Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Love in the Face of Hate Crimes

Jim David Adkisson pleaded guilty last week for the crime of shooting and killing two people during the Sunday worship service at the Tennessee Valley UU Church last July. The letter/manifesto he wrote and left in his car prior to the shooting has been released by the press. Before you read it or read further here, be aware that it is has strong negative and prejudicial langugage, as well as profanity. It can be read in full here. On the first page, he talks about his inability to get a job, and his hatred of liberals. He says, "The worst problem America faces today is Liberalism. They have dumbed down education, they have defined deviancy down. Liberals have attacked every major institution that made America great. From the Boy Scouts to the military, from education to Religion."

On the second page, Adkisson attacks Unitarian Universalists in particular, under a heading "The Unitarian Universalist Church," saying:

It isn't a church, it's a cult. They don't even believe in God. They worship the God of secularism. These sick people aren't Liberals, they're Ultra-Liberals. This is a collection of sicko's, weirdo's, & homo's. The UU church is the Fountainhead, the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations like Moveon.org, Code Pink, and
other anti-American groups. Those people are absolute Hypocrits. They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike, but if they find out your a conservative, they absolutely Hate you. I know, I experienced it.
Some of that language you may find offensive; what follows was even more so, so I am not reprinting it here. And then, on the third page is a section titled "Know This If Nothing Else" with three itemized items: I. This was a hate Crime, II. This was a Political Protest, and III. This was a symbolic killing. Each one is elaborated on. The fourth page has a "Conclusion," and is signed by Adkisson. In the conclusion, he says to tell the police officer who killed him a message, so it's clear that he didn't believe he'd live after this intended killing spree. As he talks about wanting to kill many more people than he did, it's clear that his intention was to kill more than he was able to, thanks to the quick-witted congregation members at TVUUC.

I'm not sure what I make of all of this, except that when I read it I experience profound sadness and confusion. Why does a message of love and inclusion anger and outrage some people so much?

Something in me was tempted to address this claim Adkisson made, that people in UU churches hated him for being a conservative. Sure, there are growing areas each UU church has in how to be more welcoming and tolerant, but I think, rather, that it is all that he knew and could understand at that point was hate. The message we need to take from this is not the message about how we respond to conservatism in our congregations. That's a message for another day.

What I can say is that I have great admiration for the way TVUUC has responded, and, in particular, the graceful public presence of Rev. Chris Buice. His Newsweek article, if you missed it, was excellent. In it, he concludes:
Members of my congregation have been hurt. But we have also been healed by the feeling that there is a love greater than our theological differences, a compassion that is not limited by the boundaries of any creed. I firmly believe, now more than ever, that love is stronger than death. Love is more powerful than hate.

Amen to that. Adkisson said we don't beleive in God. Yet, on our altar is written, "God is love." In the face of such hatred and violence, it would be easy to turn to hatred ourselves--to really hate conservatives as Adkisson alleges we do. But in times like these, more than any others, we must turn to the root of our faith and practice what we preach, "live our religion," as the closing song at our church goes. And our religion is love.

7 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

To my knowledge Rev. Cyn you are the first and only U*U blogger to have posted the part of Jim Adkisson's suicide note cum "manifesto" that criticizes the Unitarian Church. Other U*U bloggers have posted other excerpts but have chosen to overlook what Adkisson said about the Unitarian Church. You are to be commended for doing so and I hope that other U*U bloggers will follow in your footsteps and, looking past Jim Adkisson's obvious racism, homophobia, and anti-liberal bigotry, recognize that what he says about the Unitarian Church holds at least a grain of truth to it.

Adkisson overgeneralizes when he says,

"They don't even believe in God."

and

"They worship the God of secularism."

but everybody knows that a good number of Unitarian*Universalists are atheists. In some ways, some U*U atheists are even as bigoted against believers as Jim Adkisson is against U*Us. . .

:These sick people aren't Liberals, they're Ultra-Liberals.

I find this interesting in light of The Oregonian newspapers description of Unitarian*Universalism as "The Church of the Far Left" when it reported on the 2007 UUA GA in Portland. That description of U*Uism is almost indistinguishable from Jim Adkisson's words. Perhaps U*Us need to devote some thought to why they are perceived by some people as "Ultra-Liberals" of the "Far Left" rather than average run-of-the-mill liberals

:This is a collection of sicko's, weirdo's, & homo's.

Not that Adkisson isn't a bit of a sicko and weirdo. . .

:The UU church is the Fountainhead, the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations like Moveon.org, Code Pink, and
other anti-American groups.

I believe I have already addressed this. Here comes the important bit -

:Those people are absolute Hypocrits. They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike, but if they find out your a conservative, they absolutely Hate you. I know, I experienced it.

Jim David Adkisson is clearly stating that he experienced, or at least perceived, that conservatives are absolutely Hated with a capital 'H' by Unitarian*Universalists. While U*Us are very busy pointing the finger at the "hate speech" of right-wing shock jocks as the "inspiration" for Jim Adkisson's murderous rampage, so far. . . no U*U has dealt with the very real possibility, even the probability, that "hate speech" of one kind or another leveled at Jim Adkisson and other political conservatives was almost certainly a motivating factor in his attack on U*Us as well.

