I am arriving home from General Assembly (GA) with my heart full. I was (and remain) so glad that I am part of a faith that is calling us towards wholeness. I was lovingly and completely held, educated and grounded by the leaders and members of DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries) and BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism). I felt connected to UUism more completely than ever before. I reveled at our statements of conscience (more on that later) and wanted to share the healing I felt (from both GA worship and DRUUMM members) with the wider UUCC community.
The Welcome in the GA Booklet invited us thus:
Here, in Spokane, we are joining together under the theme “The Power / Possibility / Struggle / Joy of We.” The Board, Administration, General Assembly Planning Committee, and the Commission on Institutional Change have collaboratively created an experiment in engaging in deeper discernment about the future of our faith. We look forward to gathering, learning, singing, witnessing, and worshiping together. We hope these many lessons will be brought home to change and heal ourselves, our covenanted communities, our association, and our broken world. A special welcome to those who are attending General Assembly for the first time. We hope that your experience is joyful, challenging, life-affirming, and exhilarating. Together WE are the UUA, together WE are our living tradition, and together WE are Unitarian Universalism. Hoping WE move forward with joy and love, Debra Gray Boyd and Ila J. Klion Co-Chairs, UUA General Assembly Planning Committee
Underneath the welcome were the following practices for fostering multicultural dialogue and community:
During General Assembly, we gather to build relationships, which requires a commitment to remaining present to issues of power when feeling challenged. A Covenant alone can never be perfect nor lead to perfect behavior; community requires practice. This week you are invited to take these practices to heart and to speak from your truth while acknowledging your privilege.
- Honor multiple truths – Your viewpoint, opinions, and actions have intent and impact. In cross-cultural interactions, your INTENT may be to speak from your truth and not cause harm. However, if you are not also invested in the other person’s truth then they can experience the IMPACT as harmful. This is particularly true when people with white privilege see their opinion as the universal experience. Which leads to…
- Consider your social location – Each of us holds multiple identities with respect to race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, age, and more. Depending on where we are and who we are with, sometimes we are in a position of power and privilege, sometimes we are disempowered or marginalized, and often there’s a mix. Recognize your power and notice the power dynamics around you. Practice using your privilege to create more space for those on the margins.
- Practice care toward yourself and those you engage with – With thousands of UUs gathered, the one universal truth is: You are going to have difficult conversations this week! Practice care. If you’re in a position of privilege, practice letting go of assumptions, taking your cue from the other person/s, sitting with your discomfort, and/or pausing to consider how to process the conversation. If you have one or more marginalized identities, you may want to assess how much spiritual energy you have to give to the conversation, end a conversation by asking the other person to check in with an accountability partner, and/or seek out care for yourself. Either way, consider finding your people for accountability and/or support (find the Right Relationship Team if you need help). © 2019 Christina Rivera and Alex Kapitan
So, you can imagine how sad I was to come home and see that the beauty and love above was missing, but the work of a saboteur was given center stage and discussed / debated widely on social media. I know that some of you have heard of the book by a Reverend from the local Spokane, WA, UU congregation.
To be clear: I knew about the controversy when it happened as I was with DRUUMM leaders shortly after it was discovered – But I was not directly involved. I heard about it second hand.
The following is what I learned from a person with firsthand knowledge of the situation:
I was there. This guy is a pastor and attached to the local Spokane church.
The local church had a table as is custom for the host community.
He brought this box of self-published books to the table for distribution.
Trusting their pastor / a person who had ministerial authority, they gave them out not knowing the content.
THE CONTENT WAS BULLSHIT.
The books were collected; folks were super pissed/ hurt and so done with the content. DRUUMM, UUMA (Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association), UUMA POCI (UU Ministers Association People Of Color and Indigenous) and Allies for Racial Equity (ARE) have all written letters denouncing the book and calling for this pastor to be held accountable via UU channels.
This is one version of the interaction, other perspectives and tellings are also valid and real.
I can validate that this firsthand account matches the one I heard during GA. I can tell you that it was very hurtful to those with marginalized identities that read it. Therefore, I am asking that we not seek copies of the book. I ask that we focus on where we are going and that we not center this person who used his privilege to try and disrupt the actions and forward motion that the UU community is trying to achieve.
I believe our best response is to focus on where we’re going. We at UUCC really need to focus on the Power of We. I am hoping to create even more opportunities for us to build a sense of community and to generate conversations so that we share a language and understanding of what is going on within UUA, within social justice movements (including Black Lives Matter) so that we can create an open relational community where POCI can come and be at home, at rest because our lived experiences and voices are heard – not over the din of protest – but listened to with belief, honor and respect.
Carla Gates, UUCC President-elect
Thanks for the report, Carla. We look forward to your leadership in the coming year.
Carla, I’m glad that your experiences were so meaningful to you. I”m not able to be as involved at UUCC as I’ve been in the past, so getting updates on your activities helps keep me connected.
I Googled the author of the book, the Gadfly Papers, and found out the following.
Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof was ordained and installed as the minister of Clifton Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY in 1999. He served there until 2011, when he accepted a call to ministry from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane Washington. That same year he received the degree of Doctor of Ministry from the Meadville Lombard Theological School.
In 2005, Rev. Eklof was fired from his job at the Kentucky Farm Bureau for speaking publicly against a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. (He was a part-time UU minister at the time.) He sued and received a settlement. From 2004 to 2012, Rev. Eklof, in protest of Kentucky’s ban on same sex marriage, declined to perform marriages until same sex couples could wed.
I have read Rev. Eklof’s treatise and, in my opinion, it thoughtfully explores his belief that Unitarianism Universalism is repudiating its humanistic tradition by suppressing free thought in favor of an enforced conformity to identity politics, and has become overly devoted to political correctness. While the report discourages the reading of the book, I encourage you to read it and make your own decision about it.
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