and other justice issues in an inclusive rather than intolerant way. As they put it, take the “pro-human” approach.
Create new churches or online churches for classic UUs
We have some models for this. There is the Church of the Larger Fellowship model, where there are individual members who form their own group but do not meet. There is the online church that most of us attended during COVID, and some attended church at a distance — this could be formalized with programming for distant members. There is a satellite model where the “mother” congregation helps organize small groups at a distance who are members of the “mother” congregation and get partially online worship (sermon and such) with local additions. The mother church hires an assistant or coordinator to help these folks organize other programming. First Church Albuquerque tried something like that about a decade ago. This would allow “classic UUs” to continue a church connection where they don’t have one and to be formal members of a UU Classic congregation, swelling their ranks.
Keep pressing the institutions within the UUA to keep living up to Classic UU values
Remain involved with the UUA to slow the spread of the illiberal takeover and be there should there be a retrenchment. We don’t know where this “woke” virus will go, but since it eats its host it is not sustainable. Remaining involved might help if there is a movement toward recovery allowing classic UUism to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, we could have a business resolution re-establishing the free exchange of ideas in forums, by clergy and laity in the church, at GA and other UU gatherings, etc. Forbidding the MFC from using positions on public, philosophical, and theological debates to prevent Fellowship or remove someone from Fellowship. Reinstate people removed for things they said or wrote. We could run candidates for every position and provide them with volunteers to help them get on the ballot and campaign. Create an organization of individual classic UUs to coordinate efforts in all these areas.