-Md Sen. James Brochin, announcing today his support of marriage equality. Sen. Brochin said while he had previously been willing to support civil unions between gay couples, the word “marriage” had been a “stumbling block.”
Post by John Bohstedt, Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville.
Four days after the horrific shootings in Tucson, TV news reported that a local firing range, “Fabulous Firearms,” run by Brent Wilson, had advertised a unique fund-raiser for the next Saturday (Jan. 15). For $5, shooters could fire at one of two bobble-head dolls (8” high), the proceeds going to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The bobble-heads were anything but anonymous: they were dolls of Lane Kiffin and his father, Monte Kiffin, former University of Tennessee football coaches despised by fans for having abruptly left our program for the rosier climes of Southern Cal. So fans could get their anger out while contributing to a worthy cause, Wilson announced.
That shocked us – just as the nation plunged into a furious debate over the role of vitriolic rhetoric in contributing to our nation’s long history of public shootings, people were invited to enjoy shooting at effigies of living public figures! At Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (Knoxville), we have wanted to reduce violent political rhetoric ever since our own Church shootings in 2008. “Our” shooter’s four-page manifesto explained in detail that “This was a hate crime, ” “This was a political protest,” “This was a symbolic killing.” Since he could not get at the liberal elites listed in Bernard Goldberg’s 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, he would shoot their local supporters. His letter echoed familiar hate- radio themes, and incendiary books that the police found in his home: Michael Savage, Liberalism is a Mental Disorder; Sean Hannity, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism; Bill O’Reilly, The O’Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life. He carried 70 high-powered shells, and evidently planned to keep shooting until he was killed by the police. Instead he was tackled by five parishioners.
In the last five years of hate-radio’s and TV’s competitions in outrage, “trigger-words” have become common in political diatribes. By trigger-words I mean direct calls for physical violence such as: “They oughta be hanged!” “Just shoot him!” “Beat him up!” “Kick them out,” “Make them afraid to leave their home,” and so on. Because our shooter’s expressed motivations reproduced such rhetoric, many TVUUCers believed – not that such words alone “caused” shootings – but rather that they gave public currency to the idea of physically attacking a political opponent, formulated as a suggestion – not to every listener, but to someone already living in a delusional world who heard the TV or the dog talking directly to him.
We felt the Great Bobble-head Shoot would affirm the legitimacy of murderous rhetoric about celebrities. Indeed, some of Wilson’s fans joked on Facebook about shooting at Obama dolls! So we called for a ban on talk of physical violence against political opponents, not by state fiat but by leadership.
TVUUC members did several things. As a spirited discussion began on our own e-list, Ted Jones & Bill Fields drafted a resolution for the TVUUC Board that would “respectfully ask the Unitarian Universalist Association that the Standing of the Side of Love initiative make the issue of public speech that contributes to violence one of their campaigns.” The motion was circulated and unanimously endorsed by our Board. Meanwhile Ted Jones and John Bohstedt began conversations about actions with Dan Furmansky, director of SSL. Partly as a result of those conversations, SSL posted a web-page that enabled voters to ask their Congressmen to renounce “vitriolic rhetoric.” Dan accepted Ted Lollis’s invitation to give a forum on his work at SSL, the weekend of the UUA’s National Day of Standing on the Side of Love, featuring associated UU events across the country. Rev. Chris Buice of TVUUC organized an interfaith panel for that afternoon to discuss “Standing on the Side of Love: Spiritual Approaches to Polarized Politics.”
John Bohstedt and several others emailed the director of Second Harvest Food Bank (with which we had collaborated for years), and asked them to sever their relationship with the shooting fund-raiser. We committed to raising the money to replace the $2000 they anticipated from the shooting event. (Note: The event had been planned weeks before Tucson). After receiving a number of friendly suggestions from TVUUCers, and angry blasts from some others, Second Harvest announced they had severed their link to the shooting event. We promptly raised the money. More than $4000 came in within 24 hours (from TVUUC and our networks of allies). A Sunday Special Collection at TVUUC harvested $1700 more. A second charity also declined connection with the shooting event.
