The UU Inquisition:

A Tragic Battle in the Culture Wars

Monty Python’s similarly competent Inquisitors

.. for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit. — Directorium Inquisitorium (Catholic Inquisition Manual 1578)

The point is not to burn heretics, it is to create a climate of fear by burning heretics. Fear is the preferred tool of authoritarians everywhere; it creates an environment where everyone, at bare minimum, is compelled to put on at least a facade of obedience. Where the party ideology must be repeated with enough sincerity to get past the Inquisitors. It is fiercely undemocratic; inauthenticity as a survival tool. What has happened to Rev. Todd Eklof has shown us that if you want to remain a UU minister you must not question this process.

This is what an inquisition looks like. A rigid ideology takes hold and any dissent is seen as disloyalty and collusion with the forces of evil. People are removed from their positions. People are shunned. Many are intimidated into silence. (I have piles of private communications from people, including people of color, who do not agree with what has happened but are understandably reluctant to speak out.)

- Peter Morales Letter to UU’s, Facebook May7, 2017

This rigid ideology often gaslights as “compassionate concern” for the well-being of the heretic who has strayed. If only they would recant their stubborn heresy and return to the ranks of the Blessed they would be welcomed back joyously by their siblings who are shedding tears of concern for the “harm” their blasphemy has caused.

We hope this action will be received as an invitation into awareness, acknowledgment of the hurt that has been caused, and an opportunity for restoration, reconciliation, and engagement in the ongoing work of the UUMA, not as an attempted resolution of an ‘issue.’ The content of your book has caused great psychological, spiritual, and emotional damage for many individuals and communities within our faith.” — UUMA Censures Todd Eklof

No one is burning anyone now, of course. But it doesn’t take much these days to create a climate of fear among well-off, nice white liberals who are already highly anxious about their public virtue. A mis-step, a mistaken word choice, an expression of any view that might cause “harm” — these anxieties loom over them like their own personal Inquisitors. (And, if we’re going to generalize and label white people, this is a better definition of “white fragility” — much better than the one proposed by the current best-seller launched by the UUA’s own Beacon Press.)

Unlike real white supremacy, a broadly expanded “white supremacy culture” has been adopted by UU ideologues and applied without distinction to all white UU’s. Assigning character flaws to a racially identified group is pretty clearly racism, in spite of the purveyors of this philosophy gaslighting about a moral crusade against oppression. Oppression is certainly a real thing; it is, sadly, a real thing that humans of all colors and identities can be found perpetrating. Not just white people.

“White supremacy culture” has now been redefined as an all encompassing environment which all white people swim in and are too limited (stupid?) to realize they are doing so. Many anxious white liberals seem only too happy to accept this; to take the word of strangers espousing moralistic labels and slogans as accurate judgements of their interior states — accepting these strangers’ judgements because they are afraid, not because they find them to be accurate. And, so, we encounter public statements like this:

I identify as a white, cisgender male. I become more aware every day at how that identity clouds my decisions and actions, hopefully more and more unconsciously, despite the years of study, training and spiritual and personal development work I have done. According to our moderator Jim Key I am swimming in the water of white supremacy. -Rev. Don Southworth (former executive director of the UUMA, in his letter to the UUA Board Apr. 16, 2017 — more on this later)

This kind of public self-confession has become a necessary UU ritual expected from people of “historically privileged identities.” This kind of self-criticism sounds like what was expected during the Cultural Revolution of “bourgeois intellectuals;” required to put the Party’s slogans over and above their own perceptions and self-knowledge. Those with “historically privileged identities” must deny their own self- awareness for the accusations of Inquisitors who know nothing about them personally — except for their skin color, gender and sexual preferences. (And, again, what are the terms used for such judging of groups of people based upon skin-color, gender and sexual preference?)

Buddhists who practice metta (loving-kindness) meditation always start with loving-kindness towards themselves. Similarly, self-worth and dignity must also start with yourself; it is difficult to give a gift to others that you do not possess yourself. And one of the greatest roadblocks standing in the way of developing a sense of inherent worth and dignity is shame. As Brene Brown tells us shame is a feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with you; unlike guilt, which is feeling bad about being a good person who made a mistake — “I’m a good dog, but I do bad things sometimes.” Apologies are great. They are vitally necessary when you’ve made a mistake. Apologies are toxic, however, when you feel you must apologize for who you are.

