Facts about the Current Unitarian Universalist Controversy known as “The Gadfly Affair.”
Let’s Begin with Elissa Lowe’s Excellent Think Piece on The Gadfly Papers, titled “What The Gadfly Papers Gets Wrong.” Here’s a link:
Now for a backbreaking piece of team labor done by several of my colleagues. Worth reading in detail if you actually want to know what happened at 2019 General Assembly and after.
“A Gadfly Papers Timeline”
Editor’s note: This timeline was painstakingly compiled by dedicated Unitarian Universalists known to me personally as reliable, hard working, and devoted to the future of our faith tradition. I thank them for their hard work and devotion to duty. Should the reader become aware of any inaccuracy here–or any additional information which might be helpful–please advise me and corrections will be made.)
In my opinion, reactionaries within Unitarian Universalism have made numerous misleading statements. This includes statements by Todd Eklof, author of the book, The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by one Pesky Minister. In my opinion, this timeline demonstrates Elkof’s lack of candor and/or good faith throughout the controversy. Nor is he the only one. That’s my opinion. The timeline’s compilers simply present what happened, and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.
There are many false assumptions that have become prevalent in discussions about The Gadfly Papers and the events that followed, due to lack of information. Many of these events detailed in this timeline that would clear up these false assumptions are also omitted from the recounting of the events in Rev. Dr. Eklof’s latest book, The Gadfly Affair. False assumptions that continue include the following:
1.) That Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof didn’t meet with the UUA Moderators because he didn’t have time to find a Good Officer, or because there was only one time the moderators were willing to meet. This is false.
2.) People who signed letters in response to Rev. Dr. Eklof’s book couldn’t have read the book because there wasn’t enough time, or because copies weren’t available. This is false.
3.) The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association didn’t reach out to Rev. Dr. Eklof before issuing their letter of censure. This is false.
4. The complaints about the book didn’t address problems or key errors contained in the book, only a vague sense of “harm.” This is false.
The timeline will show these and other assertions/assumptions perpetuated since the publication of The Gadfly Papers to be false.
This timeline was carefully curated, fact checked, and vetted by checking with knowledgeable involved individuals who have been part of or witness to key events. If there are any errors, we welcome responses from the UUA, UUMA, LREDA, DRUUMM, BLUU, ARE, and other impacted organizations’ leadership, and will issue corrections.
2019 GENERAL ASSEMBLY
2014-2019–Over a series of years, when the General Assembly Planning Committee began to considered the “short list” of possible sites, which included Spokane, WA, Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof lobbied the UUA to hold GA in Spokane. Nothing he said indicated that he was not in agreement with everything that was happening in Unitarian Universalism.
- General Assembly teams worked with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and its minister, the Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, to plan for GA 2019 in Spokane.
- The local organizers worked with the GA Planning Committee, the convention center, local city administration, and unions relative to the complex matter of hosting a convention.
- Jan. 12, 2018, The GAPC held a reception to connect with and inspire local volunteers and UU leaders to help with GA. Ministers in the region and people who had been involved previously or recommended by others were present to hear about GA as a beginning of recruitment. Co-Moderators and one Board of Trustee representative sat on the GAPC as ex-officio, so were also in attendance, along with Rev. Dr. Eklof.
- At no time was there discussion of the distribution of a book, or any indication that Rev. Dr. Eklof felt concern with events taking place in the UUA.
- Rev. Dr. Eklof was writing his book, The Gadfly Papers, while GA was being planned, and his Good Officer, Rev. Rick Davis, was informed on the book’s contents and was an early reader. No one on the GAPC or others privy to GA planning were advised he planned to distribute the book, or what its contents were.
2019, June 19-23–UUA General Assembly, “The Power of We,” Spokane, WA
2019, Friday, June 21, Morning & Afternoon
- The Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof and Spokane Baptist minister Rev. Happy Watkins participated in the Friday Morning GA Worship Service.
