Free, Responsible, and Imperiled

By Rev Kate Braestrup

The introductory passages of Sarah Skochko’s sermon, delivered October 20 from the UU pulpit in Eugene, Oregon, offers us a vivid example of why there is a  crisis — I think that’s the right word — in UU-land, and why the free and responsible search for truth and meaning is in such peril.

Ms. Skochko,  the coordinator of membership and outreach for the church, declares upfront that “one of the great things about Unitarian Universalism is that you always have a choice. You will never be compelled to do or say or participate in anything you don’t want to, that you don’t agree with, that doesn’t align with your beliefs.” You can’t do anything you want, she says — can’t rudely take all the treats at coffee hour and expect that no one will be mad at you. But “you do have the freedom from being forced to eat cookies against your will. Communion here is rare and optional.”

Much laughter from her congregation.

I recognize that laughter with a sinking heart. It is the smug laughter of Unitarian Universalists pleasurably reminded of our own superiority. How free, enlightened and moral we are compared with all the other benighted church folk who, at this very moment, are being forced to eat “cookies.”

Oh, that we Unitarian Universalists were not so very much inclined to measure ourselves and our virtues against a straw man, especially one so flimsily and sloppily constructed.

This should be obvious but it evidently isn’t: Communion is voluntary at all churches. No one is compelled to eat, drink, do, say or participate in anything that doesn’t align with his or her beliefs.

I’ve been to Catholic and Protestant services of all kinds.  No one asked, let alone “forced” me to do more than sit quietly and not interrupt. Even the most aggrieved disaffected  Catholics of my acquaintance do not claim to have had wafer and wine shoved down their protesting throats, and no fundamentalist friend has revealed that he had a gun to his head when accepting Jesus as his personal savior.

Why, then, are there “recovering Catholics” and former fundamentalists in UU pews? In what sense did they not feel free in their communities-of-origin?

If a Catholic or fundamentalist (you’ll notice I’m leaving Muslims out of this; slightly different thing) questions or contradicts doctrine, or renounces it altogether, he or she will be (or  fear being)  subject to shaming, shunning, sandbagging, erasing and all the other means short of physical violence by which human cultures and subcultures enforce orthodoxy.

Carlton Pearson
Carlton Pearson

Anyone familiar with the story of Carlton Pearson, now an affiliate minister with All Souls in Tulsa, ought to recognize some similarities between what our betters in Boston are attempting to do to Todd Eklof and what the Joint College of Pentecostal African American Bishops did to Carlton Pearson.

Hint: They didn’t beat him up. They didn’t threaten his family. The wound inflicted was ”not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door” but it served. Pearson left the church and — note well, all you coordinators of membership and outreach — he took a bunch of fellow-apostates with him. And by the way, he is considered heroic — they made a movie about him.

If the UU version of “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning” means “we won’t actually beat you up or burn you at the stake for disagreeing with us” then Unitarian Universalism isn’t any different from — and we certainly aren’t superior to — Catholics, Pentecostals or, indeed,  any other church or synagogue in the Western world.

That’s worth re-emphasizing, so I shall: To be free from the fear of physical violence is necessary for a culture of freedom of conscience, thought and speech,  but it is nowhere near sufficient. A “free” church that promises merely to refrain from physical attack upon dissenters isn’t truly free. It is, at best, totalitarian-lite.

To their rather obvious chagrin, the UUA, UUMA, BLUU and all the other acronymic subdivisions of the “club” cannot actually defrock Todd Eklof, though I suspect this is a defect in UU polity that some, at least, are eager to correct. For the time being, however, “no Bishop can ever revoke our funding or knock the cookies off our snack table…”

What can happen — what is happening — is that  a highly respected, beloved and successful UU minister (and/or a congregant thereof)  who deviates from the party line  can and will be arrogantly and ignorantly misrepresented, insulted and scornfully reviled in, among other places, sister churches, in sermons (or “sermons”)  that  will be videotaped and broadcast to the world.

Or rather to the UU-World: Unitarian-Universalism is a boutique religion. Ms. Skochko’s UU church in Eugene has about 275 members (down from 290 in 2015, but who’s counting?) and even if every Unitarian Universalist in America watched her video on YouTube it would amount to fewer than 200,000 people (compared with, say, 50 million Baptists). Not enough people to gin up an actual lynch-mob, but more than enough to create a virtual one vindictively eager to savage a reputation and threaten a livelihood, and — perhaps most significantly — to send a warning to others who might be inclined to overestimate just how open-minded and open-hearted our liberal faith really is.

How many UU seminarians,  watching Ms. Skochko’s sermon on YouTube, could imagine themselves genuinely free to think and say (or decline to say) what they honestly believe?

How many of Eugene’s UUs in agreement with Todd Eklof’s book, or just interested in his argument — there probably are a few — would be willing to argue the point at coffee hour after that “sermon” was delivered?

