The repercussions of last week’s shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville are echoing around the country. Is this the inevitable conclusion of decades of intolerance preached from conservative pulpits (both literal and figurative)? And do open-minded people of faith now need to live in fear – as many abortion providers already do – of the one unbalanced so-called Christian seeking vengeance for our sins?
Upon hearing the news, I immediately became concerned for my mother’s UU congregation. They are located in a small beach town on the coast of North Carolina, surrounded by rural communities in Down East NC – not especially known for modern social ideas, but quite likely to have access to hunting rifles. As we observe Americans trending toward living more in safe, homogeneous communities, we can see both the cause and effect of this increased ideological segregation.
My friend James Protzman blogged about his daughter’s reaction to the shooting. She had met several teenagers from the Tennessee Valley congregation at a UU retreat and was grief-stricken at the irony of a house of peace being attacked so violently. "She wonders about all the other deaths that can be laid at the feet of right-wing political hate. Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King. John Kennedy. Robert Kennedy. Will it ever stop? she asks."
James came away from this experience feeling pretty cynical about the threat of further violence against progressive Christians. But the Reverend Bill Sinkford, head of the Universalist Unitarian Association, responded to this tragedy with the open-hearted love and understanding for which UUs are known:
The gunman’s letter stated that he was targeting liberals, and acquaintances have said he dislikes gays, minorities and anyone different from him.
The Unitarian Universalist movement is based on the belief that men and women are inherently good, said Sinkford, adding that faith won’t be shaken but rather will be strengthened by the violence.
"There’s a longing in this nation to move beyond divisiveness and stand on the side of love," added Sinkford.
Sinkford predicted that the international publicity resulting from Sunday’s shootings will draw more people to the movement, which he said happens "whenever people get to know us and know the reason for the stands we take."
Unitarian Universalists were the first mainline denomination to ordain gay and lesbian clergy, Sinkford said, and welcome members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, which some have speculated was a factor in Sunday’s attacks.