Intolerance and Illiberalism in Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism (UU) has long been one of the most liberal and tolerant churches. It is pluralistic, non-creed and has believed in individual paths and personal theological choices, freedom of expression and democratic processes. Unlike top-down religions such as Catholicism, congregations are independent and self-determining. 

University of Chicago evolutionary biologist and religion critic Jerry Coyne wrote, “Of all existing religions that claim to be religions, Unitarian Universalism (UU) seems to be the least dogmatic and therefore the least harmful—and perhaps the most liberal and tolerant.” (Coyne 2019)

However, following illiberal trends in other institutions, the national UU leadership has been taken over by zealous self-proclaimed radicals who are trying to transform UU into an illiberal, top-town church. (Sickafoose 2010) (Pine 2017)

The worst excesses of “woke culture” you can think of are now found in the national UU: Dogmatism, religious-like fanaticism and self-righteousness, racial essentialism and neo-racism, censorship, call out and cancel culture, victimhood culture and caste systems, ideological language and language policing, expectations of ideological and political conformity, authoritarianism, punishment and even expulsion of perceived heretics. 

Columbia University professor John McWhorter’s 2021 New York Times bestseller Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America cites the current national UU as an exemplar of the new intolerance that can be found within the far left. Elsewhere, McWhorter writes, “Unitarianism has been all but taken over in many places by modern antiracist theology, forcing the resignation of various ministers and other figures. The new faith also manifests itself in objections to what its adherents process as dissent.” (McWhorter 2020)

In his resignation from UU sermon, lifelong UU Chris Brimmer said, “The Church writ large has become a labyrinth of language traps, purity tests, and half-baked ideas that have become sacred cows that are above critical examination. I cannot be the member of a church that is now just like any other church, with dogma above questioning and a hierarchy that conducts heresy trials.” (Brimmer 2022)

UU Minister Rev. Munro Sickafoose wrote, “It’s about what I see as the merging of an extreme political ideology into Unitarian Universalism, and its transformation into a reactionary religious movement that exhibits all the hallmarks of fundamentalism.” (Sickafoose 2019)

The following are some examples of what is going on

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Unilaterally declaring UU to be a “white supremacy culture” that must be dismantled

In what a UU minister called a “coup” by “reactionaries,” radicals took over the UUA board, and unilaterally declared one of the most historically progressive churches irredeemably racist and a “white supremacy culture” that must be dismantled. The UUA adopted Tema Okun’s dubious race theory and promotes the Robin DiAngelo neo-racist and racial essentialist ideology that all whites are inherently and eternally racists and oppressors and all racial minorities inherently oppressed. (Sickafoose 2019) (Pine 2019) (Hewitt and de la Fuente 2021) (UUA 2017) (UUA 2021)(Bejan 2020)(Yglesias 2021)(McWhorter 2021)

The new Original Sin of having been born morally corrupt due to the color of one’s skin defies UU’s rejection of original sin and upends the church’s first principles of “the worth and dignity of every person.” UU is full of ex-Catholics who rejected such “guilt and shame” upbringing.

Echoing many UUs, congregant Nancy Haldeman wrote her Oregon congregation’s board, “I consider myself a liberal, a moderate Democrat, and someone seeking racial equality throughout my life. I was in shock when I heard all of us, white congregants, referred to as white supremacists and racists from the pulpit! I have been attending the congregation for over 27 years and have never heard anything so outrageous in my life! I attend church to be uplifted and inspired. I do not intend to be labeled in a negative way.”

Unitarian Universalists for Just Economic Communities (UUJEC) inequality expert Dick Burkhart wrote in a letter to the UUA President, “I am not aware of even a single documented example of a current UU practice grounded in a belief in white racial superiority. Instead, we have a multitude of evidence-free accusations of ‘white supremacy culture’, justified only by Orwellian redefinitions that are so murky that literally any artifact of European culture could be so labeled (even ‘2+2=4’, believe it or not).”

