(NOTE: For my document endnotes, please refer to my accompanying post, “It Can’t Possibly Be a Bird: Todd Eklof’s Ignorance on Covenantal Theology” FOOTNOTES, below. You should be able to tab between this article and its endnotes if you so desire.)
There is a reason why, as old wags say, “a lie can travel halfway ‘round the world while the truth is still putting on its pants.” Falsehood is more efficient. It takes only an instant to issue a glib fabrication. To explain why that fabrication is incorrect, and to replace it with actual, working facts, takes much longer.
For that reason, doing even a brief and incomplete analysis of Todd Eklof’s October 17, 2021 sermon, “Correction: Ours Is a Liberal Religion, Not a Covenantal One,”(1) takes up a couple sermons worth of paper.
In the process, I am likely to annoy Eklof and his adherents. My analysis of Eklof’s book, The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister, brought an angry response. I assessed his writing as sloppy and misleading, and that it displays an ignorance of Unitarian Universalist history and theology unacceptable in a professed Unitarian Universalist minister. Upon which I was accused of “ad hominem attacks,” and “character assassination.”
An ad hominem logical fallacy is a specious argument that a piece of writing is worthless because the person who produced it is bad. That does not apply. Todd Eklof’s character was not and is not my concern. My aim, then and now, is to look at his scholarship and writing. I stand behind my assessment of his book. And this sermon is, if anything, even worse.
I don’t know quite where to go with the implications of Eklof’s writing/preaching. My intention is not to mind-read his motivations, though sometimes inferences are close to inescapable. His statements on UU history and theology are continually either woefully misinformed, or deliberately deceptive. Whether it’s because he intends to mislead his audience, or he just doesn’t know any better, the result is, in fact, misleading to anyone who doesn’t know the underlying history/theology.
Returning to his sermon’s title, it is fallacious to assert, as Eklof does, that our Unitarian Universalist religious tradition must be either “liberal” or “covenantal,” but cannot be both. That is what is called a false dichotomy. It is as nonsensical as it would be to claim, “Birds fly and fish swim. Therefore, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and swims like a duck–it can’t possibly be a bird!” In those terms, Unitarian Universalism is both a duck and a bird. Multiple religious traditions are both liberal and covenantal. Ours is just one of them.
As just one example other than ourselves, the United Church of Christ is arguably the most liberal Christian tradition. Covenants lie at the center of their religious practice. They guide relationships between members, congregations, and with the world through an interlocked system of covenants that outnumber even the Unitarian Universalist approach.(2)
The United Church of Christ came by its covenantal tradition the same way we did: through our historical roots in Calvinist “Covenant” theology. Other Covenant Churches include Scottish Presbyterians, whose origins are in the seventeenth century Scottish Covenant movement, the Swedish Covenant Churches, and so on. In 1647, The Westminster Confession of Faith(3) laid out the tenets of English Calvinism (so-called “Puritanism) and Calvinist Scottish Presbyterianism. When the Puritans settled New England, they applied their covenantal approach to both religious and secular affairs.(4) In that way–as both religious and secular practice–the Calvinist covenant evolved, not only into liberal religious traditions such as ourselves and the Congregationalists, but also formed one of the thought-strains leading to American democracy itself.(5)
Thus, the title itself opens Eklof’s sermon with a misconception.(6) He then asserts that “The only religion I know of defined by such a covenant [that is, with God,] is Judaism, and, more loosely, the other two Abrahamic religions borrowing from it, Christianity and Islam.”(7)
That statement is, at best, woefully incomplete. Volumes have been written about Ancient Near Eastern vassal and parity treaties, how those treaties were adapted into Biblical covenants, then how that theme of covenantal practice evolved within Calvinism, Congregationalism, Unitarianism, and elsewhere. If Eklof has read such sources, he is ignoring them.(8) Moreover, the words, “loosely based,” give short shrift to the three thousand year evolution of covenantal practice. Either Eklof does not know that history, or he does know it, but does not want to mention it.
