Horrible news…

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.

12 thoughts on “Horrible news…

  1. Martin Voelker

    thank your for bringing up that Huffington Post post. A more recent article confirms that the right wing hate machine has indeed found someone in Adkisson. He took their word, and his gun.
    We should not tolerate intolerance. I realize that for those immideately affected healing must be the first priority. But us on the sidelines should really protest right wing calls for murder and the dehumanization of perfectly fine citizens with differing world views as unacceptable, and make the connection to hate crimes.


    Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity on accused shooter’s reading list

    4-page letter outlines frustration, hatred of ‘liberal movement’

    Dan Proctor
    Police found right-wing political books, brass knuckles, empty shotgun shell boxes and a handgun in the Powell home of a man who said he attacked a church in order to kill liberals “who are ruining the country,” court records show.

    Knoxville police Sunday evening searched the Levy Drive home of Jim David Adkisson after he allegedly entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and killed two people and wounded six others during the presentation of a children’s musical.

    Knoxville Police Department Officer Steve Still requested the search warrant after interviewing Adkisson. who was subdued by several church members after firing three rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun into the congregation.

    Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.”

    Adkisson told Still that “he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.”

    Adkisson told officers he left the house unlocked for them because “he expected to be killed during the assault.”

    Inside the house, officers found “Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder” by radio talk show host Michael Savage, “Let Freedom Ring” by talk show host Sean Hannity, and “The O’Reilly Factor,” by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

  2. Jean

    Hi Dan –
    I’m keeping the TVUUC in my thoughts, and you, and all others who believe in love as the transformative force of this world. It is not hate. Not violence. Not anger. Even those of us who are so angry at the so called “right wing hate machine” must, even now, turn the other cheek. We must — I deeply believe — meet hate with compassion. Otherwise, we are just the same, no better than something we might call a “left wing hate machine.” And when hate meets hate that will bring on nothing but war.

    Take care big (tall) brother —
    Love, Jean

  3. Martin Voelker

    Jean, right wing hate machine might as well be a technical term used by highly specialized academics. No ‘so called’ is called for, just as it wouldn’t be in the phrase “Herr Goebbels so called propaganda machine”. On an emotional level it may look like ‘hatred’ but if we do not use language that cuts to the chase we won’t get nowhere. I concede that hate is bad for one’s mental constitution but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that my anger is not just emotional theatre inside my head but based on real violations of basic principles of human interaction by well known perpetrators.

  4. PaulW

    I just want to point out, as a Unitarian, that the blame for this tragedy should be first and foremost put on the dumb bastard who pulled the trigger.

    Blaming BillO, or Pat Robertson, or Hagee, or anybody else is like trying to blame heavy metal bands for teen suicide, or video games for school shooters. I don’t want to play that game. Blame the person who pulls the trigger, who wants to kill others because of whatever darkness is in their souls.

    I do agree that words of hate, words of violence do not contribute to our society. I have no love for the likes of BillO or Rush or the other hatemongers. I have no patience or acceptance for those who want to force their narrow and spiteful definitions of life on others. I see some comments on the blogs about this tragic event, where people leave “I HOPE THEY ACCEPTED JESUS AS THEY DIED” as ignorant and crass, as attempts to still impose “their” values on “our” views. Sigh.

    If I can take any sense of well-being from this tragedy, it is that when the time came, when we were approached with violence, that most of our fellow Unitarians did not run. They did not resort to gun violence themselves. They faced their attacker, they threw themselves in front of the gunman to protect others, they tackled him and they kept him alive so he may face the justice he deserves here. They did not give him the martyrdom and death he sought. Which is our way. Not his. And not the hatemongers’.

  5. Tracie the Red

    Remember Jerry Falwell’s statement right after 911? This one:

    I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

    Well, as politically incorrect as it may be (yet an honest reflection of my feelings immediately following the shooting – total frustration and anger and a need to pin this crime on someone), I wrote this:

    I really believe that the conservatives, the fundamentalists, and the patriarchs, and the so-called ‘pro-family’ contingent and the Religious Right who are actively trying to legislate their morality upon all Americans, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family – all of them who have tried to Christianize America – I point the finger in their face and say you helped this to happen.


    I’m still eyeing “them” rather suspiciously (“them” being the Limbaughs and Coulters, etc, of the world) but I’m not as flamingly enraged as I was the last couple of days.