Under the UU Inquisition it is expected that certain racial and gender categories will apologize for themselves, for a fundamental part of themselves they cannot change — their “historically privileged identity.” If they refuse to do so they are “fragile” heretics and must be watched closely for any “harm” that might arise from their failure to properly enlighten themselves. But, for example, if someone should agree to confess their sin of white supremacy, “decenter” themselves and become born again as allies they will be conditionally accepted. Conditionally because, unfortunately, their skin is still white. So, unless there is a badge or tattoo that can distinguish them from the unrepentant, they must continue to apologize for themselves in order to maintain membership in the True Church, the “anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural community.”

Apologetic white liberals seem to be vulnerable to some pretty insidious manipulation. They make very good marks. In “The Confidence Game” Maria Konnikova lays out the process of conning and being conned. It is a truly engaging book, well worth reading. Here’s some advice from the book:

A large part of resistance, of making sure you don’t start getting pulled in, is to know yourself well enough to recognize and control your emotional reactions… one of the ways we can inoculate ourselves against false persuasion is through self-knowledge — one of the elements that forms your ‘core self.

Let us look at what Rev. Don Southworth was concerned about in his letter to the UUA Board of Trustees which he prefaced with the ritual self-confession quoted earlier:

I am feeling angry and disillusioned by the actions of the UUA board over several years culminating in the last few weeks. I fear your actions have put the faith I have given my life to in great danger and, while I have done everything I can to make this letter as reasoned and loving as I can, I apologize if my strong emotions get in the way.

BLUU was not an official organization, was loosely affiliated with the UUA and its leaders have been highly critical of the UUA (often with good reason) in the past. I don’t believe UUA senior staff and finance experts were consulted about the decision before it was made. $5.3 million represented over 25% of the total unrestricted endowment fund at the time. And this decision was made in 60 minutes?…

…Your current decision to lift up and embrace the assessment that Unitarian Universalism is a white supremacist organization has also, I believe, put the UUA’s financial well- being at risk…

The second, and more recent, example of a conflict of interest concerns the actions of Christina Rivera, the Board’s Financial Secretary… Having someone from the board who did not get the job speak out publicly in ways that may put the financial stability of the organization they oversee [in jeopardy] is a violation of your conflict of interest policy. And letting the same person become a main spokesperson and creator of the policies and charge to the interim Presidents seems to continue that conflict.

This “hiring controversy” is something the former President of the UUA, Peter Morales, felt compelled to comment on some time after he resigned his position as President of the UUA. His critique of the same issues as Rev. Southworth led to the assaults upon him that led to that resignation.

First, the narrative of the event which triggered all of this (the selection of Andy Burnett to be a regional lead in Congregational Life) is simply false. The commonly accepted story is that an eminently qualified Latina was not hired for a position because she was passed over for a white male. The narrative is that she was not hired because she is a Latina. Let me be as clear as I can be: this is simply false…

…The uncritical acceptance of a false narrative and the assumption of moral inferiority of leaders led naturally to what looks more like an inquisition than like the Beloved Community. This is my second point: the Beloved Community does not throw people under the bus. The Beloved Community does not practice human sacrifice.

I left entirely of my own choice. However, since I have left I have watched people who have served with distinction and commitment treated horribly…Not only have careers and professional standing been damaged, but for most of these people the effect has been being thrown out of their faith. Not only have they been harmed, but untold pain has been inflicted upon their families. And now I see that Don Southworth, executive director of the UUMA, is under attack. Who is next? When will this end?

After these powerful and valid criticisms did the UUA examine the facts around the “hiring controversy?” Did they examine the narrative that Peter Morales, the recent resigned President of the UUA, said was a lie?

No.

Just the opposite: the UU appointed a Committee of Inquisitors, “The Commission on Institutional Change” which spent two years not looking into the facts of the situation. Instead they accepted, without question a “false narrative” — a lie — and they undertook to defend it:

…seeking personal accounts and stories about how racism has affected individuals and groups within Unitarian Universalism at the personal, institutional, or systemic levels. It is seeking to document incidents that occurred between individual Unitarian Universalists, within a congregational or Associational setting, or as a result of white-centeredness embedded within the greater Unitarian Universalist culture…

…In what ways have you or your group or community been hurt by current racist and culturally biased attitudes and practices within Unitarian Universalism?