He then quotes a series of Biblical covenants between God and the ancient Hebrews, and asks his audience, rhetorically, “if you consider any of these stories to be central to our religion?”(9) To which some audience members in the video cry, “No!”
Let me draw a parallel. Two hundred million years ago transitional reptiles, called cynodonts, laid eggs. That has nothing to do with human beings, except that cynodonts were ancestral to mammals, among which, two hundred million or so years later, came us. Cynodont reproduction is hardly “central” to human love and family life. Yet the discomfort and even danger of human childbirth stems directly from the fact that we are a long legged, bipedal, large brained species, passing live offspring through a pelvic structure inherited from short legged, egg laying reptiles.
Likewise, Unitarian Universalism has evolved a very long way from seventeenth century Calvinism. But as with cynodonts, some American Calvinist influences are still with American Unitarian Universalists today. If Eklof is aware of any of this evolution, he fails to mention it. I am really trying to avoid guessing his motivations, here. But whether these omissions stem from ignorance or artifice, they are problematic.
He states later in that same paragraph, “I know of no such covenants that can be ascribed to Unitarians or Universalists any time in our histories.” Again, if he is telling the truth, his knowledge of Unitarian and Universalist history is woefully inadequate. If he is lying—well—that speaks for itself.
Eklof then proceeds to recount, yet again, how unfairly he believes he was treated by Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association leadership. He says that upon being reminded that “ours is a covenantal religion,” and being told that he was “out of covenant,” he claims that “there is no covenant in which I have agreed not to say or write things they might disagree with.” Then he adds, “My promise to you, as a liberal minister, is that I never have and never will makes [sic.] such an agreement.”
This is, at best, a manipulative half-truth. Eklof’s rhetorical “promise” is unnecessary, because there is no covenant in Unitarian Universalism that prohibits Eklof from disagreeing with people, and never has been. Disagreeing is not what got Eklof into trouble. The UUMA covenant and guidelines call ministers to certain standards of conduct and accountability, which Eklof failed to keep. General Assembly behavioral guidelines, which Eklof also violated, are about conduct, as well.(10)
It is worth mentioning that the current iteration of the UUMA covenant was passed at Ministry Days, the annual UUMA convention, in June, 2009. In applying for Ministerial Fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, Eklof very certainly did agree to abide by standards of conduct required for Fellowship.
To be sure, ethical guidelines for Unitarian Universalist ministers have grown more strict over the past two decades. Most UU ministers considered that a necessary process, due to the damage done to UU congregations by various forms of clergy malpractice.
Some ministers did oppose the covenant and stricter ethical guidelines. There will always be members of any professional organization who dislike accountability. I have no way of knowing whether Eklof favored or opposed this process, or paid attention to it at all. But every member of the Ministers Association repeatedly received copies of the covenant and enhanced ethical guidelines as those documents were being developed. Every minister was encouraged to read them and become familiar with them.
If Eklof failed to do that, he was negligent. If he did it, then denies doing it, he is not being honest. If he voted against the covenants, and refuses to abide by them after they were approved by a super-majority of his colleagues, he is plainly unaware of how democratic process is supposed to work.(11)
Eklof then repeats a litany of his oft-stated claims that he was unfairly treated by General Assembly officers, UUMA Leadership, and the UUA. (I have provided multiple weblinks to his sermon in my endnotes numbers five and seven. For a timeline of what actually happened, the reader can refer to the web address in endnote number ten.)
Eklof claims that in their letter censuring him, the UUMA Leadership Team “never cited nor quoted any covenants I am supposed to have broken.”(12) He then recounts an exchange between his attorney and UUMA Leadership, suggesting that the UUMA interprets our Guidelines any way they want to, and failed to follow their own grievance process in censuring him.
This is patently untrue. Buffeted by storms of outrage from individuals and groups Eklof had maligned in his book, the reality is that UUMA Leadership bent over backward to be civil and respectful with Eklof, to specify what was wrong, and to call him back into relationship. At every stage, he refused to communicate with UUMA and UUA representatives, and most of all, with people who felt maligned or wanted to correct his book’s factual errors.
