On the day after the shooting I composed both a pastoral email to the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church as well as an editorial for the Kansas City Star. This morning, my editorial appeared on page B-8. If you don't take the Star, you can access the story on-line here.
Here is what I wrote:
All across the country, Unitarian Universalists as well as our brothers and sisters who represent a vast diversity of faith traditions responded with shock, horror and disgust upon learning about the fatal church shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville on July 27.
These events struck home for me. My cousin is a member there and her husband was an usher on the opposite side of the room from which the gunman entered. The father of a friend of mine from seminary was one of the men who tackled the shooter.
Like a school, a camp or a hospital, a church is supposed to be a safe place. Every week millions of Americans enter houses of worship seeking healing for their grief, solace for their worries, and deep connections with each other.
Houses of worship are places where we can be vulnerable enough to be ourselves. It is because of that vulnerability that clergy and religious leaders are held to high standards, as are teachers, doctors and nurses.
As I write this, I have become aware of the news that the fatal attack was motivated by this broken man’s hatred of gays and “liberals.”
Such hatred represents a double violation. He attacked not only a single congregation but all places of worship that encourage their members to be fully who they are.
That Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville has a long history of promoting justice, equity and compassion in human relations. During the civil rights movement it took the risk of fighting segregation. In the decades since, it has continued this tradition by openly standing for human dignity and promoting equality for all persons.
We would do well to heed the theologian Forrest Church’s caution that, “To the extent that we eliminate risk from life, we may also succeed in sucking the air out of it. ‘A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for’. . . To bring ourselves to life requires courage.”
Church continues that the opposite of fear is not security, but love. It is a courage born of love to continue to work for justice and for equality, to not be cowed by those who are ill and misanthropic in their hatred. It is a courage born of love to be true about who we are and to share our lives as they are with others in beloved community.
May every place of faith in our community and country cast away fear in favor of the courage to be, the courage to love, and the courage to stand for human dignity.