Ironically, perhaps, October’s theme for Eugene’s UUs is “belonging.” How many of those sitting in the pews and listening to the downright Trumpishly self-confident co-ordinator of membership and outreach received the message, loud and clear, that belonging is contingent upon agreeing — or appearing to agree — with an implicit doctrine, the one that Todd Eklof transgressed against and must be punished to preserve?

Tell me, again, how this is different from a Christian at a fundamentalist church not being free to say, over cookies and coffee, “I don’t believe that Jesus was actually God?”

We know, from the testimony of members converted from those other, “not-free”  religions, that it is perfectly possible to sit in a pew, mumble a creed, sing a hymn or listen to a sermon without agreeing with a single word.

We know that when the cognitive dissonance for a Catholic or an African American Pentecostal becomes too painful, the heretic will leave. Sometimes, as with Carlton Pearson, the reason will be publicly declared. More often, the congregant will simply lapse, or stop showing up.

“Good riddance!” the Catholics, Pentecostals and Baptists might say, even if they spare a sigh for checkbooks the heretics take with them when they go. But who knows? Perhaps their strict adherence to Christian dogma will gain them new “pledging units.” There are, after all, Christians actively in search of churches willing to stick to that particular, counter-cultural bottom line.

Our bottom line, however, is not Anti-Racism and no, it’s not supposed to be green-ness or queer-ness, whatever Ms. Skochka might imagine. Our bottom line is intellectual freedom combined with inclusive love. That’s what drew so many of us from wherever we were before to where we are now. What will draw our replacements to the new UU?

Copyright 2019 © Kate Braestrup





  1. May I suggest linking here,, instead of to the YouTube page?

    Also, if anyone can provide transcript of this address it would be helpful to me as a person with hearing disabilities. Ms Skochko seems to have a high vocal register and that makes it very difficult to follow her. What I did like about her sermon is that she seems to have cites and passages of Rev. Eklof’s actual work, so I ‘d like to know they are and how she used them.

    I did get as far as an ad populum about wagons. Do UU seminaries and approved divinity schools make logic a prerequisite? Sincere question, especially since our sources cite “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.” I’m not accusing Ms Skochko of anything more than using a few fallacies for laugh lines; I really can’t hear well enough even with transcription software to know if she goes on to a substantive argument. But I remember figuratively red-penning things like that out of my erstwhile pulpit addresses so I will say that I would have chosen a more careful style. Then again, I’m crap at making a crowd laugh and that’s a useful pedagogical talent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. (continued)

      Anti-Catholicism is a disturbing throughline in UUism. We have many Catholic refugees — and I am among them — but not a lot of those people are actually catechized in the faith that they left. Among doctrinal basics I’ve found myself explaining to UUs are that the Immaculate Conception was of Mary, not Jesus; what a sacrament is (an outward sign instituted by Christ of an inward grace — quite interesting to me that Christians aren’t constantly bathing feet); the ontology of priesthood flowing from bishop downhill; that there is extensive scriptural support for the idea that conception begins at birth and this very specifically is what raises doctrines about Reproductive Rights, including anti-choice and anti-contraception; the role of Mary and hyperdulia; and so on. My point is that there are some logic and integrity to these beliefs for the adherents who accept foundational teachings, and they deserve the same respectful reverence we accord to Dia de Muertos.

      Come to think of it, should we be renaming several our churches from “All Souls,” or are we entitled enough to claim that patrimony as ours? November 2nd is this week…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Since I wrote this, I’ve discovered that Ms Skochko helpfully posted her sermon text on her website. I’m grateful for that. I find her sermon to be chock-full of fallacies of logos and pathos and her quotes from Rev. Eklof’s book to be decontextualized and tendentious. There are merits to be discussed and we’re wasting so much time on pathetic argument.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I believe historically “All Souls” was a name chosen by Unitarian churches in the 19th century, particularly in the Midwest, to signify that they were open to non-Christians and non-theists. So I think the Unitarian use of that name has nothing to do with Catholic tradition.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Both Tim Bartik and Jennifer O Connell are correct. “All Souls” in the wider “Catholic” churches–Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Nestorian, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran–is the flip side of “All Saints.” Saints are those whose lives assuredly were virtuous enough that they were admitted to heaven upon their death. Some of the churches I named have formal canonization processes (St John Henry Newman, new this month) and some instead rely on popular acclamation (Tsar Nicholas II & family). Because Saints are in heaven, they’re in a position to attain favors and advance concerns for those on earth, so churches are commonly dedicated to them in order to attract the attention of a particular saint to interceding in the concerns of particular supplicants (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. John the Divine Cathedral, both in New York City).

