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“Another Hate Crime . . . with a Backstory”

Sep 15, 2008 — Categories: ,

On a Sunday in late July, Jim David Adkisson entered the Tennesse Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and opened fire. He said he hated gays and liberals and “all liberals should be killed.” He murdered two people and seriously injured 6 others before being subdued by other church members.

On a Sunday in late July, Jim David Adkisson entered the Tennesse Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and opened fire. He said he hated gays and liberals and “all liberals should be killed.” He murdered two people and seriously injured 6 others before being subdued by other church members.

Adkisson was described by a neighbor as one who was quiet and kept to himself. "He's just a really, really nice guy," the neighbor said. This “really nice guy” was described by longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas, as a loner who hates "blacks, gays and anyone different from him.”

In 2000, Lisa Alexander obtained a protection order on Adkisson, her then husband of ten years. In requesting the order, Alexander said her husband threatened "to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out." She told a judge that she was "in fear for my life and what he might do."

At that time, Alexander was a member of the Tennesse Valley Unitarian Universalist Church; Adkisson was not. But he knew where Alexander was on Sundays and he knew what her church believed. So it is not surprising that when he decided to act out his bigotry, he went to the UU Church which is known for its progressive teachings and open support of lesbians and gays in the community.

It appears that Adkisson is a bigot and a batterer. In this case his public and private selves have some congruence. This is not always the case with batterers. For many the “really nice guy” persona is all that the public may know about an abuser. The husband who terrorizes his wife is kept private behind closed doors.

Yet this tragedy reminds us of the high price we all pay for the intimate partner violence that occurs in 25% of our homes. It’s personal but it’s not private. Even if the abuser’s violence is contained in the home, the price is high . . . in health care, law enforcement and the impact on children and teens not to mention the harm done to the partner.

But when the abuser’s violence is not contained, everyone of us is vulnerable to him. And when his violence is combined with his bigotry, the inevitable result is yet another hate crime, i.e. violence directed at people because of who they are and what they believe.

It is very important that we continue to connect the dots to understand this tragedy at the same time we mourn the loss for the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

When I spoke with the pastor, Chris Buice, he said simply, “Seminary didn’t prepare me for this.” Indeed. My heart went out to him as I tried to imagine the challenge of mourning with and leading his people through this valley of death. But it is clear the congregation will pass through this valley together. They have rededicated the sanctuary and their ministry in their community will not falter. I am reminded of the Holly Near song: “It could have been me but instead it was you. And I’ll keep doing the work you were doing as if I were two . . .”

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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