Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death & Innocence & the Future of Democracy

Christina McNight wrote over at her blog, following the Tucson shootings:

While I am beyond horrified at the killing of a nine year old girl – BEYOND HORRIFIED – I am equally as horrified at the people who seem to think that she was the only innocent person who was injured or killed that day.
ALL of the people in the parking lot on Saturday were innocent.  NONE of them had “done anything”.
Her words got me thinking.  This has always been my reaction to other events involving the death of  young children--that it was tragic, yes, and that they were innocent, yes, but that there are a lot of tragic deaths and everyone is innocent.

Yet with Christina Taylor Greene, I've responded tragically.  Christina is right that nobody in that parking lot had done anything that made them deserve to get shot, and all of the deaths were tragic.  But I've responded to Christina Taylor Greene's death in a way I've never responded to any other similarly publicized tragedy.  I hear her name, and tears just start coming down my face and I start thinking of what a loss to the world this beautiful little girl's death was. 

Why has it affected me so much?  Was it because of her age? her innocence? her beauty? her growing civic-mindedness? her talents? her birthday on 9/11?  Cynically, one might suggest that the media and nation isn't so captivated when an African-American child is shot and killed in the city.  

This isn't what has captivated me.  I know what it is.  It is that I, too, have a little girl, only a little younger than Christina Taylor Greene.  I don't usually put pictures of her on my blog, to protect her privacy, but I'm going to make an exception this time and illustrate this with a picture of my family, and some other people, with Senator Carl Levin at a political rally.  We never got a president to kiss our baby--this was as close as we came. 

I've taken her to political rallies and protests and taken  her to meet her congressional representative (who was then Rep. Mark Schauer).  Schauer received threats while in office, of course.  And outside his office last summer or fall there was another protest against the Representative who I consider a friend and voted for, and I saw a man in the crowd wearing a gun yelling at the office building.

It scared me.  I'm scared for our president and our other elected officials when I see the photos of people bringing guns to political rallies, even if these people are only trying to make a statement about their second amendment rights.  The way they're making that statement carries with it a threat of violence that is well understood by them, I believe, under the gun rights rhetoric.  It scared me when I saw that gun, because I believed that man could mean violence, and it could've been a place to which I had brought my own child.

And then somebody acted on that very sort of threat this time.  And I look at Christina Taylor Greene's picture and weep, because I can understand the heartbreak of her parents, although I've never been in their shoes, because I can imagine too easily being in those shoes. 


This killing of a child in a public place while she was engaged in the exercise of democracy strikes a deep terror in me.  And, at the same time, it feels like a great threat to our democracy, because it could mean that people like me will stay home from political events, and that little girls like Christina won't go to meet their representatives and learn to get engaged in democracy.

I want to say that I won't do anything differently because of Christina's death, but I don't know that this is true.  What I do know is that I want her death to mean something, to mean something important in our country.  I want her death to stand for a time when we changed and became more civil.  I want her death to be a time when we changed and became more engaged in creating an America the Beautiful and stopped tearing each other down and threatening violence. 

And part of those tears that fall every time I hear her name is a fear that before long her name, like so many others, will be forgotten, and this promise that she held, and that we hold for her now, will be unfulfilled. 

4 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

They say that charity begins at home Rev. Landrum. Perhaps the same thing can be said about civility. . .

On two occasions spaced about a decade apart I filed formal clergy misconduct complaints against U*U ministers who were considerably "less than civil" with me and other people. Indeed they were both guilty of deeply insulting and outright defamatory language and other forms of verbal and psychological abuse, to say nothing of abuse of the power invested in them as Unitarian*Universalist ministers. UUA administrators, including a UUA President. . . responded to my first unbecoming conduct complaint by pretending that the minister had done nothing worthy of further investigation and even having the gall to assert that the minister's intolerant (to the point of bigotry) and abusive behavior was "within the appropriate guidelines of ministerial leadership." A decade later UUA administrators decided that, because the "less than perfect" U*U minister's insults and abuse were committed while hiding behind the cowardly cover of internet anonymity (even though I had discovered her identity and "outed" her) that she, and presumably by extension ALL other U*U ministers. . . could utter any opinion that they cared to utter while anonymous. The exact words of the UUA administrator's ruling were -

"It is the case that in this situation the minister’s blog is anonymous ( though you were able to identify the individual) and that she is free to express her opinions and to do so outside of her professional role as a minister serving a congregation."

Brilliant!

So, as things stand now. . . according to that UUA ruling, *any* U*U minister can spout all manner of intolerant and abusive or otherwise harmful and damaging wrong-headed opinion they care to spout as long as they do so under the cowardly cover of internet anonymity if not other forms of anonymity.

No?

It seems to me that U*U ministers thus lack the moral authority to call for civility in public discourse when *they* are expressly allowed to insult and defame people, and otherwise verbally and psychologically abuse people with complete impunity, even tacit UUA approval of their verbal and psychological abuse.

Am I mistaken?

Cynthia Landrum said...

While we should leave stone-throwing to those who are sin-free, I don't think we need to be perfect before we can call for the world to be a better place.

As for the right of UU ministers to speak anonymously, I would say that if you're labeling yourself a UU minister you're labeling yourself as speaking, to some degree, for the movement and the denomination, and the UUA should be able to, to the same extent they can if you're not anonymous, hold you accountable. That being said, the free pulpit and congregational polity limit their ability to affect things. For certain types of speech, obviously, they do bring people back in front of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, but even this doesn't mean the individual church has to take action.

