The news of senseless shootings last Sunday at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has unfortunately quickly drifted to the back pages of many newspapers across the country. The Knoxville News Sentinel continues to be the best place to go for hourly updates on the case. Overall their coverage has been solid, as would be expected from the local newspaper. Here is a well-reported story on the congregation's church service only a week after the shooting:
Last Sunday morning, a gunman shattered the safety and sanctuary of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. This morning, the congregation reclaims that physical space and spiritual center.
"We are not going to let a Sunday go by without a service there," said Ted Jones, president of the Kingston Pike congregation and a longtime church member. . . .
"It's saying we are not going to let our space be violated or damaged, that it is still a good space and we are not going to let anything make it not a good space," Jones reflected in an interview last week. "This space is safe and sacred and ours. And we are going to define how we think about it. ...
"This space -- it's a disfigurement, it's been wounded. It's not dead, but it's tarnished. And we need to untarnish it the best we can."
To get another perspective on how members of the congregation reacted, see this paragraph from a back-page Washington Post update on the story:
At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, about 60 people from five UU congregations in Northern Virginia came together for a service Monday evening. Bill Welch, the congregation's minister for programs, talked about how isolating it can be to be a liberal in today's world of right-wing talk radio and conservative Christians "that talk about liberals as if we are bad people."
The idea that liberalism as currently defined in the United States is under threat received a bit more coverage in the News Sentinel, but in terms of hard news reporting, this article adds little:
National, and even international, coverage of the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church turned late this week into a discussion into whether it's safe in America to be a liberal.
"One of the biggest contemporary ironies is that being liberal in the United States of America, home of history's greatest democracy, has become dangerous. That danger is particularly acute for religious liberals, as the recent tragedy in Knoxville demonstrated," Bill Maxwell wrote in the St. Petersburg Times.
The article goes onto quote snippets of columns from around the nation (without links!) that voice similar opinions, followed by a lengthy list of YouTube video links. Is that all news readers are going to get in terms of coverage of this rather important issue of motive?
The motive behind the December church shooting in Colorado Springs was fairly confusing and strange. The same could be said for the August 2007 church shooting in Missouri. The big difference in this case is that there is evidence of the shooter's motive from a four-page letter that has yet to be released in its entirety.
From a criminal procedure perspective there are two interesting developments to watch for in this case: will the defendant seek the insanity plea (which seems possible, if not likely), and will the prosecutor request the death penalty? Some of the victims in the case are already giving their thoughts to the local news media with the obvious religious and political background present. This story is solid except the lead of the article is confusing to me and could be the result of a simple typographical error.
Will other members of the church comment on these two important issues that have serious religious overtones?