Meanwhile, several of us also began to email the owner of Fabulous Firearms, Brent Wilson, explaining our feelings to him. In several exchanges he responded cordially, though noting that “we are worlds apart in our beliefs.” Indeed we were: in religion; in the possible role of rhetoric in violence; and in his view that we hypocritically accepted the “genocide of babies.” He thought the notion that shooting at dolls “caused” murders was idolatrous, satanic and sick. Nevertheless, he moved from using bobble-head targets to clay pigeons to paper targets, joking “as long as the tree-huggers don’t come after me.” He described this as “a compromise, but not a capitulation.” As he explained to his fans who accused him of “caving in:” We critics were not anti-gun, but “when it comes to people who for whatever reason were really distressed that we might shoot a likeness of a human – well one can’t argue with that.”
I call that a brave and generous response.
We did not change Brent and his supporters. We did not try to. We expressed our views frankly, however much they might conflict, with enough respect to keep the conversation going, recognizing that we remained “worlds apart.” It seemed in the end that, while compromise on principles was unlikely or even undesirable, it was possible to find common ground on a specific action, perhaps on unexpected bases.
Epilogue: The day of the event, Ted Jones led a Bobble-head Rescue. He collected $5s and “saved” several dolls, together with a paper target. (Of course they were silhouettes!) But it felt like a win-win-win that achieved satisfactory outcomes for all three parties, while humiliating or antagonizing none.
Below are links to news broadcasts about the Bobble-Head events, collected by Ted Lollis, Coordinator of Forums at TVUUC, and posted on his web-site, along with many other resources related to our fora, TVUUC, and peace movements.
LANE KIFFIN BOBBLEHEAD DOLLS
"Kingston gun shop hosts bobblehead shooting day for Kiffin’s anniversary," WATE-TV, Jan. 12, 2011. (2:21)
"Shoot at a Lane Kiffin bobblehead gets mixed reviews from locals," WBIR-TV, Jan. 13, 2011. (1:49)
"Food bank pulls out of Kingston gun shop’s Kiffin bobblehead shooting day," WATE-TV, Jan. 13?, 2011. (1:32)
"Statement issued by Frontier Firearms about Kiffin bobblehead event," WATE-TV, Jan. 13, 2011.
"Firing range cancels ‘Shoot at a Lane Kiffin Bobblehead’ event," WBIR-TV, Jan. 14, 2011. (1:49)
"Kingston gun shop cancels Kiffin bobblehead shooting day." WATE-TV, Jan. 14, 2011.More >
“I’m not going to put to a vote of the people anybody’s constitutional rights. Because if I can do that to gay people, I can do it to Catholics, I can do it to Methodists, I can do it to Baptists, I can do it to blacks, I can do it to Hispanics. If I can put to a vote of the people, people’s constitutional rights, then you may be popular today – old white guys like us might be popular today and our rights will be fine – but someday the baby boom will be gone and there won’t be enough old white guys left to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.”
-Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, justifying his blockage of a constitutional amendment to revoke the ability to legally marry from same-sex couples in IowaMore >
Rev. John T. Crestwell, Jr. is the Associate Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Tuesday, February 1, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
This coming February 14, we have the unique opportunity to be connected to tens of thousands of people across the country who will re-imagine Valentine’s Day as National Standing on the Side of Love Day — a holiday of love and acceptance of all people. Together, we will answer the call to justice.
Here in Annapolis, National Standing on the Side of Love Day carries a sense of urgency as well as opportunity. The prospects for passing legislation to protect transgender Marylanders from employment and housing discrimination are better than ever, and a bill to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples could start moving through the Senate as early as this week.
On February 14th, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis will welcome Equality Maryland and other pro-LGBT faith leaders to our church to kick off a day of lobby visits with legislators, and a rally in front of the State House. Our UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland will coordinate the delivery of pro-LGBT civil rights Valentine’s Day cards to senators and delegates. And we will gather footage for a video of personal stories demonstrating why discriminating against another because of sexual orientation is inhumane. A few days later, we will deliver the video to all of Maryland’s 188 legislators.
Our activities in Maryland coincide with more than 100 events across the country. And the breadth of events is truly stunning!
If you have not yet registered your event, please do so today. Join a network of thousands across the country who celebrate February 14th as an opportunity to harness love’s power to overcome oppression.
