Reading and Reacting to “The Gadfly Molehill”

Someone on Facebook just sent me this to look at.

https://revdennismccarty.com/the-gadfly-molehill/

So let’s get into it! The statements from that blog entry will be in red and my responses will be in blue.

The UUA has two candidates running by petition against the UUA Nominating Committee’s candidates for UUA Board of Trustees this year, as well as a protest happening outside the General Assembly, as announced by the Fifth Principle Project. The Fifth Principle Project is an organization not directly affiliated with Unitarian Universalism, but dedicated to changing the course of the UUA.

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Looking at the Fifth Principle of UUism, we read:

“The Right of Conscience and the Use of the Democratic Process Within Our Congregations and in Society at Large”   Which I totally affirm. So these critics are implying that the current leadership are not following this Principle. Really?

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The Fifth Principle Project, in announcing the protest, says that the UUA has taken an “authoritarian, and anti-liberal turn.” ……“Personally attacking and silencing dissenters rather than engaging their ideas – openly rejecting the need to even read their words before publicly condemning them. Condemning disagreement as “harm” to people of marginalized identities. Officially censuring and disfellowshipping ministers for expressing dissent.” 

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This does sound terrible! Can they back these claims up?

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First, the statement about “rejecting the need to even read their words” is the key to understanding this whole first claim. It is referring to a letter signed by ministers after the publication and distribution of a book, The Gadfly Papers, by its author, the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof at the General Assembly in Spokane in 2019. The Rev. Dr. Eklof and his supporters claimed (mostly falsely) that the ministers signing the letter about his book had not read it.

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I already addressed this issue.

Another fight in reddit over Rev. Todd Eklof’s publicity stunt of 2019

Eklof wasn’t punished merely for writing a dissenting book. That was absolutely his right. However:

<snip>(It was his trying to jam the book witout prior notice to the UUA down the collective throats of the 2019 General Assembly attendees, which  could have caused the entire GA to be disrupted – D H)

The betrayal was felt so strongly because Eklof’s congregation was supposed to be HOSTING the General Assembly, which was expected to continue dealing in unity with racial issues. Eklof’s stunt would be like me as a known critic of the Baha’i Faith invited to a meeting of mostly Muslim people and after arriving instead of giving a speech criticizing that Faith, attempting to give attendees there copies of this:

Contradictions of orthodox Islam

No, I wouldn’t do that! That would only get my @$$ thrown out of there. You can’t force people to listen to a message they didn’t expect to hear and are not receptive to. Eklof should have known better!

People of color were tired, after all the decades of the UUA giving lip service to anti-racist views, of it sliding back time and again to the “good old boy” attitude of favoring white men for leadership roles and positions, even while being willing to elect a person of color to the UUA Presidency. Window dressing for the sake of appearance simply wasn’t enough.

To understand this, imagine what it must have been like when Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to win the title of Miss America…..only to have that title taken from her a few months later because of a manufactured scandal resulting from her appearing in a few nude photos (that were NEVER supposed to be published) long before she entered the Miss America contest. She was set up to be humiliated by racists who still ran the Miss America pageant. Today, there is no such stigma and black women routinely compete in, and win, such beauty pageants. So progress has been made against racism……but Vanessa Williams was still humiliated by what was done to her. It was wrong and recently even the Miss America pageant organizers have apologized and admitted they treated her badly.

What happened in the UUA with a white male minister, who didn’t even live in the district he was appointed to be leader of, should ABSOLUTELY have gotten the leaders involved in the hiring practices FIRED for not doing the right thing. Now perhaps Rev. Peter Morales shouldn’t have resigned from the UUA Presidency, but he wasn’t helping matters either. Despite being hispanic, he had totally fallen into the white dominated pattern of thinking we really should have abandoned in the 1960s.

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This [letter by the white UU ministers] was not a UUA statement, it was a letter signed independently by over 500 UU ministers, none of whom were acting in a UUA role. The UUA has not made any statement condemning the Rev. Dr. Eklof’s words.

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So it was individuals joining together to criticize the actions of another individual. Continuing….

