A good friend of mine from college days is a member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian church in Knoxville that was shot up on Sunday, July 27. She was there with her husband, but thankfully was not hit.
(“Thankfully.” I feel a twinge of survivor’s guilt writing that; but there it is.)
The reports Monday about the rantings of the shooter, wanting to kill all liberals and gays, and the targeting of this particular church, well-known for its welcoming stance and other progressive views, brings a lot of things home to me.
It also set me to thinking again about the struggles in my home Baltimore yearly Meeting regarding Friends United Meeting and its homophobic policies. I well remember how some gay Friends in our YM sessions last year were still shaking at the reports of declarations in the FUM Kenya sessions that GLBT folks did not deserve to live, based on a reading of one of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Then there were the corporate epistles from one of the Kenyan YMs, which have surfaced since, repeating and reinforcing these sentiments.
And it brought back the day I sat, shaking, in a North Carolina FUM meeting while listening to a featured speaker, the superintendent of a Midwestern YM, railing not only against gays but liberals and universalists too, as godless interlopers whose efforts at infiltration had to be stoutly thrown back.
And it brought back the chills I feel every time I pass a particular restaurant here in Fayetteville-
Fort Bragg, where in early 1993 a soldier walked in, shouted about what happens when gays are allowed in the military, and started shooting, killing four.
This kind of hate, Friends, may be aimed most intensely at GLBT folk. But it is not limited to them. My friend in Knoxville is robustly hetero, tho a staunch ally. And if the shooter hadn’t been stopped, he had bullets for her and her husband too. This comes home to me, being in much the same boat.
It is hard to say it, but some of these same forces are loose within the world of Friends. And today I’m feeling a need to speak out against and push back at them, and encourage others who do the same.
I’ve read and heard reports about the recent FUM Triennial sessions in North Carolina. It appears they were carefully managed to prevent or cut off any engagement with these issues there. The quotes I’ve seen suggest that the rationale was that such discussion leads nowhere, produces controversy, and threatens schism. And in my own YM, which has been vocal in challenging homophobia in FUM, there are those who argue that we should all pipe down now, and go along in FUM, aiming, I guess, to change some hearts, someday, by prayer, patience, and good manners.
Knoxville brings home to me why I have trouble with such recommendations. Silence and politesse do not stop the festering of the sentiments that periodically break out in violence – – is that news to anyone? Silence does not protect the victims of hate; it protects those who are spreading hate.
Late reports indicate that the Tennessee shooter’s home featured books by many of the high-
profile rightwing American hatemongers. His own situation, it appears, was that of many desperate people in US society today. But his frustrations did not have to be directed at Unitarians and GLBT folks who had nothing to do with them. He was led there – – pushed there – – pointed there like a loaded shotgun.
Yes, controversy and acrimony among Quakers can be wearying and maybe even divisive. Yet if GLBT folks know best where this pathology unchecked leads, many others in Knoxville also know. And I know it too.