When evangelical Christian leaders hopped on the Trump Train during the 2016 campaign season, many on the Left objected to the mixing of church and state. Jerry Falwell Jr. was the target of Democrats’ ire for endorsing Donald Trump’s presidential run. Some went so far as to question the tax-exempt status of Liberty University, where Falwell is president.
But conservative Christians aren’t the only religious group tempted to influence American politics.
For the past 60 years, the small congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock (UUCSR) has been discretely siphoning millions of dollars a year to left-wing organizations in order to “rebuild society from the bottom up,” using the guise of a religious organization to try to enact a political agenda that extends well beyond fulfilling the spiritual mission of the church.
In all, UUCSR has supported its chosen “network of progressive organizations” with over $500 million since 1953—a stunning sum for a congregation with fewer than a thousand people. The UUCR calls its support the Veatch Program, after the source of its funding. But before looking at the “who,” it’s more important to examine “what” the program does. How is it affecting policy? And what agenda is UUCSR pushing with its philanthropic efforts?
Board members for the Veatch Program, one of the church’s funding streams, explained in a 2017 newsletter: “The truth is this: across the country there exists a vast and unwavering network of progressive organizations and a growing bench of social justice leaders. As a result, the work of the Veatch Program continues (and must continue) unabated.”
Besides the Veatch Program, which gives hundreds of smaller grants, UUCSR also has a Congregational Large Grants Program, which annually gives several $100,000 grants to left-wing activist groups. Some of the organizations to receive these grants include the radical Funders for Justice—a left-wing networking platform created in 2014 by UUCSR and the Ford Foundation to support the extremist movement Black Lives Matter (BLM). In fact, UUCSR donated $45,000 to a San Francisco chapter of BLM in 2017, in addition to the $20,000 it gave to Funders for Justice.
UUCSR’s goal to “rebuild society” is specific—and it sounds an awful lot like similar calls by advocates of a radical agenda to “fundamentally transform America.” Just consider a brief list of UUCSR grantees, including the Transgender Law Center, National Women’s Law Center, and the labor union-aligned Jobs with Justice Education Fund. This list of UUCSR’s funding areas is conspicuously similar to virtually any other left-wing funder. In 2017 alone, the church donated to over 190 groups under the following categories: “civil rights and sustainable communities, environmental justice, economic equity and fairness, workers’ rights, community organizing, democratic participation, social justice infrastructure, informed public discourse, and progressive philanthropy.”
In 1993, the New York Times profiled UUCSR and noted that, “Nationally, Veatch money helps groups defending abortion rights, organizing migrant workers and opposing food irradiation or the development of bio-engineered agriculture products—issues that many other philanthropies shun as controversial.”
The key phrase in this telling article is “issues that many other philanthropies shun as controversial.” Even 25 years ago, UUSCR was boldly pushing its left-wing agenda and was unafraid to challenge charitable norms.
So how does this church get away with it?
Under the Johnson Amendment (proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX), and passed by Congress in 1954), all 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations—including churches—are strictly prohibited from endorsing or opposing political candidates. IRS rules further restrict lobbying efforts among these tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations.
Through its agenda-setting grantmaking, however, UUCSR could be accused of skirting these lobbying restrictions by funding groups which then support political activism and lobbying. UUCSR’s grants are especially concerning since, as a religious organization, it is not required to file the usual Form 990 with the IRS—meaning the group can operate as what the Left would call a “dark money” funder with little transparency.
Admittedly, UUCSR has opted to release regular reports of its funding programs, including grant recipients. But the church’s platform as a funder for radical and ideological organizations certainly draws into question the church’s mission of “providing support for efforts within the religious and spiritual mission of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock” (emphasis added). An observer could easily be forgiven for assuming that UUCSR is a not very “spiritual” version of the Ford Foundation and the Packard Foundation—as they all fund groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Considering the nature of its grantees’ political activity, UUCSR appears to be have conflated social justice advocacy with religious and spiritual activity. Giving significant donations to food banks and running clothing drives for the homeless are very different from funding political dissidents, especially extremist movements like Black Lives Matter. In funneling millions to activist organizations, perhaps UUCSR should be treated as a regular nonprofit organization, held to the same reporting standards as any other (non-religiously affiliated) public charity.
The history of the Veatch Program—and UUCSR’s funding in general—goes back to 1953, when wealthy widow Caroline Veatch died, bequeathing to the church (then the North Shore Unitarian Society) the royalty rights from German oil fields which her husband—Arthur Clifford Veatch—discovered in 1926. Arnold Babel, the former president of UUCSR, commented without irony in 2016 that, “She didn’t have much to give but she gave the oil and gas rights to the organization . . . the congregation gets royalties from the gas wells in Germany.”
These fossil fuels royalties have done much more than merely sustain the church. They’ve revealed a bit of hypocrisy, because UUCSR’s funding for extremist environmentalist groups comes directly from the very money that the church receives from its oil royalties.
UUCSR pinged CRC’s radar after granting $100,000 to the Climate Mobilization Project (CMP) in June 2018, a nonprofit organization seeking to “protect [the] world from climate and ecological collapse…[through] collaborative action on a speed and scale [that hasn’t] been seen since the home front mobilization during World War II.” CMP “successfully intervened in the 2016 [D]emocratic primary elections, bringing WWII scale climate mobilization into the discussion by successfully lobbying Bernie Sanders to embrace the idea.” (This $100,000 grant presumably came through UUCSR’s Congregational Large Grants program.)
The Climate Mobilization Project even bragged that its $100,000 grant from UUCSR was “the country’s single largest philanthropic investment in emergency climate action.”
By its own account, UUCSR also donated $610,000 in 2017 alone to left-wing environmentalist groups like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
Ironically, these left-wing environmentalist groups are funded by fossil fuels. Babel may feign “social justice” selflessness when he says that UUCSR takes oil money “not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others and we have given away over $500 million,” but it’s still hypocrisy, coming at a time when environmental activists are clamouring for universities and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels.
While UUCSR is a small cog in the wheel of Progressivism, it points to a larger issue facing the Left. Liberals are increasingly comfortable living a double standard in order to maintain the narrative of their agenda. This means ignoring the fact that UUCSR isn’t so much a church as it is a political advocacy group with a religious veneer. And this means conveniently using UUCSR’s “dark money”—something they heavily criticize conservatives for—to support that agenda.
UUCSR is clearly pushing an agenda—and it’s not one of a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” As far as their actions convey, the “search” is over, and the answers they found lead directly to the Left’s pet projects.