I was at first shocked to hear of Sunday’s shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. My first sad thought- I looked over at Iris and said, “I’ll bet this was a hate crime against UU’s or something.”
Unfortunately, I was right. It seems the shooter, an unemployed daily drinker whose foodstamps had just been decreased, had expressed a hatred for gays and lesbians, liberals and accused liberals of taking the jobs of upstanding conservatives such as himself.
He entered the church on Sunday during a play put on by the small congregation’s children- with about 200 church and family members in attendance. Two people were killed and several more were injured. He left what news sources are referring to as a “four page manifesto” spouting diatribes against liberals, gays and lesbians.
The FBI is investigating this as a hate crime and rightly so. I am a member of The First UU Church of Niagara right here in downtown Niagara Falls. It is a small but beautiful congregation filled with love and compassion.
I became a member almost five years ago. I was struck by “What UUs Believe” and felt that I had finally found a loving and accepting home in a church that I could bring my family to. Our entire family has found fellowship and friendship beyond our wildest expections in this small church.
However, I am not surprised that there are people who hate us because of our beliefs. It is unfortunate, but since the large swing toward social conservatism in the United States, there seems to be developing an increasing hostility of cultural differences. The intolerants have found a voice in the media and power in the voting booths. We have become Intolerant of Intolerants and have starting speaking up. We are growing farther and farther apart.
But I’d like to step back for just one moment, as a target of hate, and lay down my cross of victimization for a few. Let’s reflect for one moment that this action of violence, of hatred, of murderous rage… it has brought us together with even the most conservative of other religions in the United States.
In December of 2007, an armed gunman opened fire at New Life Church in Colorado. In October of 2006, in terroristic fashion, a shooter walked into an Amish School and systematically shot six little girls to death.
I’d like to think about what we Unitarian Universalists can learn about forgiveness from the Amish. Can we find it in ourselves to forgive this hate crime? I feel that we can. I feel that together all religions may be able to respect in each other the right to believe in our faiths and be safe and accepted in our fellowships.
As Unitarian Universalists, I am sure we are going to be able to set aside revenge and seek peace and justice. We will be there to support each other within our congregation and reach out to the Knoxville church. We will learn to trust our UU principles to find the inherent dignity of every person, and work toward the goal of world community.