last month, a gunman entered into the tennessee valley unitarian universalist church with a gun in a guitar case and opened fire during the sunday morning service. after the gunfire was over, two people were dead and five were injured.

this was a tragic event. it is no small matter or event to be taken lightly whenever human lives are taken at the hands of violence.

in reading the news coverage the past month since this happened, i have noticed the absence of another victim at the tennessee valley unitarian universalist church. perhaps it is because the victim had been “gunned down” long before this man opened fire on this tragic day. this victim was targeted and gunned down by the leadership of the church itself.

the victim i speak of is the gospel. you see, the the tennessee valley unitarian universalist church  is a church in name only. this conclusion is easily reached when reading the following “beliefs” included in their website’s statement of beliefs:

WE BELIEVE in the freedom of religious expression.
All individuals should be encouraged to develop their
own personal theologies, and to present openly their
religious opinions without fear of censure or reprisal.

WE BELIEVE in the tolerance of religious ideas. All
religions, in every age and culture, possess not only
intrinsic merit, but also potential value for those who
have learned the art of listening.

WE BELIEVE in the authority of reason and conscience.
The ultimate arbiter in religion is not a church, nor a
document, nor an official, but the personal choice
and decision of the individual.

WE BELIEVE in the never-ending search for Truth.
If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the
revelations that appear to the human spirit are
infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and
wondrously exciting.

WE BELIEVE in the unity of experience. There is no
fundamental conflict between faith and knowledge,
religion and the world, the sacred and the secular,
since they all have their source in the same reality.

noticeably absent is any mention of god, jesus, sin, salvation, scripture, or a host of other things that are the most basic elements of christianity. in fact, these statements undermine the authority of scripture and the gospel itself.

as i read the press reports of the shooting , one thing that jumped out of me were these words:

Police said Adkisson snuck a 12-gauge shotgun into the
[church]in a guitar case Sunday morning and opened fire
during a children’s performance of “Annie.”

the sunday morning service at this “church” consisted of a performance of “annie”.

 i only point this out as an indicator of what happens when a “church” forsakes the gospel and scripture and replaces its ideals and beliefs with secular religiosity. when the gospel is absent from a church, then the methodology and emphasis of the church are no different than a civc organization.

by *no means* am i insinuating that doing a musical, even one that has nothing to do with anything in scripture, in church is grounds for harming those involved. we should never rejoice in the deaths of people simply because they have different beliefs than we do.

that people were killed and injured is indeed tragic. but isn’t the bigger tragedy that perhaps those who died, died believing that their “own personal theology” would be good enough for salvation, even if it was absent of the gospel? what about those who survived? those who will continue to meet together and sit under teaching that promotes the equality and validity of all religions and of personal experience? what about the fact that the media coverage made no distinction between this church and “christian” churches? what about the people who simply see “church” in the name and assume it must be similar to the church you or i go to?

i have no intention of maligning or kicking this church while it is down. i only want to pray for it, that its members would be confronted with the gospel of jesus christ- and that they would see that no matter how open minded they are, no matter how much they value personal experience and freedom of religious experience and expression, that there is no salvation outside of repentance and faith in jesus christ.

may this also be a grim reminder to us of what can happen when we allow anything other than the gospel to be the focus of “what we believe” and what are church is about. simply being a “church” is no safeguard from violence, or from “religious” errors with eternal consequences.

***let me be clear, i am not suggesting that this attack happened because of this church’s false teaching, or that it was not a terrible thing. my point is that the bigger tragedy is that there are people who attend this church, and ones like it, who believe that their “beliefs” will save them. we must be on guard in our lives and churches to not compromise on the gospel- no matter how attractive or progressive it may makes us look or feel.

***edited for clarity8/28/08