There was a religious flavor to the tragic killings in Knoxville, TN -- and I don't just refer to the Unitarian Church in which the murders took place.
The killer, Jim Adkisson, appears to have felt called upon to defeat a great evil -- liberals -- in order to save his nation and to remove the source of his personal pain and suffering. He also appears to have been a deeply unwell man susceptible to suggestions others are able to read as hyperbole and bluster.
Religion Dispatches received two very different responses to the shooting: One in the form of a letter to Sean Hannity from Candace Chellew-Hodge, a pastor at Garden of Grace UCC in South Carolina; and one from religious studies scholar Laurie Patton, a personal reflection on the values she learned as a young Unitarian Universalist.
Below you'll find an excerpt from each:
"If the Left succeeds in gaining and retaining more power, the well-being of future generations will be at greater peril. I fear (our children) will inherit a nation that is less free and less secure than the nation we inherited from the last generation. It is therefore our job to stop them. Not just debate them, but defeat them." -- Sean Hannity
I found these words on page 11 of your book Let Freedom Ring. This book, and similar ones from your conservative colleagues Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage, was found in the home of a man who read those words, internalized those words, and then loaded his shotgun. He took 76 rounds of ammunition with him to a place of worship -- a place where he knew he could do his job to stop and defeat some liberals. At the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jim Adkisson, a fan of yours, killed two people, wounded five others, and left an entire congregation and country shaken by his actions. Actions prompted, as he testified in his own written notes, by the ideas contained in your words.
I don't know if you remember me, Sean... Read More.
On July 27th Jim D. Adkisson walked into the Unitarian Church in Knoxville Tennessee, where the children were performing the play "Annie," and opened fire. I can't imagine what it might have been like to be a child in the church that day. A summer of learning and theater descended in a single second into violence and death. When the shooting began, some were so incredulous as to think it was part of the play. Mr. Adkisson had left a letter in his car stating, among other things, his hatred of the liberal movement.
Forty years ago, in the summer of 1968, I was also a Unitarian Universalist child. I was raised with the "Church across the Street" curriculum, where several Sundays a year, we visited the members of other religions in the area. We wouldn't have put it this way then, but we were taking part in something like our own miniature version of the Pluralism Project. Every Christmas we lit the Chanukah candles, sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and had a seminar on the Winter Solstice. It was not, as some scholars would say, "confined to a single orthodoxy." But it gave me the commitment to openness and inquiry that makes up the core of my scholarly identity today.
Unitarian Universalism also taught me about human rights, civil rights and gay rights... Read More.