- The Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, began distribution of his book, The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister (independently published, 105 pgs.) through the Spokane Church’s booth in the official exhibit hall. Spokane Church members reportedly were not aware of the book’s contents, and were unable to respond to the questions, concerns, and feedback of people who were reading it and finding those contents offensive. (Editor’s note: Please refer to my in-depth analysis of the logical fallacies, offensive statements about marginalized identities, and factual inaccuracies contained in the book here: https://revdennismccarty.com/the-truth-about-the-gadfly-papers/
- The book raised immediate alarm among GA attendees, particularly among religious educators, people of color, trans people and other groups addressed in the text in ways those people considered unfair, including sometimes slanderous misrepresentation.
- Ministers and Religious Educators shared word about the book both at General Assembly, in e-mail and phone conversations, and on social media. Many picked up copies at the booth to read and share with others. The book was also available on Kindle, therefore searchable for specific sections found to be offensive or inaccurate–so that content was soon shared with people off-site. Concerned ministers, religious educators, and members of organizations shared the problematic passages. Because the book was a problematic public document, they began to discuss and draft public letters of response.
- Rev. Dr. Eklof mets with a Right Relations team representative. Eklof then walked away from the premises, leaving the books behind.
2019, Friday, June 21, Evening
- The Executive Vice President of the UUA, the outgoing Director of the GA Planning Office as well as the incoming Director, the co-moderators, the co-chairs of the Right Relationship Team, the co-chairs of the Safety Team, and the co-chairs of the GA Planning Committee all gathered to clarify information and discuss what had happened thus far, and if there would need to be a response. The group exchanged information so that all participants could get “up to speed” about what had transpired and begin to address the question of what needed to happen next?
- The distribution of the book came as a surprise to everyone involved in planning/implementing GA. The procedures around its distribution, required by the GA planning team, local planning team, unions, and other stakeholders, had not been addressed or arranged ahead of time. Formal structures and procedures, previously agreed upon, had been violated. Meanwhile, Rev. Dr. Eklof had departed from the premises, leaving the books in the Spokane Church’s booth in the exhibit hall. Church members manning the booth were not advised of the book’s contents, thus were ill-prepared to respond to concerns about it.
- As co-moderator, Rev. Mr. Barb Greve called Rev. Dr. Eklof. He told Rev. Dr. Eklof that he’d like to be in conversation in person about how Rev. Dr. Eklof could uphold the GA covenant, with the assumption that they would quickly schedule a conversation.
- Rev. Dr. Eklof replied, “No thank you, I don’t want to have that conversation.” Rev. Mr. Greve informed him he could not return to GA until that conversation happened, and that the book couldn’t be distributed without him being present to be in conversation with people at the booth.
2019, Saturday, June 22
- Rev. Mr. Barb Greve phoned Rev. Dr. Eklof early in the morning and left a message once again inviting conversation, sharing that sometimes after a night’s sleep, minds and hearts are in a different place.
- Soon after making that call to Rev. Dr. Eklof, a colleague of Rev. Dr. Eklof phoned Rev. Mr. Barb Greve and said Rev. Dr. Eklof would only agree to meet if there were a Good Offices person present. Rev. Mr. Barb Greve confirmed that it was appropriate to bring a Good Offices person.
- The board and leadership continued with the business of General Assembly. Rev. Melissa Carvill Ziemer of the UUMA Executive Team invited Rev. Dr. Eklof to meet with herself and the UUMA President to discuss the impact his book was having on the General Assembly. Rev. Dr. Eklof declined to meet.
2019, Saturday, June 22, evening & night–2019, Sunday, June 23 morning
- During Saturday and Sunday, the UUMA Leadership met with leaders of LREDA, the UUMA BIPOC Chapter, DRUUM, and ARE to hear their concerns about the book and discuss options available to invite Rev. Dr. Eklof to be accountable for his behavior and speech.
- Rev. Mr. Barb Greve sent an e-mail to Rev. Dr. Eklof reiterating the message that he could be present at GA if he came to a conversation about how he could be both present and uphold the GA covenant. Rev. Mr. Greve provided the earliest time he was available, 7:30 am. There was no response to the e-mail and Rev. Dr. Eklof did not attempt to return to GA.
