Financial Times Article

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.

Dueling Observations

  • 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.

It was noted that “opposition is strong.” The Save the 7 Principles and the Fifth Principle Project websites were 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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Barbara Whittaker-Johns
Barbara Whittaker-Johns
6 months ago

Trying to read the article, but you have to subscribe first. Can you advise?

Peter Aitken
Peter Aitken
6 months ago

I got to the article with no issues, and I am not a subsciber.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
6 months ago

Agree with Barbara Whittaker-Johns that the link to the free article very quickly leads to a paywall and the article cannot be accessed without a subscription to Financial Times.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
6 months ago

What is meant by “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.” ” ? Is Sarah Diaz planning to vote against the Article II Revision, or not?

Jack Taylor
Jack Taylor
6 months ago

To read the article go directly to the FT website and search for uua article. I could read the article no pay wall.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
6 months ago
Reply to  Jack Taylor

Jack, I just did what you suggested and immediately hit the pay wall. Maybe you or the institution that supplies your internet service has a subscription to Financial Times?

Robert Hedeen
Robert Hedeen
6 months ago
Reply to  John Wunderlin

This worked for me. Good article, reasonably balanced. I doubt if many UU’s will see it, paywalled by Financial TImes which is also a British publication I believe.

Steve Shaw
Steve Shaw
6 months ago

Finally! For years, I’ve been waiting for an influential news organization to publish a comprehensive, balanced overview of the division around the new religion.

It’s difficult to overstate the influence of The Financial Times of London. Like the New York Times, it has an agenda-setting role. Presumably, other news outlets will follow its lead.

This is a valuable, salutary development.

Thanks for sharing!

Jim
Jim
6 months ago

I found these comments on the article by FT readers to be particularly pithy Upper-class white intellectuals squabbling internally and without outside involvement or interest about hypothesized multiracial utopias is the pinnacle of delusional self-importance. I’ve been to music festivals where acid enhanced individuals dance incoherently, every one of them assuming that they appear to others as graceful as a ballerina in Swan Lake. These people seem, to me, to be their equivalent in the intellectual realm. They are all over the place, there is no structure to their thinking and the output is rather pitiful.What is the social basis of… Read more »

anna
anna
6 months ago
Bill Baar
Bill Baar
5 months ago

I think Morales may have been off on UU wealth. If I recall the Pew survey on education, income, and religion correctly, UUs we’re highly educated without the corresponding income. Education and incomes are highly correlated in the US. UUs and Orthodox Jews big outliers. I’ve always thought UUs carry a chip on their shoulders over this one. Article gives a good overview of the controversy. My knowledge of it limited as I drifted away from UU Churches over the past few years. A minister told me our Church (now my former Church) was there before UUA and would be… Read more »

Burton Brunson
Burton Brunson
5 months ago
Reply to  Bill Baar

Exactly. The UUA was once convenient to have, but currently is effectively useless. The UUA is not necessary. A given congregation is better off alone than trying to get along with people whose goal is compelling other people to fit their own fantasies.

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago

It’s a shame that the journalist Jemima Kelly and the staff of Financial Times didn’t take time and exercise due diligence to fully fact-check this article. It’s not like it was a breaking news story and they had a short deadline for publishing it.

However, there is a detailed fact-checking response to the article now online provided by Rev. Dennis McCarty.

https://revdennismccarty.com/fact-checking-the-financial-times-gadfly-article/

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

You’re offering McCarty as a fact checker? A guy who writes a whole book devoted to a fact free smear of “those gadflies”, not to mention his egregious betrayal of aomeone he calls a friend? I’d swear you were joking but I know better.

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Rev. McCarty cites and quotes sources in his book who have direct knowledge of events. That makes his book factual. If you have any evidence for your assertion, please share it. For example, Eklof’s commentary on the the 2017 LREDA Fall Conference was not a complete or accurate portrayal of what happened at the conference. Eklof could have easily obtained a first-hand perspective about the LREDA event by walking down the hall and talking with his professional religious educator colleague in the Spokane congregation before writing his book. Or he could have read her blog post about the event. But… Read more »

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

I hate to descend into remedial education toward you, but while eyewitness accounts may be considered evidence they are not factual. Part of the reason consists in the “fact” that no eyewitness account is ever complete. Other eyewitnesses seeing the same event often give a completely different account of it. Some are completely mistaken. So, your assertion that McCarty’s book is factual because it quotes from eyewitnesses is just silly and self-serving. I suggest it is you who does not want inconvenient facts getting in the way of your agenda.

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

Frank — I forgive you for the “remedial education” comment. It appears that your emotions are getting the better of you here. Eklof relied on the eyewitness accounts of both NVC presenters who were present at the 2017 LREDA Fall Conference. And as you mentioned, no eyewitness account is ever complete. Eklof interviewed the two eyewitnesses who best supported his opinions presented in his book and relied on their accounts as factual. He didn’t go further. Eklof didn’t reach out to others who had additional information and would have provided more accuracy for his book. Eklof didn’t interview anyone in… Read more »

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago
Reply to  WebMaster

WebMaster (hiding behind a cloak of anonymity) wrote: If your evaluation of failed scholarship is based on “didn’t interview,” please beware that “he who you defend” is not without sin.  To discern what happened at an event like the LREDA Fall Conference requires requires eyewitness interviews to discern what happened. This is especially true when eyewitness accounts differ. To compare an event with a book here is a false equivalency. A book literally provides a paper trail of what an author is thinking. An ephemeral phenomenon like a conference event is different. Unlike a book that provides a clear accounting of… Read more »

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

Every eager to assume the worst about people, Steve assumes Webaster is hiding behind anonymity. If you had chosen to read the post you’re responding to, you’d know that Jay was not comparing a book to an event. He was comparing a book with a book.

