Pam Spaulding

Shooting in Tennessee -- Knoxville church had just put up gay-affirming sign

Filed By Pam Spaulding | July 28, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Fundies Religion, hate crimes against LGBT people, Tennessee

Out & About, Tennesee's LGBT paper, reports one aspect of the high-profile tragic shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church that I didn't see when I flipped on the TV to see coverage on CNN this AM. jimadkisson.jpgWhile you probably heard that Jim D. Adkisson, 58, opened fire with a shotgun during a church event killing two (more than 200 people were attending a performance of "Annie"), the Knoxville congregation had also recently put up a sign to publicly welcome LGBTs to worship.

Greg McKendry, 60, was killed when he confronted the gunman as he entered the church. Knoxville Police have charged Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell, with first-degree in the death of McKendry. Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV said Adkission shot eight people with a 12-gauge shotgun. Of those shot, all were adults- four women and three men.

...Knoxville Police have not yet released a motive for the shooting. The church is the site of some gay affirming activities. A member of the congregation wrote in a national blog that the church just recently put up a sign welcoming gays. One of the goals of the church's long range plan is to "Increase congregational participation in human rights programs for gay/lesbian/transgendered persons."

That church member was Elrod of The Moderate Voice:

I was not there this morning as we had friends visiting from out of town. But we seriously considered attending with our friends. This is such a shock to the community here. Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is such a welcoming community. Though it's decidedly more liberal than East Tennessee as a whole, we have very good relations with the rest of the community. I don't understand why anybody would do this. All we know right now is that the suspect was not connected to the church in any way. I have no idea if the man had some sort of political or cultural agenda (TVUUC had just put up a sign welcoming gays to the congregation), or if it's just some lunatic acting for no reason at all.

Before opening fire, one witness said Adkisson shouted something to the congregation that suggests he was there for a purpose -- "It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things." The FBI is officially investigating whether this brutal attack in a house of worship was a hate crime.

Going back to the MSM coverage of this horror -- for instance, the article on the CNN web site covering the story, has a vague reference to the progressive positions of the church, but no mention of the new gay-affirming sign as a possible motive.

The church, on its Web site, describes itself as a community that has worked for social change -- including desegregation, women's rights and gay rights -- since the 1950s.

Well, that would be true of UU churches generally, no news there. Out & About elaborates:

It is home to Knoxville's Spectrum Café, which is a social gathering place for Knoxville area high school youth who "support the principles of diversity, tolerance, and the worth and dignity of every human being." Teens who come to Spectrum respect each others' ideas, religious views, race, sexual orientations, abilities, and ethnic backgrounds. The group welcomes "self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who are questioning their sexual or gender identity."

The Knoxville Monday Gay Men's Group meets at the church each Monday from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

David Massey is one of the coordinators of Spectrum Café, also known as "Spectrum Diversi-Tea and Coffee House," which will begin its eighth year this spring. "We advertise it as a safe harbor for teens who identify as LBGTQ and their straight friends and allies, plus any other youth who are being harassed for religious beliefs, appearance, or abilities," Massey said in an interview with UU World Magazine.

The proximity of the posting of the gay-affirming sign to the attack, plus the eyewitness report that Adkisson's statements prior to blasting the crowd are relevant facts to report, after all, we will likely find out what he said -- members of the congregation were recording the performance of Annie when the tragedy occurred; police are reviewing the videos.

Pay attention to the MSM coverage -- let us know in the comments whether this angle sees the light of day in reports.


Over at Pandagon, the thread contains interesting observations and reactions that are understandable, but perilously come close to blaming the church for the incident because it publicized its LGBT tolerance in a Red part of the country.

My response:

Any attempt to say that it was a misguided idea to put the sign out is making the case for the closet's continued existence. This was a house of worship; withholding a public statement for the sake of the comfort of homophobes, bigots and crazies is counter to everything "outreach" stands for.

Four little innocent black girls died in a church bombing in Birmingham during the civil rights movement because the people there were fighting for their civil rights. Should blacks have kept children away, or stop their activism because of the fear of Bull Connor and his cretins?

This incident in Tennessee is a reminder that homophobia and political dissent can manifest itself in extreme violence. Instead of hiding, more people need to come out. There are precious few willing to put their lives on the line passively and actively as they did back in the day. That's why our first reaction is to make the victim the instigator -- we don't want to think about how untethered acts can come from allowing bigotry, legal and social, to hold sway in this country.

Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Pam, as always, a great post and analysis of what is at work. The MSM have been slow to spell out what progressive and liberal stances Tennessee Valley UU is taking on GLBT issues. About mid-morning, they broke through that hesitancy and started talking about the "gay" angle after the Knoxville Chief of Police mentioned it based on the text of Adkisson's note/manifesto/diatribe.

The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition released a statement today that talks about the transgender members of the congregation. Two trans women I just met at Knoxville Pride this summer are members. Hopefully, in the ongoing coverage, media outlets will add information from TTPC's statement.

It's also good to know you read Out & About. Real allies of the community!

