a response to the senseless

photo by Angie’s Taylor Made Memories

By now most everyone is aware of the shooting at Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville. I knew Linda Kraeger, who was killed, and Joe Barnhart, who was wounded. Last night we held a special service in response to this horrible act. I was asked to be one of eight speakers – below is what I had to say.

We Unitarian Universalists like to preach “deeds not creeds.” It can be comforting to immerse ourselves in doing, particularly in times of sorrow, when no doctrine will explain the unexplainable, and no creed will sooth our grief. But in our preference for action, we must not forget that faith matters too. We must never forget that it matters what we believe.

Last Sunday in Knoxville, it mattered what people believed.

The person who committed this horrible act had a difficult life. The sad irony is that if he had gone to that church with empty hands and an open heart, he would have been welcomed just as he as was, and folks would have done everything they could to help him. Instead, he believed his problems were caused by “them” – liberals, gay people, and anybody who was different from him.

We’ve seen this story countless times, and it never has a happy ending. It matters what we believe.

But there were people in that church who believed something else.

The Barnharts and Kraegers believed in family – so much that when some of them moved to Knoxville, the rest packed up and moved with them. I don’t know how many years I was here before I learned that Duane and Linda weren’t related to the Barnharts and the Chavez’s by blood or by marriage. They were just so close they looked like they were.

Greg McKendry believed in community – so much that he gave his life to save the lives of others. And then several people jumped the shooter and held him until the police arrived. The next time somebody tries to tell you liberals don’t know how to confront evil, remind them about the folks in Knoxville.

Shortly after the incident, a TV reporter interviewed Ted Jones, the President of Tennessee Valley UU, and asked if the church was going to rethink its support of marriage equality and other controversial issues. Ted Jones said “we’re not going to change, and our doors are going to stay open.”

So as we remember Linda Kraeger, let us also remember what we believe. We believe the content of your character is more important the color of your skin, or who you love, or what god or goddess you do or don’t pray to. We believe the Kingdom of God is right here, right now, and it’s our job to help build it. We believe in freedom and justice and compassion, not just for people who are like us, but for everyone, everywhere.

It matters what we believe.

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  • Thanks for posting this, John. I was really moved by it last night.

  • I’m hurting right now over this. As a UU and as an openly gay UU who attended church with the Barnharts and the Kraegers.

    I know this isn’t about me, or liberals or people who aren’t white. I know it in my head. But my heart is weighted down by the familar discomforts of the fearful. It trips that old, rusty but active wire that insists that when people like me go to church “just as we are,” we’re a liability to the innocent people around us.

    Thanks, John. I know this wasn’t easy for you to blog about.