Of equal concern are all the UUs so willing to self-flagellate and prostrate before what a UU minister described as a “sin-and-salvation approach to social justice.” A UU said, “We’re all going to change our way of thinking.” That struck me as something you would hear from a member of a cult. (Holt 2021) (McWhorter 2020)

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Declaring a dogma

In a church that advertises itself as having no creed, the UUA unilaterally declared an extreme version of critical race theory as a “theological mandate” for all congregations and UUs. Theological mandate is simply another term for dogma and creed. (UUA 2020) 

It promotes and attempts to enforce extreme identity politics and CRT ideas such as that reason, logic, meritocracy, freedom of expression and science are oppressive of minorities. People are to be viewed and weighed primarily by the color of their skin and other immutable characteristics. The subjective views of minorities are to be taken as unquestionable truth-telling. Any disparity in outcome is classified as necessarily due to racism. Any disagreement or dissent from whites is deemed “racist,” “fragility.” “upholding of white supremacy” and “harm.” (UUA 2018) (Hewitt & de la Fuente 2021) (UUA 2021) (UUA 2017) (UUA 2020)

One dissenting congregant wrote, “What drew me to UU is the freedom of thought, the sharing of ideas, the being free to differ and debate while holding each other with respect. What drew me to UU is that it eschews dogma, or at least it used to. I fear that is no longer true. If the only way we, as UUs, are allowed to think about and deal with racism and, by extension, anything else we are concerned with is by following the edicts of CRT, how is that not dogma?”

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Attempting to remove liberalism from liberal religion

Following CRT, the UUA and UU leaders, have pushed against liberalism and religious liberalism. It has promoted that individualism and “allergy to authority” are the “errors of UUs.” Two UUA leaders stated that the central UU tenet of freedom of belief is a “throwback.” Jim Aikin writes, “Our national organization, the UUA, has been taken over by a group who are not committed in any way to individual liberty. They feel it’s old-fashioned.” (Muir 2013) (VUU 2018) (5th Principle Project 2022) (Aikin 2022)

Removing liberalism and freedom of belief is like removing Jesus from Christianity.

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Control of information and censorship

The national UU has worked to tightly control information and censor. Under the direction of the UUA, UU World magazine removed letters to the editor and has stated it will only publish views that support the new orthodoxy.(Walton 2019) (Wells 2019) (5th Principle Project 2020)

 One longtime minister called UU World “an ideological propaganda organ,” and another called it “Pravda.” Former UU World columnist Jeffrey A. Lockwood wrote, “The current direction of the UUA is divisive, accusatory, destructive, and contrary to UU principles. Censorship is fundamentally inimical to our religious traditions and values.”

UU national leaders and ministers under the new orthodoxy have told other ministers and congregants not to read books of which it does not approve, and ministers themselves have said they refuse to read certain books. Dissenting views have been censored and dissenters removed from public forums at the General Assembly. A racial justice group that promotes a Martin Luther King Jr/John Lewis-style of social justice that works to unite all races in social justice work was banned from exhibiting at GA because it does not adhere to the UUA’s strict CRT-DiAngelo dogma. A dissenting group promoting democracy was not allowed to promote its book at GA. (Trudeau 2019) (Pine 2019) (Aikin 2019) (Cain 2019) (Aikin 2021) (UUMUAC 2022)

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Suppressing the diversity of views, punishing and even expelling dissenters

As UUA sees its views as unilateral and dogma, dissent and countering views are not only unallowed but shut down and punished. Dissent and the expression of other perspectives from both laity and ministers are often met with public attacks and being “racist,” “fragile” and “upholder of white supremacy.” These and other ad hominem attacks are meant to intimidate and stop debate.  

Rev. Cynthia Cain writes, “UUs everywhere, but particularly clergy and particularly on social media, are afraid to speak their truth. Their fear is due to their perception that not only will they be shamed, shouted down, and piled upon metaphorically, but that they may actually lose their standing with our association and consequently their livelihoods. This I know for certain.” (Cain 2019)

Rev. Rick Davis wrote: “It’s a frightening time for many today who feel as though the slightest, innocent slip can result in loss of livelihood and reputation.” (Davis 2020)

Following the new UUA orthodoxy, many newly ordained ministers have worked to stifle dissent in congregations. They often platform only the UUA-approved agenda, and censor, punish and even expel dissenting congregants. Congregants have been publicly called out for questioning the orthodoxy and even recommending the reading of unapproved books. A few ministers have promoted that dissenting congregants should be “re-educated” or asked to leave. One key UU leader said that older liberal congregants should change their way of thinking or leave UU. (VUU 2020). 