      All Souls, to these traditions, are the dead who aren’t declared saints. They await the Last Judgement in peril, or they’re in purgatory. They don’t include undeclared Saints whose virtuous lives maybe didn’t get enough notice, but since those saints aren’t declared and sanctioned you can’t very well go asking them for favors. When in 1855 All Souls in New York City chose to call itself that, it was a very bold declaration of theology: All people are equally good enough to ask God for help and He is good enough to hear any deserving prayer. You don’t need a prayer buddy in heaven, He’s still concerned enough to listen to you. They chose the name in part because of the Rev. William Ellery Channing’s declaration that “I am a living member of the great Family of All Souls; and I cannot improve or suffer myself, without diffusing good or evil around me through an ever-enlarging sphere,” Naming themselves “All Souls” was restating Channing’s rebuke of lower-case-c catholic theology, specifically that of New York’s Episcopalian Church of the powerful; and it was also an invitation that everyone is welcome to come to our churches because they practice a more inclusive love and believe in a more loving God. That’s why so many other churches followed suit–DC,

      I hope that helps.

      Brian Sullivan
      UU Congregation of Rockville, Maryalnd

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am so glad I left the elucidating to someone else! That is said so much better than I could and I learned some things, too.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I see that I hit reply too soon. There are UU churches that followed New York’s example and named themselves All Souls, including in Washington DC, Tulsa, Bangor, Braintree and more; and the choice was also adopted back in “the belly of the beast,” England, by several liberal Anglican churches that wanted to send a message to Canterbury.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Jae—excellent comments. Dominate to your heart’s content!

    And a welcome reminder to me (who needs reminders, sadly) about the practical requirements of inclusive love. (Sigh).


  4. This is an interesting little passage from the sermon:

    “At GA, a survey asked UUs how important they feel anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural work is, to the future of our faith. And on a scale of 1 to 10, 91% ranked it as an 8 or above. Nearly 60% – well over half! – ranked anti-racism work as a 10 – the most important thing we need to do now.”

    Let’s note that “people who attend GA” is a group limited to…people who attend GA. In other words, this is not a random sample of all UUs. By definition, they are likely to have certain key characteristics in common that perhaps distinguish them from the masses. I’m not pretending to know what these characteristics are, but I could hazard a few guesses. Money, for example, to spend on a trip to Spokane. And enthusiasm for the program as it has been presented to us via the UUA website and the UU World.

    With that in mind, it seems striking to me that only 60% think anti-racism work is the most important thing we need to do now.

    I am perplexed that a religious organization that has endorsed the Green New Deal (a bit of quasi-legislation that explicitly declares climate change an urgent, imminent, World-War-Two-only-more-so threat to existence presently on hold until Trump’s impeachment and/or re-election, whichever comes first) doesn’t think it a problem that sixty percent of its most ardent adherents believe that our most important “work” is to scrub the sin from our own souls. I suppose that when the “ecopocalypse” arrives (Ms. Skochko’s joke, and a cute one, if you’re inclined to think the end of the world is funny) it will be of some comfort to know that at least UUs die with less -ism on our collective consciences.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. When I first started listening to SS’s sermon a few days ago, I stopped after their statement that it was somehow “shady” for Eklof to distribute his book on Friday (because it was erev shabbat???). I couldn’t listen any more. But I just read it all on her blog, and I’m blown away at their chutzpah in calling it a “takedown” of Gadfly.

    But I am thankful to SS for giving me a new way to describe myself, similarly to Hilary Clinton’s “deplorables,” except that it was said in public. From now on you can refer to me as “politely hateful and generally repellant.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mel, it is the way that you model expansive embrace that started me reading “Mel’s Mind” and it’s also why I followed you here. Don’t take on undeserved epithets even as a joke. If you don’t see yourself as courageous, let me be the friend who tells you that you are heroic.

      I haven’t read the Eklof Papers or really followed the WSC theory debate, so I’m sorry not to be a regular commenter here. I have a disabled wife and a small business, so thus limited time to pursue social justice concerns that aren’t immediate to me. I get your mail from Better Angels and I read each post, and I respect the restraint you model in Facebook groups to which we both belong. Let me know if you ever make it down to Montgomery County Maryland from Loudoun, I’d love to have a coffee/potable of your choice with you.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Kate, I wish I had 1/2 your courage and 1/2 your skills. I can’t in polite society say what I think of Sarah’s sermon. But it’s that the pt? Some of us still believe in civility and reason, and some of us don’t.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I am in earnest when I ask if training for UU ministry actually includes rhetoric and logic. I began to get that training in a Catholic girls’ high school and took courses on rhetoric as an undergrad with a Religion concentration. I chose early in divinity school not to pursue UU ordination and so I didn’t consider prereqs for that. So I really don’t know. But I do have an opinion as to its necessity, which follows.