- Rev. Dr. Eklof would later claim that he did not have time to find a Good Officer. The UUMA Bylaws state, however, that any member of the UUMA in good standing can act as Good Officer as necessary. Moreover, Rev. Rick Davis, who would later serve as Rev. Dr. Eklof’s Good Officer, was already familiar with the book’s contents, having read the book before its publication.
PUBLIC STATEMENTS ISSUED:
- 2019 Saturday, June 22–Public letter denouncing The Gadfly Papers issued by DRUUMM: “We, Unitarian Universalists of Color, find ourselves confronting yet again a harmful and toxic narrative that violates the covenants that bind us as a faith community.” Please find the whole letter here: https://tinyurl.com/48ket54b
- 2019, Saturday, June 22–Public letter denouncing The Gadfly Papers issued by the UUMA POCI Chapter, which indicated how the content of the book violated ministerial UUMA guidelines and called on the UUMA to distinguish vitriol and destructive rhetoric from alternate constructive perspectives and, likewise, to enforce the UUMA guidelines. “We recognize that as Unitarian Universalist ministers, we choose, each and all, to commit to the UUMA Guidelines, which apply to this situation as follows:
“I will demonstrate respect and compassion without regard to race, color, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, physical or mental ability or ethnicity. Such equitable treatment shall be extended to all to whom I minister, regardless of position in the organization, including to those who may disagree with me.”
“I will work to confront 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, and to challenge them within myself and in individuals, congregations, and groups I serve.”
“The material in question lacks both respect and compassion, continually asserting that if people of color would only be logical, things would be different. Unfortunately, since racism is not logical, logic cannot be a primary tool in its resolution.” Please read the whole letter here : https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-4HvVMVT1pC3FkOZR0iIFd2XyMjYrt3z_egd8EAiNus/edit
- 2019, Sunday, June 23–Public letter denouncing The Gadfly Papers issued by ARE: “Our siblings most targeted by this text were those most marginalized amongst us—particularly Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), Trans, and Nonbinary Unitarian Universalists—whose identities are egregiously discounted and erased with the author’s criticism of “identity politics” and “political correctness”.” …It is a clear premeditated and callous attempt to further strife within our beloved faith. It has caused and is causing pain to all too many within our UU community.” Please read the whole letter here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/1329646404083244
- 2019, Sunday, June 23– Public letter denouncing The Gadfly Papers issued by “White UU Ministers,” eventually signed by over 450 ministers – “What, we wonder, would be possible if the creative energy of our leaders were freed up from reacting to instances of resistance and harm, and instead were channeled into imagining, building, and experimenting with practices that embodied the kind of liberation and wholeness that is the core yearning of our faith?” Please read the whole letter here: https://www.muusja.org/reprint-an-open-letter-from-white-uu-ministers/
- 2019, June26–Public letter denouncing The Gadfly Papers issued by LREDA: “An account of LREDA’s 2017 Fall Conference was presented in the book. The author did not reach out to members of the LREDA Board and there are many factual errors in the book.” Please read the whole letter here: https://www.facebook.com/LiberalReligiousEducatorsAssociation/posts/2404485529574252
SUMMER & FALL FOLLOWING GENERAL ASSEMBLY
- 2019, June 25—The Spokesman-Review, a Spokane newspaper, publishes an article about Rev. Dr. Eklof’s departure from General Assembly, using only quotes from Rev. Dr. Eklof. Only later does the newspaper amend the article to include a statement from the UUA.
- 2019, July 31–A Facebook group, later renamed “The Gadfly Effect,” is formed by individuals angered by opposition to the book. Its stated purpose is to discuss The Gadfly Papers.
- 2019, late June and July–The UUMA continues to reach out to Rev. Dr. Eklof by text messages.
- 2019, July–The UUMA reaches out to Rev. Dr. Eklof by phone to say that the UUMA Board wants to have a conversation with him about his impact on UU individuals and communities. Rev. Eklof says he wants time to think about this, and calls back the next day to decline the conversation. When Rev. Dr. Eklof declined to talk with them, individually or as a body, they decided to move forward with a letter of censure.