Wrote one congregant: “Many congregations are more afraid of becoming split apart than they are afraid of falling under the distortions formulated by the current UUA Junta. This fear drives many church leaders towards silencing outspoken voices. I have already been seriously, and formally, threatened.” 

In an open letter, longtime ministers quit the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUA) in part expressing their “alarm at the growing dogmatism and intolerance in our UUMA . . . Despite (for many of us) long years of cherished ministerial collegiality, the UUMA has become for us an inhospitable place and an embarrassment. As it has been made clear that genuine dialog on the new orthodoxy will not be tolerated in our ministerial association, we cannot in good faith continue our association with it.” (Disaffected Colleagues 2020)

Longtime UU minister Rev. Alex Holt wrote in an open resignation letter to the UUMA: “Does the UUMA even care about those who have raised their voices critiquing what feels like a sin-and-salvation approach to justice? I don’t know the answers, but I do know that I cannot in good conscience be part of an organization that speaks of accountability and covenant on one hand but punishes those who disagree on the other.” (Holt 2021)

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Suppressing and censoring minorities’ views

Despite its sloganeering, the new UUA political paradigm is not about centering the voices of minorities but those who share a particular narrow ideology. Like-minded whites Tema Okun, Susan Frederick-Gray, and Robin DiAngelo are exalted, while heterodox racial minorities such as McWhorter, Irshad Manji, and Bari Weiss are dismissed.  The hypocrisy is clear.

This all is why the UUA’s and UU World’s rhetoric about “Centering the voices of minority groups” is disingenuous and false. It is about centering those who agree with a particular narrow ideological and political paradigm. It is bigoted, ignorant, and condescending to minorities to say that minorities think only one way or that only one perspective is the “authentic” minority voice. (Journal of Free Black Thought 2021) (Loury 2021)

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Censuring a minister for asking questions and for dialogue

Rev. Richard Trudeau is a UU minister emeritus, retired professor and author of books on liberal religion and UU history. In a Unitarian Universalists Ministers Association (UUMA) Colleagues forum, he asked questions about UU trends, including the UUA’s use of a non-standard definition of racism that had caused communication problems within UUs. He also said that many UUs seemed to be motivated by a sense of “white guilt.” He asked if there could be a space for ministers to discuss these and other topics. (Trudeau 2019) (Trudeau 2022) 

These are perfectly reasonable discussion topics posed not only by laity but by the black intellectuals McWhorter, Shelby Steele and Coleman Hughes. (Steele 2006) (McWhorter 2021) 

For asking these questions and for a space for ministers to discuss them, Trudeau was expelled from the forum and given a letter of censure copied to all UU ministers saying he had caused “harm,” even though no one individual had expressed to him that he had caused them harm.

Trudeau wrote the UUMA that the censure “undercuts a foundational Unitarian Universalist value, viz.: each person’s right to ask questions,” “civil society’s freedom of speech” and UU’s own principles. The UUMA never responded.

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Excommunicating a minister for writing a book

Rev. Dr. Todd Ekloff is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane Washington. A supporter of liberal religion and freedom of expression, he wrote a short 2019 book titled The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister. It is described as “a collection of three essays written by Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof about the negative impacts the emerging culture of Political Correctness, Safetyism, and Identitarianism is having on America’s most liberal religion.”  

Eklof’s books were banned at General Assembly, the annual national convention. He was publicly censured and expelled from the UUA. In the new style, he was publicly smeared, with the book called ‘harmful” and given the usual ad hominem string of insults including “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “ableist,” “transphobic,’ etc. This is even though most readers who have read the book are mystified about what is harmful in it, and Eklof is a longtime progressive social justice and gay and lesbian rights activist. (Wells 2019) (Kentucky Insider 2007) (Fortune 2005)

UU author and editor Jim Aikin wrote, “The book was attacked as being ‘ableist’ and ‘transphobic,’ among other terms, even though there wasn’t a word in it that could possibly be interpreted in those terms,” and “It’s clear that most of them hadn’t read the book before they attacked it.” (Aikin 2022)

A longtime minister wrote to other ministers, “(T)his is about the authoritarian turn the UUA has taken and its immediate move to destroy the reputations and careers of anyone they disagree with, usually by claiming or insinuating they are racists.”