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Two ministers have been censured by the UU Ministers Association. The first was the Rev. Richard Trudeau, who chose to publicly share his private letter of censure from the UUMA in various online spaces. The Rev. Dr. Eklof was also censured by the UUMA, more publicly. However, both censures are from the UUMA, not the UUA. The UUMA is an organization designed to provide ministers support in their ministries and relationships with one another. Member ministers also subscribe to the UUMA Code of ethics. The UUMA is a completely separate organization from the UUA in all ways, including leadership, governance, and finance. Thus, like the previous point, adding UUMA actions into the protest against the UUA is just done to make the list of grievances against the UUA seem longer.

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I get it. It would be like President Biden being condemned after a Republican member of Congress was expelled by the Democratic majority. The separation of powers provided in the U S Constitution says that the President has no control over what Congress does, and vice versa.

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There is one minister they are referring to who was “disfellowshipped,” not multiple ministers. (The more accurate term is “removed from fellowship,” by the way.) It’s the adding “censure” into the statement that allows it to be plural. And the one minister who was “disfellowshipped” by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the credentialing body for UU ministers, was again the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, author of The Gadfly Papers and its follow up, The Gadfly Affair.

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And indeed there is a list of ministers among the UUA that have been disfellowshipped.

https://www.uua.org/uuagovernance/committees/mfc/clergy-misconduct-investigations

and on that list, we see:

2020 Todd Eklof: Removed for Noncooperation (bullying and abusive behavior)

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It is strange for [Rev. Beverly Seese], to claim that she is running for the UUA Board of Trustees because of something ministers did independently. Ministers are granted freedom of the pulpit, and their public response to a public document is not overseen by the UUA, much less the UUA Board of Trustees. The Rev. Seese gives no examples of ministers being slandered, so we must assume that she is considering the public letters disputing the claims of The Gadfly Papers to be slander.(**4) She likewise provides no examples of threats, to remove fellowship or otherwise, made by the UUA over disagreement or anything else. There are no threats. Once again, the UUA’s sole action alluded to here was removing the Rev. Dr. Eklof from Fellowship.

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In short, the critics of the UUA are attacking the WRONG TARGET! Much like the GOP slamming President Biden for the problem of inflation going on now in our economy, instead of going after the ones to blame……the massive CORPORATIONS that dominate our capitalist economy and that the government has no control over.

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I have seen no major public response to pamphlets. Nor am I aware of any controversial pamphlets, and only one book that was publicly responded to by UU ministers and UU leaders, ( the Rev. Dr. Eklof’s The Gadfly Papers), unless The Rev. Seese is counting negative Amazon reviews as public condemnation.

It is strange for her to claim that she is running for the UUA Board of Trustees because of something ministers did independently. Ministers are granted freedom of the pulpit, and their public response to a public document is not overseen by the UUA, much less the UUA Board of Trustees. The Rev. Seese gives no examples of ministers being slandered, so we must assume that she is considering the public letters disputing the claims of The Gadfly Papers to be slander.(**4) She likewise provides no examples of threats, to remove fellowship or otherwise, made by the UUA over disagreement or anything else. There are no threats. Once again, the UUA’s sole action alluded to here was removing the Rev. Dr. Eklof from Fellowship.

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News flash: Freedom of speech cannot go only one way. My impression has always been that Eklof expected his criticisms of the UUA to go unanswered and for anything he did to be tolerated simply because he is a white male UU minister. That’s BULLSHIT!!!

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The UUA is an “association of congregations.” In our congregational polity, individual congregations choose their own minister, own their own buildings, and are free to disagree with any denominational statement made. Even Actions of Immediate Witness passed at the UUA’s annual General Assembly do not compel its member congregations, nor their ministers, to take specific actions. That’s why most statements at the UUA begin by “urging” action. It is important to make a distinction between the UUA and UUMA here. The UUA provides services to its member congregations, and provides leadership in that it suggests best practices. Its leaders issue statements about justice and ethics issues.

