Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tennesee Valley Unitarian Universalist Shooting

I had to spend a couple of days reflecting on this. My first instinct was some sort of angry screed that contained about fifty "fuck yous" hurled in the general direction of the asshole who opened fire, and all those who would support his actions based on the premise that UU's "deserve" horror like this because they aren't a "real" church.

I've calmed down a little. I don't think I'll get to the "fuck yous". But I'm not 100% sure of that. We'll see.

For those who haven't followed the story, a man named Jim D. Adkisson walked into Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday and opened fire with a shotgun as approximately 200 people watched a children's theatrical production based on "Annie". At this point, two are dead, and at least five others were seriously wounded. The motive seems to be that Adkisson's ex-wife had been a member of the church at some point, and he knew the church had liberal beliefs. He did not share those beliefs, and thought they were somehow to blame for his recent joblesness and overall condition. The church had also recently put up a banner welcoming gays.

This is the sad cost of America's "culture wars". For years, as a society, we have sat back while a small but vocal group of individuals have screamed about how "liberals" are trying to tear the "righteous" down, how gay rights are really a threat to heterosexuals, and only some churches are "true" churches. We have allowed these people to perpetuate the myth that this is a "Christian nation" founded on the principals they espouse, and that there is no room at the American table for anyone else. We have allowed the rhetoric of contempt for the "other" to reach a fever pitch in areas like the fight against terrorism and immigration. We have allowed them to frame things like the political fight for women's bodily autonomy in moral language, we have allowed them to reintroduce discredited creation myths into science classrooms in order to frame science as some sinister force trying to push out their religion. We have accepted the right of virulent attack groups like the Catholic League to bully and menace people who's only crime is not agreeing with them.

One man took all of this to heart. In his own deluded mind, he bought the rhetoric of the hateful "other". He bought the idea that this is "war". He took his shotgun into a crowded church, and started to shoot at the "enemy".

Adkisson's actions were simply the logical end result of such institutionalized hate.

This is all very personal to me, because I attend a UU church with my 9-year old son. We live in the midwest, and I've often worried that the "civil marriage is a civil right" banner on our building might invite the local knuckle-draggers to vandalize the church. We live in an area filled with people who buy into the culture war venom. Some just kind of accept it on a surface level, but get on with generally sane, decent lives. Others are true believer fanatics. All have the capacity to cause great hurt. It could have easily been my UU church attacked last Sunday.

The culture war needs to end. Now.

Non-Christians are Americans, too. This country was expressly founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. The Enlightenment thinkers who founded this country- Jefferson, Madison, Washington, etc. were the "liberals" of their time. Many were Unitarians. All of them had a huge problem with tyranny. What the culture warriors do today, they do in their own name, not the name of the founders of this country.

If you think none of this matters very much to you, think again. If you think you are immune because you are a Christian, think again. These people have a very narrow definition of "Christian". If you are reading this blog, I doubt you fit it.

We all have a vested interest in renewing the struggle for religious tolerance. All religions. And no religion. Each should be equally and rigorously protected by a populace who knows the danger of letting a majority steamroller a minority. When blowhard assholes want to inflame the passions of people against a group, we should be there to counteract that. We should be there to stand up and say, "Not on my watch." Actual discussion and debate is great. Everyone deserves to be heard. But like the famous supreme court decision pointed out, no one has the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. No one has the "right" to incite hate and violence against another group.

Unless we want more Jim Adkissons to heed the call to "war", we all better start working for peace.


Philip Thrift said...

This was brilliantly written.

The "sean hannity"s of the world, again, have something to answer for.