On being informed by the General Assembly Right Relations Team that many people found the book problematic, Eklof left GA to avoid listening to such feedback. He was then contacted repeatedly, by phone, e-mail, or text message, by UUA co-Moderator, Rev. Mr. Barb Greve. Eklof refused to meet, giving various excuses. UUMA co-Director, Rev. Melissa Carvill Ziemer, also asked to meet. Eklof refused.
Leadership of the Liberal Religious Educators Association wanted to meet and correct false statements Eklof’s book had made about them. The UUMA’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color chapter, Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries chapter, and Allies for Racial Equity all asked, through Rev. Mr. Barb Greve, to meet with Eklof. By this time, Eklof was not answering Rev. Mr. Barb Greve’s e-mails at all.
Unable to communicate with Eklof, LREDA, DRUUMM, ARE, and the UUMA’s POCI chapter all issued letters denouncing Eklof’s book. This was followed by a letter signed by more than 450 “White UU Ministers,” saying that the book did not reflect our values or beliefs. Worth noting is that Eklof finished his sermon by reading a letter signed by sixty or so ministers who did sympathize with him. But he failed to acknowledge the hundreds who found his book inappropriate.(13) As McMurphy put it in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “That ain’t honest.”
Eklof was not “banned” from General Assembly as he claims.(14) He left and refused to come back, unwilling to face any of the dozens of people he had hurt or offended, or to correct the numerous factual errors in the book.
Every action taken against him stemmed directly from his abject refusal to account for any of his words, correct any of his factual errors, or enter a restorative justice process with people harmed by them.
This includes the Letter of Censure he received, two months later, from UUMA Leadership. He hints that the letter arrived rather out of the blue, and would not specify what he had done wrong. Neither is true. He was contacted by a UUMA Board member before the letter was sent, informing him of its contents.
The letter states, in part:
“As the continental leadership of the UUMA, our responsibility is to uphold our
values and our covenant. We believe that you have broken covenant.(15) We write
this letter to ask you to seek understanding of the harm that has been done and
work toward restoration. We would welcome the opportunity to help guide and
support a public process of restoration. . . .
“We understand from your book that you want to encourage robust and reasoned
debate about the direction of our faith. However. . . we believe that dismissing the
testimonies of real people to the profound and pervasive pain of white supremacy
culture and its many forms of oppression by simply categorizing them as
safetyism or political correctness is both morally wrong and antithetical to our
“We believe that you have violated the spirit of the Ethical Standards in our Code
of Conduct detailed in our Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry, which call us to:
* Honesty and diligence in our work(16)
* Respect and compassion for all people(17)
* The work of confronting attitudes and practices of unjust discrimination on the
basis of race, color, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age,
physical or mental ability, or ethnicity in ourselves and our ministry settings.”(18)
The letter then goes on to say:
“It is our deepest desire, not to exclude people, but to welcome everyone into this
work, recognizing that our members represent a wide spectrum of perspectives,
experience, readiness, and willingness to engage. While we wish to be sensitive
to that spectrum, we must also balance that against the stark and painful fact that
people of color, indigenous, trans, disabled, and other marginalized communities
have testified over and over again to the spiritual, psychological, emotional,
physical and moral damage that racism and oppression have caused. Those impacts are not up for debate.”(19)
Given his other misstatements and omissions of relevant facts, I personally find it unsurprising that Eklof failed to mention the above quotes when he was complaining about the letter’s contents. UUMA Leadership’s repeated attempts to coax Eklof into a restorative justice process hardly constitute “a Medieval Inquisition,” as he terms it in this sermon.(20)
Acknowledging the impossibility—due to my desire to keep this analysis to a reasonable length—of correcting every inaccurate statement in Eklof’s sermon, I will skip down to his comments on our Seven Principles. He states that “it is our commitment to affirm and promote them that is the only covenant the UUA’s member organizations have agreed to, and even this is a covenant between organizations, not between individual church members or ministers.”(21) Then, in the YouTube video, he looks up from the text and says, off-script, “By the way that’s just a promise, not a contract. Nothing happens if you break it, you just broke promises to each other.”
