Rev. Dr. Betancourt Doubles Down

We at the Fifth Principle Project feel it is critical for UU’s to understand what leadership is saying about UUism and the kind of reasoning they employ to say it. Hence, a second post regarding Rev. Dr. Betancourt’s disparaging remarks on our first principle. We wrote to Rev. Dr. Betancourt (see attached below) asking her to clarify or retract the remarks she made about our first principle. We received neither in return. Instead, she accused us of mischaracterizing her words and suggested further reading for us. While most everyone could use more background on complex topics, and while we appreciate that this is no doubt true in our case, the fact is, this is not about Kant and his views on race. It is about Rev. Dr. Betancourt’s use of ad hominem thinking about Kant to rationalize her attack on the first principle, arguably the lynchpin of all 7.

Even if we were to grant her specious insistence that Kant is the father of modern racism and that he is also the source of our first principle, it does not in any way follow that the first principle is racist, no matter how much further reading we could do. There is absolutely no reason to regard the first principle, or any of the principles, as racist. As another of our respondents so cleverly put it, “I don’t care if the principle came from Immanuel Kant, Amelia Earhart, or Bugs Bunny. It speaks for itself.”

We hope that UU’s will recognize that Betancourt’s spurious reasoning is typical of the rest of leadership, and that they really do not have any substantive arguments establishing that our principles have accomplished nothing but the institutionalization of white supremacy. We further hope that UU’s will recognize, before it is too late, that the re-write of A2 has been inspired and fueled by this kind of false and prejudicial view of our Enlightenment heritage, and that UU’s will as a legitimate consequence, seek a better and broader dialogue with a no vote this June!

Letter to Rev. Dr. Betancourt

Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt,

We are requesting clarification, or a retraction of your recent comment disparaging our First Principle. You claim that Immanuel Kant is the “literal” source of that principle and that he is the “father of modern racism.” You declare by extension that our First Principle is marred by racism.

A newly published discussion post on our website challenges the veracity of your observation. Other UUs have supplied additional scholarship that also questions the accuracy of your statement.

As the UUA President, it is important that your public statements are truthful and beyond reproach. The leader of the UUA should not by design or lack of clarity traffic in misinformation. Whatever the cause, you have made a misrepresentation that needs attention.

You are invited to review the discussion post and comment either by email or by adding your clarification as a comment to the post.

We thank you in advance for clarifying this unfortunate situation.

Frank Casper

Jay Kiskel

Co-founders, Fifth Principle Project

 

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See our Guest Contributor page for more information.

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Barbara
Barbara
8 days ago

Thank you, Frank and Jay and other contributors and supporters of the Fifth Principle Project for your continued efforts.

Adrienne
Adrienne
8 days ago

I left my board position and UU church in 2017 since my former minister was on the vanguard of all of this. It shattered me for years, but I couldn’t in good conscience be part of the new denominational creed (all white people are racist, anti-semitism is tolerated, we MUST all wear pronoun pins, etc). I read this blog because I had hoped people would rebel against the intolerance of the new guard. That hasn’t happened in the majority of churches although people have voted with their feet and left. I know how hard it is to leave a group… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by Adrienne
Frank Casper
Frank Casper
8 days ago
Reply to  Adrienne

People are in fact rebelling. The only question is whether enough of them will grasp what is happening here and vote this down at the GA.

Bruce Knotts
8 days ago

We must maintain all our 7 principles which are all inclusive and not at all racist. The First Principle is the most important. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document endorsed by all the nations of the world) begins with the statement that “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights o all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in a free world,” Most other faith traditions also have similar principles.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
7 days ago

It’s “racist” to hold the value that every person has inherent worth & dignity? Well, by that oddball definition, count me as “racist!” But, you know what, I stand in pretty good company, I think, with MLK Jr and Nelson Mandela, for instance.

Kent Klostreich
Kent Klostreich
7 days ago

It is a mistake to go on the defensive with these racism charges. They like that. It makes them feel enlightened and it emboldens them. They need to be held accountable.

Bill Baar
Bill Baar
7 days ago

I very much agree.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
7 days ago

So Dr. Betancourt evaluates the merits of ideas on the demographics of the thinker rather than on inherent worth of the idea. Well, it’s certainly an easier paradigm for evaluating ideas, than to have to actually think oneself, and weigh the merits (veracity, internal logic) of the idea. With Dr. B’s paradigm, we just toss out anything and everything anyone states, if the person is White, male, cisgender, heterosexual, and/or whatever other demographic variable is not typically structurally oppressed. The merit of the thought has nothing to do with the thought, according to Dr. B., and everything to do with… Read more »

David
David
7 days ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

I guess this is why the UUA is bringing back anti-semitism to UU. Because Louis Farrakhan is black.

