This past year has been momentous in more ways than one!
We are enduring the worst presidential administration in our nation’s history. Our nation has floundered under scandalous and morally rudderless leadership causing concerns about the sanctity of our democracy. For that very reason, it’s important to remember our congregational role when things take a dangerous, unjust turn. UUCS’s early response to the unjust cruelties of the administration was to declare ourselves a sanctuary congregation—should the need arise. This was a courageous step in proclaiming our opposition to the dehumanizing and racist practices of our government. When a community of faith takes such a stand it commands attention and respect – there is strength in spiritual numbers.
During the 2019-2020 congregational year we welcomed new staff members who are working hard to serve us. We are especially interested in how the staff and minister can work in tandem with volunteers and best serve the needs of our congregation, and we have been designing new practices that will serve this need.
Then BOOM! The pandemic came. This created new challenges for all of us. Staff and volunteers have worked hard to keep our ship afloat and keep you engaged, and we’re learning some new technological tricks that should continue to serve us well once the pandemic storm abates. Still, even with the disruptions caused by the pandemic we continued our normal activities online and I am grateful to volunteers and staff who have given so much to make it all possible.
I will end this section of my report by simply affirming that UUCS is a strong and healthy congregation, made so by YOUR generous giving and participation. How grateful I am to serve as your minister!
Though lengthy, the section below discusses matter of great importance to all Unitarian Universalists.
Last June, my fourth and final term as a “Good Officer” for the UU Minister’s Association took me in a dramatic and unexpected direction. I found myself morally and spiritually compelled to rise to the defense of a good colleague, Rev. Todd Eklof, who was being roundly and unjustly condemned by many of my ministerial colleagues for a book he had written, The Gadfly Papers. Many of you know from your own reading of this text that there is absolutely nothing hateful or divisive in this book. It is shocking that he and the congregation he serves have been so ill treated by our clergy and our larger UU Association.
Indeed, there are quite a few Unitarian Universalists who agree with the arguments put forth in Rev. Eklof’s book (including quite a few UUCS members), which raises the question: Are not the clergy who condemned Rev. Eklof also condemning UUs who hold similar views? It would appear so. Then, too, there are yet more who don’t agree with the book’s arguments who nevertheless affirm Rev. Eklof’s right to freedom of conscience and expression. Indeed, this is an inalienable right in our spiritual tradition, which raises another question: Are my fellow clergy likewise condemning those who would allow for open dialogue and discussion? It would seem so.
The herd-like condemnation of this book by UU clergy is a truly disturbing development, and I dearly hope and pray that UU laity around the nation will awaken to the threat that is being posed to our free faith tradition by an alien and illiberal political dogma that is taking an axe to our spiritual roots, roots that have fed us and sustain us, which remind us of who we have been and who we are called to be. I can understand if this statement strikes you as hyperbolic yet it is not. In fact, the UUA has slowly been stripping congregations of their power and their voice over many years.
It should not be easy to be a Unitarian Universalist – it calls for a level of spiritual maturity that is challenging, and that is as it should be. Any religion that does not challenge your life and stretch your spirit is ill-serving you. In that regard, we should not mirror contemporary digital culture’s hasty judgments and the harsh pronouncements, as have my fellow clergy. Our Universalist tradition reminds us to always create pathways toward forgiveness, redemption and restoration, and our Unitarian tradition reminds us to use the gifts of our reason and intelligence as we openly engage in dialogue with those who hold differing or dissenting views. Both our traditions are grounded in the understanding that each one of us is called to be true to ourselves and also the common good. Independent mindedness is the building block for strong structures of interdependence. Lacking this, democracy easily devolves into mob rule. It comes down to this: If 100 people around you believe one thing and your heart and mind tell you something different, go with inner conviction. Writer and historian David French more aptly puts it this way: “If everyone around me is wrong, would I have the wisdom and courage to know and do what’s right?” Being a Unitarian Universalist means doing one’s best to answer that question in the affirmative.
Each of us is called to pause, honestly reflect, consider where our inner lights are leading us, think and feel for ourselves on matters of great import – ours is a democratic religious tradition. (The 5th Principle of UU states: “We covenant to affirm and promote use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”). Democracy without dissent is not democracy. Yet now freedom of conscience and expression is under attack from illiberal elements in society at large and in the leadership of our UU Association, and this has adversely affected public discourse. A recent poll showed that many Americans (about 40%) are afraid to freely express their views and those who are most afraid are the well-educated urban segments of the population. At times such as this, our free faith tradition, committed to democratic principles and practices, should be doing all we can to protect these freedoms, not help to destroy them.
We as Unitarian Universalists (and people of all people of all life affirming faith traditions) are called to do more than mirror the polarizing callousness and collective cruelty of contemporary digital culture. We are called to be kind and compassionate and reasonable and humble with one another and with all others as well. We are called to seek the ways of deeper understanding, not get swept along by the worst of contemporary culture’s practices. We should model a better way. Yet, the manner in which the Rev. Todd Eklof was judged, tried and condemned by our UU ministers and our larger UU association not only mirrored societal cruelty, it magnified it.
This serves as one more reminder that cruelties, great and small, have often been carried out in the name of religion. I anticipate that the day will come when these institutional acts of exclusion carried out by our ministers and our larger association will be seen for what they are – ugly stains upon the unfolding tapestry of our rich free faith spiritual tradition.
I was profoundly moved and heartened when quite a number of the members of UUCS independently studied Rev. Eklof’s book and the official response to it. You convened a congregational meeting to register your concerns about Rev. Eklof’s treatment by the UUA and the UUMA. I’m sorry to say that neither the UUA or the UUMA have responded to the letters that were sent on your behalf. I believe they owe you a response.
Please know that I will continue to speak out on this issue very publicly.
One final note: Although Rev. Todd Eklof has been officially removed from UU Ministerial Fellowship, our UU tradition of “congregational polity” allows the congregation Rev. Eklof serves in Spokane to ignore the dictates of these larger organizations, and thus his congregation continues to support his ministry.