Immediately after the book was first distributed at General Assembly, over 300 white ministers signed a public letter condemning the book and the minister even though most of the ministers had not read it. A top UUA official wrote for other ministers to add their signatures to the letter and told them not to read the book. The ministers’ public criticisms of a fellow minister broke their own ethical rules, for which they were never punished. 

Rev. Richard Trudeau said “These ministers, over 300 of them, signed this letter within 24 hours. The book distribution had only begun 24 hours previously, so almost certainly the vast majority of these ministers hadn’t even read the book. They condemn a book they had not even read. This seems so otherworldly that UU ministers could do that.” (Trudeau 2022)

Book banning and punishing a minister for dissent is shocking to most UU laity and many ministers as those are the antithesis of liberal religion and UU tradition. (Wells 2019)

When the UUMA posted its censure of Eklof, the following were replies by ministers: (UUMA 2019):

“In 1553, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake for writing and speaking his heretical ideas. I guess we do it differently today.” 

“This is a shameful document that will be remembered as a low point in our history! Orthodoxy by fiat is not the UU way. This censure does not represent me and many other ministers – and I believe the signers are in violation of UUMA covenants in ways far more egregious than anything Rev. Eklof did.” 

“I’ve not been a member for years, but the UUMA is now good and dead to me. The signatories can (to put it nicely) get lost. I’m embarrassed for them; they should be ashamed of themselves.” (Wells 2019)

In his essay, Dogmatism and Fanaticism in UU, Rev. Mark Gallager wrote, “About 10% of the signers are ministerial candidates or aspirants, and many more are new in ministry. I believe that in this process we are teaching our junior colleagues to join in condemning one another casually and unreflectively, the very definition of fanaticism.” (Gallagher 2019) 

National leaders have disingenuously tried to paint it that he wasn’t punished and expelled because of his dissent or book writing, but because he didn’t follow proper technical procedures.  However, clear-eyed UUs know exactly why he was censured and expelled.

Trudeau wrote, “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.”

Chris Brimmer said, “Then came the defrocking. I’m not going to play word games on this not being a defrocking, that it was a loss of professional certification, or a withdrawal of professional credentials, blah, blah, blah. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. He was asked to put his head in the guillotine of a theological drumhead tribunal and when he refused they shot him. Nothing speaks to me more of the fundamental dishonesty of the whole process then when the Good Officer acting on Rev. Eklof’s behalf, Rev. Rick Davis, has found himself the subject of professional discipline when he defended Elkof instead of shepherding him into the public admission of heresy that they were looking for and would justify their actions.” (Brimmer 2021) 

As mentioned by Brimmer, Rev. Rick Davis, who was Eklof’s Good Officer, was removed from the Good Officer program for advocating for Eklof. A Good Officer’s job is to act as a proverbial public defender for the ministers they represent. Davis afterward called the whole profess a “kangaroo court,” “a setup to provide a predetermined outcome” and the new UUMA’s discipline procedures “truly Kafka-esque.”  (Davis 2020)

The answer is to read the book and judge for yourself. You likely will be one of the many who, while they may or may not agree with all of the author’s points, cannot find a single line that is offensive.

Russian dissident poet Joseph Brodsky said, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” 

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Dogmatic seminaries producing dogmatic ministers

The two UU seminaries have become dogmatic, teaching seminary students what to think rather than how to think. A minister who graduated from one of the seminaries said that “CRT is now pounded into the students.” 

A longtime UU minister wrote, “I think the biggest danger to local congregations is the takeover of seminaries and the credentialing of clergy. Newly minted clergy are overwhelmingly indoctrinated and, if they aren’t, they will have a hard time being accepted as UU clergy.”