Last edited 7 days ago by David
John Minahan
John Minahan
7 days ago
Reply to  David

David,

I wasn’t aware the UUA is bringing back anti-semitism back to UU. For that matter, I wasn’t aware UUism was ever a home for anti-semites. I recognize I may have just missed this, but can you please explain what you mean?

Adrienne
Adrienne
7 days ago
Reply to  John Minahan

My congregation was anti-semitic in 2017. It was a big reason I quit the board and left the church. At least in our church, we had multiple lectures on Islam being the religion of peace but when a group of people started making very anti-semitic comments, the minister did nothing until some of us confronted her at our board retreat. Her response, “I guess I should write a sermon about that” was said with a complete lack of enthusiasm. I have no idea if she wrote that sermon because I was so disgusted with her and the direction of the… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by Adrienne
David
David
7 days ago
Reply to  John Minahan

My comment was snarky, but below is reading on the topic for you:

Unitarian Universalism’s Jewish Problems Continue

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
7 days ago
Reply to  John Minahan

I think David is conflating being against genocidal Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Adrienne
Adrienne
7 days ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

Some UUs were anti-semitic way before the current, complicated conflict. See my comment above.

David
David
7 days ago
Reply to  Adrienne

Yes, my above link includes a link to a paper on antisemitism in the UUA that is a few years old

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
3 days ago
Reply to  Adrienne

I read your claim, Adrienne. I did not see that you provided any direct evidence, as in, “this [specific anti-Jewish statement] was said.” You merely stated that some “very anti-semitic comments” were made, but you did not specify what they were. So your readers cannot judge for themselves.

Jay Kiskel
Jay Kiskel
3 days ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

Barbara, glad you asked Adrienne for specifics. Too often statements ate tossed out and assumed as factual.

Paul
Paul
4 days ago
Reply to  Barbara Kidney

Calling Zionism “genocidal” verges on antisemitism.

Barbara Kidney
Barbara Kidney
3 days ago
Reply to  Paul

I was referring to a type of Zionism that is genocidal. And unfortunately I perceive without any doubt in my mind that such a thing does exist and creates the genocide and apartheid in Israel/Palestine today. I did not say that all Zionism is genocidal. But it is settler -colonialist, and some versions of it are genocidal, as per the UN definition of genocide. RE settler-colonialism as applied to Palestine/Israel– People were living in Palestine before outside countries created Israel. Land, houses, property, and respect for the civil rights of those humans were taken from them to create Israel. The… Read more »

Paul Alan Thompson
Paul Alan Thompson
7 days ago

On FB today, a UU minister said “If you cannot abide by the Democratic process, you should leave”. This is the spirit of the current UU ministry – no compromise, no willingness to listen to the ideas of others. In HS, I went on a church-sponsored canoe trip. The first thing the minister said was “We will not make decisions by voting. Rather, we will come to consensus”. Similarly, when a minister is called to a church, they will not accept the call unless it is a strong majority of 90%+. This is the problem now. One side is heard,… Read more »

Craig Moro
Craig Moro
7 days ago

Section C-2.4 of the proposed new Article (on “Inclusion”, of course!!) states that: “We strive to be an Association of congregations that truly welcome all persons who share our values”. So those who do not—or may not yet—share our values are not welcome to sit at the table with us?   I have long cherished this wry observation from Yoga teacher Swami Satchidananda:   “Many, many Yoga practitioners have told me that, surprisingly enough to them, they had unconsciously lost the desire to smoke and drink. For that reason, I have never asked any of my students to give up habits such as… Read more »

Steve Myles
Steve Myles
7 days ago

Rev Dr. Sofia Betancourt’s issue with our 1st principle is that it was written by a known racist, Emmanuel Kant, and he is not the person she wants associated with our principles.  She rejects ideas based solely on who said them.   During a recent discussion, a minority person made comments supporting the Article II Revision adding that the words of the Revision are the words of minority UUs.  Unsaid was if we do question the words, we are not listening to the person(s) who said them.  This is the mirror image of Dr. Betancourt’s logic.  You must listen to and accept the words of… Read more »

