What is Gadflyism?

Characteristics of Gadflyism. 1. An opposition to social justice. 2. Reframing the issue as “free speech.” 3. Centering themselves as martyrs or heroes.

Charateristics of Gadflyism

1. THEY OPPOSE SOCIAL JUSTICE.

The Gadflies are opposed to the anti-racism and anti-oppression work that our denomination is doing, and the modern scholarship that informs that work. Generally, they don’t believe “white supremacy culture” is real. They favor anti-racism initiatives in which white allies get to be the “good guys,” and refuse to do any internal work on their own racism — or even admit that it’s possible for them to have racist ideas.

2. THEY REFRAME THE ISSUE AS BEING ABOUT FREE SPEECH.

The Gadflies never admit to that first part, about opposing social justice. Rather, in every argument they redefine the issue as being about freedom, free speech, or democracy. The democracy thing is weird because a democratic majority of UUs are in favor of social justice, so it’s kind of a double-speak thing. It’s a way of staying in control of the narrative, and shifting the focus away from their hateful beliefs.

3. THEY CENTER THEMSELVES AS MARTYRS OR HEROS.

According to the Gadflies, the real problem in our denomination isn’t racism — which, again, they don’t think is a problem. According to them, the real problem is them being called racist. Or being called out for anything. Or being asked not to hurt people. They’ve been pretty successful at framing themselves as either victims of an inquisition, or as valiant heretics fighting for free speech.

Why is Gadflyism a Problem?

1. IT HURTS PEOPLE.

First and foremost, the views of the Gadflies are pretty damaging and hurtful, especially for our transgender siblings and our siblings of color. Some common ideas put forward by Gadflies include: the idea that being transgender is just a fad, or a result of mental illness; the idea that racism isn’t as bad as people of color think it is, or that is doesn’t even happen at all, like it’s all in their head or they’re just “playing the victim”; and the idea that white people and white men in particular are somehow being punished. None of that is okay. It’s also not accurate.

2. THE GADFLIES ARE ORGANIZED.

Another reason why Gadflyism is a problem for our faith, and the main reason why I wanted to make this resource, is that the Gadflies are much better organized than I think a lot of UUs are aware. Most of us probably know a couple people at church who might argue about the term “white supremacy culture,” or might disrespect the minister (especially if that person is a woman or a person of color), or might always be complaining about something called “Critical Race Theory.” And you might even be friends with that person — they might be the loveable curmudgeon who’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s been coming to this church for 40 years, and we all know he’s harmless.

3. IT IS DESTROYING CHURCHES.

For the past two years, I’ve seen so many churches try to just ignore Gadflyism, and not give it any energy. And I’ve heard it said that the rest of us shouldn’t legitimize them by giving them a name, or talking about them as a real movement. But they are a real movement. I think they’re wrong, but they do exist. So my goal isn’t to legitimize what they’re doing, it’s to encourage everyone else to be able to talk about this openly, in an informed way.

Conclusion

I do believe that our faith movement can keep up with modernity, and that we do have a joyful, liberating Gospel to share with a suffering world. I don’t think the Gadflies will ultimately win the day, or that their movement has a future. The direction the denomination is going in — democratically! — is one of equity and compassion. I believe that.

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Rev. Sarah Skochko

Rev. Sarah Skochko

I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister living in Austin, TX.