“By our love”–Knoxville church recovers core values

It was Lions-2, Christians-800 in Knoxville Sunday as the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church started recovering from the trauma of watching a terrorist gun down two people in front of an audience of 200 who were watching a children’s production of the musical “Annie” in their church last week.

All week the town had rallied together with services at Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches, singing Amazing Grace and They’ll know we are Christians by our love. That’s a tune from back in the ecumenical 60’s. I always liked it, being a bit in a minor key but still evocative of the core mission of mainstream Protestantism. Why, that reminds me of the time….

….I remember a Sunday service at a campground, once long ago, when I was about fifteen.  A fire-and-brimstone preaching team presented their message of gloom and doom.  Then they asked if anybody wanted to “witness”.  Now I’m not sure what witnessing is, but we sure didn’t do that kind of thing around those parts. You could tell a lot of people were uncomfortable with the direction the service was taking.  So I got nudged, whispers ensued, I was pushed to the front, and I ended up asking to borrow the guitar of the meanest woman in the bunch.  She glared, but after all they had invited witnesses, and I was such a sweet and innocent looking fifteen year old.  So I sang  “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  Slowly the rest joined in.  Everyone there knew the song.  They sang it quietly, but with conviction, then listened respectfully to the rest of the message.  The Meanest Woman continued by blistering the group with her indictment of what nasty sinners we all were.  Why, no one had even bothered to “witness”.  Then she stopped, glared at me, and stammered a little.  I had ruined her narrative. She rushed through the rest of her prepared remarks, but couldn’t summon up quite the same vitriol…..

In that Knoxville church, vitriol had also been met with quiet resistance, and the shooter was now in jail.  Now the time had come to take back the holy ground that had been defiled by violence.  With the front door of the church decorated in ribbons of all colors of the rainbow to symbolize diversity, Rev. Chris Buice talked about the shooter:

Reports tell us he thought liberals were soft on terror.  He had a rude discovery.

The group laughed, then gave him a standing ovation.  Buice reiterated the church’s core values of tolerance, for all people regardless of race, sexual orientation or political persuasion.

We are all liberals. We are all conservatives.

Perhaps the wisest thing was said by a commenter on a blog, Ann Hake:

Any individual, liberal or conservative, is responsible for the divisive prejudices which feed societies’ crazies according to how he/she acts, speaks and thinks. We as individuals can strive to encourage a shared vision of humanity’s path, an understanding of each other, a realization that diversity brings multi dimensional solutions to any problem. Very simple acts and words every day make that difference.

We know the killer had copies of several conservative books: The O’Reilly Factor, by television commentator Bill O’Reilly, Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, by radio personality Michael Savage, and Let Freedom Ring, by political pundit Sean Hannity, but I don’t think the problem is conservatism.  The problem is that conservatives have taken the easy path of hate and ridicule. Instead of selling t-shirts that show donkeys superimposed on a target, they should be thinking though their positions carefully. And liberals should be listening to their positions. That is how the multidiminesional solution is arrived at.

Yes it is true that one person who is angry, hateful and deranged can change a community for the worse, through fear.  And someone who wants to make a buck can engage in the kind of rhetoric that yells fire in a crowded theater and triggers that unstable mind. But the venom in those venal words can also be neutralized, often before the fact, by a few people who have the courage for simple acts and words of understanding.

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