Terri
Terri
7 days ago
Reply to  Steve Myles

They’re probably going to beat that drum a LOT at GA 2024. Thanks for bringing up this fallacious “arguing point, Steve. It would definitely behoove UUs who are against the rewrite to start thinking about the best reply to the assertion that “minorities came up with these” – which may or may not be true, if the UUA’s track record is any indication – so our delegates will be ready to strike it down in many different, logical, reasonable ways. 😉

John Stowe
John Stowe
7 days ago

“As a public leader and theologian who regularly invites us to proudly claim our inherited liberal and liberating tradition, I appreciate you pointing me to the mischaracterization of my words on your website. Our first principle (like all of our teachings) is important, and we must grapple with the philosophical ideals behind it and the history from which it comes. As I am sure you know, countless scholars critique Kant’s writings on race and credit him with the modern invention of the concept of race in ways similar to my own. I commend to you a more thorough and critical… Read more »

Ken Ing
Ken Ing
7 days ago

In a way, it is helpful to have Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt as UUA President, because she has the gravitas to represent this movement, and she has the confidence to say what she really thinks. This means we can take what she says seriously. I feel the same way about having Rev. Cheryl M. Walker as co-chair of the Article II Study Commission. When she would take the microphone at General Assembly last year to present an argument against a proposed amendment, she had the confidence to say what she really thinks, and she has the gravitas (including being a… Read more »

Bill Baar
Bill Baar
7 days ago
Reply to  Ken Ing

My guess is if you go back to the 1930s and 40’s and look at Liberal’s debates with Pacifists on how the United States should respond to Hitler’s raise in Germany, or Japan’s rape of Nanking, you’ll get a better discussion on the “inherent worth” principle. Unitarians and Universalists have been over this ground before, it’s just one of the sides muddies things up with attacks not very relevant to argument at hand. It’s modern UUism’s struggle with Liberal Donatism (The heresy of Donatism lay not primarily in the denial of the particular Catholic doctrines but in the assertion that only… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by Bill Baar
Tim Bartik
7 days ago
Reply to  Ken Ing

I strongly second this statement: it is better when people in the UUA clearly state what they truly believe in, as the best course for UUism, rather than when they seek to muddle things up and make things vague.

For example, it helps clarify things when people make it clear that “accountability” is not just “listening”. Robin DiAngelo — who is not UU, to my knowledge, but had sold a lot of books for Beacon Press, and frequently presented to UU groups — is very clear on this point.

Bek Wheeler
Bek Wheeler
6 days ago
Reply to  Ken Ing

Ken, thank you for these most thoughtful observations. While it was I who observed that the Rev. Dr. Betancourt was engaging in ad hominem fallacies (and that indeed is a big red flag to me), I agree with you, now that you say it, that that flawed thinking is indeed low-hanging fruit. You surely are right that we should be focusing on WHY the assault on the first principle. While I am very troubled by the quote you share, “Decentering whiteness calls us to decenter individual dignity for our collective liberation,” I focus elsewhere right now. It was I who… Read more »

Jim
Jim
6 days ago
Reply to  Bek Wheeler

I am impressed with your patience and willingness to engage with these issues, but I must say I find it deeply troubling. There is a fundamental absurdity that seems to be the elephant in the living room. What is it that imbues the word “worth” with such negative potency and elevates the word “equity” to be one of the values of the new revision. The word “equity” has powerful financial connotations as a reference to the difference between debt owed and market value; as in “home equity” being the difference between the value of the home and the amount owed on… Read more »

Steve Myles
Steve Myles
6 days ago
Reply to  Jim

The real elephant in the room, Jim, is the fundamental premise on which the Revision is built…decenter whiteness and elevate minority views. While that may be a laudable goal, we have done a poor job of discussing how to achieve it. The ability for white UUs to question the minority views presented in the Revision for better understanding has been greatly diminished by the fear of causing “harm” or being dismissed as a racist. For the minorities, they fear not being heard. As a result, we have a poorly understood Revised Article II that is about to become our foundation.… Read more »

Kent Klostreich
Kent Klostreich
4 days ago
Reply to  Steve Myles

But decentering whiteness is not a laudable goal. If everyone can stay calm, I think we need to question whether elevating minority views (over others) makes any sense. Right now we have deep, deep pools of power in the hands of those who claim that they have none.

