A few weeks ago, the music minister at our church choose to include in our service a hymn tittled "Why Won't you Listen", a solemn tune whose words ask the simple question as posed by the title. Reading the headlines today I was reminded of that hauntingly beautiful tune and question that it poses.
The headlines in our news media are full of examples of our leaders failing to listen, not only to the words of Christ but to the words of the people that keep these leaders in power. From the banking industry to Wall Street, from Washington to the pulpit, we see a seeming indifference to the lessons of Jesus and the demands of the populace. Unfortunately the growing resentment of the failure of our leaders to react to these demands from God and his children often result in violence perpetuated against the innocent by those so marginalized that mental hygiene and common sense has been compromised.
Last week a Tennessee man was convicted to life in prison for murders he committed during a shooting spree at a Knoxville Tennessee Unitarian Universalist Church in July 2008. During sentencing a letter the convicted man had intended to be a suicide note or manifesto was read which revealed his hatred for the congregation that was the target of his atrocious acts. The Knoxville Sentinel News reported the following based on the content of the note;
"The future looks bleak," the ex-soldier lamented. "I'm absolutely fed up! So I thought I'd do something good for this country - kill Democrats 'til (sic) the cops kill me." With what he believed to be his last pen strokes, Jim David Adkisson urged other suicidal soldiers against the "liberalism that's destroying America" to leave their own trail of carnage behind. "I'd like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I've done," Adkisson wrote. "If life ain't worth living anymore, don't just kill yourself. Do something for your country before you go. Go kill liberals." 
According to the Sentinel, Adkisson was a one time member of the Unitarian congregation and had become not only disenfranchised with the liberal views of the church but their apparent hostility towards conservatives. Adkisson wrote;
"Don't let the word church mislead you," ...... "This isn't a church, it's a cult. They don't even believe in God. They worship the God of secularism. ... The UU church is the fountainhead, the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations."....."They embrace every pervert that comes down the pike, but if they find out you're a conservative, they absolutely hate you," he wrote. "I know. I experienced it."
I thank God every day for his blessing that allows us to enjoy the freedoms of speech, expression, religion, and association. I include association as a freedom as through that concept we are free to gather with those of like mind, however if the Unitarian Church in question is guilty of discriminating against conservatives to the point of hating those that follow a path characterized as such, then this is unfortunate. However empirical evidence seems to conclude that our conservative leadership, in an attempt to energize political and social base, has inadvertently through divisive rhetoric caused the disenfranchised and unstable such as Mr. Adkisson to resort to horrendous acts out of frustration. The constant attack of those who do not follow in absolute lockstep with conservative thought can also cause them (those outside of the conservative camp) to develop a "circle the wagons" mentality which often results in resentment of their attackers from the conservative camp, as Mr. Adkisson accuses the Unitarian church of doing. But in a way one can hardly blame the Unitarians for feeling disdain for those hell bent on killing them or those that incite maniacs to do so. Those outside of the conservative camp having grown tired of the hate filled rhetoric and propaganda leveled against them including this Unitarian congregation but not limited to only that relatively small group but all not in lockstep with conservative propaganda, both scriptural and political in nature.
But the recent national elections and recent polls reflect a growing centralist populism, a social view that staunch conservatives regard as liberalism. Is it possible that conservatives are failing to listen? Are they failing to listen to the core teachings of Christ and the cries of the people? Are these cries from the vast majority a sign that neo-conservatives are failing to heed that which should be apparent from the voices of the vast majority?
We can ask these questions about those who are ideologically conservative and their hate filled rhetoric against those who are politically liberal or even centrist but those of us who are Christians must ask these questions of our religious leadership who from the pulpit preach a gospel of hate against all who do not interpret the words of God as they do. Case in point, another article in the same Knoxville News Sentinel titled "Christians Often Perceived as un-Christian" reveals research data complied by David Kinnaman, a pollster, and social activist Gabe Lyons in their new book, "un-Christian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity ... and why it matters." Kinnaman and Lyons take a look at how the 16 through 29 age group increasingly "perceives" Christianity, not only those young people outside of the Christian faith, but those young people that are insiders as well.
The Sentinel reports that Kinnaman and Lyons state according to their research:
"Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than what we are for." To be blunt, young "outsiders" think that modern Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, clueless fanatics who choose to live in protective bubbles, except when they venture out to attack homosexuals, run right-wing political campaigns and proselytize innocent people who would rather be left alone. Things are getting so bad that many young Christians - especially evangelicals - say they are embarrassed to discuss faith issues with their friends. 
Have those of us who identify ourselves as Christians become a faith group of hypocritical, judgmental, clueless fanatics who are oblivious to the needs of our own as well as those outside of our faith? Have we forsaken the teachings of Jesus in favor of a worship of all things material and espoused a rhetoric that demonizes those that we are charged by Christ to uplift and display brotherly love unto? Sadly the answer is yes in far too many congregations. The rhetoric during the past 10 years has become so divisive that some leaders in the faith based community remain silent so as to not to incur the wrath of followers that have been incited by the purveyors of propaganda that lead some Christians to become hypocritical, judgmental, clueless fanatics.
Recently in response to a reader that asked if he thought that there was a special place in hell for those ministers or faith based leaders who FAIL to speak out against such rhetoric that encourages the killing of innocents in wars viewed as just by ultra-conservatives, Bishop John Shelby Spong responded;
During World War II, the Pope, Pius XII, did not speak out against the Holocaust in Germany in which millions of Jewish lives were lost.......In the Anglican Communion, we watch in dismay as the Archbishop of Canterbury places ecclesiastical unity above the confrontation with the debilitating evil and ignorance of homophobia. Recently in the same week in this nation we saw the resignation of the Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer, for sexual misbehavior on one side and on the other we watched the President of the United States vetoing a bill that condemned torture. I found it appalling that the attention of both the press and religious leaders was almost exclusively on the private sexual scandal and not with the public moral issue of torture. I'm not sure I want to invoke Dante's hell to judge this lack, but I do think we need to challenge religious leaders in terms of their values and their commitment to enhancing humanity. 
As we see a growing "tidal wave," a grass roots movement of voices crying out against unwarranted wars of aggression, torture, unregulated greed masked as free market capitalism which has nearly resulted in global financial collapse, unregulated greed that has resulted in death from food poisoning due to the desire for short term profitability versus expensive cleanliness procedures and testing for deadly bacteria in our commercial food production industries. Rhetoric and propaganda authored by man that displaces or ignores the word of God which results in a climate that causes our faith based communities to be perceived by some as hypocritical, judgmental, clueless fanatics that encourage maniacs to enter churches or other public gathering places and shoot indiscriminately or to use improvised explosive devices to commit terrorist acts --- within the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths alike. As we see this growing cacophony of voices world wide crying out against the excesses or indifferences of a relative few that are in power, in my opinion, we have to ask of our political leaders as well as clerical leaders, the simple question poised in the hymn first mentioned in this editorial, "Why Won't You Listen?"
From Bishop Spong's e-mail news letter February 12 2009