Having experienced learned, broad-minded UU and interfaith ministers in the past, I have been shocked at how closed-minded and even bigoted are many new ministers. There are many approaches to social and racial justice work, but they have been taught there is only acceptable one.   

Rev. Trudeau says that many ministers do not think it is their job to serve the congregations that pay them, and that they are really working for the UUA. He said “They feel it’s their job to push the UUA’s point of view on every congregation they serve. And there are lots of ministers who don’t agree with what the UUA is pushing but they don’t want to get in trouble with the UUA. There’s a lot of problems of integrity. A lot of ministers have a problem with integrity.” (Trudeau 2022)

In his paper “How the UUA Manufactures Consent,” UU Minister Rev. Gary Kowalski wrote, “The UUA Board appoints over two-thirds of the members of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee.  Seminarians and smart young clergy in preliminary fellowship know they must pass a litmus test to receive their punch card to practice ministry.  Consciously or unconsciously, they understand they must not rock the boat”, and “By weeding out outliers, the Board grooms the next generation of trusted functionaries to serve on its endless committees and run the bureaucracy.” (Kowalski 2020)

Following the new UUA orthodoxy, many newly ordained ministers have worked to stifle dissent in congregations. They often platform only the UUA-approved agenda, and censor, punish and even expel dissenting congregants. Congregants have been publicly called out for questioning the orthodoxy and even recommending the reading of unapproved books. A few ministers have promoted that dissenting congregants should be “re-educated” or asked to leave. (VUU 2020). 

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Undermining democracy

In its very principles, Unitarian Universalism is premised on the right of conscience and democracy.  The UUA has had well-publicized ‘UU the Vote’ campaigns to promote getting out the vote in the national elections across the country. However, the UUA hypocritically works to dismantle the pillars of democracy and create an anti-democracy culture and theology within UU. (UUA 2019)(Beyer 2019)

The UUA Board of Trustees commissioned 2009 Fifth Principle Task Force Report to the UUA said that General Assembly is “dramatically broken” and “The future of our UU movement can ill-afford to continue the ways of faux democracy and unaccountable representation that have characterized associational governance, including the content and process of the General Assembly.” (Fifth Principle Task Report 2009)

These problems have been acknowledged by the UUA and the Commission on Institutional Change (COIC). Yet, the UUA Board of Trustees and President are elected by only 1.6 percent of the UU members. The loss of representational districts gutted UU’s representational democracy, and the report says it is “questionable how well the delegate body represents and is accountable to member congregations.” (Fifth Principle Task Report 2009) (UUA 2020) 

However, beyond these acknowledged problems, the national UU leadership does more fundamental things to undermine and dismantle the very culture and practice of democracy. These include censorship and control of information, suppression of dissent and expulsion of heterodox thinkers, and trying to stifle freedom of speech and open debate.

Wrote one longtime UU, “This is a serious problem. There are thousands of UUs who have no idea that there is a controversy. Of course, the main way that UUs are contacted is through institutional communications. These channels are completely unwilling to host discussions of the problems.”

Another person wrote: “If you don’t think a certain way and conform in belief and speech, you must be ostracized and shut down. It is nascent authoritarianism and a symptom of social and political infection. It is as much a threat to democracy as rightwing extremism.”

Rev. Kowalski details how power was consolidated in the Board of Trustees, making the UUA centrally controlled by a small, insular group and making it practically impossible for an outsider to win an election. Kowalski writes, “The switch to policy governance ended by making our Association less democratic, less diverse and more centrally controlled,” “General Assembly is largely a spectacle where delegates wave their yellow ballots on cue,” and “When given unchecked authority, automatic ascent to electoral victory, and the power to judge, punish, and control the livelihoods of others who stand in their way, while cloaking themselves in a mantle of moral purity, even the best human beings succumb to their worst instincts.” Since his paper, the BOT has instituted rules to make it even more difficult for an outsider to run for President. (Kowalski 2020) (Gadfly Pages 2022) (Mattis 2022)

Miles Fidelman, a longtime UU, professional policy analyst and systems architect, said, “Nothing new here, for any student of history and organizational dynamics. Pretty standard practice for any cabal. What’s worse, is they generally think they’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons. Also, not at all surprising is how easily folks go along with it. Google ‘useful idiots.'”