David
David
4 days ago

My saying is “everyone’s voice should be centered.” I agree that no UU’s voice should be “decentered.”

I also say, “You move to equality by moving to equality.”

Bek Wheeler
Bek Wheeler
5 days ago
Reply to  Jim

Well, Jim, by trade, I am a lexical semanticist, and so I care about words. Deeply. I have not ceded or concluded that the entire endeavor is futile. I, personally, can get with the majority of the A2. I find meaning in its revised formulation, and I do not myself experience it as “decentering whiteness and centering minority voices” (aptly stated by Steve Myles). Now perhaps I am deluded. I’m fully aware that the Widening the Circle book is just that. And I’m aware of broad and expansive calls for such “decentering.” I have not yet determined in my own… Read more »

Jim
Jim
5 days ago
Reply to  Bek Wheeler

You are certainly welcome to your position and I respect that. It is worthwhile to ask oneself, as I do from time to time, whether one is deluded. Since you ask this question of yourself I see no need to further question your watchfulness. I respect that you have not given up and I empathize with your state of “suspended animation.” It isn’t fair that UU leadership has put you in this position. I, myself, no longer wish to waste my time arguing semantics with Humpty Dumpty; I have voted with my feet. Many like me have done the same… Read more »

Ken Ing
Ken Ing
3 days ago
Reply to  Bek Wheeler

Bek, I am not surprised that Rev. Cheryl M. Walker is not inclined to speak against your new amendment. Your proposed amendment leaves almost the entire intent of the proposed Equity value intact, whereas your amendment at GA 2023 proposed more substantial changes. Most people will applaud how your revised wording would avoid the awkward word “worthiness”. Note that in my comments, the semantic difference between worth and worthiness and worthy is not what I found noteworthy. I wrote about the potency of the phrase “a right to flourish”, with it’s troubling implication of asserting a right to desired outcomes,… Read more »

Bek Wheeler
Bek Wheeler
3 days ago
Reply to  Ken Ing

Ken,
I greatly appreciate your nuanced discernment.

Bek

Bill Baar
Bill Baar
7 days ago

I’ve heard UU Minister’s preach on the “inherent worth” principle and explain UU’s not so naive that we don’t understand people often debase their worth with corruption and evil. The evil acts that debase us were the injustice to be opposed. Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt sadly over looks UU teaching on this principle either because she doesn’t know it, or because she has some axe to grind with history. A grinding that hides behind the abstraction of “systems” and “dismantling” rather than risk a fight (and lawsuit and their settlements) naming racists.

Last edited 7 days ago by Bill Baar
David
David
7 days ago

My opinion is that, in a liberal church, the President is welcome to her opinions and views, and is free to express them. However, by the same token of it being a liberal church, her views cannot be imposed or interpreted as church orthodoxy, That’s how I approach a parish minister at my congregation.

John Stowe
John Stowe
7 days ago

“As a public leader and theologian who regularly invites us to proudly claim our inherited liberal and liberating tradition, I appreciate you pointing me to the mischaracterization of my words on your website. Our first principle (like all of our teachings) is important, and we must grapple with the philosophical ideals behind it and the history from which it comes. As I am sure you know, countless scholars critique Kant’s writings on race and credit him with the modern invention of the concept of race in ways similar to my own. I commend to you a more thorough and critical… Read more »

A Unitarian Universalist
A Unitarian Universalist
6 days ago

I can’t believe someone that educated really thinks Kant’s racism is the point. It must be a dodge.

David
David
6 days ago

She wants to decenter whiteness. Kant was white, and thus his notions must be decentered. She might not want to entirely kick Kant and the worth and dignity of every person out of the house, but merely lock them in the cellar.

She may be sincere, but I also wonder if her ad hominem critique is an excuse to “decenter individual dignity.”

Yes, her reasoning clearly is not only faulty but strange.

Last edited 6 days ago by David
Randy Galbraith
Randy Galbraith
7 hours ago

My former faith is Jehovah’s Witnesses. I left the faith on reasonably good terms in 2007. That is, I was not disfellowshipped, nor did I disassociate, nor was there a determination that I had disassociated by action. Official action was only taken in the spring of 2010 when I was subject to disassociation by action. The action in question was my open celebration of Christmas for the first time in 2009. What this means in practice is a brief announcement of “Randy Galbraith is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses” was made at a mid-week congregation meeting of the last… Read more »

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