In light of Jim Adkisson's obvious racism and homophobia it would not surprise me if he was subjected to some not unjustified contempt by Unitarian*Universalists who he had contact with, but the fact remains that anti-Republican and broader anti-conservative intolerance and bigotry is a serious problem within the U*U religious community and it seems that this widespread intolerance of conservatives did not go unnoticed by Jim Adkisson. It would seem that his hatred of Unitarian*Universalists was motivated in part by feeling hated *by* Unitarian*Universalists. This is something that Unitarian*Universalists need to stop ignoring or denying, responsibly acknowledge, and take steps to remedy. There is no excuse for Jim Adkisson's murderous attack on the Knoxville Unitarian Church but U*Us need to understand that, at least in part, they may well have reaped a whirlwind of hate from hate-filled anti-conservative "wind" that they themselves sowed. . .

Cynthia Landrum said...

Hi Robin,

Thank you for your comment. And thank you also for your offer to me to not publish it. Obviously, I am publishing it, so I'd like to address some of what you say. And I want to acknowledge that you clearly say that Adkisson's actions are not justified. I hear that. Ultimately, that's the bottom line. Thank you for stating it so clearly.

Clearly, this hatred of conservatives is what Adkisson says he experienced. We'll never know for sure either if it is true to what he thinks, or how much the average person, even the average conservative, might think he has warped his experience. And, as you rightly point out, no amount of prejudice he might have experienced from UUs would justify his actions.

We are a liberal religious church. And that's a hard distinction to make from being a liberal political church. Some might well argue that there is no distinction that is meaningful.

I am a political liberal, myself, and also an agnostic Humanist. And I take seriously the critiques I hear that Humanists are intolerant of Christians and that liberals are intolerant of conservatives. But I also say I have also heard the opposite in UU settings, as well. I personally have heard a lot of humanist-bashing, particularly in the last few years.

In my own church, we have a higher than average percentage of both Christians and conservatives, as compared to an "average" UU church, whatever that may be. I work hard, and the church leadership works hard, to make sure that this diversity is honored, respected, embraced, and celebrated. I personally have made concessions to what I think is theologically grounded and grounded in our tradition in order to make more welcoming space in worship for these perspectives. A case in point would be our recent decision to put the U.S. flag in our sanctuary on certain holidays, something that I personally believe is idolotry and blurs the separation of church and state, but which I ultimately worked with the worship committee to decide to do in order to honor the wishes of the more conservative veterans in our church.

I can't speak to or evaluate Adkisson's experience. I am definitely unwilling to address his comment in any way that might sound like I think TVUUC brought this on themselves, or that any UU church did, because we all know it's completely unjustified.

All I can do is say, "Does this sound like my church that he's describing? Does it sound like what I know of UUism as a faith or a movement?" And my answer is, "It does not." Yet, do we have work to do as a movement in this area? Yes.

And there I agree with you that it's something we need to look at and address, but I don't want to be taken in by this man's version of reality. His reality is that prejudice received is justification for killing. So I cannot use his words to condemn any others.

This may seem like hair-splitting and justification, but it's the line I personally draw on this.

Robin Edgar said...

I hear you Cynthia and I respect what you have said here even if I do not *entirely* agree with everything you said. I am a political liberal myself, albeit a moderate one who is as wary of the "far left" as the "far right". Like most Unitarian*Universalists I am opposed to the death penalty, even for serious crimes like murder, so I obviously do not condone or even sympathize with Jim David Adkisson's fortunately cut short murderous rampage in Knoxville. It is also abundantly clear from his "manifesto" that Jim Adkisson is a racist and a "homophobe" besides being a murderous anti-liberal bigot. The fact remains however that people who are subjected to hate may respond to it by hating the haters. This is of course something of a vicious circle in every sense of the phrase. . .

My main point here is that those Unitarian*Universalists who are pointing the finger very directly at alleged or actual right wing "hate speech" as being the prime motivating factor in Jim Adkisson's decision to murder Knoxville Unitarian*Universalists cannot ignore the fact that, according to his own testimony, he experienced hate directed at him and other conservatives by Unitarian*Universalists. Regardless of the fact that his murderous attack was not justified by any amount of hate directed at him by U*Us, it does not change the fact that whatever real or imagined hate he did perceive was a motivating factor in his attack. Killing Unitarian*Universalists was an unjustified over-reaction to any real hate that he may have been subjected to by U*Us, but this does not change the fact that *some* Unitarian*Universalists may well have sown hate-filled anti-conservative "wind" which subsequently came back to Unitarian*Universalists, possibly even completely innocent ones who had never sown such hateful "wind" themselves, in the deadly form of the "whirlwind" of Jim David Adkisson's shotgun blasts. Unitarian*Universalists cannot blame right wing hate speech for motivating Jim Adkisson's attack without acknowledging that left wing hate speech directed at Jim David Adkisson by anti-conservative Unitarian*Universalists may well have been a motivating factor for his attack as well. . . Well, actually they *can*, and do, hence my own counterpoint blog posts and my comments on pertinent blog posts of other bloggers to make this point. Just because Jim David Adkisson took things way too far in his response to any real or imagined prejudice, or indeed capital 'H' Hate, on the part of Unitarian*Universalists does not mean that his "version of reality" is *completely* false or delusional. Unitarian*Universalists need to read what Adkisson said about his perception and/or experience of U*Uism and then enter into a free and genuinely *responsible* search for whatever level of truth and meaning his suicide note cum "manifesto" actually contains.