At that point, my mouth just fell open. There are few better examples of Eklof’s tenuous grasp—to say the least—on his subject matter. He plainly does not understand that “you just broke promises to each other” is precisely the point!
In his 1976 essay, “From Cage to Covenant,” James Luther Adams, the foremost Unitarian Universalist theologian of the twentieth century, goes into what covenants mean.
“Human beings, individually and collectively, become human by making
commitment, by making promises. The human being. . . is the promise-making,
promise-breaking, promise-renewing creature. The human being is the
promise maker, the commitment maker.”(22)
He then adds:
“The covenant. . . is not fundamentally a legal covenant. It depends on
faithfulness, and faithfulness is nerved by loyalty, by love. Violation of the
covenant is a violation of trust. What holds the world together, then, is
trustworthiness. . . .”(23)
That is, violation of the covenant–that broken promise–is a violation of trust. We are at our best when we make promises and try to keep them. Covenantal religion is intrinsic to Adams’ concept of what liberal religion strives, at its best, to be. At the beginning of “From Cage to Covenant,” he writes:
“Liberal religion’s attitude of mind we generally characterize as a critical stance
before mere tradition, impatience with creeds once-for-all delivered, the rejection
of coercion in religion, freedom of conscience, open-mindedness, tolerance—the
liberation of the human spirit from heteronomous authorities. Beautiful attitudes!
But attitudes do not make or change history.”(24)
That is, to Adams, the ideals of liberal religion mean little until we turn them into on-the-ground practice. One key tool by which we apply our liberal ideals to real life is the covenantal practice which Adams lays out in easily understood terms.
Now Todd Eklof may hate the idea of liberal religious covenants. That is, by all means, his right–to his own opinion. But he does not have a right to dictate which facts do or do not exist, or distort the words of a source.
Eklof does, in fact, claim to have read James Luther Adams in his book, The Gadfly Papers. Referring to “the great Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams,”(25) Eklof cites a couple of pull-quotes from Adams’ On Being Human Religiously. The intention seems to be to suggest that we have moved too far from Adams’ take on liberal religion. Had Eklof actually read Adams’ essay instead of just mining it for out-of-context quotes, however, he would noticed, two pages ahead of the passage he quotes, that Adams wrote “The maintenance of Freedom(sic.) was held to be a covenant between people in community[!]”(26)
After awhile one just becomes lost for words!
The point being, again, a Unitarian Universalist can dislike James Luther Adams, and dislike Adams’, and others’, influence on UU covenantal theology. But it is disingenuous to pretend that those who do take to heart Adams’ theology are somehow creating something with no foundation in liberal theology. Quite the opposite is the case, Eklof just ignores it–or misses it completely.
Adams outlines five key “ingredients” to covenantal practice. It is worth quoting from what he says about “ingredient” number four:
“The covenant responsibility is especially directed toward the deprived. Whether
these be people suffering from neglect and injustice or those who are caught in a
system that suppresses them—that suppresses their own self-determination—it
is the gap between covenant and system, between ideal and behavior, which
One key feature of Adams’ covenantal theology, then, is directed toward helping and heeding members of what we sometimes now term the marginalized community. Or as the censure letter to Eklof from the UUMA put it (to repeat that paragraph):
“While we wish to be sensitive [to Eklof’s opinion, and that of those who
sympathize with him], we must also balance that against the stark and painful
fact that people of color, indigenous, trans, disabled, and other marginalized
communities have testified over and over again to the spiritual, psychological,
emotional, physical and moral damage that racism and oppression have caused.
Those impacts are not up for debate.”(28)
That is certainly in keeping with all of James Luther Adams’ writing. But that is, also, precisely the community whose concerns Eklof so dismisses in The Gadfly Papers.
