Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof has been the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, WA, since 2011. He’s appreciated for his mind-altering sermons, compassionate soul, and social activism. Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism have traditionally been known as liberal religions, defined by their commitment to individual dignity and freedom of expression. They promote diversity and inclusivity and encourage their members to engage in the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” However, Todd has had a different experience. He believes the organization has undergone a significant policy change, with the value of autonomy and freedom of expression becoming less critical. As a minister, he was not allowed to discuss his concerns openly and was attacked when he did speak out. As a result, he was “disfellowshipped.” 

Rev. Eklof started in the ministry as an ordained Southern Baptist minister but left the Christian faith while still in seminary as a young man, explaining, “I simply outgrew it.” He then started a 16-year career in TV news and corporate video production. He became a Unitarian Universalist (1988) and reentered the ministry in 1999 when he began serving the Clifton Unitarian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, until 2011. 

He’s been widely appreciated for his environmental and gay rights activism, in addition to engaging in the areas of criminal justice reform, restorative justice, the peace movement, as well as immigration and racial justice. Eklof has two undergraduate degrees, one in Philosophy, the other in Communications, a Master of Arts in Religious Studies, and a Doctor of Ministry. He is also a certified American Philosophical Practitioners Association (APPA) member, completed Singularity University’s Executive Program in 2018, and has been a member of Abundance Digital Community ever since. He and his spouse of 35 years have a 32-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter, along with Chester and Wiley, their two canine companions. 

Todd became worried about specific issues in his church and decided to use his pulpit and voice to address them. He felt a moral responsibility to speak out and was further motivated by reading Coddling of the American Mind. It took him ten months to write his book, during which time he addressed concerns surrounding the changing nature of Unitarian Universalism and the Association’s departure from its core values. Todd knew that there would be consequences to writing this book, but he felt that it was his duty to start a reasoned and well-informed discussion. The book was self-published and remains the best-selling book in the religion. 

After the release of The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister, Todd’s professional credentials were eventually removed by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee. The book discusses Todd’s concerns about the Association’s shift towards dogmatism, prioritizing emotion over logic and reason. He believed the Association had moved too far into political correctness and emotional “safety.” Todd’s critique was met with backlash and personal attacks, leading to him losing his credentials as a minister and being labeled “ethically unfit for ministry” and an “uncooperative bully.” Despite this, the large majority of the 400 members at Todd’s Spokane church chose to support him and stand with him as a congregation. The resulting outcry highlighted issues within the church and its unwillingness to stand up to scrutiny. 

Todd is impressively level-headed, holding philosophical depth, and is committed to dialogue on differing perspectives. He wanted to have an open discussion with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but instead, his character was defamed, and his membership was revoked. He has been sharing and quoting from books and the BITE model with concerned members to help show how the church has changed. They have found examples of controlling behavior and a change in the autonomy of congregations. Ministerial training has become stricter and more controlled, and pulpits are only fulfilled through the Association’s set processes. Todd and others are worried about the financial exploitation, manipulation, and dependence that have become evident through these processes for ministerial accession. 

Todd values the freedom to express his opinions and debate even with those with differing views. He expressed his concerns to a church that claims to uphold the values of truth-seeking and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, instead of a healthy discussion, Todd was met with personal attacks from hundreds of members of the Association. They tried to control the information by instructing members not to read Todd’s book and to sign a letter distancing themselves from him. 

A legitimate group should be able to withstand scrutiny and allow for a discussion of differing opinions. Todd’s character and career were publicly attacked, and community figures were discouraged from talking to him. When a group shows such rigidity in responding to scrutiny, it becomes evident that they have control issues central to the BITE model. Censoring information and refusing to engage in dialogue with those who care about the group’s welfare only exacerbates the problem. 

Many organizations often attack and pursue individuals who disagree with them. We are currently in a state of psychological warfare where experts and critics are being targeted along with democratic institutions. It is crucial to have a range of ideas from diverse perspectives. If we value our freedom, we must create a space for diversity because life is complex and nuanced.  

Tolerance and open discourse on differing opinions have been crucial for humanity to progress. The Unitarians, in 1568, brought about a religious toleration law that allowed individuals to enjoy their right to religious expression without persecution. This led to the Enlightenment, the spread of democracy, and the period of expansion and invention in the 1800s. However, there have been times in history where there has been a backlash against logic and reason, particularly in response to Enlightenment and a move towards postmodernism. This allows for the truth to be subjective, and everyone’s feelings become what matters. As Todd argues, there is often a rejection of external reality, and intellectuals who favor reason and logic are demonized. This is what he experienced when trying to address issues within Unitarian Universalism, where many members attacked his character from an emotional standpoint instead of critically evaluating his writings and addressing the issue. 

If someone is questioning their membership in a group and wants to confirm factual information, it’s essential to seek differing perspectives. This is especially crucial if the group tries to control information that disagrees with their beliefs. To do this, review the BITE model, research Robert Lifton and mind control, and ask the individual to reflect on their identity before they join the group. Ask them if they knew then what they know now, would they have joined the group? 

If you’re concerned about someone you know being in a high-control group and want to talk to them about it, approach the topic carefully. Take a respectful and curious approach and allow the person to outline the group’s beliefs and behaviors alongside the BITE model. Trying to argue with someone who is in a coercive control group will only confirm their indoctrinated beliefs and make them feel persecuted. It’s essential to be patient and not be forceful or demanding. 

Todd concludes that he hopes individuals can learn to think for themselves. We often hold our emotions as thoughts we believe to be accurate, allowing them to influence our worldview. We can then moralize our thoughts to internalize them as true and righteous. This can lead to persecution of those who disagree. With the rise of social media, we now have the opportunity to curate access to content that suits our worldview. However, we should remain open to hearing from others and become tolerant of differing opinions. 

See Todd’s assessment of the UUA using Steven’s BITE Model.



The Gadfly Papers: Three Inconvenient Essays by One Pesky Minister, Todd F. Ekloff  

The Gadfly Affair: A 21st Century Heretic’s Excommunication from America’s Most Liberal Religion, Todd F. Ekloff  

Combating Cult Mind Control: The Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults, Steven Hassan  

The Cult of Trump, Steven Hassan  

The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt  

Relevant blogs 

Cancel Culture by Anyone (Left or Right) is Bad 

The Cult of Trump: Some Frequently Asked Questions 

The Netflix Docuseries “The Family”: A Review by Steven Hassan 


BITE Model of Authoritarian Control   

Unitarian Universalist Association