Recognition of martyrdom

You will have heard about the killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church this previous Sunday.

The following account is drawn from the Associated Press story. (You may see further information at

According to authorities, the gunman "targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays."

The attack Sunday morning lasted only minutes. But the anger behind it may have been building for months, if not years. "It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement," Police Chief Sterling Owen said.

Amy Broyles was visiting the church to see her daughter in the play. She said [the gunman] "was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way," she said. "He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation."

A burly usher, 60-year-old Greg McKendry, was hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire as other church members rushed to wrestle the gunman to the ground.

McKendry, a church member, and a vistor were killed, while four more attack victims are hospitalized in critical condition.

It has seemed to me that, among some other denominations, Unitarians are not well-respected for strength of belief and power of witness. Yet this would seem to be a pretty clear case of martyrdom, where this congregation was targeted in part because of their beliefs and the actions they took to live out their beliefs. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:10). Mr. McKendry also seems to have been an example of love in action along the lines mentioned by Jesus, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Lives can so easily be broken and ended by violence. Those who seek to live according to the righteousness they have seen in God are vulnerable to those in thrall to lesser powers of fear, blame, and hatred, tools of Satan. When we are tested, may we call upon the hope given us through God's redeeming Word, the promise of peace.

Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Greg McKendry: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his witness may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p.247]

Sustain, renew, and bring your healing upon the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, upon those wounded by the attack, including those wounded by what they saw and what they know. Deliver your people by the power of your love and by the surety of your promised redemption, that power again be perfected in vulnerability, with Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.


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