Generous Orthodoxy  




Thursday, March 03, 2005

The BFK Killer and the Gospel

Very few clergy will be called upon to appear (on 24 hours' notice) before millions of viewers on Larry King Live, as the serial killer's Lutheran pastor did on Monday. Surely, however, we should always be prepared to give an account of the faith of the Church to a representative of the media who may call us to ask questions about everything from the Shroud of Turin to crĂȘches on public property to the meaning of tsunamis. Does anyone agree that, generally speaking, Roman Catholic clergy are better at this than Protestants? (Possibly that is because the Pope has set an example through his frequent, outspoken public pronouncements over the years.)

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" as the old radio program unforgettably put it. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "The hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead" (Ecclesiastes 9:3). There is a sense in which nothing should surprise us. Murderers can be very mild-mannered. In an extensive New York Times feature this week about the failures of the prison system, a prison official tells a reporter that mentally disturbed, formerly drug-abusing prisoners are very hard to handle. If you want a model prisoner, he said, "Give me a murderer. Give me a nice murderer any day."

Larry King gave the Wichita pastor plenty of time to say something penetrating about the darkness that lurks unsuspected in the human heart, as well as the death of Christ as the ultimate victim of such darkness, but he did not. It was a disappointing contrast to the appearance of the hatchet-murderer Karla Faye Tucker on the broadcast shortly before her execution. Not only did she speak forthrightly and without evasion about the criminal mind, but also she bore witness openly to her faith in Jesus Christ. What a pity that BTK's pastor could not have done something similar.

In my own very small home town in Virginia, there have been two sensational murders within the last fifteen years. Neither was satisfactorily resolved, though time was served by persons who may or may not have been the principal perpetrators. People still living in town are thought to know the truth, yet it remains untold. Much whispering and suspicion lingers. If any of the local pastors have dealt directly with this sickness from the pulpit, I have not heard of it. Granted the difficulty of such a task, is it not the burden of the Christian preacher to say something about sin, violence, judgment, confession, justice and bringing deeds of darkness into the light, as well as the usual messages of forgiveness and redemption?