- 2019, August 15–A UUMA Board member meets with Rev. Dr.Eklof and Rev. Rick Davis to give them advance notice of the censure letter.
- 2019, August 17–UUMA Issues public censure letter of the Rev. Todd Eklof. Since the letter is on the password-protected UUMA Website, it is not available in its entirety to the public. The relevant passage states:
- “As the continental leadership of the UUMA, our responsibility is to uphold our values and our covenant. We believe you have broken covenant. We write this letter to ask you to seek understanding of the harm that has been done and to work toward restoration. We would welcome the opportunity to help guide and support a public process of restoration, which we expect would foster widespread learning about what it means to be a covenantal faith.”
- “After the UUMA censure letter was released publicly in August, 2019, we continued to reach out to Rev. Dr. Eklof and Rev. Davis and to respond to their communications to us. Between September 2019 and January 2020, our records indicate we had 14 communications by phone or email or letter with Rev. Dr. Eklof and Rev. Davis or their representatives, some of which we initiated and some of which were responses to communications they initiated. At the time this information was kept confidential and not shared broadly, leading some to find Rev. Dr. Eklof’s claims that no one reached out to him compelling.”
- Again, because the Censure letter Q&A us is on a password-protected site, it is not available in its entirety. Two relevant passages are included below:
- “What authority does the UUMA Board have to censure?”
The authority for the Board to create such a letter of censure is laid out in the UUMA Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry under the Section heading “A History of Guidelines and Its Revisions” which reads : “However, the UUMA takes these Guidelines seriously. Flagrant disregard of the Guidelines by ministers can be cause for censure or other disciplinary action by the Board of Trustees.” The Board laid out views in the letter of censure as to how Rev. Eklof disregarded the Guidelines. There is neither expectation nor requirement of confidentiality within our governing documents with regard to a letter of censure, and others that have been made from various bodies of the UUMA have been both public and private.”
“What is the UUMA Board’s responsibility to covenant?”
“We are a covenantal faith. As such, the Board of Trustees of the UUMA are first and foremost responsible to the covenant of our organization. That covenant was voted on by the membership of the UUMA in 2009 and is available in the “Covenant” section of our UUMA Guidelines for the Conduct of Ministry. Each Board of Trustees carries the responsibility of interpreting the covenant to the best of their collective wisdom, and hopefully does so with integrity and faithfulness. We have done our best to do so in this case, and will continue to do so going forward.”
- 2019, Early November–A group of roughly 48 UUMA members and 8 non-UUMA ministers (later joined by 5 more UUMA members and one more non-UUMA minister sends a letter to the UUMA denouncing the center.
2020 AND BEYOND
- 2020, February–the so-called “Fifth Principle Project” webpage is created.
- 2020, March 30–Rev. Dr. Eklof continues his refusal to meet. to discuss the conflict, which is now before the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee. After making sure that he understood his obligation under Rule 28 requires him to cooperate with ethical investigations, and in light of his continued refusal to even meet, the Executive Committee determined that he was “noncompliant with the initial investigation into this matter in violation of Rule 28.” Under these circumstances, the Executive Committee recommends and full fellowship review to the full Ministerial Fellowship Committee at its business meeting on Sunday, March 29th.
- 2020, April 7–While continuing to decline or ignore requests for communication from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, Rev. Dr. Eklof instead accepts an invitation to appear as the keynote speaker at a conference of a group calling itself the Unitarian Universalist Multiracial Unity Action Council (UUMUAC.) The UUMUAC is not affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Conference theme is “The future of the U.U. Association of Congregations. Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community?”
- 2020, June 5–In light of Rev. Dr. Eklof’s continued refusal to respond to requests for information, the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee removed Rev. Dr. Eklof from Fellowship for failure to engage in its process. The MFC so notifies UUA congregations.
- 2020, June 5–Loss of UUA Fellowship results in automatic removal from the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. The UUMA accordingly removes Rev. Dr. Eklof from membership and notifies UUMA members.