Again Todd Eklof is not required to “like” any person or religious practice he does not want to like. But he likewise should not pretend innocence when he “breaks a promise” between individual ministers, to which–his claims to the contrary notwithstanding–he was, in fact, a party
This brings us to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Covenant. Unlike a creed, which basically constitutes the end of a long theological conversation, a covenant, even when agreed upon, should be the beginning of substantive conversation. Thus, each person who is party to a covenant may have their own thoughts about how to interpret it. I have, however, taken the liberty of italicizing the portions of the UUMA covenant of which I believe Eklof is in violation.
We, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, covenant
with one another:
* To conduct ourselves with integrity, honoring the trust placed in us;
* To embody in our lives the values that we proclaim on behalf of our faith;
* To support one another in collegial respect and care, understanding and
honoring the diversity within our association;
* To hold ourselves accountable to each other for the competent exercise of our
* To use our power constructively and with intention, mindful of our potential
unconsciously to perpetuate systems of oppression;
* To seek justice and right relations according to our evolving collective wisdom,
and refrain from all abuse or exploitation.
* To cultivate practices of deepening awareness, understanding, humility, and
commitment to our ideals;
* To labor earnestly together for the wellbeing of our communities and the
progress of Unitarian Universalism.(29)
Again, I have no idea whether Eklof voted for or against that covenant when the UUMA gave it final approval in 2009. Or if he even bothered to learn that it was being voted on—despite repeated UUMA mailings as it was being developed. But it is nonsense to speak as though it did not even exist.
Following the controversy at 2019 General Assembly, it took about a year before the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee removed Eklof from Fellowship—for refusing to acknowledge their repeated requests for information about his violations of General Assembly and UUMA Guidelines. At any time before, that, he could have re-entered the conversation and re-entered relationship with the UUMA. It was his choice not to do so.
For all his pretensions to being “banned,” “excommunicated,” and subjected to “a Medieval Inquisition,” Todd Eklof is still minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, Washington, drawing down a considerable monthly salary. (Though approximately 150 of that church’s members have left, as is also their right.) In the end, his own words not only expressed his disdain for covenantal relationship, but also the net effect of the UUMA/UUA response: “That [covenant is] just a promise, not a contract. Nothing happens if you break it, you just broke promises to each other.”
In our own day, Adams’ writing permeates Unitarian Universalist policy, theology, and liturgy. How a person could be ignorant of it and still call himself a Unitarian Universalist minister is rather like a Christian minister who does not know who Martin Luther is. Moreover, Eklof’s blithe dismissal, “Nothing happens if you break it, you just broke promises to each other,” causes one to wonder what his attitude is toward other promises he makes: to family and to his congregation. Given what he himself just said about promises, that is not an unreasonable question.
A couple of paragraphs later, Eklof gives a shoutout to the prominent Unitarian historian, Earl Morse Wilbur. It’s worth quoting his entire sentence.
“In his extensive, two-volume work, A History of Unitarianism, written in 1945,
sixteen years before there was a UUA, the respected Unitarian minister and
scholar, Rev. Earl Wilbur Morse [sic.] wrote that our religion is defined by the
‘fundamental principles of freedom, reason, and tolerance.'”(30)
Eklof then goes on to say,
“And yet, in recent years, the UUA leadership has been describing our liberal
religion as a covenantal religion instead. Last May, in an online statement
entitled, ‘Conversation on Covenant,’ current UUA President, Susan Frederick
Gray [sic.] began by saying, ‘Covenant lies at the heart of our faith: a shared
agreement on how we should be together. Our religion is made from an ongoing,
interlocking, and organically growing series of promises we make with our
communities, congregations, and the world.'”(31)
In the next paragraph he describes such rhetoric as “propagandistic. . ., routinely blasted across the UUA. . . .(32)
It is worth mentioning that such hyperbolic terms as “propagandistic,” “blasted,” “Medieval Inquisition,” and so on are not informative. They are merely hyperbole. They hardly constitute enlightened discourse.
