Magazine article The Christian Century

Unitarians Steadfast after Church Shooting

Magazine article The Christian Century

Unitarians Steadfast after Church Shooting

Article excerpt

Unitarian Universalist leaders say a fatal shooting at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, will not deter them from continuing their socially progressive teachings, even as police say those beliefs appeared to be a factor in the deadly rampage.

One day after the July 27 shooting at a church musical that left two congregants dead and six wounded, members began the healing process with a candlelight vigil.

"We're here tonight to make sense of the senseless," said William Sinkford, president of the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association, who flew to Knoxville to comfort the 460-member congregation. "Fear will not prevent us from standing on the side of love," he said, adding that the UUA will continue to open its doors to all.

A children's choir ended the rain-soaked vigil by singing "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," a popular song from the production of Annie Jr. that was interrupted by gunfire on that Sunday morning.

According to Knoxville police, Jim D. Adkisson, 58, who acted alone, opened fire inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and was arrested after three men in the congregation grabbed him as he stopped to reload his shotgun.

In a four-page letter found in Adkisson's car, the shooter wrote that the attack was motivated in part by the church's liberal beliefs. "Basically it indicated that he was upset because of his unemployment situation. It also indicated that he was not happy with the liberalism of [the UUA] movement, and also felt that that was partly the reason he was still unemployed," said Officer Darrell DeBusk, a police spokesperson. Adkisson's ex-wife once was a member of the church, the Associated Press said.

The Knoxville congregation has been active in pushing for racial justice, and it recently began holding events for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens, according to Janet Hayes, a spokesperson for UUA headquarters.

The attack, the first of its kind on a Unitarian church, has prompted an investigation by the FBI and local police. Police Chief Sterling Owen said the shooting was being treated as a hate crime.

Although Hayes said some congregations nationally have become more alert in the wake of the shootings, Sinkford said they remain committed to their causes. …

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