Yesterday, James Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee, went into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) and opened fire, killing two people and wounding six others. He left a letter saying he hated TVUUC for its liberal views, and for its support for gays and lesbians. And apparently his ex-wife, who had a restraining order out against him because of his violence, was affiliated with TVUUC as well.
“We’ve been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers,” said Rev. Chris Buice (pronounced “bice”), the minister at TVUUC. If you pray, here’s some people to pray for: the families and friends of the people who died; the families and friends of the people who were wounded; everyone who was in the church at the time of the shooting; especially the kids who were putting on a play when Adkisson started shooting; people who weren’t in the building yesterday but who are associated with the church; the entire GLBTQ community of the greater Knoxville area; anyone in the Knoxville area who has liberal views; and don’t forget to pray for the family of James Adkisson. And try to pray for Adkisson himself, because he has damaged his humanity by this act, and he will find it very difficult to fully redeem his humanity.
I don’t pray, but I have been thinking about all these people. I’m a minister, so I have been thinking in particular Rev. Chris Buice — I imagine that Chris is trying to deal with his own shock and horror, while he has to appear at press conferences and minister to others. And I have been thinking about Greg McKendry, the usher who apparently lost his life when he tackled Adkisson when the shooting began, thus keeping Adkisson from shooting more people — ushers are some of my favorite volunteers in churches, and now through his bravery Greg McKendry has become one of my heroes.
And let’s acknowledge that this shooting has made me feel a little more vulnerable. The headline from the Associated Press article — “Police: Man shot churchgoers over liberal views” — sounds like a battle report from the front lines of the culture wars. R. J. Eskow, writing on the Huffington Post Web site six hours ago, points to the conservative hate mongers who have indeed advocated violence against liberals:
Jim Adkisson of Powell, Tennessee was the man with his finger on the trigger. He had mental health problems, and a hard and bitter life. He apparently left a letter explaining that he hated the church for its liberal beliefs and opinions. And the church had a sign outside indicating it welcomed gays and lesbians.
Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them “traitors” and suggests you speak to them “with a baseball bat”? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?
If you ask me, it was all of the above.
You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News. Link.
Whether or not you agree with Eskow’s words, it’s a reminder not to slip into hate as we try to make sense out of these shootings. I’m falling back on my Universalist theology. Classic Universalist theology said that all human beings will be saved and go to heaven — which in today’s Universalist theology might be stated this way: every human being is of value and is ultimately redeemable. OK, maybe only God (or whatever you want to call that which is larger than our selves) can redeem James Adkisson, but ultimately he is redeemable.
The good people of TVUUC, according to their Web site, are holding a candlelight vigil right about now. Keep them in your thoughts….
More on the Web: So far, the most complete news coverage is on the Web site of the Knoxville News Sentinel. They have video coverage too, including Rev. Chris Buice, minister of TVUUC, speaking at a press conference. The most recent story at this point (with links to previous stories) is here.
The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association has released a statement on the shootings here.