The UUA has become a textbook example of illiberal democracy, employing standard anti-democratic methods associated with countries such as Russia, Belarus and Hungary.

This also points to a dishonesty in the UUA and national leadership. Any organization that proclaims “We support democracy” while simultaneously undermining it, or says “We are a non-creed religion” while trying to impose one, is fundamentally dishonest.

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Becoming a mirror-image of politicized Evangelical Christian churches

A UU recently posted the 2022 Atlantic magazine article How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church. The article describes how many Evangelical Christian congregations became overtly Pro-Trump with the Preachers preaching Far Right politics and political conspiracy theories from the pulpit. The UU poster said how much it reminded him of the current national UU.  

Social activism has always been part of UU. However, the national UU has transformed into what often resembles an extremist leftist Political Action Committee. I counted more than half the articles on UU World’s web homepage as being overtly political, and a visitor to the UUA’s Facebook page might not guess it’s the page of a religion. The extremist positions (abolish the police and prisons, extreme social theories, praising riots) are presented as papal bulls with the implication that UUs who disagree are “racist,” and “upholders of white supremacy. The UUA’s UU the Vote campaigns come across as a PAC to get Democrats elected. 

Beyond that most UUs are liberals not radicals and many UUs attend a congregation for spirituality and Sunday service as an oasis from Twitter, Facebook and cable news shows, the insertion of radical politics as orthodoxy into any community is certain to cause division and strife.

A man looking for a liberal church and spiritual community wrote, “I left when I came to realize that it is little more than a left-wing political advocacy group masquerading as a religion.”

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Victimhood culture and infantilizing of UUs

UU leaders, the seminaries and many ministers have adopted a victimhood culture and identity politics caste system described in the essay How to Make Universities Mediocre.  Using the most extreme neo-racist and racially essentialist interpretations of CRT, they began “centering” and “decentering” and even segregating congregants based on race. Audiences and groups at the annual General Assembly are now racially segregated. It has tried to make UU congregations into childlike “safe spaces” where people should be protected from “different ideas” and language, including from fellow UUs. (UUA NER 2019) (VUU 2018 ) (McCardle 2019) (Harper 2021)

One example that has stood out to me is the national UU’s scrubbing UU language of supposedly “harmful” words. It has moved to remove “ableist” language such as the words see, hear, walk and stand. It changed its slogan from “Standing on the Side of Love” to “Siding with Love” because the word stand is “ableist” and harmful to people with disabilities.

Not only do I have mental disorders, but my research is in neurodiversity and people with mental disorders, and I am in the Disabilities Division of the American Philosophical Association. I know that this removal of  “ableist” language is counter to the views of most people with disabilities.

The majority of disabled people find not only condescending but offensive the UUA’s type of “de-ableizing” of language. A permanently in a wheelchair quadriplegic UU friend said that removing “stand” from “Standing on the Side of Love” was the most idiotic thing he’d ever heard of, and he will continue to say “stand.” One of my state’s leading disability law experts who is confined to a wheelchair said he says with a smile, “I’m going out for a walk.” He said this sanitation of language is done by people who mean well but who do not understand what most people with disabilities think and want.

Most people with disabilities not only understand but appreciate and use metaphors. Despite what the UUA promotes these days, being disabled doesn’t mean being stupid or wanting to be considered as children.

As is standard procedure these days, the UUA has adopted a policy based on a fringe, hypersensitive element within a minority population. Extremists are proxies only for themselves, and you don’t design communities based on the most easily offended.

