Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some Fundamentalist Christian Responses to the Tennessee Shooting

Perhaps by now you've already heard of the horrifying shooting at a church in Tennessee. An unemployed man with a self-described "hatred of the liberal movement" is being charged with first-degree murder after shooting and killing two members of the liberal gay-welcoming Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

To begin, it should go without saying that this man isn't representative of all people who are opposed to liberals and gay people. I mean, you know a person's more than a little unhinged when he believes shooting up a church is justified because it's a gay-affirming liberal one. That being said, I have found some of the anti-gay reactions to this incident odd, to say the least.

1. On Responsibility

In any incident of this type, one has to wonder how anti-gay/anti-liberal writings and rantings factor into the equation. While I don't think the violence can be attributed solely to anti-gay propaganda, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that the recurring message that gays/liberals are ruining everything contributes to incidents such as these. After all, it's not like the the killer wrote his manifesto outlining his hatred of liberals and gays in a society brimming with unconditional love and acceptance of liberals, gay people, rainbows, and ponies.

While some anti-gay groups have gone on the defensive and wiped their collective hands clean of this incident, Good As You observes that the anti-gay "news" source OneNewsNow's coverage of the incident is ironically surrounded by articles criticizing gay people and the churches that support them.

Anti-gay/pro-family (whatever you choose to call them) regularly send out messages like how gay-affirming churches are not "in line with biblical teachings" and that allowing gays in the military is a key step leading to the, wait for it wait for it, "moral unraveling of society." I'm not advocating censorship here, but I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that these messages, in the mind of a desperate, unhinged person, could lead to violence.

Freedom of speech demands greater responsibility than what many anti-gay propagandists show via their demagoguery and fear-mongering opinion pieces.

2. The Unitarian "Church"

After perusing some of the reactions among the anti-gay crowd, what I found interesting were references to the "fact" that Unitarianism is not "real" Christianity. Now, am I the only one having trouble connecting the dots between how noting this "fact" is in any way relevant to noting that the shooting was heinous?

But alas, this odd juxtaposition goes along the lines of "Now, I don't condone this killer's actions, but can I just say that Unitarians are NOT real Christians!" Okay, neat-o. Like, you just had to throw that passive-aggressive little FYI in there for shits and giggles?

I mean, you can pretty much guarantee that had the shooting occurred at an Evangelical Church, some folks would be the first to cite the incident as yet more "proof" of Christian persecution.

But I digress.

I just find it really uncouth that, in the context of this shooting, people actually think it's an appropriate time to chime in that hey by the way Unitarians aren't "real" Christians. (And by the way, have any fundamentalists ever thought about taking a comparative religion course? I mean, seriously, this pastor didn't even know what Unitarianism was until he heard about this shooting and went and looked it up. But again, I digress.) Observe how this pastor opines in his article that is inaccurately entitled "Thoughts on the Tennessee Valley Shooting":

"My primary reason for writing this post is to answer the question: "What is the Unitarian Universalist church?" I was asked this yesterday and couldn't give a clear answer. All I knew is that they are a very liberal group, but I didn't know really what they believed."

Thus, contrary to the title of his post, his article is more about "What is the Unitarian Universalist church" and less about the actual shooting. For, after strongly condemning the shooting the scare quoting begins:

"[Y]ou can see for yourself on their own web site that the Unitarian Universalist 'church' is obviously not a true, biblical church by any means. They have no doctrinal belief about God. He/She/It can be whatever you want he/she/it to be. Or you can choose to not believe in a god at all. Or you can believe in many gods. It doesn't really matter....I could continue indefinitely describing this so-called "church" as a false church. Again, for more details see this helpful site for information on a wide range of religions, cults and denominations."

In addition, this blogger defensively predicts that oh dear god this horrible incident just might benefit the homaseckshuls and hurt the anti-gay Christian movement:

"Homosexual activists will try to persuade the public and legislators alike that speech and/or action taken against the pro-homosexual views of this "church" must be silenced. They will attempt to create an atmosphere of fear among the public. They will try show that conservatives on this issue are violent and must be stopped."

So, let me get this straight. Two Unitarians were murdered by a crazed gunman and this pastor's messages are (1) That this incident will probably hurt the anti-gay movement and (2) That the Unitarian church, excuse me "church," is a false one.

How loving and compassionate.

3. A Christian Message of "Peace"

Then, of course, there is professional anti-gay Peter LaBarbera's Christian message of "peace" concerning the incident. In an article entitled "Tennessee Church Murderer Deserves Death Penalty if Found Guilty," LaBarbera rebukes the incident and asks us to pray for the victims and their families.

While I appreciate the fact that the leader of an arguable anti-gay hate group decries this act of violence, I take no solace in his defensive message of violent vengeance. For, right after he asks us to do the Christian-y thing and pray he expounds:

"Of course, pro-homosexual activists will seek to exploit this case to win passage of a federal 'hate crimes' law, but as I told an American Family Association reporter today, surely justice can and will be done in this case — including the death sentence this murderer deserves — without the extra help of special 'hate crimes' prosecution."

Without getting into a full-on debate about the death penalty, this statement that LaBarbera mailed to a "homosexual" newspaper is simply inflammatory. He both accuses "pro-homosexual activists" of being exploitative and he describes hate crimes laws as "special" rights. If he himself were not being exploitative and opportunistic with respect to this tragedy he would have simply requested his followers to pray for the victims and their families and left it at that. Instead, he is politicizing this event to further his own anti-gay agenda.

In fact, I predict that, in the future, LaBarbera will point to this article and his cry for vengeance to "prove" to the world that he doesn't hate gay people and he doesn't run a hate group. You heard it here first.

Keeping in mind the rhetoric that many so-called Christian and anti-gay groups put out, I am not surprised that they are now defensively wiping their hands clean of this shooting. Perhaps most of those who lead the anti-gay movement do not wish harm on gay people or liberals. Yet, while watching them decry this act of violence while they simultaneously go into off-topic rants about how Unitarians are not "real" Christians and how gay rights activists could use this incident to their advantage, the above folks demonstrate how clumsy and reckless they are with their words.

By refusing to accept any semblance of responsibility for their intolerant, bigoted, and often hateful utterances and, in fact, refusing to even acknowledge that their words are intolerant, bigoted, and hateful I am not at all surprised that they see no link between themselves and those who commit violent acts against those they so frequently demonize.

Our words and actions always have consequences beyond what is foreseeable to us. That our words may affect someone as unhinged as the gunman in Tennessee is a risk we assume in a free country. It is a risk I wish those on the anti-gay side would at least acknowledge.

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