By Rev. Richard Trudeau
I am writing this for lay members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. I believe there is a crisis in the national UU movement, and I believe that laypeople are in the best position to help resolve it. The rub is, very few laypeople are aware of the crisis…
I’m a UU minister. I first learned about the UU movement in 1960, as a teenager unhappy with my Catholic upbringing; I decided then that if I ever returned to church, it would be to a UU church. In the early 1980s, I started attending a UU congregation, which I then joined. I was granted UUA ministerial fellowship in 1994 and was ordained in 1995. I served two UU churches, 1992-2012. I am now semi-retired, preaching a total of about twenty times a year at a dozen or so UU churches in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The crisis I see is that a majority of our UU national leaders have become committed to a particular ideology that threatens two aspects of UUism: our commitment to social justice, and our values of reason and free expression.
These leaders — at the Unitarian Universalist Association, in our two seminaries, and in the UU Ministers’ Association — have become so committed and intransigent that I have started to think of the ideology that has captivated them as a mental virus with which they have become infected. By this analogy I do not mean to imply that they are mentally ill, of course, but only that they seem stuck in a rut (think Communism, 1917-1989). Victims of this mental virus can be recognized by their calls to “dismantle our white supremacy culture.”
I said this mental virus threatens the UU commitment to social justice. I was present at a ministers’ meeting ten years ago at which someone who had just ended a term on the UUA Board reported that there was then a consensus on the board that the UUA racial-justice strategy — at the time called “Journey Toward Wholeness,” and underway for thirteen years — had accomplished disappointingly little. What the UU leaders of today are doing is to double down on this same strategy.
While the name “Journey Toward Wholeness” has been retired, and the rallying-cry has changed from calling on whites to “confess our complicity in institutional racism” to calling on all to “dismantle our white supremacy culture,” the underlying strategy has not changed.
The racial-justice strategy our leaders are pursuing is a strategy that doesn’t work to make Black lives, or any other lives, better.
The reason I lean toward the analogy of a mental virus infecting the majority of our national leaders is that I have no doubt that they are well-intentioned, and for the most part capable, people, yet their behavior is to me incomprehensible. I can only understand it if I imagine them as victims. Just as a physical virus, like the one causing COVID-19, exploits laudable human traits to gain entrance to our bodies — like our human desire to be physically close to one another — the mental virus of which I speak seems to have gained entrance to our leaders’ minds by exploiting their laudable qualities of empathy and passion for social justice. But the result is that their judgment seems to me impaired; they are no longer thinking clearly.
I said that the mental virus also threatens the UU values of reason and free expression. This is clear from the treatment accorded over the last year to Rev. Todd Eklof of our Spokane, WA congregation. Rev. Eklof wrote a book, The Gadfly Papers, that expressed concern about the crisis in UUism to which I have been referring. Since the book’s appearance, the UU Ministers’ Association has publicly censured him and then expelled him; he has been fired by a UU seminary as a supervisor of ministerial interns; and he has been removed from UUA fellowship by the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee. These organizations have claimed procedural irregularities as the reasons for their actions, but upon close inspection I don’t find that any of their explanations hold water. And as a result of the example that has been made of this one minister, UU ministers across the land are intimidated.
I hate writing this essay. As a minister, my instinct is always to bring to the people in the pews a message that is positive. And what I have written today is hardly that.
What I have said today is that UUism is under attack by those sworn to uphold it. They are destroying the commitment to reason and free speech that attracted so many of us in the first place. And they are wasting our energy on an approach to racial justice that doesn’t work.
What can be done? You might think, “This should be brought up at General Assembly.” But General Assembly is not really democratic, according to the UUA Board’s Fifth Principle Task Force (2009), and the UUA has since become even less democratic because all UUA Board members are now elected at-large and do not represent local constituencies.
What can be done? All I can suggest is that lay UUs look into these matters for themselves and, if they agree with me that the situation is alarming, express their unhappiness loudly to their congregational leaders, to their Regional staff, and to the UUA itself.
UUs in the pews, please help!
Copyright 2020 © Richard Trudeau