Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some Reflections on the UU Church Shooting

As Lambeth '08 grinds on and on toward its--so it seems--rather disenchanted but eminently reasonable outcome, little signs percolate to the surface of the news cycle from the mission field. I am not referring to Archbishop Williams' scapegoating Bishop Robinson--I think it is quite apparent that scapegoating him has not worked, and will work even less to secure anything like unity with catharsis in the future. Too many people left and right know better by now, and excluding him presents the Communion to much of the globe as a pathetic parody of itself

I. ....the newspaper in one hand

One of these signs--it seems to me--is a recent mass shooting at a church in TN. It turns out the shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church was not a random, murderous mass shooting, but a hate crime, where the accused gunman acted specifically out a hatred for Liberals and Gays; he identified himself as a "Confederate" and a "believer" in "the Old South". The NYT wrote:

A man who the police say entered a Unitarian church in Knoxville during Sunday services and shot 8 people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and homosexuals, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.

He was shooting up a childrens' play; he planned to keep firing his shotgun until the police took him down. The man is not exactly a poster boy for John Calhoun's malevolent iteration of Jeffersonian agarianism--feeding on shit like "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by Bill O'Reilly, he managed to blame liberals and gays for his being unemployed. It probably did not strike him as noteworthy that any unemployment benefits he enjoyed he owed to the efforts of the political left.

His situation is worth pondering for a moment. He connected (A)his being unemployed with (B)liberals and gays, and then he connected (B) with (C): the UU church--apparently oblivious to the glaring cognitive dissonance implied in those connections. Yet these connections do not seem random; they seem rather to be commonplaces this poor sop picked up from our common culture ready-made when he sought a "reason" why he was without a job. "Common culture" is loose, but the term has to be loose given its a wide extension: print media, TV, movies, the internet, water-cooler conversation, etc.

Oh--perhaps there are people offended by the use of "church" for Unitarian Universalism; I've been in the company of many Christians who use "Universalist" as a term of abuse when they use it at all, an epithet of disdain--presumably for the UU take on the Trinity and Incarnation--like this anonymous poster who wrote (on 7/28):

There is no problem defending the orthodox position if, like myself, you are reasonably orthodox. Nor do North American Anglicans who are in fact unitarians and deists seem to have trouble defending their positions, at least in their opinion....

Instances could be multiplied; I have in mind comments like these made in 9/07, comments which reflect what seems to be a certain type of violent mindset on the right, in the context of conflict between Schori and Episcopalian conservatives:

He was really upset by this –in tears and shaking- and it included deposition, law suits, not allowing him to resign. . . We were quite angry on hearing this and wondered if they realized they were talking to a NM – TX bishop. Their cities may have a lot of urban gang problems; but, they don’t realize most of us have guns, know how to use them and nobody’s gonna mess with our bishops!

It is sad that we have to feel the need to defend ourselves, almost to the point of doing that one thing most of us who have done it, pray we never have; to take up arms to defend our way of life. That is what the reference to Small band of paratroppers was.

I’m already reaching for my pistol…
followed by:
Agreed. However, “reachin’ for my pistol” is an old expression I use around here. No threat is being made.

Interestingly, the saying is misattributed to Goering and Streicher, but is actually taken from Johst's play Schlageter performed for Hitler's birthday in '33:

Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning, or: Whenever I hear 'culture'... I remove the safety from my Browning (tr. at link above).

One could reach outside the narrow band of our troubles to refer to such things as Coulter's fun-and-games call for murdering a Justice:

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media"--

an instance of what David Neiwert at Orcinus has felicitously called an ideology of "eliminationism". Christians, Christians who make a big deal out of how they are following a Christ versus Culture model a la Barth's Bremen Declaration, have absolutely no business playing with our secular culture's tolerance of violence and the cultivation of domestic terrorism.

One might ask: are these violent sentiments worth protecting? Should Lambeth provide any shelter in its institutional arrangements for such sentiments?

This TN incident would not be the first time gays were targeted--recall that the Holocaust targeted gays. And what will we say about Leviticus 20:13?

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Some Christians, including one of GAFCON's major backers, Howard Ahmanson seems to think--still--that stoning gays is permitted; indeed, homosexuality is criminal, and even a crime for which one can be executed, in a number of GAFCON and GAFCON-sympathetic provinces.

Is it OK to live by 20:13 now--is its being OK a matter relative to culture? Was it ever OK to live by 20:13? When "biblical authority" comes up , Lev 20:13 should come up. Lev 20:13 is not alone for brutality in Scripture.

Consider the conquest of Canaan, e.g. the command at Numbers 31:17--even male babies and children carried in the womb are to be slaughtered on divine command. God commands the death of babies in numerous instances, e.g. most famously the mass murder at Exodus 12:29, and the command at I Sam 15:3--which Saul gets in big trouble for disobeying inter alia; God promises to tear pregnant women and their unborn infants apart at Hosea 13:16; God commands the deaths of the infants and childern of Ai in Joshua 8...had enough?

The Bible shows--reveals--to us who God is, the character of God, and we are meant to love God. With that in mind, these savage passages--which only partially represent the blood-soaked pages of Holy Scripture--provide a test for any set of hermeneutical principles with which one might approach Scripture, and especially for their consistency.

Anyhow, my point in closing is twofold: (1)Lambeth should not provide any shelter at all for violent sentiments against gays, or for sentiments tolerating violence; (2)Christians are people of an especially violent book, and in particular a book explicitly promoting violence against gays. In view of (1) and (2) it seems Christians--even those at Lambeth--bear a special burden for disengaging their religious practice from the culture of violence that targets gays. One hopes our bishops will remember this.


At 4:36 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

The saying misquoted as "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my revolver," is actually Whenever I hear 'culture'... I remove the safety from my Browning."

However, Greg Griffith says “reachin’ for my pistol”. A closer match to this expression would be from the 1996 Dayton Family disc "FBI" track 6 "Eyes Closed" which includes the lyrics:
"The feds are tryin to set me up
Reachin for my pistol grip, I'll pop it til I drop these hoes".

I do not believe that Greg Griffith is referring to this gansta rap lyric. I think it would be wrong to assume a connection even though the exact words "reachin for my pistol" are in the 1996 song lyrics.

Similarly, it is wrong to assume a connection between the 1930's Nazi play and Greg Griffith's use of "reachin for my pistol".

Given Greg's penchant for the music of Talking Heads, etc, it would make more sense to propose he had been influenced by Monochrome Set's "Reach for My Gun/ Wall flower"
which has the lyrics "I reach for my gun" and also includes the lyrics:
"you just don't pay attention to me, you never listen at all."


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