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 28, 2008 7:37 PM

Hate murders always increase during elections, because christist bigots and those who pander to them fuel the flames of hate 24/7/365. Fox News does it. Dobson does it. Catholic bishops and Ratzinger Der Pope do it. And so do Obama and McCain. Both continue to blurt out their bigoted opposition to same sex marriage, giving a green light to thugs, telling them that we’re second class citizens.

To be fair, Obama and McCain aren’t the only politicians who do it. Some of the blame clearly lies with Congressional Democrats and Republicans who decided that our rights and lives were expendable in an election year. They gutted ENDA and tossed it and the hate crimes bill into the trash and refused to repeal DOMA and DADT.

The Democrats controlled Congress for the last two years so most of the blame is theirs. The Republicans were delighted to go along for the ride but they weren't the bigots driving the bus that ran over us.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill passed both Houses of Congress before Reid, Pelosi, Kennedy and Barney Frank tossed it into the trash. These murders belong to them as much as to O'Rielly and Dobson.

These people were victims of the Culture War.
In a very real sensse they suffered for us.
We ought to acknowledge and thank them for their bravery and sacrifice in standing with us.

Gerri Ladene | July 28, 2008 8:31 PM

I was totally shocked by this news when I checked my email after getting home from my daily grind. This will strongly affect the community here NWA being that some views are Red here too and this terrible act only goes to show how people can easily do a horrific act when they erroneously think themselves justified in doing so. This is tragic, just as any thoughtless act of hate is. Hopefully some day we will be able to uproot this hatred and live in peace and the sooner the better. It’s only a mater of making those who keep the fire of hatred burning to realize the unnecessary great harm they do to the innocent.
This was emailed to me from one of the Interweave members of the UUF here were I attend at times. The membership here has a large lesbian contingent with children and this has already sent a chill through the membership. The Fayetteville chapter of Interweave is an active family oriented group. Its goal is to encourage and celebrate diversity throughout Northwest Arkansas hosting monthly meetings to plan group functions, outings, and community or church events. Interweave also gather monthly at various local restaurants or parks to socialize and get better acquainted. This is just one of the Groups associated with the UUF here were I live anyone interested in knowing more about the UUF can go to this link to see what we are about.

The following was in my email!

KPD Chief: church shooter disliked "liberal movement"
Katie Allison Granju 18 mins ago
The man who attacked Sunday congregants at a Knoxville church was motivated by anger over joblessness and politics, according to Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen, IV.

In a Monday press conference, Owen said the suspect, 58-year-old Powell resident Jim D. Adkisson had written a four-page letter before the attack, a type of manifesto in which he laid out his frustrations.

Adkisson, whom Owen says has an AA degree in mechanical engineering, was apparently out of work, and about to see his food stamp benefits decrease. Adkisson has a work history that has ranged all over the United States, and is apparently a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division. Owen said the letter spoke of Adkisson's anger toward "the liberal movement," and gay people.

The letter was found in Adkisson's car after the attack. It indicated the suspect had spent time planning the shooting, and that he entered the TVUUC sanctuary on Kingston Pike Sunday morning with the intent to kill as many people as possible before being killed himself by police. Owen said Adkisson brought 76 shells for his 12 gauge shotgun with him to the shooting scene.

Owen indicated Adkisson likely targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church for its progressive views. The church is well-known in the community as a welcoming congregation for gay Knoxvillians and their families. The church also has a long history of working on behalf of civil rights, aid for the needy, peace initiatives, and other social justice issues.

The FBI is assisting in the investigation, and may consider the shootings a hate crime.

The Chief said Adkisson acted alone, and that he brought the weapon he used to the church inside a guitar case. The gun was apparently purchased at a pawn shop approximately one month ago, and the ATF is assisting the KPD in gathering more information regarding the gun's sales history.

Several male members of the congregations tackled and held the suspect before he could reload and shoot more victims; an action Owen said certainly saved many lives.

Despite the fact that a children's musical performance was taking place at the time the shots rang out, Owen does not believe Adkisson intended to specifically target children.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | July 28, 2008 9:20 PM

Yes, it has to be said that while religion is one of the great tragedies of humankind, not all religious people are mired in its worst aspects.

Some religious people are our friends and their grief is our grief. We should treat their murders the way the treated the murders of Matthew Shepard, Sakia Gunn, Gwen Araujo and Lawrence King.

Our local news is saying that a motive has been released, a combination between being out of work and a hatred of the growing "liberalism" in the country. It's one of our more liberal stations, and they still want to gloss over the fact that it was sparked by homophobia. :(

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 29, 2008 12:12 AM

I think that it is clear that this was a low brain wattage man who was overwhelmed by his personal failures. "Blamin them Liberals" for his failures, to keep a wife, job, food stamps, etc. Quite likely we LGBT persons are only one of many gripes he has. He probably does not like women being better educated than men either. I am sure he won't like Black people or Jews getting ahead of him in line as well. He is an angry White male failure with access to a gun; who might have once been competent to possess it.

