To those who read my blog: I sent the following e-letter to my congregation yesterday, and I thought it appropriate to share the letter with you.
People all over the nation were saddened Sunday morning with the news of the killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. The shooter, a Jim Adkisson, was tackled and subdued by church members, but not before he killed two person and wounded several more, some remaining in critical or serious condition.
It is always a shock when sacred space is violated. It is especially disturbing that this deed took place when children were present, presenting a play, “Annie,” when the shooting began. Our hearts go out to the members of the church, and we pray for them as they go through what will be a long and difficult time of healing.
The news reports say that Adkisson left a letter in his car saying that he chose this church because of their known liberal stance on many issues, and that he blamed “liberals” for his inability to find work.
That rationale appears to be entirely without logic. But I think we have to understand that violence always happens in a context. The context for these killings was set by Rush Limbaugh and his compatriots in the right-wing “hate media”–in fact, material by Bill O’Reilly and by Michael Savage were found in Adkisson’s possession. Also responsible are those businesses that sponsor hate media and those individuals who regularly listen to and support these programs. Because such talk is on radio and TV, sponsored by legitimate companies, it must be credible, many will conclude. And it is then a small step for some who are driven over the edge by loss or grief or mental illness to retaliate against their supposed enemies. Though Adkisson pulled the trigger and is responsible for the crime, these tragic deaths should not be laid upon one man alone, but should be seen as emerging out of the total context of pain and propaganda from which this man came.
We at First Unitarian in Portland, Oregon, are widely known for our support of liberal causes, and we have always been vulnerable to acts of retaliation. We have a security guard present every Sunday morning, and our sextons and our ushers are trained to respond to needs or disturbances in the service, whether they be from a troubled visitor or for a medical emergency. We have had a very occasional medical emergency, but nothing serious, and thankfully we have never been visited by acts of violence.
Because we are a church, we take risks of various kinds. We take in individuals that other organizations would reject. We take stands that might be unpopular. We do what is right, though it might be costly in various ways. But if we did not go forward as a moral force in our society, we might as well close our doors. We would be merely a social club or a debating society and not a place where lives are changed and where those lives reach out and change the larger world.
Yes, we are liberals in the sense of being generous, egalitarian, open, justice-seeking people. We’ll keep witness with our message. We’ll keep our banners up. We’ll keep the light shining from the steeple in the Eliot Chapel every night, letting our city know where we stand. Because that’s who we are and that’s why we exist.