“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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Fatwa against Liberals?

What makes someone open fire on a group of people watching a children’s play in a church?

When a gunman was arrested after opening fire in a Knoxville church last weekend, he told authorities

that he had targeted the church 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 the major media outlets.

He was known as someone who “hated blacks, gays and anyone different from him”. He was unemployed, and was losing his food stamps.

Was he just someone who turned to hating other groups because his own life was unsuccessful? As the Christian Science Monitor suggested, was he one of a “whole category of mass killers who are seeking vengeance against a group of people who they feel are taking away their birthright, their opportunities, and making it difficult to succeed…society has been bending backward to favor disenfranchised groups so they’re trying to get some justice for their own victimization.”

Or maybe a question of lost manhood?

They will take that intense personal feeling of emasculation and failure and find some societal or political overlay that makes the failure seem not of their doing.

Leave aside for the moment the question of how someone whose wife had a restraining order against him and who once told her he was going to “blow her brains out then blow his own brains out” was able walk into a pawn shop and to buy a semi-automatic weapon.

Where did the shooter get the “political overlay” that told him to kill liberals?

It’s nothing new. For years, conservative pundits have been calling for physical violence against those who don’t agree with them. Glen Greenwald spent some time a while back documenting the conservative lynch mentality, links are in the above Media Matters piece. Some on the blogosphere think that words don’t matter, and this type of call for violence is unimportant.

You can still get a “liberal hunting license” with a picture of a donkey superimposed on a target from one blog’s “Patriot Shop”. This from a website with a mission to distribute their literature to military personnel. Just what we need. People who already know how to use a gun being indoctrinated to shoot democrats.

The chatter on the blogosphere also points to conservative pundits (Savage, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter, FOX, Limbaugh, Beck etc.) as being responsible for the shooting.

And what was the shooter reading before he went on his rampage? Police removed the following books from his home:

  • The O’Reilly Factor, by television commentator Bill O’Reilly
  • Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, by radio personality Michael Savage
  • Let Freedom Ring, by political pundit Sean Hannity

I grew up in a very conservative community, although of course there were all political types there too, but I never saw the kind of hate speech and intolerance that passes for conservatism these days. Whatever happened to conservatives like William F. Buckley? The conservatives these days just seem to push the envelope more and more, becoming more and more outrageous in order to market more and more books and make more and more money.

The other day I was in one of those little Arab supermarkets buying pita bread. They had on a program with a man weeping copiously and dramatically about the latest political action in his neighborhood, I think from al-Jazeera. It wasn’t being presented as a news program although it was news. It was the equivalent of a soap opera.

This is the new entertainment, whether al-Jazeera or Ann Couter. It sells. Some recognize it for marketing, like professional wrestling, but others mistake it for truth. The tragedy is when someone like the Knoxville shooter, or the al-Quaeda suicide bombers mistake this type of propaganda for real life and act on it.

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