  6. Bill Baar

    I’m not a regular Bill O’Riley watcher but I have noticed him a couple times saying nice things about UUs. He had the minister from the Harford Church on the show when she campaigning agaisnt Sen Lieberman on torture. I can’t rember the context but I have a recollection of him telling some guest, “What about Unitarians, they’re good folks….”

    I’ve always had a sense of O’Riley knowing more about UU’ism then most on TV and I always assumed it was because he was from New England. I think it’s a bit of a cheap shot to suggest he would encourage violence against us.

    I thing it’s been a long time since UU’s faced a threat of violence for what we believe. I remember the civil rights era in Chicago when this was a very real threat. There are many stories of Churches risking getting “burned out” supporting open housing in Chicago.

    I thing when the root cause is done on these murders we’ll find it less incitment against liberalism, and instead another failure of our Mental Health System; and it’s a failure that puts some tough questions to political liberals that will not have easy answers.

    What’s the Health Care systems responsiblity to the community vs patient when an individual refuses meds and may pose a risk to themselves, or others?

    What’s our responsiblity to others when we notice someone talking in a hateful way? …making threats?

    What do we do with a stranger at Church who doesn’t seem right? Has a flat affect?

    So many UUs loathed those badges in Fort Lauderdale as a violation of our rights? So how much loss of civil rights can we tolerate? What kind of security do we want next year in Salt Lake City?

    We complain about fear mongering, yet there are some fearful people out there… sick and demented and when you’ve become a target in their minds, you have a real problem.

    My kids routinely get training on Lock Downs at school. My son put that training to use at the shootings in Northern Illinois University.

    Blaming Rush and O’Riley for tragedies and threats that have become every day preparedness now for the rest of America may not be the healthiest way of reacting to this.

  7. Dan

    Bill @ 6 — You write: “I thing it’s been a long time since UU’s faced a threat of violence for what we believe.” Depends on the UU church, and where it is, Bill. Your UU church keeps a relatively low profile, and is in a relatively tolerant area. My UU church keeps a pretty high profile — we have flown rainbow flags and had a big banner up promoting gay marriage and we host union meetings and so on — and in many ways we;re in a less-tolerant area. While I don’t think we’re at risk in the way TVUUC might be, it feels riskier here than it did when I was at the Geneva church. In many parts of the United States, to be openly pro-GLBT is definitely risky. Over the past decade, UU churches have been vandalized for their pro-GLBT and liberal stances.

  8. JMB

    As a member of the GLBTQ community, hearing that there are churches out there actively supporting the GLBTQ community fills me with hope. So much of mainstream media content highlights the intolerant and vilifies progressive thought, that a small, supportive tidbit posted by you, Dan, has me in tears.

    As for blame, we all have a stake in that, as far as I’m concerned. While I believe in personal responsibility, I also beleve that we failed Jim Adkisson. The “we” meaning American culture. Yes, we are complicated. Yes, we are equally fallible. We espouse to waving around our Constitution and mighty ideals, yet have not succeeded in creating a truly equitable society. If we had, Jim Adkisson would not have acted in this fashion.

    As for the TVUUC community, my thoughts have been with you since I first heard of this tragedy.

  9. Bill Baar


    I think there is such a thing as homophobia for sure. I’ve been mistaken for gay by a carload of thugs walking Chicago’s near north side in the evening so I’ve certainly witnessed the violence first hand (it made me reconsider gun laws too.)

    I lived in Oak Park in the 80s and went to Unity Temple as Oak Park became a well known gay community. I can compare that transition to the open housing fights in same area years earlier and it’s just not the same.

    I remember the Cicero police bringing in bricks for people to throw at the apartment rented to blacks. The minister over at Third UU took a stand for open housing, as did a few others in the area, but a huge part of the community was opposed to African Americans and prepared to drive them out violently and anyone else who supported them. There was an atmosphere of fear and hate that I just don’t see today at those past levels.

    Simply said, we live in a much better America, and maybe we UUs have taken that for granted.

    I’m suspecting when the Knoxville story is fully told, we’ll find a breakdown in mental health care. A dangerous person was allowed in the community and there were probably folks who failed to see the warnings when it was their job to have noticed.

    I suspect when that story is told folks in the mental health community will find themselves targets…from unstable foks threatening them and their families. I think it will be unfair to say those folks channeling Keith Olbermann, etc… when they make those threats…

    That may seem speculation to you, but I certanly know past examples were providers and their families had to go under 24/7 guard because people think Karl Rove has given them orders to do this and that to them… send msgs to their minds, etc.