The analogy to the Catholic Inquisition is, of course, an analogy… but the similarities are very sobering.

Not content with censuring Rev. Todd Eklof, nor with summarily removing him from several ongoing UU programs, nor publicly chastising him from several pulpits — a violation of UU policy — the UU Ministerial Fellowship Committee took the extreme step of officially disfellowshipping him. His crime? Writing a book of “harmful” concerns about the direction of his beloved faith. Rev. Todd Eklof was excommunicated for heresy by the UU Inquisition.

And what happened to Rev. Don Southworth and his concerns?

In response to Don’s words and concerns expressed, some people have felt affirmation of some of their own concerns. But others have felt hurt, angry, and outraged. Relationships have been badly wounded… we are called upon to find a way to help begin the healing and reconciliation. We cannot and will not excuse or erase harm done…The UUMA has processes and procedures for holding people accountable when harm is done.

Consequently, Rev. Southworth apologized and resigned.

I have learned that my role and position of power in our faith — as well as my gender and race — and the timing of my letter has led to the impact of harm to those who have suffered most for our association’s slow pace toward racial justice and healing…After listening to many of you, and through prayer, meditation and conversation with those closest to me, I have come to the conclusion that it is best for the UUMA, and for me, to end my time as your Executive Director. It has become clear that there is much healing work to be done and that my vision for the future of the UUMA and our larger faith, especially when it comes to living into our evolving multi-cultural, multi-racial realities, is different than the UUMA Board’s.

Yes, there is only one vision for the future allowed by the UU Inquisition. As Molly Housh Gordon implores us,

Can white UUs love our POC siblings and our faith enough to make room for the full exercise of Unitarian Universalism that they are offering us?

This offer is to “allow our beloved UUs of color to claim a central space in our faith.” As Rev. Kate Braestrup says,

many of us are unpersuaded that ‘UU’s of color are claiming a central space in our faith.’ Instead, what we see is a group of bien pensant ideologues (of various colors) claiming a central space (not to mention a substantial chunk of money) in order to push an embarrassingly narrow-minded and incoherent narrative.

The rhetoric is all about love but the impact and the actions of the Inquisition belie that rhetoric. It is gaslighting hypocrisy. The truth is revealed in that drive to “claim a central space” — which certainly looks and acts more like like a poorly concealed drive for power and money.

Distrust all those who talk much of their justice! Verily, in their souls not only honey is lacking. And when they call themselves ‘the good and just,’ forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but — power! — Nietzche

That “central space” and the power and, yes, money that comes with it will be defined and enforced by the UU Inquisition. And, as far as that “central space” goes, I think those “UUs of color” can declare a decisive victory; the UU Inquisition is now, and will be in the future, functioning as an enforcement agency for their already powerful dominance of UU spaces.

One only has to look at the raw power exhibited in dealing with Rev. Eklof’s book. The immediate letter of condemnation on the part of 500 white UU ministers (in violation of long-standing codes of collegial conduct) almost all of whom had not read the book at the time of signing is a hard testimony to this. Their ready acquiescence to the demands of a tiny group of angry representatives of anti-racist ideologues — most of whom had also not read the book — can only be seen as an acknowledgement of the power and “centering” UUs of color have already attained within the organization.

And this “central space” will only be more solidified if the proposed 8th principle and its “accountability” procedures are instituted. The UU Inquisition will be strongly represented:

White UUs hold themselves accountable to communities of color, to make sure whites do what they say they will do. In practice, that can mean having a People of Color Caucus within congregations, districts, etc., to discern and express needs and concerns to the rest of the community.

The tragedy in all of this is that no one — including myself — in the UU community denies the presence and power of systemic racism. The facts are unambiguous; one only needs to look at the data. Incarceration rates, comparative levels of wealth, hospitalization rates and death from Covid-19, home ownership and many others — the facts of systemic racism are undeniable — only white supremacists would deny this.

Lumping honest, truly concerned, white UU’s in with the same people who wave confederate flags at Trump rallies is a deeply tragic mistake.

seeking to walk lightly upon the earth in a sacred and humble manner

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