    Formal logic and the recognition of formal and informal fallacies are the brain’s equivalent of karate, ju-jitsu, krav maga, etc. They don’t teach you anything about why to fight but they are critical self-defence. Given that UUism particularly sources humanism and reason as a key contribution to our religion, given that religious humanism and non-theism is the largest enclave in the various belief systems that make up our faith, given that most of our contentious debates occur on erudite levels, it follows that UU clergy really needs intellectual self-defence in the form of Rhetoric, Formal Logic and assessing groundedness.

    That’s what leads me to ask how well versed are new and current aspirants to UU ordained ministry, such as Sarah Skochko, in logic and rhetoric? And to what extent is that a requirement and not their own wise pursuit?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I write the following as the Developmental Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene in response to Kate Braestrup’s blog post of October 29, “Free, Responsible and Imperiled.” It became necessary for me to respond after Braestrup described the church’s coordinator of outreach and engagement as “Trumpishly self-confident, ”questioned whether or not Sarah Skochko’s sermon was indeed a sermon, and implied that the members of the Eugene congregation would not have the guts or courage to take issue with Ms. Skochko’s critique of The Gadfly Papers. What these things tell me is that Braestrup has not done her homework on Skochko or the Eugene church. If she had she would know that Skochko did chaplaincy work for two years in a Catholic hospital here in Lane County. That she is one of the best new preachers in Unitarian Universalism( If you don’t believe me, read the evaluation her preaching instructor gave her). That she is as compassionate as she is bright. That she is a brilliant poet who understands many forms of writing and what constitutes a sermon and what does not. As for the Eugene church: it has had a reputation for anarchy and chewing its ministers up and spitting them out. I doubt any one of our members would hesitate to take on either Sarah or myself when it comes to the content of our sermons. In fact, we have both been stuck at the front of the church after services listening to people who do not agree with what we have said or who want to offer another perspective or take.

    I despise the membership number game. And because I do, I have taken it upon myself to whack away at the Eugene congregation’s membership book and its data base. This accounts for the “large” decline of 15 members since 2015 that Braestrup references. This church used to be located in a wealthier section of town. Several years ago it outgrew that space and made an intentional decision to relocate to a more economically diverse area of Eugene. The church is in the process of redefining its definition of membership as it had 333 people listed as members but only 272 actually pledging. Are we still measuring growth by numbers or by commitments, outreach, fervor, and passion? The Eugene church is way beyond surviving- it is thriving.

    If Trump is to be referenced in any way here, I would suggest that it be done so like this: of course we got a Trump after an Obama. It’s called backlash, and the only folks who weren’t shocked were persons of color. Likewise, I believe we got The Gadfly Papers as a backlash to challenging UU business as usual: white, cis, heterosexual persons (often male) in positions of authority and power. We need this outdated model in this day and age? Really? Tell me Gadflies, why does another person’s voice being lifted somehow silence yours? What are you afraid of? I am not sure why the Gadflies are unable to hear that their words have and continue to cause harm. Does anyone else see the parallels in Gadflyism to the revisionist history of those who proclaim the Holocaust to be fiction? I say all of this not as someone who spews forth some abstract adherence to “political correctness” but as someone who has in reality, harmed a colleague of color, and from that situation have come to believe that it is not possible for those of us who are white, to do no harm. My hope is to do less harm.

    Yes, Ms. Braestrup, the UUC in Eugene uses the Soul Matters themes. It is true that “Belonging” was October’s theme. Sarah’s sermon was an expose of all the ways in which Gadflyism does just the opposite: it draws lines between, creates an “us” and “them” and excludes folks. I fail to see how Gadflyism with its attack on People of Color/Indigenous, transgender and queer folks, and persons with disabilities promotes “belonging.” The “free speech” argument put forth in Gadflyite thinking is a smokescreen, a defense of the right to harm others through word and thought. While we’re at it, I beg you to rethink your use of the “lynching” metaphor. Refusing to accept that line of thought, committing to developing an intersectional lens, working to become a truly Welcoming as well as an AIM congregation doesn’t make the Eugene church politically correct. It makes us faithful.

    Ms. Braestrup asserts that it is “intellectual freedom combined with inclusive love” that is Unitarian Universalism’s bottom line. How’s that intellectual freedom working at the death bed? Comforting is it? Relevant? And how can Ms. Braestrup assert that “an inclusive love” is UU’s bottom line if she and Gadflyites consciously ignore and belittle the voices of traditionally underrepresented persons? Let’s see, if our model for love is born out of our Christian roots through the personage of Jesus, why are we centering the voices, power, and authority of the dominant culture? Jesus’ love was radically inclusive. Who did he hang out with? The marginalized of the marginalized. That is the model of love that this faith needs to proclaim, not some intellectualized version of compassion that is reserved for academia and the elite. The love Jesus proclaimed, the love we as UU’s are being asked to proclaim is a love that is, as the saying goes, “greater than fear,” including (and most especially) the fear of losing power and control.