I have been subjected definite prejudice and intolerance, if not outright bigotry and what can be justifiably described as hate speech, by U*Us myself. I have seen clear evidence of anti-Republican and more broadly anti-conservative intolerance on the part of Unitarian*Universalists. This kind of intolerant and even hateful behavior by U*Us needs to be responsibly acknowledged by U*U religious leaders, perhaps especially UUA denominational leaders, and those people harmed by it deserve apologies at the very least. I have seen far more evidence of anti-religious or anti-conservative intolerance than anti-humanist intolerance on the part of U*Us but if real anti-humanist intolerance exist it to should be responsibly addressed. There is nothing wrong with righteously pointing the finger at various injustices and abuses occurring outside of the U*U World, but to do so without taking note of the three fingers pointing back at U*Us and responsibly addressing and redressing internal U*U injustices and abuses, is commonly known as self-righteousness and hypocrisy. . .

Cynthia Landrum said...

Just because Jim David Adkisson took things way too far in his response to any real or imagined prejudice, or indeed capital 'H' Hate, on the part of Unitarian*Universalists does not mean that his "version of reality" is *completely* false or delusional. Unitarian*Universalists need to read what Adkisson said about his perception and/or experience of U*Uism and then enter into a free and genuinely *responsible* search for whatever level of truth and meaning his suicide note cum "manifesto" actually contains.

I largely agree. We can't assume his experience of us is entirely delusional. But neither do I want to assume that it's entirely accurate and sane. The way we each would lean in our emphasis of that is probably different, but that's reasonable.

So you're right, the only thing we can do is enter into a responsible internal search into how we treat conservatives who come through our doors, and whether we are, ourselves, creating hate speech against the right. I think it's appropriate for each church to do this individually in their own ways, given our congregational polity. I do know that we look at it and address it in ours in regular ways. It doesn't mean that I don't still hear real frustatration expressed, on both sides, from time to time. But I routinely emphasize how we would be poorer, as a movement and as a church, without this diversity. I also emphasize that sometimes that means that the church will take stances on issues that individuals will disagree with, but part of our non-creedal system and our free church polity is that we don't each, individually, have to agree with the actions of the church as a whole. That also leaves me free to disagree with things that we do, too, but still remain connected and a part of the insitution. And that goes to UUA stands, too, not all of which I always agree with, but recognizing that I am still free to disagree, and that our church is free to disregard denominational decrees, if they can be termed such, as well.

Robin Edgar said...

Thank you for acknowledging that I am right about Unitarian*Universalists needing to enter into a responsible internal search into how U*Us treat conservatives who come through our doors, and whether U*Us are, themselves, creating hate speech against the right Rev. Cyn. I do try to be right as much as possible and also to responsibly acknowledge when I am clearly proven to be wrong about something, or simply come to that conclusion myself. I think that we have had a productive discussion of a very difficult subject here and I once again thank you for engaging with me rather than suppressing my comments as too many U*Us, especially U*U clergy would. That being said, I have noticed that fewer U*U ministers are censoring and suppressing my comments these days, indeed some that were very consistently suppressing my comments have stopped doing so or at least significantly decreased the number of comments they suppress and that is very much appreciated, perhaps in more than one sense of the word appreciate.

I would just like to say that the principle we have discussed has a much more general application, as I am sure you will agree. Unitarian*Universalists need to enter into a responsible internal search into how U*Us treat *anyone* who comes through the doors of U*U churches, and whether U*Us are, themselves, creating hate speech against any group or indeed individual human being. If and when U*Us determine that they are in fact creating hate speech, or engaging in other forms of unjustified intolerance, U*Us need to responsibly acknowledge this regrettable reality and take steps to correct the situation. I believe that Unitarian*Universalist clergy need to be particularly concerned about Unitarian*Universalist ministers who are engaging in various forms of hate speech or other intolerant, abusive, or even outright hostile and bigoted behavior. Congregational polity notwithstanding I believe that U*Us need to identify and responsibly deal with internal injustices abuses within the greater U*U World. If U*Us can point the finger at injustices, abuses and hypocrisy occurring outside of the U*U World I see no reason why they cannot point the finger at injustices, abuses and hypocrisy occurring within the U*U World even if their congregation is not directly implicated in them. I wish you and your congregation well.

Regards,

Robin Edgar

Cynthia Landrum said...

Thank you for acknowledging that I am right... I do try to be right as much as possible...

:) Me too.

Robin Edgar said...

Well I think you did the right thing here Rev. Cynthia, as difficult to deal with as it may have been, and I mean starting with your initial blog post which revealed what Jim Adkisson said about the Unitarian Universalist Church in his "manifesto". I am not aware of any other U*U blogger who has done so yet.

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar