Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Jim David Adkissons of the World are Listening

I grew up in east Tennessee near Knoxville. Though I was raised a Southern Baptist, I was never drawn to that affiliation as an adult. When I was introduced to polyamory and got to know more and more polyamorists, I encountered many UU polys with whom I felt a real affinity - our values were very similar, so when Tim and I got together and he was looking for a new UU church, he and I happily signed the membership book together at Paint Branch UU, where today we are very active members.

When my mother was dying a couple of years ago, Tim and I visited the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. It was an oasis of tolerance, welcome and kindness during a very difficult time, and I was very grateful that there was a UU church in the area where we could spend a couple of hours in comfort with such an open and accepting group of people.

Imagine our shock and sorrow to hear the news from Knoxville that Jim David Adkisson, a man who says he hates liberals and gays, brought a shotgun in a guitar case into TVUUC on Sunday and killed an usher, Greg McKendry and a woman, Linda Kraeger and wounded seven others, five of whom remain in serious condition, before he was wrestled to the ground by members of the congregation. Had these heroes not acted quickly, many more would have died. Adkisson had almost 80 shotgun shells in the fanny pack he wore, and the letter he left in his truck parked outside said he intended to keep shooting until the police arrived and killed him. He is a troubled, out of work man filled with hate for liberals and gays who believes both are destroying our country.

Greg McKendry is the biggest hero of all - many of the witnesses saw him step right into the line of fire and take the first shot rather than have it kill several others nearby. Two more shots were fired before Adkisson was subdued and police arrived.

Sunday's service was a children's service where a production of an adaptation of Annie was just under way. Thankfully no children were hurt physically. All throughout the UU world we are mourning for all involved, but especially for the children who witnessed this horrible crime. We also mourn for the families of the dead and wounded, and for the TVUUC congregation as it tries to make sense of this and find its way back to worship and social action in their beautiful church, even knowing the horrors that just took place there.

I am grateful to all of the Knoxville congregations - Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim - who have rallied to TVUUC's side and denounced this violation of the sanctity we all cherish, no matter what our faith. Some of my very own east Tennessee family members have used hate speech in my presence, and I'm hoping this incident will persuade them to think again and monitor their words. The Jim David Adkissons of the world are listening.

I don't usually post here about non-poly-related events, and this may seem like one of the rare exceptions, but in a way it is consistent with the activism work I've been doing for many years now. I do my best to bring an attitude of tolerance and compassion to the most offensive online remarks made about polyamory, and certainly my UU values support me in that effort.

Fortunately the Unitarian Universalist Association has a very skilled trauma team. It along with UUA president Bill Sinkford headed to Knoxville immediately and are providing valuable services to the members of TVUUC and their loved ones. Now UU churches around the world, but especially in the US, are worrying about copycat killers and how to protect their congregations while remaining the open, welcoming and tolerant "sanctuary" they are. Our innocence has been stolen from us by hate, but we will respond with love and compassion. It is the UU way.

By the way, I am a candidate running unopposed for election to the Board of Trustees of Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness and will devote some of my activism time to increasing awareness of polyamory within the Unitarian Universalist Association. You might think that polyamory would be accepted as a matter of course in UU congregations, but some are uncomfortable being openly welcoming of polyamorists due to memories of how many relationships were disrupted or destroyed by the free love/human potential movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then people were indeed pretty much doing their thing without any skills to know how to make it work. Our job is to help them understand the differences between polyamory and free love in terms of knowledge and skills that preserve existing relationships - polyamory being Free Love 2.0, if you will.

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