Surely those who defend "Pink pistols" cannot imagine my fear of Gay people doing the same thing some day. Add personal insecurity, and a gun, and even the smartest people can do incredibly stupid things.

Here's a clip from the Knoxville News Sentinel website (they downplay the gay aspect, but have a lot of interesting details):

"Knoxville Police Department Investigator Steve Still wrote in the search warrant that Adkisson "admitted to shooting McKendry and several others at the church."

Adkisson went on a rampage at the church, Still wrote, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets."

Adkisson, who had served in the military, said "that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement he would then target those that had voted them in office," the search warrant states.

Still noted Adkisson had sawed off part of the barrel on the shotgun and had left his home unlocked to provide police easier access after he was killed during the attack.

Still seized three books from Adkisson's home, including "The O'Reilly Factor," by television commentator Bill O'Reilly; "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder," by radio personality Michael Savage; and "Let Freedom Ring," by political pundit Sean Hannity."

I pray tonight for peace for the families of those murdered, and for the full recovery of those Adkisson maimed and wounded. I also pray for swift and certain justice for Adkisson, so that he never has a chance to harm anyone again. And, finally, I hope that Michael Weiner, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity all drop dead tomorrow.

Nathanial | July 29, 2008 4:59 AM

Over at PHB, a reader from Tenn. said, "I'm a member of the church, and Taylor [the "foster son" of Greg McKendry] is a dear friend. She is MTF transgender, and will be starting the hormone treatments once she turns 18. She is now 16."

I hope the MSM stops identifying Taylor as McKendry's "son".

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 29, 2008 5:43 AM

Polar, I would let them live, just get them off the air.

Janis Walters | July 29, 2008 7:01 AM

I have observed several church signs that state "All are welcome here" while the hidden meaning is "All are welcome as long as you look like, dress like and think like we do". For a Unitarian Universalist church to be certified by the UUA as a Welcoming Congregation and display a sign to that effect, the church must go through a 2-3 year diversity training program. When a UU church displays a sign that "All are Welcome" it truly means "ALL", regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, political or religious views or any other factor. When I went through the diversity training program at the UU church here in Little Rock, the church emphasized that it was a "safe place" for LGBT individuals. But no place is truly safe as long as kooks and bigots are allowed to express their distorted, radical views with a gun.
Janis Walters

There will be more of these.

Many more.

And I weep for those lost.

They do not take the term "culture war" as a metaphor.

To them it is a war. All is fair. Lying, stealing, cheating, destroying.

And far too many of them are not stable enough to stand it as we win time and time again.

Not that it will stop me from doing anything. Terrorism such as this does not bring fear to me. It brings resolve.

Seriously, this is just what O'Reilly et al want. I'm sure they're drinking to this in some lair somewhere.

I posted this on Pam's but it is a appropriate here:
Foreshadowing-The People Who Created Adkinsson

We really need to spread this around juxtaposed with the story from Knoxville--these people helped make this incident happen.

Lee Rogers: "[T]he day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals and it's going to be very amusing to watch."

Rush Limbaugh: "I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for."

RedState contributor "Thomas Crown":I repeat: Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin:There were, and are, "two incompatible moral visions for this country. We had to settle it then. We're going to have to settle it now. I hope not with blood, not with guns, but we're going to have to settle it nonetheless. The good news is that I think our side is finally ready to settle it. Roll up its sleeves, take off its jacket, and get a little bloody. Spill a little blood. We'll settle it. And we'll win. And then there's no holding us back.

Ann Coulter:"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too."

Joe M. Richardson, letter to Editor and Publisher:I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon.

Rep. Peter King:And Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they're the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove.

"Sock" Sokolowski, to Stephanie Miller:As with Cindy Sheehan the best thing that could happen to you would be seeing some WONDERFUL activist sticking an AK-47 up your Glory Holes and sending you into eternity... I would gather my 1st amendment rights permit me to HOPE (!) and PRAY (!) that someone decides you're better off as statistics. Honestly, should I hear of either you leaving this earth prematurely I would initiate a personal celebration that would make Animal House appear to be just another quiet Sunday in church.

Melanie Morgan: "We've got a bull's-eye painted on [Nancy Pelosi's] big, wide laughing eyes."

Kathleen Parker:Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and shot."

John Shelley:All verminous, hate-America, liberal-socialist-commie filth should be contained and selectively eliminated.

Paul Cameron:"Unless we get medically lucky, in three or four years, one of the options discussed will be the extermination of homosexuals."

Damn, good thing I'm a republican.


the church had just received a grant for their work with LGBT and questioning youth.

to create a safe space.

...and had left his home unlocked to provide police easier access after he was killed during the attack.

Because everyone loves a considerate killer. Geez. What runs through people's minds in those moments they snap?

And Michael Savage's book found in his truck? Color me surprised.

Homophobia and transphobia kills.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 29, 2008 9:09 PM

Have the conservative commentators followed up on their previous comments. Blessedly I cannot pick any of their radio signals up...