    You want to live an inclusive love? Stop dismissing and start listening.

    Rev. Lois E Van Leer
    Developmental Minister
    Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hello Lois!

      A few other people have taken a second to respond to your words, but I want to respond to something fairly specific. Since you referred to Rev. Braestrup as Ms. Braestrup, using the female diminutive, you’ll be fine with me using Lois right?

      So Lois, what I wanted to address is the fact that you seem to to need to do a bit of listening yourself! You can do that right? Lois, I think that you can! See, at no point at all does Rev Eklof say that we must defend white cis voices. In fact, Rev Eklof as with Rev Braestrup have been champions for diversity and inclusion. For you to imply otherwise is as revisionist as Holocaust deniers. You know who they are because you compared us to them.

      See, what we are concerned about is the adoption of a “one true path” mentality – which incidentally Muir argues against, though admittedly he was all over the place in iChurch that I could understand your confusion. Personally, I had to draw a map. See, DiAngelo – the source of your anti-racism approach – is very clear that voices MUST be silenced. So yes, that is a concern. And not because we’ve made it up like you’ve made up parts of our argument Lois, but because it is something she is very clear on.

      Further, Lois, what we are afraid of is a complicated question – the death of liberalism, the destruction of over 6000 years of efforts towards building a more just world? Hypothetically, as I cannot speak for all Gadflies, that would be a good place to start. For me? What am I afraid of? Bullies and righteousness, blessed by authority and given free reign – typically a recipe for violence and physical harm. I have seen no word from the UUA or GA organization condemning the theft of property, the threats against volunteers (I have, Lois, listened to their voices, their fear and pain at being surrounded by a mob of angry people, their only defense a flimsy event stand), I have watched a person threaten another UU in public and be promoted to the board of the UUA Lois. True and actual violence, mob driven and irrational, at a UU event and not a word from the UUA or GA event planners to turn to our better natures.

      Lois, do you condone violence against UUs? This is a firm Yes or No question – no rhetorical bullshit on your part please. Yes you condone violence against UUs or no you don’t. And if you do not, how are you okay with what has happened? Do you listen to those who disagree with you Lois? Do you listen to those who are afraid? Or do we not matter because we do not use the filioque?

      Thank you Lois for your time, and thank you for making this conversation more relaxed by tossing those pesky titles and moving to the diminutive for address.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Rev. Van Leer is defending her people—that’s a good thing. And it is indeed good to know that the UUs in Eugene are willing and able to say what they think, even at the risk of being likened to Holocaust deniers. That’s a tough crowd, indeed.

      The question “how’s that intellectual freedom working at the death bed” sounds like the sort of question I would ask. The obvious answer, in this case, is that context matters; I am quite sure that Ms. Scochko is a lovely, compassionate young woman and would never deliver that sermon (any sermon, really) while visiting with a patient in hospice.

      By asking that question in this context, on the other hand, Rev. Van Leer has highlighted the difficulty I have with anti-Racism as it is presently defined in UU-land. That this would be the analogy she’d draw strongly implies that she believes that people of color, indigenous, transgender and queer folks and people with disabilities are like a dying person, and a white, cisgendered heterosexual especially-males have to think of ourselves as hospice nurses, accommodating these fragile, vulnerable and dependent others.

      Perhaps the POC, indigenous, transgender, queer and disabled folk I know are somehow made of sterner stuff? This strange fragility just doesn’t accord with my reality. The one time I “harmed” a black colleague, it was by assuming (in the great rush of joy I felt after the ’08 election) that he too had voted for Obama. My colleague, a McCain/Palin man, was pretty pissed off, and rightly so. Even if I hadn’t apologized (and learned a valuable lesson) I sincerely doubt that he would have permitted himself to feel (let alone be) harmed by me.

      I’d hate to think that what makes the difference is that most of my colleagues (of color and color-less) aren’t UUs? That is, they’re mostly Christians and thus “identify” most strongly as children of God, an identity so empowering that they are not just willing but able to forgive my lapses, areas of blindness and manifold defects, love me (even the one I mistook for a Democrat) and identify me as a child of God, too.

      Liked by 5 people

    3. “Why does another person’s voice being lifted somehow silence yours?” Yes, Reverend Lois, how would we answer that question? Or is your question meant to shut down our concerns as they have been repeatedly voiced here and elsewhere? Please demonstrate that you practice the listening you advocate by answering your question from our position in the practice of empathy.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. “Ms.” Braestrup? Not “Rev.” Braestrup?

    I’ll leave it to others to respond to the substance but I can’t help noticing this pettiness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I wonder if that’s because I called Sarah Scochko “Ms?” I couldn’t find anything that said she was ordained, but I could be wrong. In which case, my bad.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I, too, will leave to Rev Braestrup (if she cares to respond) any substantive response to Rev Van Leer’s comments, but I am struck by some remarkable and telling phrases (in addition to Rev Van Leer’s refusal to use the correct honorific):

    “…we have both been stuck at the front of the church after services listening to people who do not agree with what we have said or who want to offer another perspective or take.” Stuck?