Meanwhile, once again, Eklof sets up a false dichotomy: an either/or choice that exists only in his own mind. He suggests that we must choose between Earl Morse Wilbur’s “freedom, reason, and tolerance,” and Susan Frederick-Gray’s “Ongoing, interlocking, and organically growing series of promises,” because they are mutually exclusive.
Which is utter nonsense.
Wilber told his listeners that unless “Freedom, reason, tolerance. . . are to end as mere individual matters, unless religion. . . is to end in a life of sublimated selfishness [they] must be applied in the guidance of life and the needs of men.” [sic.] (33) That is, freedom, reason, and tolerance were not just ends in themselves, but means to an end. Something more was needed. and on the last page of his text, he specifies what that end is: “Our vital task still remains, in common with that which falls to every other Christian church, the task of. . . organizing the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”(34) (Italics mine.)
That is, to the Unitarian Christian, Wilbur, the ideals of “freedom, reason, and tolerance,” needed to be embodied: put into practice to “organize the kingdom of heaven upon earth.” Or what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would later term, The Beloved Community.
Which is precisely what James Luther Adams was carrying forward fifty-five years later, building an embodied framework around the liberal ideals Wilbur and others preached. Covenantal theology is not an either/or choice against Wilbur’s scholarship! Covenantal theology is, rather, a working method toward the living goals of liberal religion, which the Unitarian Christian Wilbur described as “the kingdom of heaven upon earth.” Unitarian Universalist language has evolved from the Unitarian Christian terminology Wilbur used a hundred years ago. But the goals have remained the same.
It is also worth looking more deeply at Eklof’s name-check on Earl Morse Wilbur himself. To begin with, the name is Earl Morse Wilbur, not “Earl Wilbur Morse,” as Eklof writes in the sermon (twice), and also says aloud in the YouTube video. It would certainly be easy to mistake the name once in writing. That could just be a typographical error. But twice—is suspicious. Given that Earl Morse Wilbur’s writings are so often referenced in Unitarian Universalist ministers’ training, it is remarkable that he would also say such a familiar name incorrectly: “Earl Wilbur Morse.”
What that tells me is that he is not a great deal more familiar with Earl Morse Wilbur than he is with James Luther Adams! Saying it that way would be equivalent to any educated American saying the names, John Kennedy Fitzgerald or Franklin Roosevelt Delano! It just doesn’t come out of the mouth that way, if one has heard or spoken them before! What this tells me, yet again, is that Eklof’s understanding of Unitarian Universalist history and theology are woefully inadequate for someone who pretends to be a Unitarian Universalist minister.
One must suspect that he read something about Earl Morse Wilber, which mentioned Wilbur’s oft-repeated praise of “freedom, reason, and tolerance.” (I know that at least one adult Religious Education course refers to it.) And, using a graduate student’s age-old trick, imported the entire citation into his sermon without bothering to pick up or read the actual book he is quoting.
Had Eklof delved more deeply, he would have learned that Wilbur, as a devout Unitarian Christian, struggled to reconcile his theism with the atheism of Unitarian humanists, including his son. It was in seeking what they had in common that Wilbur lifted up the principles of freedom, reason, and tolerance.(35)
And had he read Wilbur’s full explanation in Volume I of The History of Unitarianism, Eklof would also have seen that Wilbur intended freedom, reason, and tolerance to be dynamic principles:
“For the movement has throughout its whole course. . . been hospitable to
changes and restatements in its forms of thought; being at all times more concerned
with the underlying spirit of Christianity in its application to the situations of
practical life. . . .”(36) (Italics mine.)
It is Eklof, then, whose writing is opposed to that of Earl Morse Wilbur. In his sermon, Eklof lifts up “Freedom, reason, and tolerance” virtually as a creed, the unchanging expression of all liberal religion can be. Yet Wilbur emphasizes, in his Barry Street Lecture, that creeds are the first thing we must seek freedom from.(37)
We must ask after all, “Whose ‘freedom, reason, and tolerance’ are we talking about, and what do we mean when we use those words?