On and around February 14th, several congregations across the country will address the recent string of suicides by LGBT-identified young people in an assortment of ways: holding screenings of “the Laramie Project,” holding proms for same-sex couples, and filming videos for the “It Gets Better” YouTube channel. In Long Island, members of a congregation will sign and send Valentine’s Day cards to Congressman Pete King, expressing concern that his hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims are creating unfounded fear in communities. In Arizona, congregations will set up phone banks to contact the Obama Administration, asking for an end to programs that instill fear in our communities and break up families by enlisting local police to enforce federal immigration law. And in Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Virginia, people will join rallies for LGBT civil rights, and even apply for marriage licenses to protest marriage discrimination.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s not too late to join us.
Rev. John T. Crestwell, Jr.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis
P.S. UUA Pres. Rev. Peter Morales has written a lovely prayer to commemorate National Standing on the Side of Love Day that you can share in your congregations and online. Click here to read it.More >
From British Columbia to Georgia, there is a phenomenal social justice project taking place this February, spearheaded primarily by UU youth.
Twenty-six congregations across the U.S. and Canada – led by their youth groups – will be showing The Laramie Project and raising money on behalf of organizations that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) youth. The first showing, just held in Edmonds, WA raised $1450 for Lambert House, an organization in Seattle that welcomes LGBTQ youth.
The showings run for the next few weeks, and coincide with National Standing on the Side of Love Day.
“The Laramie Project” is a film about the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard. The murder – described as an anti-gay hate crime – sparked national controversy and focused a media spotlight on Laramie, Wyoming, where the killing occurred.
Members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie and interviewed more than 200 Laramie residents to document the case. The film paints a chilling portrait of hate, indifference and intolerance. Actors speak the words of family, friends, the murderers, police and others, and re-enact events that led to Shepard’s death – from his visit ill-fated to a local bar, through his kidnapping and beating, the discovery of him tied to a fence, the vigil at the hospital, his death and funeral, and the trial and conviction of his killers.
Anne-Marie Davidson, Youth Empowerment Services Team Advisor for the Pacific NorthWest District of the UUA, reports that this effort began in the Pacific Northwest District and BC Youth-Adult Committee (YAC):
Our youth leadership team had their meeting this past weekend. The youth were so excited to know 26 congregations had opted in. It’s our first run at something like this, and it seems a pretty good start.
The original suggestion came from Samaya Oakley of the BC region; she suggested we do a cross-border project. The YES team decided to run with this, and we made the announcement at our fall conference and recruited people from the various congregations in the PNWD and BC region. From the YES team, youth Elissa McDavid and adult Rev. Liz Stevens were coordinating the effort. Tandi Rogers helped us promote it on Facebook through the youth ministry page and the Youth/Young Adult office newsletter. That helped us get some of the rest of the country involved.
Today, Edmonds held the first showing (that we know about); between their youth service last week and the showing today, they have raised $1450 for Lambert House, an organization in Seattle that welcomes LGBTQ youth. Kelly Pryde (youth) and Tracy Ylingling (adult) coordinated the effort there.
A list of congregations participating is below:
2/6: Edmonds/Shoreline, WA
2/9: Palouse, Moscow, ID
2/11: Marietta, GA
2/11 Woodinville, WA
2/12: Eastshore, Bellevue, WA – doing a radio play version! (live!)
2/18: Corvallis, OR
2/19: Vancouver, WA
2/21: Salem, OR
2/25: Tacoma, WA
2/25: Kitsap/Cedars, Bremerton, WA
2/26: Spokane, WA
2/27: Saltwater, Des Moines, WA
2/27: Wy’East, Portland, OR
3/5: Northshore Unitarian, Vancouver, BC
Laramie Project Permission
Unitarian Universalist Groups
All Souls UU Church
Kansas City, MO
UU Congreation of Wyoming Valley
Wilkes Barre, PA
Emerson UU Congregation
Spokane UU Church
UU Church of Vancouver
First UU Society of Westchester
Hastings on Hudson, NY
First Unitarian Church of Honolulu
UU Church of Indianapolis
Kitsap UU Fellowship
North Shore Unitarian Church
Vancouver Lower Mainland, BC
Woodinville UU Church
Edmonds UU Church
Wy’East UU Congregation
Unitarian Church of Westport
Clifton UU Church and Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church
Unitarian Church of Calgary
Saltwater UU Congregation
Des Moines, WA
UU Congreation of Greater Canton
UU Fellowship Church
Champlain Valley UU Society
Anchorage UU Fellowship
Starr King UU Church
UU Congreation of Salem
Tahoma UU Congregation