Liberals Under Attack
I have two friends with connections to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was the church that saw a stranger enter the sanctuary and begin firing killing two parishioners and severely wounding several others.
I was quickly contacted by one,thinking I may not have heard of this dreadful attack, here in the Northwood. Of course I had already heard about on the BBC. I sent a note off to the other one to check that he was OK, for I knew he would have been there.
While I have never met either of these e-mail friends in person I have come to know them quite well over the Internet. I feel a great fellowship with them both. The one who was present in the church I have been helping for a couple of years to send money to a family in Cuba, he is trying to help. (our small effort to get around the ridiculous American embargo of that Nation.)
He returned my note with a brief assurance he was alright. He was quite close to the gunman but out of his line of site. He was having trouble sleeping and somewhat shaken for now.
Such gun violence in the United States is not very surprising. Other gatherings and institutions have been targeted in recent years.
It has been unsettling for several years now, particularly during the Bush administration , that "liberal " and "liberalism" have become code words for the enemy in our midst and the source of much which is wrong with America. Such notions invite attack by individuals who have a twisted idea of their country and the historic trends which have shaped it. In earlier times such code words were "communist", "witch" or "enthusiast" (a term used to refer to reformers during the Reformation.) Now it is Liberal. It has been suggested this incident should be considered a hate crime.
The Unitarian and Universalist churches have proudly understood themselves as liberal religion. At one time they were two separate and now one denomination, which were and are religious denominations which came out of the American experience. They are in fact as "American as apple pie" as the expression goes. They emerged from the Calvinism of the Puritans, were transformed by the New England Enlightenment and the Dieism and Progressive thought of the American Founding Fathers. The scientific, social and political movement of the 19th and early 20th Century also played their part to shape the free enlightened non-creedal church of today . The liberal church has been call "America's Fourth Faith" along with Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism, (now a dated notion with Buddhism being the fourth faith by number in the US and Muslims now outnumbering Jews in American.) In the last fifty years, America has become much more religiously pluralistic. It is has been written that Americanism is a religious faith of which Unitarianism is the current manifestation after the fire of faith has died down. The American religious experience will continue to liberalize other faiths in much the same way it has altered American Catholicism .
Those who see Liberalism as a negative force in American culture are lacking in understanding of American history, ideas and tradition. Political liberalism and conservatism, as we know them today are in fact two poles of the same political philosophy, properly called Liberalism, with a progressive and a conservative wing. Surely, they still teach "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill!
Ironically, for a person to want to attack a Unitarian church,who had the complaints this man had in Knoxville, is to attack part of the community who would most want to resolve the grievances he had, begiining with hearing him out followed by some social activism to make things better. It is not the liberal community who promotes the idea of radical individualism where everyone must sink or swim on their own, leaving people to despair. On the contrary, they are commited to community responsibility and service.
I would hope that those who demonize liberalism would think and question whether their angry overstatements and jaded judgements are partially responsible for attacks on liberal people and institutions. They need to temper their hateful attacks on liberalism.
The Unitarian Church takes great pride on being an open and welcoming institution willing to risk difficulties from strangers and the ill. They are mostly caringly redirected from any disruptive behaviour. This day, this was not an option, tragically.
It will be a sad day when fear and distrust sees entrances to churches protected with security guards and metal detectors.
I am sure the Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville will recover from the shock and fear of their experience. In the end, they will reaffirm their deeply held faith in religious openness and their commitment in the fundemental goodness of mankind to once again welcome the stranger in their midst. Their faith is strong and profound, moreso than oursiders will ever appreciate.