Examining that word, “freedom,” we can turn to a choral response revered humanist minister, Kenneth Patton, wrote for the first Unitarian Universalist hymnal, published in 1964:
“Let all who live in freedom won,
By sacrifice of others, be
Untiring in the task begun,
Till every man [sic] on earth is free.”(38)
“Till everyone on earth is free.” Freedom is not just for ministers who write careless books and sermons, then. Is it not also for those people at General Assembly and in our society as well, who get so brusquely dismissed in Eklof’s The Gadfly Papers? Don’t they have a right to freedom, also, and a right to sit with Eklof and explain to him why they found his words hurtful?
What about reason? Is it reason to cite sources without bothering to actually read or understand them? Is it reason to ignore any and all information which fails to support one’s preconceived opinion? Is it reason to obfuscate with logical fallacies and factual inaccuracies?
And finally, tolerance? When People of Color, gender nonconforming people, or people who are nonconforming in terms of physical abilities come to our General Assembly (or visit our congregations), hoping for a faithful space in which they do not have to brace themselves against the casual rudeness and cruelty they face in much of society—is it tolerance to tell them, as The Gadfly Papers does, that their pain and concerns are just silly?
Earl Morse Wilbur’s scholarship pointed directly toward the covenantal theology of James Luther Adams and others. In the generations after Wilbur wrote and lectured, Adams used covenantal theology to provide a mechanism to give those principles body and meaning in the real world–as Wilbur himself outlined. To me, that is a kind of evolution which lies at the heart of liberal religion—as Adams emphasizes in numerous writings.
In the final analysis, Susan Frederick-Gray’s description of present-day Unitarian Universalist faith as an “ongoing, interlocking, and organically growing series of promises,” is a rather lovely way of putting it. For the record, I doubt our Congregationalist cousins would object to also being described the same way.
The world is comprised of both congenial and non-congenial facts. I don’t see how an adult can negotiate their way through the world without acknowledging both. Yet, through the entire “Gadfly controversy,” Todd Eklof and his adherents have repeatedly ignored or distorted facts and events that did not fit their preconceived view of a “Unitarianism” unchanged from the time “sixteen years before there was a UUA,” as Eklof puts it in his sermon.(39)
That was a heady time: the end of the Second World War, the “good war,” when the Axis powers of evil had been defeated, and the United States stood unchallenged as the world’s defender of freedom.
Yet it was also a time, on our own shores, when non-White people were routinely ostracized from executive-level employment, and faced judicial and non-judicial violence on an almost daily basis. It was a time when gender nonconforming people were called horrible names, and routinely beaten to death in alleys, in crimes that were never even investigated. It was a time when a woman who was raped on a college campus dared not mention it for fear of being expelled for being “sexually experienced.”
When we use a word, we need to ponder what that word actually means. When we describe an event, we need to tell what actually happened—without leaving out the part that disagrees with the impression we’re trying to create.
As an elderly, straight, White, cisgender male, I, too have made blunders, and been called out on them, by members of marginalized communities. I know from experience that it can really hurt–I dislike making mistakes. Yet I have found those to be times when “the White guy–myself–just needs to sit down and be quiet and listen.” So I did, multiple times. It has been uncomfortable at times. Despite the discomfort, however, I have gained knowledge and deeper insight, and have, myself, evolved into a better person in the process.
I have written elsewhere that, while speaking can be the soul of courage, listening is the soul of wisdom. Todd Eklof needs to listen more. He needs to delve more deeply into his sources, rather than merely proof-texting without trying to understand the context of the quotes he finds. Only then would he be able to speak from a genuine factual and scholarly foundation. Time will tell whether he will ever develop the courage and honesty to do so. I am not optimistic. But he has done himself—and his congregation—no favors by refusing to even try.