Breaking: Unitarian-Universalist Church Shooting

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 28, 2008 — 15 Comments

On Sunday morning Jim Adkisson, who defined himself to neighbors as a “Confederate” and a “believer in the old South”, walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire with a shotgun. Nine people were inured by gunfire, two have died.

“KPD Chief Sterling Owen said … that mental illness is not believed to be a factor in the suspect’s actions. Owen also said the FBI is now involved in the investigation. Owen confirmed witness reports indicating that the suspect arrived on the scene with a large quantity of ammunition. He also noted that the suspect had attempted to conceal the 12 gauge shotgun he used in the shooting by carrying it in a guitar case.”

There were around 200 people in attendance, and children were singing songs for the congregation when the shooting started. Four members of the congregation managed to tackle and subdue Adkisson. The minister of TVUUC has asked people to “pray for us”. Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has issued a written statement of support and sympathy:

“When we go to our places of worship, we go expecting to have a time of reflection and fellowship. Today’s violence is the worst sort of desecration and should be renounced by citizens of all faiths. I join all Knox Countians in offering our prayers to the families affected by this terrible tragedy. This is a time for all of us to come together to lend our complete support to this church family.”

As a member of the extended UU family, I want to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the TVUUC community, may they find the strength to recover and move forward. May healing come to those still in the hospital, and may justice be done.

More information: CNN, Knoxville News Sentinel, Reuters, New York Times, Statement from Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association.

ADDENDUM: From Philocrites: Gunman targeted the UUs for their ‘liberal stance’ and their acceptance of gays.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Illisse

    Is any sort of fund being set up to which one could donate money?~Illisse

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    There hasn’t been any word. I’m assuming the congregation will make a statement about future plans once the initial shock has worn off.

  • Illisse

    Please keep us up to date

  • Deborah

    Heartbreaking.Why is terrorism against liberals and liberal religious not called “terrorism” by our media? Why are concentrated, planned attacks against a group of people for their beliefs not labeled properly? And when will Conservatives stop thinking that “kill the liberals” jokes are funny?

  • Rellis

    This is such a tragic and unwelcome reminder of the pain and brokenness in our sinful world. Our prayers go out to our brothers and sisters in Tennessee as they mourn in this time of loss. I pray that, though difficult, events like this will help unify the church in the hope of the Gospel. I was thinking about this today and found that Christianity Today is offering a free resource called “Confronting Gun Violence.” I’ll include the link below for any of you who are interested. While we can never predict when an act of violence might occur, this download offers some precautionary measures churches can take to safeguard their people and facilities. Again, my deepest sympathies go out to our friends in Knoxville and I pray that we can learn to prevent such tragedies in the days to come.

  • Lonnie

    One of the great mysteries of the universe is how conservative Republicans have made themselves seem to be the friend of the average guy. Despite cutting a huge range of social programs including Medicare, Housing and Urban Development, and Food Stamps, somehow they’ve convinced your average person that “liberals” are to blame for all the problems of working class America. As more information becomese available from the horrible shooting in Tennessee, it has become clear that Unitarian Universalists were targeted for their liberal viewpoints. Here’s a guy that has lost his job, and just been told that the Government is cutting his food stamps, and yet he targets “liberals” who are generally the advocates for programs that help the poor by using federal money. True, this guy was not the brightest bulb out there, but how much sense does it take to realize that the people cutting the programs that you depend on are the ones you should be angry at? True, it’s just one nutter, but I think it speaks volumes about a larger toxic lie that somehow much of the working class has bought into. By telling people that liberals are going to “take away your right to hunt” and “ban the bible” (both real tactics used in recent years) conservatives have managed to hide the fact that they are screwing the average person while making themselves rich. Nonetheless, this guy isn’t going to be hunting ever again, or owning a gun, and I suspect his bible isn’t going to do him a heck of alot of good either come “judgement day”, but he can probably be thankful that the liberals he terrorized will nonetheless be likely to advocate against the death penalty…

  • Carol Maltby

    It wasn’t just the abstract enemies that the hate radio he listened to encouraged. It’s important to realize that Adkisson had a personal emotional connection to the congregation. His ex-wife Liza Alexander of Powell, was a former long-time member of the congregation there. They’d divorced 8 years ago after he’d held a gun to her head. emotional tone to the online responses to the Knox News article. I’m used to seeing a lot of anger and blame and reactionary zeal as online responses to this sort of news. Instead, I was seeing a lot of compassion and intelligence, the understanding that Adkisson seemed to have long-term mental problems, and an interest in talking about the positive aspects of Unitarian Universalism. Some posters said they hadn’t really known what the church was about, and appreciated learning about UU values. This congregation didn’t just give lip service to supporting LGBTQ issues, they did things like have a drop-in coffee house on Saturday nights for LGBTQ teens. My heart goes out to the kids who were performing. I’m not clear if it was just a play of some sort, or if it was a Youth Sunday service in dramatic form. I remember UU Youth Sunday services giving me a good grounding in the crafting of ritual when I was a teen. May the loving embrace of their community help them with their healing.

  • Carol Maltby

    Brock and Lark, if you’re reading this I think we’d value your local perspective.

  • genexs

    Heartbreaking. We will help, Jason.

  • Sangrail

    Friends of mine were in the church at the time of the shooting. I am feeling so fortunate that they were not injured, but I have heard so much about the sad loss of Greg McKendry, who evidently put himself between the gunman and members of the congregation.There’s no if’s here, there are pagans and members of CUUPS in that congregation. When I first heard the news, even before anything about the gunman’s motives were known, I couldn’t help but guess that it was because the UU *is* the sort of church it is – welcoming, and accepting of pagans, of religious diversity, of glbt, and human diversity.

  • Yvonne

    This is so sad. It’s terrible that people should be killed for trying to make a difference to others’ lives, and for being accepting and loving and inclusive. My heart goes out to the Tennessee Valley UUs, and they are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope they find healing.

  • Yvonne

    If anyone wants to send condolences, you can do so at this special blog set up by the Unitarian Universalist Association.

  • writtenwyrdd

    This is absolutely horrible, but it is not terrorism, Deborah. It is a hate crime, yes. And it’s wrong and all kinds of indescribably horrible that this idiot saw fit to attack innocent people. But it is not terrorism. If you start labeling every act of violence or protest terrorism, you are playing into the hate monger’s hands. Because soon anything that smacks of disapproval from the government–including peaceful protests–will be terrorism.

  • Yvonne

    Illisse asked if there was a relief fund for the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.There is: Unitarian Universalist Association Launches Knoxville Relief FundIt will be used to provide spiritual care and practical financial assistance to those affected by the tragedy in Knoxville, Tennessee.

  • Illisse

    Thank you Yvonne~Illisse