However, Ministerial Fellowship, which is a credentialing process by the UUA of UU ministers, is done by a committee of the UUA, the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC).  It is a voluntary and demanding process that ministers undergo. Ministers who go through this process have proved their fitness for UU ministry, and are then are held to certain standards by the UUMA, as well as the UUA, as maintained by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC). Ministers choose to go into Fellowship because, primarily, they believe in being held to ethical standards. And congregations, in choosing to call a Fellowshipped minister, know that their minister has been vetted by this process. However, a congregation can call a minister who is not in Fellowship – the Rev. Beverly Seese is an example of this.

It is no small matter that the Rev. Dr. Eklof was removed from Fellowship, and I will examine that more thoroughly. But it is worth noting that to run for UUA Board of Trustees in order to influence the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is a misunderstanding of the power and role of the UUA Board of Trustees. The UUA Board of Trustees does not directly interfere in the actions of the MFC, nor should it. The only relationship between the two is that some MFC members are appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees, and the UUA Board of Trustees approves any changes to MFC Rules.

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It’s this kind of highly organized, yet decentralized leadership of the UUA and all the other groups associated with it that distinguish it from a cult like the Baha’i Faith. Even as President of the UUA, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray has no power to expel Eklof from the UUA, nor should she or any other UUA President have that kind of power.

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As shown, the one actual case, at the center of this mountain of candidacies and protests, is the molehill case of the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof and The Gadfly Papers. And the one thing that the UUA has done is remove him from Fellowship.(**5) None of the other actions was even taken by the UUA. Given that this one action, removal, forms the basis for these campaigns and protest, it’s worth examining exactly what happened.

So why was the Rev. Dr. Eklof removed from Fellowship? In his follow-up book, The Gadfly Affair, Rev. Dr. Eklof complains that he was censored and mistreated. But if one reads with a more thorough understanding, however, and examines the accounts of others as shown in the appendices, the true story emerges.

When ministers are in Fellowship with the UUA, it means that we are required to follow a code of ethics, and we are required to abide by the rules of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. (Ministers who are Members of the UUMA also agree to abide by the UUMA Code of Ethics.)(**6) This is the main way we can affirm that ministers are held to a consistent standard of ethics and behavior. One of those MFC rules is that if a complaint about an ethics violation is brought against a minister in Fellowship, that minister is required to go through the MFC ethics investigation process. We ministers have certain rights in that process – we can bring along a Good Officer as a support person, we get to state our case before the MFC, and we can invite letters of support about our character and actions.

A complaint was filed with the MFC by the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), which is the professional organization for religious educators, akin to the UUMA. The Rev. Dr. Eklof had a substantial passage in his first book about a LREDA conference he did not attend.  LREDA charged that the Rev. Dr. Eklof violated the Ethical Standards in the UUMA Code of Conduct in four areas: being honest and diligent in the work; demonstrating respect and compassion without regard to race, color, class, sex, sexual orientation, and additional categories; working to confront attitudes and practices of unjust discrimination; and not engaging in public words and actions which degrade the vocation. They made this case in an eight-page detailed complaint, with additional impact statements (which have not been disclosed) from eleven individuals.

(Let’s focus on the specific problems of the investigation of the complaint – D H)

In the case of the Rev. Dr. Eklof, this initial process happened, and it appears that the investigator found that there was “enough there” to recommend further review. It also appears, from his own account, that the Rev. Dr. Eklof refused to even meet with the investigator for even this first step in the process.

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YIKES!

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….the Rev. Dr. Eklof refused to meet with the MFC, even though that was required under MFC rules, if the review was to be completed. In this way, Rev. Dr. Eklof made it impossible for the MFC to complete its review process.

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Double YIKES!!!

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One requirement of Fellowship is for a minister to meet with the MFC when asked to do so. To refuse to meet is akin to resigning Fellowship. When the Rev. Dr. Eklof flatly refused to meet with the MFC when asked, the MFC then voted to pursue a full fellowship review. The Rev. Dr. Eklof again indicated that he would not comply with the process. So the MFC was faced with no other option than to remove him from Fellowship. The opportunities for better outcomes were cut off by his refusal.

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So it was indeed Eklof’s own fault that he was removed from fellowship! This would be like a witness called to testify in a court case refusing to show up! That can lead to a charge of contempt of court. So in this case, Eklof committed the offense of contempt of the MFC.

And as far as I am concerned, that should end this discussion!

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