I believe at the heart of Unitarian Universalism is the call to accept one another, and to affirm this acceptance by love-in-action.
As a manifestation of this love-in-action, some among us strive to create a more just world through social activism. Among the focuses of such social activism is the desire to heal racial and class concerns. Yet, the path some have taken toward this end has been a divisive one that has caused a burgeoning divide in our faith tradition, a divide that has reached full-blown crisis.
In 1999, beloved UU scholar, Rev. Dr. Thandeka addressed this issue in Salt Lake City, Utah during the General Assembly (GA) with a public lecture, Why Anti-Racism Will Fail. She spoke out against the path the UUA was taking in regards to their anti-racism program, and she directed them and all gathered at GA away from their current path as she assured them it was destined to fail. She implored them to consider a better path; a path that would yield the results we all hoped for. A path that would affirm the foundation of our living faith tradition as one of Love.
Unfortunately, her words were not heeded and the prophetic predictions she made have indeed come to pass.
Now twenty years later, another UU minister, Rev. Todd Eklof, has spoken up against the current anti-racism path the UUA has been endorsing. At the UUA GA in Spokane, Washington he released and distributed his book, The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister. The reception of his controversial book was met with excitement, enthusiasm, and the request by many for the issues he outlined in his book to become part of a larger and more transparent conversation within our denomination. Such responses were countered by others with equal fervor of anger, outrage and the casting of many disparaging proclamations about his character and his work, and hostility directed towards anyone who spoke up in support of Rev. Eklof, in support of his book, or in support of wanting to discuss the issues therein.
As a result of opposition to the book, Rev. Eklof was informed he could not attend the remaining days of General Assembly. Quickly after which, a faction 300 of his UUMA (Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association) colleagues were signatories of a public denunciation letter. This number grew to approximately 500 signatories.
It is worth noting that at least 27 comments responding to this online letter were deleted. Many of the comments were in support of The Gadfly Papers book and of Rev. Eklof’s right to distribute it. Such responses to the letter included a comment from a self-identified black minister, Rev. Dr. Finley Campbell of the UU Multiracial Unity Action Council, who said in part, “The response to Rev. Todd F. Eklof’s position by the white ministers who signed this attack on them reflects the on-going attempt to stifle dissent to the disastrous leadership of those presently controlling our so-called anti-oppression/anti-racism work, a work which creates oppression and increases racism.” Some expressed sadness and frustration towards the ministers who signed, feeling it was close-minded of them and stating they need to re-evaluate the direction they would take our beloved community.
To onlookers, this condemnation action select UU clergy took against a fellowshipped UU minister appears in no small way to place them out of covenant with Rev. Eklof, and out of covenant with their minister’s association membership of more than 2,000 clergy. Yet, to date, while UU individuals and groups have spoken up on all sides, both the UUMA and the UUA have remained silent about this possible infringement, and silent about the issues Rev. Eklof, and Thandeka before him, have placed in the spotlight.
While their silence echoes cavernously amid a people in crisis, UU voices are rising up in congregations and online. Many social media groups grappled with the incident and its immediate aftermath. Mean-spirited comments were directed at anyone with divergent opinions, resulting in arguments not befitting an organization whose members claim to be covenanted in the spirit of love.
In an attempt to overcome such unpleasant discourse, a UU Facebook group emerged as The Gadfly Papers UU Book Conversation Group. The primary guideline of this group was that members were to agree to disagree respectfully. While initially the defensive volatility of the group’s members was evident as bickering reined free, in a short amount of time this group began demonstrating patience and compassion for each other. And while frustrations among members still crop up, over-all they have settled into discuss the book, and the issues it brought to the fore of our UU landscape. Among such topics of discussion were comparisons between Rev. Eklof’s and Thandeka’s reflections on the topics of anti-racism and diversity.
Though their styles, tone and focus are different (Eklof an advocate for the return of a common humanity in Unitarian Universalism, with logic, reason and freedom of conscience as primary fulcrums; and, Thandeka a proponent for the return of compassion, timed with the release of the inculcated doctrine of original sin that has become pervasive in Unitarian Universalism), it seems their similar premise for uniting our divided faith tradition is to reclaim Love as the covenant that binds us, and to affirm our identity as a non-creedal liberal religion where Unitarian Universalists accept one another’s right to determine their spiritual truths.
My hope is that we (the larger UU community) can begin modeling the kinds of conversations, actions and programs that will bring us back to a unified faith tradition. To this end, Thandeka has just released a new autobiographical blog series: Cerberus. In addition to providing emotional and fascinating portrayals of her personal life experiences, Cerberus offers the impeccable insights of this true UU prophet. Her insights and suggestions come to us at an essential moment in our Unitarian Universalist living history. For congregations and individuals who are seeking to move beyond divisive strategies and adopt a path of healing and love, this blog series – and Thandeka’s Love Beyond Belief™ program she describes therein – are essential!
Thandeka offers an approach to transform our faith that affirms the root of the current racial conflicts, directs towards viable resolutions that embody authentic welcoming in our communities, and guides us to reclaim the source of our religious convictions. Drawing on “insights from psychology, neuroscience, and contemporary affect theology,” Thandeka offers “a specific protocol called Love Beyond Belief Groups as a rack-focus spiritual strategy. The heart of Love Beyond Belief Groups is insight, reflection, and action guided by compassion” (Cerberus PDF) A perfect compliment to the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition: acceptance and love.
I share this blog post optimistically with the request that each of you reading this explore Thandeka’s Cerberus blog and consider establishing Love Beyond Belief Groups. What we have been doing to date has not worked. Let’s try something different. Let’s try this!
For more information, visit:
Written by: Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning
Also…. for more reading… this post offers a glimpse about my spiritual journey into Unitarian Universalism.