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Tips for news reporters covering the Unitarian Universalist church

Robert Niles
Published: July 27, 2008 at 4:26 PM (MST)
My thoughts and best wishes go out this evening to my fellow Unitarian Universalists in Knoxville, Tennessee, where a man this morning shot eight people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing two.

I was watching this evening a report on the Los Angeles ABC affiliate about the crime. Unfortunately, the station chose to illustrate the segment with a graphic of a cross and a large book labeled "Holy Bible."

Let's make this a teaching moment for some news reporters: The Unitarian Universalist Association is not a Christian church. The UUA was formed in 1961 by the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches, two faiths that derived from Christian traditions, but that nevertheless rejected basic tenets of mainstream Christian faith.

The Unitarians rejected the concept of the Trinity, and for most, believing in the divinity only of God, not of Jesus. The Universalists rejected the idea of Hell, believing that a loving God would provide salvation to all. Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Taft were Unitarians. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that he thought Unitarianism would become America's dominant religion.

Together, Unitarian Universalism is not a creedal faith; its members include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics. Its symbol is a flaming chalice, not a cross. And even though I've been attending a UU church for more than seven years, I can count on the fingers of my hands the number of readings in Sunday services that came from the Bible.

Illustrating a story about a UU church with an image of a cross and the Bible, therefore, is inaccurate. Given that the ABC network newscast report about the shooting suggested that some thought it might be a hate crime by a Christian against the liberal congregation, such imagery could be considered insensitive, as well.

Something to keep in mind when browsing through the clip art, okay?

Update: Well, whether the shooting itself was motivated by bigotry, it is bringing out the hate on the Web.

Update 2: After knocking the KABC folks yesterday for their graphic, I should commend my former colleagues Jack McElroy and Jack Lail for the excellent coverage of the shooting from the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The News-Sentinel's profile of the killer, by Bob Fowler, paints a insightful and compelling portrait of a tragic man.

Update 3: Ditto.

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