Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Activity 3: The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print the story "The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting." Prepare to read it aloud.
  • Write on newsprint, and post:
    • What rights might be named to describe and respond to this situation?
  • Read Alternate Activity 2, Further Reflection on the Shooting in Knoxville. If you have time, prepare to use it to extend this activity.

Description of Activity

Read the story "The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting" aloud. Then, invite participants familiar with the events described to contribute additional information. Say:

Let's take a moment to acknowledge our feelings of horror at the violence that unfolded in Knoxville. Let us acknowledge our concern for the members of the Tennessee Valley congregation. In this workshop, we will consider ways in which rights-based ethics can help us frame issues that preceded and emerged from the tragedy.

Tell participants that although the Tennessee Valley congregation was steadfast in its refusal to comment on Adkisson's motivations or the source of his vitriol, news commentators, radio-show participants, bloggers, and others engaged in a frenzy of speculation, blame, and recommendations on how to respond. Much of the media frenzy was framed by discussions of particular rights. Ask the posted question and record a list of the rights participants name as pertinent to this situation. If the brainstorming stalls, you could name the right to life, right to safety, right to the free exercise of religion, right to free speech, and the right to bear arms. Allow five minutes for brainstorming. Then lead participants in discussion, using these questions as a guide:

  • Which categories of rights were claimed (natural, legal, or human)?
  • Which competing or conflicting "rights" claims were made, both before the shooting and in its aftermath?
  • How do we weigh the competing claims to help us understand how to respond in the face of such tragedies? Which rights should be upheld by public policies? Are those rights the same as or different from those we might uphold in personal or congregational practice?

If you have more time and wish to take the conversation deeper, include the questions in Alternate Activity 2.