On December 9, 2023, Jemima Kelly published an online Financial Times article entitled “The culture wars dividing America’s most liberal church.” Follow this link to PDF version
The article is the first known coverage by a prestigious outlet on the turmoil that has roiled Unitarian Universalism. As a result, it is less an analysis and more a survey of the situation within the denomination provided by interviews with several individuals.
Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof is featured. Kelly also interviewed Rev. Thandeka, Rev. Peter Morales, Rev. Sarah Skochko, Carey McDonald, UUA executive vice-president, and Sandra Diaz, the office manager at UU congregation in North Carolina. All points of view were given some “ink,” making sense of the conflicting observations was left to the reader.
Respecting the Financial Times’s copyright guidelines, we have not copied but only summarized a few sections of the article.
General Assembly 2019
Commenting on Eklof’s expulsion from the 2019 General Assembly for the distribution of his book, The Gadfly Papers, it is a struggle not between progressives and conservatives. It is a battle among people on “the same side of the political spectrum.”
Quoting Eklof from the Preface of the Gadfly papers, “I thought freedom of conscience and freedom of speech was our thing.” The article then recounts how 485 white UU ministers signed a letter condemning Eklof. Writing, “We recognize that a zealous commitment to ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ over all other forms of knowing is one of the foundational stones of White Supremacy Culture.”
History of Racial and Social Justice
The article observed that the denomination is mostly white, middle-class, and highly educated, with a long history of UUs fighting for racial and social justice. There is a reference to Rev. James Reeb, without mentioning his name, a Unitarian Universalist minister who white supremacists killed for his involvement in the protests with Rev. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama.
- Thandeka and her 1999 General Assembly address “Why anti-racism will fail” is mentioned as a response to the 1997 GA resolution “Journey Towards Wholeness.” Thandeka argued that the resolution was based on “an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America.”
- Peter Morales, the Association’s first Latino president, spoke of his progress to bring more diversity to the Association’s workforce and management levels. Yet his presidency ended over a hiring decision.
- Sarah Skochko is on record labeling Rev. Eklof’s book, The Gadfly Papers, as “morally reprehensible” and describes “the Gadflies” (her term) as an alt-right movement. She is quoted in the article saying, “In my opinion [Eklof] intended on getting disfellowshipped all along, as a publicity stunt,” she adds. “His decreasing relevance bothers him.”
- Carey McDonald, UUA executive vice-president, defended the increase in dis-fellowed ministers and the Association’s new direction as being “democratically” determined. Adding, “the officers of the association like myself cannot make decisions on behalf of our congregations.”
- Sarah Diaz described herself as “pretty lefty radical” but planned to vote against Article II. Sharing that the UUA was not allowing “sufficient critical discussion.”
Changes to Article II
There was mention of the performative nature at the recent Pittsburgh General Assembly for speakers to describe themselves and declare their pronouns. A brief overview of the proposed Article II language was provided.
North American Unitarian Association (NAUA)
The article closed with a mention of the North American Unitarian Association. The aim of the NAUA is not to split UUism into smaller religious bodies. The NAUA was organized to do things no longer provided by the existing Association.
“I don’t really see it as a rival organization,” Eklof says. “What I see it as is a necessary organization.”
Two Important Things
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