July 30, 2008

Unitarian Church Targeted For Their "Liberal Theology"

I'm sure by now, most of you have heard about the shooting on Sunday at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.

For those of you who don't know the story, a man opened fire at a children's play at the church on Sunday and killed 2 people. He also injured 6 others, I believe. Parishioners tackled the man and held him down until police arrived. After he was taken into custody, police found a 4-page letter stating that this man targeted the Unitarian church because he wanted to punish liberals who are "ruining the country". He was unemployed and blamed liberals for that, as well as other things. He also had books by well known right-wing talk show hosts in his home and car.

What I find really telling about this incident is that this man obviously listened to these hosts who spout forth on a daily basis about how the liberals are taking over America. They tell their listeners that gay people are out to get their children and that we are trying to destroy so-called traditional marriage, etc.

When I joined Soulforce in 1999 and we went down to meet with Jerry Falwell and his congregants, we tried to impress upon them the need to tone down the rhetoric. We really talked at length about the damage that words can do. Do we need any more evidence than this shooting??

When will the religious right and the right wing pundits learn that they have got to stop speaking in such a way as to inflame people who are mentally or emotionally unstable? When will they realize that they are partially to blame for this tragedy? When we start de-humanizing people because of their beliefs or because of parts of their personality, color of their skin, whatever, we open the door for people like this man to do harm to the people who he thinks are somehow less than human and, therefore, fair game.

This guy was mentally ill. There's no doubt in my mind. However, we don't know what might have contributed to his dillusions. Maybe he'll be able to share that knowledge some day. All I'm saying is that it's not life-affirming, Christian, or even worth saying things that are so hateful. Bill O'Reilly is constantly saying things about how the liberals are trying to "humanize homosexuals", as if we aren't already human! The last time I looked, I was part of the human race. I'm not a rabbit or something. Rush Limbaugh talks about "feminazis" and acts as though lesbians are these man-hating androgenous she-wolfs who eat babies and bare their breasts in parades and such.

I find what they say ridiculous and sometimes even laugh at their incredulous talk. The problem is that people like the man in Tennessee didn't find it ridiculous. He bought it...hook, line, and sinker. This church had a ministry to GLBT and questioning youth. They had fought for desegregation, women's and GLBT rights since the 50's when many churches still wrestle with issues of equality. Since this man had it in his head that all of these things were evil and were ruining our country, he felt he was justified in shooting the church up and taking 2 lives. It's just amazing that in 2008, we are still struggling, as a nation, to accept each other for who we are. We just can't seem to get past labels and let people be. We need to start going in that direction or there will be more violence.

Years ago, I was friends with some folks from a local UU church. We were shocked that in a community that was supposedly pretty progressive in their politics, the church's "Marriage Equality" sign was torn down or set on fire several times. Why would people be so opposed to a church simply expressing their views that marriage was something that should be able to be shared between two adults, no matter their gender?

This is not the first incident of violence against a congregation for their beliefs, and it won't be the last. However, I am hopeful that this latest event will cause many of my Christian brothers and sisters to re-think how they talk. In God's Word, He speaks to us many times about the power of the tongue to speak life or death. We would do well to remember those scriptures when we start to speak about others. Jesus said that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to practice that in everything we do. How about it, religious right? Will you join me in loving as Christ loved?
If you'd like to read the whole story, it's at:

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/jul/28/church-shooting-police-find-manifesto-suspects-car/

Sharone

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