- 2020, June 6–“The Fifth Principle Project” Facebook group is created.
2020, JUNE 23-27: VIRTUAL UUA GENERAL ASSEMBLY, “ROOTED, INSPIRED, AND READY”
- 2020, June 21-23, Members of the UU Ministers Association hold their annual Ministry Days convention virtually prior to the beginning of General Assembly. After years of study and refinement in individual UUMA Chapters, the membership overwhelmingly approves stronger, more precisely worded ethical guidelines.
- The UUMUAC purchases a virtual booth in the virtual GA exhibit hall. UUMUAC then advertises an event with Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof as the featured speaker. Rev. Dr. Eklof is neither registered for 2020 General Assembly, nor has he ever responded to requests for communication regarding his actions at the 2019 General Assembly. Because their keynote event features a speaker who is unregistered and refuses to communicate with General Assembly staff, the UUMUAC booth is removed from the virtual exhibit hall.
- 2020, Saturday, June 27: General Plenary Session Four–An Action of Immediate Witness titled “George Can’t Breathe but We Can Vote,” proposed by Jay Kiskel, co-creator of the Fifth Principle Project, failed to receive enough support to be placed on the Plenary Session Agenda.
- 2020, Saturday, June 27: General Plenary Session Five—Fifth Principle Project leaders propose a Responsive Resolution titled “Responsive Resolution to the Report from the Commission on Institutional Change.” The vote from the delegates on the Responsive Resolution was to not admit it to the agenda, and thus it was not adopted.
- 2020, July— About 150 people leave Eklof’s UU Church of Spokane, of whom 49 sign a mass letter of resignation. Eklof misrepresents this mass departure as caused by disagreement with his book, but, (quoting an Inland Northwest UU Board officer), “It was not. It was about his abdication of his responsibilities as a minister and the damage he was doing to the congregation. Inland Northwest UU Community, Spokane, WA is up to 77 members as of June, 2021
- 2020, August 6–The “Gadfly Continued” Facebook group is formed.
- 2020, August 10–The Gadfly Effect” Facebook group is archived.
- 2020, Early September–12 UUMA members resign their UUMA membership, citing the treatment of Rev. Dr. Eklof among their reasons. Three resign citing the changing nature of the UUMA.
- 2020, September 5-18–approximately 180 ministers sign a letter in response to the members leaving the UUMA.
- 2021, February 6, UUMUAC holds a conference on the Principles titled, “The Struggle for Unitarian Universalism: Defending Our Seven Principles.” Non-profit researchers John Hurd and Andrew Jones (CauseIQ) report that UUMUAC is a “religion” whose origins or mission are difficult to discern. “We have very little information on this organization. They last filed a Form 990-N for the fiscal year ending 2018-12”, even though they are listed as being founded the year after. “This organization files the Form 990-N (e-Postcard), which is the shortest version of the Form 990.” It has not filed a tax statement since 2018. CauseIQ’s assessment of UUMUAC can be found here: https://www.causeiq.com/organizations/unitarian-universalist-multiracial-unity-action-co,832124306/
- 2021, March–Jay Kiskel, a founder of the “Fifth Principle Project,” announces he is running for the UUA Board of Trustees by petition.
- 2021, March 20–Jay Kiskel and Frank Casper of the Fifth Principle Project release the book, Used to Be UU, which includes a lengthy section from Rev. Rick Davis about The Gadfly Papers and ensuing events.
- 2021, April 5–Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof self-publishes a follow-up book, The Gadfly Affair.
- 2021 Saturday, April 17–UUMUAC held a conference titled “The future of the UU Association Of congregations: (sic.) where do we go from Here? Chaos or Community–One Year Later.” Presenters included Rev. Dr. Todd Eklof, Rev. Dr. Kate Rohde, Jay Kissel, Dr. Anne Schneider, and Dr. Alan Spector. As indicated above, UUMUAC, as an organization, has never been affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association.
UPCOMING IN SPRING 2021
VIRTUAL UU GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2021