Sunday in Tennessee

July 28, 2008

The NY Times coverage of the church shooting in Tennessee yesterday is as calm and measured as writing about a horrific event can be, the AP take is considerably more sensational, asserting that

An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal social policies, police said Monday.

Here is why the AP qualifies the Unitarian Universalist Church as the object of hatred:

The Unitarian-Universalist church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.

Two people were killed before other people at the church, gathered to watch a performance of Annie by the children of the church, physically overwhelmed the shooter. One of these people was Greg McKendry, an usher for the performance, who was described by a fellow church member quoted by the AP reporter as

“Greg McKendry was a very large gentleman, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head,” said church member Schera Chadwick. “He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation.”

I’m not one to say, oh isn’t faith beautiful, there is a plan, this was the meaning of his life, to be the big guy who put himself in front of bullets for other people, but reading this story did give me a chill. It’s awful to think about someone’s life ending at the whim of a nutjob. It’s still awful when that death was at least in part a result of a selfless, perhaps Christ-like act.

Whether or not the alleged hatred of liberals plays out to be the motivating factor here (seems like unemployed would be a better bet, but there are many unemployed people and relatively few opening fire on Unitarian churches), this event also provides a sobering counterpoint to the sermon I heard yesterday in the local United Church of Christ church I now attend. It was a “you’re slacking” sermon, about how the church has voted to call itself Open & Affirming (meaning, gay people are super just the way they are and can marry and preach here of course) and Just Peace (which has to do with protesting war as anything but a last resort), but we haven’t done anything to bring these issues into the community, to show ourselves as embodying a way to live that is driven by love despite all hatreds. She was right, and I hope to be a part of the church’s efforts in the coming year to live the words we have committed to.

Making yourself visible, of course, always has its threats. That’s the choice. Be who you are and live with the possibility that someone won’t like it, or hide. Jesus didn’t hide. If we want to be serious about being more like him, we can’t hide either. I can’t stay home next Sunday or next time the church hosts a discussion on sexuality b/c I’m scared of who might show up. I have to go. I have to keep going, if I mean to live my beliefs. It says something that the kinds of stances that get churches like mine labeled “liberal” and seemingly out of step with the so-called mainstream of America (I’m not sure about that, though) are the positions that mean most to me as a human being first and a Christian coincidentally. There is nothing wonderful about recognizing that living in radical ways has the potential to draw harm to oneself. There is something deeply inspiring about realizing, at the bottom of all the fear, that it matters each time you choose not to hide, and it’s only going to keep mattering.

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One Response to “Sunday in Tennessee”

  1. Bradley Says:

    Lovely post, SJ.


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