    The NIU shooting triggered a series of copy cat threats including our hight school. I found myself a few days before deploying to Iraq and doing a threat assessment with my wife and daughter about whether she should attend school the next day after a threat (about 3/4 of her class decided not too, but she did). This a week after her brother was standing outside the building as the NIU shooter did is work, including gunning down the boy sitting besides the daughter of my kids French teacher).

    That’s the reality we have now in America. It’s very much unlike past hatreds. Our schools are putting kids through all kinds of lock down training etc and teaching them how to cope with violence. That was my wife’s reaction when Lindsey sent an email on coping with this. Our kids have already had the training and one of them put it to use already and it wasn’t a drill.

    Getting wipped up over Fox news isn’t the best response I think. That was my point. It’s a good deal more complex than that…


  10. Bill Baar

    A footnote, then I’ll step off the soapbox

    Our Church’s board voted 100% to withhold funds to send anyone to Fort Lauderdale because of the federal security rules.

    I thought that naive. I thought the trade off the Feds imposed on civil liberities pretty minimal and I thought we UUs got worked up on this because we don’t feel very threatened. In fact we think the threats are ploys.

    Well now we know they’re not. People do murder people who don’t agree with them. (Some political movements will recruit unstable minds like this and put sucide vests on them and send them into a crowd, but thankfully we don’t face that in the US.)

    Events like Knoxville trigger copy cats. I hope UUA considers security for Salt Lake. Asking people to show ID is a pretty small thing and I think we, just like uncle sam, need to take our security seriously.

    I think that’s the wake up call we’ve just had.

  11. Dan

    Bill @ 8 & 9 — You write: “It’s a good deal more complex than that….”

    You and I agree completely on that point. You also write:

    “I thought the trade off the Feds imposed on civil liberities pretty minimal and I thought we UUs got worked up on this because we don’t feel very threatened. In fact we think the threats are ploys.”

    Believe it or not, I’m more or less with you on this. I live in a port city. We don’t have to show IDs when we go down on the waterfront, but there are signs saying we are subject to search and seizure due to marine security rules. But I feel that way not because of some alleged terrorist threat, but because the port of New Bedford gets such a huge quantity of drugs going through it. (Oh, Lordy, now that I’ve said that, probably all the people who think we should legalize drugs will chime in — oh, well.)

    You also write:

    “I’m suspecting when the Knoxville story is fully told, we’ll find a breakdown in mental health care.”

    More than likely mental illness and the breakdown of the mental health system in the United States is a factor. Here in New Bedford, we have lots of people living in public housing who got moved out of Boston when funding for residential institutions for mentally ill people got shut down to to funding cuts.

    But I go back to when you say “It’s a good deal more complex than that.” In addition to the mental health issue, I’ll bet we’ll also find out the following contributed: unemployment and possibly inadequate public assistance (Adkisson claimed his food stamps were about to be cut off); problems with how domestic violence is handled; homophobia; the low quality of discourse in media (and the so-called liberal media is equally to blame here); gun laws (if the guy is mentally ill, he should not have been able to buy a shotgun); and yes, the tendency to copy other mass shootings. And probably other things I’ve completely neglected.

    You also write:

    “Events like Knoxville trigger copy cats. I hope UUA considers security for Salt Lake. Asking people to show ID is a pretty small thing and I think we, just like uncle sam, need to take our security seriously.”

    Yes, I’m worried about the security at Salt Lake City, too. But the “security” at Fort Lauderdale was laughable — the sheriffs on duty barely looked at my ID when I passed through, and when I watched for a while, I saw some people walk through without having to show an ID. Once inside the conference center, there basically was no security at all, unlike at other conferences I’ve been to where they really do check badges.

    And forget Salt Lake City — I’d expect a copy cat to target a local church, not the national convention. We already have some security precautions in place at our church (no, I’m not going to tell you what’s in place or why it’s in place). Certainly I’d recommend that all local churches, of any denomination, give serious consideration to security precautions — if only to prevent theft, for both urban and suburban churches are frequently targets of thieves. Maybe I’m going to have to do a whole post on security precautions for small local churches….

  12. Don Thieme

    I am not certain what sort of security measures are being discussed here. I would hate to have to search folks or be searched going into a religious service on Sunday. In Georgia now they have actually passed a law allowing citizens to go to church armed. So apparently Georgia UUs cannot legally prevent folks like Jim walking in with a shotgun until they actually raise it up to fire.

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