    “This accounts for the ‘large’ decline of 15 members since 2015 that Braestrup references. ” Rev Braestrup made no mention I can find of a “large” decline, and anyway Rev Van Leer spends much energy on numbers for someone who “despise(s) the membership number game.”

    “Does anyone else see the parallels in Gadflyism to the revisionist history of those who proclaim the Holocaust to be fiction?” As someone who lost two uncles, two aunts and five first cousins, among other relatives, to the Holocaust I resent its being compared with the number of POC in UU staff leadership positions or the appropriate use of pronouns.

    “…have come to believe that it is not possible for those of us who are white, to do no harm.” This is the heart of the problem, the belief in a racial binary with every member on one side of the binary inevitably harming the members on the other side of the binary. How is this different from original sin?

    “…a defense of the right to harm others through word and thought.” I am one who does not believe that words do harm, but I understand that many people do. On the other hand, it’s extraordinary to believe that thoughts do harm.

    “Ms. (sic) Braestrup asserts that it is ‘intellectual freedom combined with inclusive love’ that is Unitarian Universalism’s bottom line. How’s that intellectual freedom working at the death bed? Comforting is it? Relevant?” Is it possible that Rev Van Leer “has not done her homework” on Rev Braestrup?

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Thank you, Rev. Kate Braestrup for naming so well the condescending and cruelly sarcastic tone of Ms. Skochko’s harangue. It dismays me that so many UUs admire her glib and painful “takedown.” And moreover, Rev. Kate, thank you for speaking up for freedom of thought and the need for all people in our movement to treat each other decently.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Thank you, Reverend Elaine!
    Had Ms. Skochko devoted a bit of effort to presenting the strongest of Rev. Eklof’s ideas, or had she given some sense of understanding the reactions of many of us to his treatment by the UUA, (hint: it’s not loss of power and control) her sermon would’ve been better. More loving and maybe more persuasive too. As it was, it didn’t feel like a sermon to me—more like a political stump speech, but I could be wrong.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Kate. Your description of what would have made a better and possibly more convincing sermon helped me understand what bothered me so much about the story for all ages (other than being way over the heads of the children). There was absolutely no empathy for the spider or understanding of the spider’s need to eat. (My Buddhist sense of oneness was offended.)

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I have a question.

    Let’s say it works.

    I mean, I assume success is the goal, here?

    So let’s say that the Anti-Racism, smash-the-WSC, scrub-the-UU-escutcheon-clean program, harsh as it may seem to some of us now, spectacularly succeeds in all particulars, and in the end UU land is immaculate, free of all -ism and -phobia. The no-longer-marginalized who had been waiting for this moment joyfully flock to our churches.

    What will they do when they get here?

    That is, once freedom has been declared too strenuous a principle to organize a religious movement around, what is it that Unitarian Universalism will have to offer?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Dear Rev. Kate,
    This is not an answer to your question about what is left after UU churches have been sanitized, and for that I apologize. Good question, though.

    For context, I am definitely in your corner and grateful that you, an “MF-UU” (“Most Famous UU”) as you have been called by our colleague Rev. Cynthia Landrum on Facebook, are speaking up. Thanks, Rev. Kate, for your wonderful and inspiring work as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Regarding current events, my heart broke for the mistreatment of Mel Pine. I was outraged, as you were, by Leslie Mac’s cruel response and the purging of Mel’s poem from the Worship Web and on and on. There is much to break one’s heart all around in this situation.

    That said, I find this phrase in your Blog post above seriously jangles me. Regarding the small numbers of our “boutique religion” you write “…not enough people to gin up an actual lynch-mob, but more than enough to create a virtual one vindictively eager to savage a reputation and threaten a livelihood.” I think your phrase “gin up a lynch mob” is unnecessarily provocative, and it gives those who would classify you and me and other UUs as racists a peg to hang their hat on. The Project Manager of the Commission on Institutional Change at the UUA, Rev. Marcus Fogliano, has said on Facebook you have used a Trump talking point here, and I agree. So much is about the use and misuse of language. I join our colleague, Rev. Lois Van Leer, when she says in her response to you “I beg you to rethink your use of the ‘lynching’ metaphor.'” I urge you to rethink this also.

    Similarly, I direct this to Rev. Lois Van Leer: I beg you to rethink your use of the Holocaust comparison, e.g. “Does anyone else see the parallels in Gadflyism to the revisionist history of those who proclaim the Holocaust to be fiction?” Mel Pine, a pillar “Gadflyist,” responded to you by speaking about loved ones in his immediate family who were murdered by the Nazis. I hope your lack of response and apology is simply an indication that you are busy, and you will get back to him on this. I don’t appreciate being likened to a Holocaust denier either, but that is a secondary matter.