Frank Casper
Frank Casper
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

My remark about remedial education was not emotional. I merely corrected your mistaken notion that quoting from eyewitnesses makes McCarty’s book factual. That should not have been necessary, which is why I started by saying I would rather not. As to your list of what Eklof did not do, that needs a bit of correction as well. First, you and others persistently suggest that all the exclusions you complain about were a deliberate attempt on his part to misrepresent, that is, to lie about the whole event. And that is all your complaining amounts to. Eklof lied. That, of course,… Read more »

Jim
Jim
5 months ago
Reply to  Frank Casper

OK. Geeking out a little here in details. But, apparently the echo chamber is a little freaked out by the FT article and frantically spewing chaff. So some comparative details. From the LREDA complaint to the MFC, that got Rev. Dr. Eklof excommunicated, about “inaccuracies” showing a “lack of diligence” in the Gadfly Papers: There was a space set up for people of color from the beginning of the conference, not after the keynote was halted. From the Spokane DRE blog post that Steven says is “consistent” but that Rev. Eklof didn’t “bother to interview” (written Dec. 7 – six… Read more »

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago
Reply to  WebMaster

The anonymous “WebMaster replied: There was a time when we all reached for the aspiration of “content of character” and eschewed segregation by race.  Identity group caucusing isn’t a permanent segregation and it’s not something that a socially dominant group is imposing on a group with less power and privilege. It’s a temporary short-term process that provides an opportunity in multi-racial communities who are working against racism to provide the following opportunity for growth and learning: There are a lot of benefits to caucusing separately. The goal of a white caucus is different than a caucus for people of color. A white… Read more »

TomC
TomC
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

So where are the data that shows that caucusing is beneficial for anything?

Steve Caldwell
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim

Jim wrote: From the Spokane DRE blog post that Steven says is “consistent” but that Rev. Eklof didn’t “bother to interview” (written Dec. 7 – six months after the events) This is a minor fact-check correction. The LREDA Fall Conference happened in November 2017 (because it’s a Fall Conference in the Northern hemisphere). The Spokane UU religious educator article wasn’t written 6 months after the events. This article was written about 1 month after the event. You can go online and find the recordings of the livestreamed videos at the conference. They all have date/time stamps in November 2017. Jan… Read more »

Jim
Jim
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

OK. My mistake. 1 month after the events not 6. I apologize for my error.

Since it seems you read my comment…

What is your reaction to the deceptive nature of the LREDA complaint about the “inaccuracy” of the Gadfly description? Surely you must agree that the description I cited of the timing and nature of events in the Gadfly Papers matches the description of the Spokane DRE’s blog about the event. And both those accounts do not agree with the LREDA complaint.

anna
anna
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Caldwell

Financial Times is one of the world’s most prominent, respected and widely read newspapers in the world. It’s cataloged in Europe as a “newspaper of record.” Jemima Kelly is a seasoned international journalist, formerly a reporter for Reuters. These types of “fact checks” by an author with a clear personal and biased agenda smack of a rather desperate circling of the wagons. The Financial Times article portrays the current UUA leadership as ridiculous and embarrassing because it is ridiculous and embarrassing. The only ones who do not see this are those in UU who have drunk the kool aid. Just… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by anna
Matt A
Matt A
5 months ago

I know this group values a responsible search for truth. Here is a counter to some of the “facts” shared in this article.
https://revdennismccarty.com/fact-checking-the-financial-times-gadfly-article/
Always remember…just because a statement seems to validate your beliefs doesn’t mean it’s true. This article does a good job of reminding us of the importance of good investigative jounalism and source bias.

anna
anna
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt A

I bet you also would argue that the one-candidate Presidential election was democratically free and that the UUA leadership doesn’t censor laity. Do you also agree with Rev. McCarty that dissenters in the most politically left church in the country are “closet MAGA supporters” and “alt-right”? His book was simply a lengthy and embarrassing diatribe of ad hominem attacks intended to smear good, well-meaning UUs, many longtime scholars and social justice activists, who dare express different viewpoints, or suggest different and more productive ways of social justice activism, than his own. The UUA has devolved into a fanatical, small-minded, “us… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
4 months ago
Reply to  anna

I couldn’t agree with you more Anna. It’s like UU’s who have embraced the new orthodoxy can’t comprehend anyone taking issue with it – and if you do you must be the worse kind of person. Take a bunch of people who think disagreement is attack, who see harm behind every corner and avoid any confrontations and you have a bunch of people eager (or willing) to follow, like lamb to the slaughter, anything the UUA pushes out lest they be called MAGA or KKK or some other such nonsense. Unfortunately, I think the horse has left the barn, Elvis… Read more »