Tennessee church attack spotlights scapegoat mentality
Economic hard times also may have played a role in this week's attack on a Tennessee church.
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The Appalachian South has seen economic change in recent decades, as jobs have moved overseas.Skip to next paragraph
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"For a male in American society, to lose one's job and to risk losing food stamps ... they have to find a plausible scapegoat," says Mr. Levin. "They will take that intense personal feeling of emasculation and failure and find some societal or political overlay that makes the failure seem not of their doing."
For churches, political violence has become a growing concern. There have been at least 13 major church shootings in the last decade, though the problem may be worse than that figure indicates, says John Casey, the former director of security at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, which was attacked by a gunman in December.
"All sin is irrational, so it's hard to know what's going through a person's mind," says Gary Cass, of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "It used to be that nobody would violate the sanctity of a church gathering, but that's no longer the case."
Still, while over 70 percent of serious church incidents involve domestic issues, such as child abduction or financial quarrels, the "avenger mentality" exhibited by Adkisson made his violence an unusual case.
"He saw this congregation not as a church but ... as part of the problem," says Mr. Casey. "He's thinking, 'I have to go there and do this to make the world a better place."
The church violence in Knoxville and elsewhere has jarred America's religious communities. Many congregations are already beefing up security, either employing security guards or trained parishioners with concealed-weapons permits. Some mega-churches, including New Life, have formed "intelligence" teams that keep tabs on unstable parishioners. "These [shooters] choose churches because they're soft targets," says John Nicoletti, a security expert in Denver.
But at a church targeted for its liberal views on sexuality and gender, officials said that cracking down on security would diminish the denomination's mission, especially in times of economic upheaval.
"There's an inherent risk in doing the work of religion," says Janet Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston. "There are practical steps that individual congregations can take to become more alert ... but you can't have a religion behind locked doors."