    Using the suffering and deaths of Black people who have been lynched, using as an illustration the murder of Jews and other marginalized people in the Holocaust, and similar hyperbole to make our points here is distracting and justifiably triggering.

    Thanks for reading,
    Rev. Elaine
    UU Community Minister

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Good points! Though I’d ordinarily argue a bit about the word “lynch” since it describes an act that was hardly confined to black people even during the horrific heyday of the KKK, I’m willing to remove it to spare distraction. Besides, it’s hyperbolic in this context, even as a metaphor.

    Sadly, I can’t edit the post at the moment, because Mel’s in charge of that, and he’s gone off on a richly -deserved (and enviable) silent retreat for a week or so! But when he gets back, I’ll try to remember to ask him to fix it.

    Thank you, Rev. Elaine (and Rev. Lyn too)!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I take partial responsibility for the “lynching” because as the “editor” I didn’t flag it and ask Kate to reconsider. I use the scare quotes on “editor” because Kate is the finest writer I’ve ever worked with and needs little help.

      INO, the problem with the lynching metaphor is not because of its association to race or to Trump but simply because it’s extreme and tends to distract people from the point being made.

      More when I return. Today I drove by the charred remains of a couple of hills next to the Getty Center.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Side note— I do think it’s funny how the mere mention of Donald Trump is supposed to induce palpitations in all good progressives. Sometimes I wish everyone would remember that all Republican presidents from Nixon through Bush 2 was declared the new incarnation of Hitler, and I’ve still got a little can of novelty “Impeachmints” with a caricature of Dubyah on it. No wonder half of America no longer takes our moral outrage seriously?

    Did you know that Trump appointed our first openly gay ambassador, Richard Grennell? He’s representing the United States in Germany and, among other things, is spearheading the first U.S. diplomatic initiative (why the first? Ask Hillary) to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. []

    Since there are many countries in which homosexuality is illegal, and seven where it is punishable by death, this seems to me like a good and indeed long overdue bit of “social justice work.”

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Not to derail, but in case you’re interested:

    The campaign was at least partially launched because Iran recently hanged a man due to his homosexuality — an incident that Grenell, who is openly gay, slammed publicly in commentary for the German news outlet BILD.

    “Politicians, the U.N., democratic governments, diplomats, and good people everywhere should speak up – and loudly,” Grenell wrote. “Barbaric public executions are all too common in a country where consensual homosexual relationships are criminalized and punishable by flogging and death.”

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Note: I have wanted to chime in on the “Gadfly Papers” controversy for a while now because I am deeply disturbed by the direction of my church. The sarcasm came from a place of pain and anger. If my writing is inappropriate for this blog, I understand.


    In 1993, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, considering life and death. I had just left an abusive relationship and my therapist said, “Men made all the rules.” Of all the time I spent in her office, that is the only thing I remember.

    And she was right. My grandmothers were born in a time where women weren’t even allowed to vote. My mother had few opportunities to be anything but a wife and mother even though she graduated at the top of her high school class. In the historic election of 2018, only 23.4% of the House of Representatives are women. Our Judeo-Christian traditions are male-centered as well as our entertainment and sports industries. Economic leaders are mostly men. Even in Unitarian Universalism, Susan Frederick-Gray is the first woman to serve as president. There has been progress but not enough as illustrated by #MeToo movement. And I have spent a lifetime swimming in the “Male Supremacy Culture.”

    So…I am a member of a marginalized group. Which means everybody needs to listen (isn’t listen an ableist word?) without policing (isn’t this also a trigger?) my words.

    1. I am harmed when you imply I am uncomfortable with social change.
    2. I am harmed when you accuse me of wanting power.
    3. I am harmed when you belittle my voice by labeling me as fragile.
    4. I am harmed when you define how I feel when we disagree.
    5. I am harmed when my church treats me like my abusive ex-husband.

    Liked by 5 people

  19. #5…wow. Spot on, BF.

    I’ve been saying to friends and colleagues that the mistake we’ve been making is to think that the problem in the UU-Land is a “relationship problem.” Instead, it is like the abusive marriages I’ve seen.

    The victim, being a normal human being, believes that the conflict is a normal human conflict. “If he’s so angry, I must have done something…” she thinks. “I just didn’t know how strongly he felt about X” or “this is a misunderstanding, I just have to be clearer” or “he had such a terrible childhood, I should’ve been more sensitive…” or “maybe I did spend too much time chatting with his old college roommate…”

    She’s not crazy, or masochistic. Because she is not, herself, abusive she doesn’t recognize the pattern.