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How UU is susceptible to dogmatism

Retired UU Minister Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr and Jim Aikin have written that UU is susceptible to falling for political dogmatism because it has no core theological belief. (Loehr 2005)

Aikin writes, “This way of looking at it goes a long way to explaining why the UUA has been taken over by the toxic anti-racist cult. As I see it (this is me talking now, not McWhorter), anti-racism found a ready home in Unitarian-Universalism because UUism isn’t a religion at all. We have the trappings of religion — ministers, hymn-singing, passing the basket, all that good stuff. But there are no core beliefs in UUism. Prior to the merger, Unitarianism had not had any core beliefs for a hundred years. It had drifted into rational humanism, so it was fertile soil in which the bad seed could take root. The nice people running the UUA wanted to be a religion; they thought they were a religion already; but something was missing from their experience of religious feeling.” (Aikin 2022) 

In his essay The High Church of Wokeism, educator Joseph M. Keegin wrote: “The German political theorist Carl Schmitt famously said that all modern political thought occurs through ‘secularized theological concepts.’ Unitarian Universalism does it backwards: Instead of secularizing theology into politics, it has attempted to consecrate liberal politics into a theology” (Keegin 2021)

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Division and strife 

A key criticism of the dogmatic use of critical race theory and the ideas of Kendi and DiAngelo is that they are counterproductive to racial justice progress because they divide rather than unite people in the cause. 

The current UU leadership’s authoritarian, dogmatic, illiberal approach to social justice has caused division and strife in Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups across the country. Congregations have split, longtime congregants have quit UU or cut their pledges, many young ministers have met pushback and have “mutually separated” from their congregations. There has been talk of a split in the church and the forming of an alternative to the Unitarian Universalist Association and the UUMA.

In 2022, the UUA reported the largest drop in membership and the largest drop in the number of congregations in the church’s history. The report shows the fewest ever UU congregations. The previous UUA report in 2020 showed the largest drop in membership in 23 years. A longtime minister said he expects the drop to continue, in particular at large congregations, and the UUA’s 2022 data point to there likely being another large drop in 2023. (UUA 2020) (UUA 2022)

One congregant wrote, “The passionate adherents to this framework are sowing division within UU communities and needlessly pushing away people who are natural allies in a struggle every UU supports.” Another said that due to the divisiveness, alienation and backlash it has produced amongst UUs, the national UU’s heavy-handed methods have set racial justice back in UU and many congregations.

This should have been predicted. Illiberalism and liberalism, freedom of speech and suppression of freedom of speech are by definition mutually exclusive. They can’t exist in the same space. Trying to unilaterally impose a creed onto a non-creed church will necessarily cause strife. Even national leaders acknowledged that most UU laity are liberals not radicals. A veteran UU minister once compared trying to get congregants to agree to a single thing to “herding cats.” (VUU 2018)

That this has caused such strife and division in perhaps the country’s most left-leaning church shows how poor such methodology will work outside of UU. UU seems to be spending more time on ideological purity tests, infighting and circular firing squads than social justice work.

The UUA’s policy positions are so extreme and eccentric– extreme and eccentric to most minorities outside of UU and often to many progressive UUs– and they have become so strident that they have diminished UU’s position and effectiveness in the wider world. When UUA leaders ardently stick to “abolish the police” and work to silence even progressives and minorities who disagree, they’re making UU into what the outside world will view as a fringe, eccentric non-entity. UU will no longer be an effective “agent of change” for the broader society that it aspires to be. Many minorities say that extremist positions and actions not only don’t represent their views but hurt the cause.

Rev. Munro Sickafoose wrote, “If we become a shrill and illiberal faith, I believe we are doomed to irrelevance.” (Sickafoose 2019)

University of Chicago religion critic Jerry Coyne praised UU at the beginning of this essay, but recently wrote, “Since UU is one of the few ‘religions’ that I haven’t criticized strongly, as it is nondogmatic, liberal, and (I thought) charitable, I was truly disappointed to see it turning into The Evergreen Church of Perpetual Offense.” (Coyne 2019)

How this will all play out in Unitarian Universalism only time will tell. However, the plummeting membership, dissolving congregations and increasing strife do not point to a pleasant or productive future.

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References

5th Principle Project (2022), “Meeting with Article II Study Commission”, https://fifthprincipleproject.org/2022/06/15/meeting-with-article-ii-study-commission

Aikin J (2019), “Shut Up! You’re Not Liberal Enough!”, https://midiguru.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/shut-up-youre-not-liberal-enough/

Aikin J (2021), “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, https://midiguru.wordpress.com/2021/03/24/something-wicked-this-way-comes-2/

Aikin J (2022) “Woke Joke”, https://midiguru.wordpress.com/2022/01/25/woke-joke/

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