On the other hand, if you're not labeling yourself as a UU minister, and acting as a private person and speaking anonymously -- an example might be in comments on a website like Huffington Post -- I think your anonymity should be preserved. And, in general, I'm not in favor of uncovering the anonymous identity anywhere. People have some good reasons for why they've chosen to blog anonymously, and that needs to be respected.

Robin Edgar said...

:While we should leave stone-throwing to those who are sin-free, I don't think we need to be perfect before we can call for the world to be a better place.

I generally agree Rev. Cyn but there is these things known as hypocritical double standards and it is definitely a hypocritical double standard for U*U ministers to publicly call for civil public discourse when U*U ministers are not so much as reprimanded for their own far from civil discourse and are even officially allowed by the UUA, and its all too aptly named Ministerial Fellowship Committee, to express absolutely any opinion that they care to express, no matter how intolerant and bigoted, otherwise wrongful or harmful, or offensive and disgusting etc. etc. that opinion may be, as long as they do so under the cowardly cover of internet anonymity. In fact this highly questionable UUA-MFC ruling made by former Congregational Services Director Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris and endorsed by former MFC Executive Secretary Rev. Beth Miller, to say nothing of UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery who is usually involved in vetting such UUA-MFC rulings if I am reliably informed by UUA sources. . . raises the question as to what other harmful and damaging, or unethical and immoral, activities Unitarian*Univeralist ministers may engage in "outside" of their role as a U*U minister as long as they do so using a pseudonym or anonymously.

:As for the right of UU ministers to speak anonymously, I would say that if you're labeling yourself a UU minister you're labeling yourself as speaking, to some degree, for the movement and the denomination, and the UUA should be able to, to the same extent they can if you're not anonymous, hold you accountable.

That was my position, as expressed in the formal clergy misconduct complaint that I filed against the pseudonymous-anonymous U*U minister in question and-or the follow-up emails that I sent to Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris and Rev. Beth Miller. Apparently they disagree with us. I believe to the detriment of U*U ministry, the UUA and MFC, and the Unitarian Universalist religious communitty more generally.

Robin Edgar said...

:That being said, the free pulpit and congregational polity limit their ability to affect things.

The last time I checked there were UUMA Guidelines that U*U ministers are expected to honor and uphold. AFA*I*AC this U*U minister's deeply insulting and offensive blog posts wantonly disregarded or outright violated the letter and the spirit of UUMA Guidelines. Unfortunately the UUA's seriously flawed policies and procedures for dealing with unbecoming conduct and other forms of clergy misconduct make the UUMA Guidelines all but unenforcable. In fact Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris stated that -

"The guidelines that you reference are those of the UU Ministers Association and not the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. These are separate bodies, each with their own procedures and rules."

This raises the question as to just what behavioral guidelines the MFC procedures and rules may contain. The last time I checked there were no behavioral guidelines in the MFC rules. . .

:For certain types of speech, obviously, they do bring people back in front of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, but even this doesn't mean the individual church has to take action.

Please do tell everyone just what "types of speech" U*U ministers face some accountability from the MFC for Rev. Cyn. I am not aware of any, with the sole exception of plagiarising other U*U minsiters sermons which seems to be a terrible crime worthy of forcing a minister to resign and defellowshipping him or her.

According to UUA-MFC rulings it is "within the appropriate guidelines of ministerial leadership" for intolerant and abusive "fundamentalist atheist" U*U ministers to contemptuously dismiss a congregant's monotheistic religious beliefs as being nothing but "silliness and fantasy". It is also ruled to be "within the appropriate guidelines of ministerial leadership" for a U*U minister to rudely interrupt a congregant who is trying to explain a profound revelatory religious experience to the minister sneeringly saying -

"You mean your psychotic experience."

And angrily insisting that said congregant seek "professional help" immediately.

As if this was not enough it was ruled to be "within the appropriate guidelines" for said intolerant to the point of bigotry, and otherwise verbally and psycholigically abusive, U*U minister to falsely and maliciously label an inter-religious event as a "cult".

:On the other hand, if you're not labeling yourself as a UU minister, and acting as a private person and speaking anonymously -- an example might be in comments on a website like Huffington Post -- I think your anonymity should be preserved.

The minister in question was in fact claiming to be a Unitarian*Universalist minister, albeit one who operated under a pseudonym rather than their real name. That being said Rev. Cyn, do you *really* believe that a U*U minister uttering deeply offensive, outright obscene, racist and-or homophobic, or otherwise intolerant and bigoted comments, or even various forms of slander, libel, and "hate speech", should not be "outed" and held accountable for their unethical and abusive behavior which completely disregards U*U principles and ideals?

I certainly don't. . .

:And, in general, I'm not in favor of uncovering the anonymous identity anywhere.

See above.

:People have some good reasons for why they've chosen to blog anonymously, and that needs to be respected.

Correction Rev. Cyn. *Some* people have some good reasons for why they've chosen to blog anonymously, and that may well need to be respected. But plenty of other people have some "less than good" aka immoral an unethical, even outright evil. . . reasons for why they've chosen to blog anonymously, and *that* most certainly does not need to be respected, especially if these people happen to be "less than perfect" U*U clergy.

No?