    Your church should definitely not be reminding you in any way of your abusive husband…but I can see why it would. And I’m really sorry.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. How dare a young woman speak with confidence? How dare she joke about cookies? How dare people laugh at the cookie joke? They are smug for laughing! We must be serious and apparently, we must lack confidence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The “cookie joke” is a cheap shot with a long, violent and racist history in the United States. Perhaaps Ms Skochko was unaware , but I hope in the future she’ll avoid that particular type of laugh line. We don’t need to be hurtful about the faith teachings of Catholics.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Dear Holly Harwood…that’s an interesting response. For any number of reasons (three daughters, former young woman myself, etc.) I tend to be a big fan of young women speaking with confidence, although I’d caution that confidence and arrogance are not the same thing. No, not even when young women are involved; one’s sex (or are we to say “gender identification?”) does not excuse one from the basic rules of civility and, more to the point, from the need to learn to preach to someone other than the choir. Which isn’t to say that Ms. Skochko isn’t (or won’t become) a wonderfully illuminating and persuasive preacher; other than this sermon, I am unfamiliar with her oeuvre. And besides, as you say, she’s a young woman and God isn’t done with any of us yet.

      Still, I’m alert to what is perhaps your implication that the self-confidence that I identify as arrogance is excusable in —specifically—young women?

      If so, this may be a(nother?) point of disagreement between us. That is, I’m one of those old-school feminists who doesn’t want to be judged by different criteria than that applied to men; if a man would be considered a real schmuck for saying X, I’d be a schmuck for saying it too.

      Perhaps preaching to the choir is not only what our new young ministers are being trained to do. Maybe it is all that we actually want them to do? There are Calvinists precedents for this. And there is such pleasure for the young preacher in getting those laughs and being reassured that one is among the Elect, secure in salvation at least compared to those we are laughing at. Whatever UU salvation consists of…which I still haven’t really gotten an answer to.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

        God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

        The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

        Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

        The man said, “I don’t understand.”

        Then God opened a third door. In that room people with long spoons were smacking people who had been complaining about being smacked with long spoons.

        “I still don’t get it,” said the man. “This is Unitarian Universalism as it’s practiced today,” said God. Then the man understood.

        Liked by 3 people

  21. Sarah Skochko posted a response to this critique of her sermon.

    My own feeling is that both sides in this debate are talking past each other. If the debate continues in this style, there is little hope of finding common ground.

    I would urge Ms. Skochko to consider, if she continues the debate, whether she would be willing to BEGIN by saying:

    “Here are 3 points made by Rev. Braestrup that I think are useful and thoughtful critiques of my sermon, and here’s why I think they are useful and what can be learned from them.” And then she could go on to say why she disagrees with other parts of the critique.

    And I think it would also help build common ground if Rev. Braestrup was willing to look at Sarah Skochko’s sermon and say:

    “Here are 3 points made by Sarah Skochko that I found to be useful and thoughtful comments, and here’s why they are useful and what can be learned from them.” And then go on to say why she disagrees with the sermon.

    As it is: we have a skilled writer in Rev. Braestrup, and a skilled debater and speaker in Sarah Skochko (maybe the reverse is true as well, on that I have no direct evidence), and at long as each side focuses on critiquing the weakest points of the other side, I doubt if we will succeed in finding much common ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just listened to Sarah Skochko’s reply to Rev. Braestrup. I agree that we ought not to use the lynching metaphor, even if there are non-racial connotations, such as in western movies. The over-riding concern ought to be for the feelings of those whose family members, relations, friends, and ancestors were murdered by racists who often chose lynching as means to kill that was public and especially terrorizing.
      The rest of her reply was, paraphrased: “Lots of people agree with me, so you’re wrong.”
      That’s not even three points. And “you’re wrong” is nothing that can be engaged. It is merely a denial of the other’s standing by reason of head count.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I realize this is going to sound like a version of Rev. Lois’ dreaded “numbers game,” but I am concerned by, among other things, the narrowing of parameters that the new regime strongly suggests we undertake in the name of a kind of ideological purity. If we become the Church of the Politically Correct (with the definition of PC changing quite dramatically from year to year) am I the only one concerned that most Americans really, really don’t like PC? According to the Atlantic Monthly, only 8% of Americans count themselves progressive activists. The vast majority of Americans (2/3) are a moderate, “exhausted majority,” most of whom dislike political correctness. 25% are traditional or devoted conservatives. 80% of Americans think that political correctness is a problem.

    Given our other natural handicaps —we’re a tiny crowd to begin with, we’re self-described recovering white supremacists and we don’t offer Jesus, redemption, forgiveness or grace, many people mistake us for Moonies even as the UCC and Episcopalians compete for market share among the dwindling numbers of not-quite-secular middle-to-upper-middle-class guilty white socialists—-doesn’t abandoning intellectual freedom as our sine qua non seem a bit…suicidal?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Jennifer O Connell Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s