Monday, July 28, 2008

A Word from the Religious Left (More)

Sara Robinson, who is Unitartian, comments on the shooting yesterday in a Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church. A man brought a shotgun, concealed in a guitar case, into the main sanctuary where children were performing and started shooting. Two people were killed and the perpetrator was taken into custody.

Nobody seems to know just yet what motivated the attacker. The information is coming out in drips and drabs as police put it all together, and the congregation retreats into itself to pick up the shattered pieces. As we've always noted here when things like this happen, mental illness will probably figure largely in the story when it finally all comes out. You don't have to be crazy to shoot up a church, but past experience suggests that it definitely helps.

But for those of us who've watched and worried about right-wing crazies for years now, there's the sickening feeling that our worst nightmare may have also come true here. Witnesses say that the man was shouting "hateful things." The FBI is standing by, investigating this as a possible hate crime. It's not out of the question: according to Out & About, a Tennessee gay news site, there was plenty going on at TVUUC for the right kind of right-winger to hate...
After 25 years of right-wing eliminationist rhetoric about liberal hunting licenses and scaring us out of our treason and keeping a few of us alive as museum exhibits, it's natural that some of us would jump to the thought that maybe, at long last, somebody finally decided to grab a shotgun and go bag himself some libruls -- and decided (not unreasonably) that down at the local UU church, they'd be as thick on the ground as quail on one of Dick Cheney's private hunting trips.

Whatever the reasons turn out to be, there are at least two lessons I hope y'all take away from today's events.One is that you can bet that the members of this congregation will find a novel way to approach their healing -- and in doing so, they'll set example for the rest of us to watch carefully. If (when) mental illness becomes the issue, they will respond to this man and his family with compassion and justice, because that's the UU way. And if hate turns out to be part of the story, too, then Knoxville, TN is about to have a dialog on hate crime that will leave nobody in town untouched or uninvolved. That's the UU way, too.

The other is that this congregation's cool, brave response shows, once again, that it's past time to drop that old stereotype, and stop underestimating the courage and intelligence of the religious left in America. We've gotten incredibly short shrift over the past few decades -- not only from the religious right, which thinks we're the minions of Satan on earth; but also from fellow progressives, who think that "religious" is a synonym for crazy, dangerous, irrational, and definitely not an asset to the movement.

Secular progressives don't seem to understand that while politics is all about how we're going to make the world better, progressive religion tells us why it's necessary to work for change, and what "better" will look like when we get there. Liberal faith traditions offer the essential metaphors and worldview that everything else derives from -- the frames that give our dreams shape and meaning. It has an invaluable role to play in helping our movement set its values and priorities, understand where we are in the larger scheme, and gauge whether we're succeeding or not.
And then there's that long, tough history to draw on. The UUs, along with the Congregationalists and Quakers, have been at the beating heart of American liberalism since before the country was founded. We've faced down the ignorant and the arrogant, the terrified and the unreasonable, the cops and the courts and the Congress so many times that it's not even news any more. Civil disobedience is built into our bones (yes, *sigh,* Thoreau was one of ours, too), and we've come to regard it as one of our more important sacraments. These days, it's not only in our defense of gay rights and our gathering fury about torture, but also in our leadership role in the New Sanctuary Movement defending immigrants from ICE raids.

Update before sundown:

Sara's suspicions were correct.

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."

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.

David Neiwert's followup is excellent.

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