Sunday, March 06, 2005

Michael Dearest, and BTK

Michael Dearest
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

No comment on the photo. Courtesy of

I'm avoiding the Michael Jackson trial but watching the BTK situation with some interest. There is something bone-chillingly creepy about a sadistic murdering psycho giving himself a moniker that sounds like a fast-food franchise. A reliable source tells me that the pastor of the accused, days after publicly affirming that his maniacal congregant is part of the body of Christ, has had a nervous breakdown.

My Reliable Source asked me what I would do if one of my own dearly beloved congregants turned out to be a serial killer. I'll have to think about that. We talk about the "inherent worth and dignity" of all human beings but of course "inherent" is not the same as "inviolate."

I certainly don't think I'd be using that "Body of Christ" line in public, that's for sure. I'd be talking about the victims, and our compassion for them, and keeping my mouth pretty much shut about my relationship with the accused. That's what pastoral privilege is all about.

I am well aware that, given the opportunities and plenty of time in the Big House, even the most heinous of evil-doers are capable of true repentance, spiritual growth and evolution of character. I've seen it with my own eyes. When that happens, it is very difficult for the loved ones of victims to appreciate the reformation of that individual. After all, they got a chance to move into another phase of life; an opportunity not granted the dead. When the families and loved ones can recognize the goodness in change, reconciliation can occur. When they can't, the perpetrator lives with the knowledge of that permanent hatred and resentment as best he or she can.

I do not generally support the death penalty. I say generally, because when there's a true sadist among us, my heart gets very cold and very unchristian. I want that person off the planet. They are living (or have lived) too far beyond the Pale of the basic human covenant, and they incarnate evil, which I believe is an absolute. So it's not a question of "eye for an eye" but of the kind of spiritual harm and danger represented by the truly unrepentant sadist.

But then... I remember the Hasidic saying: We should love the wicked, too, because as long as we do not love in this way, the Messiah will not come.

Justice is the most difficult human work.


Blogger Chalicechick said...

I’m not watching the trial, either, but you can find any information you might want about it here. I like the “body of Christ” line. I remember that when a church near Colombine High School planted trees for the victims, they included trees for the two shooters. That made me feel things about Christianity that I hadn’t felt in a long time at that point.

I have a basic “God doesn’t give up on people, why should we” philosophy toward the death penalty in theory, but in truth I view the criminal types I’ve actually dealt with as not salvageable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peacebang- your reflections about our response to the kind of evil someone like BTK represents got me thinking.

We might think of justice as having three facets: retribution, rehabilitation, and restoration. Retribution is punishment for the wrong that has been committed. Rehabilitation is directed at the criminal and deals with making that person whole or well or whatever. Restoration says that the deeds of a criminal have harmed individuals or communities and that repair and healing is needed.

We usually think of the death penalty as an acceptable or unacceptable form of retribution, but your post seems to link the death penalty to a restorative ideal of justice. I'm not sure I agree.


Blogger fausto said...

BTK was the president of his Lutheran congregation at the time he was arrested. Perhaps he had already repented.

As Unitarians who affirm the value of self-culture and salvation by character, we may express sincere revulsion at such depths of moral depravity. However, if we're serious about being Universalists, we also have to believe that all prodigal children will eventually find themselves drawn back home, and that the fatted calf will be waiting for each one of them when they finally arrive. We may hate the evil that misleads them without also hating the broken vessels that temporarily contains it. In a sense, we are all broken vessels waiting to be filled.

As for the Hasidic saying quoted by Peacebang, perhaps it is evidence that the Messiah they wait for is already moving among them, unbeheld.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Thom reminded me that I once studied the concept of restorative justice (when I lived in the D.C. area) and never quite got how it was supposed to work in reality, although I certainly understood it in theory.
The best prison minister I know is Bo Lozoff, founder (with his wife Sita) of the Prison Ashram Project. Check them out at I send them money every year, because they devote their lives to rehabilitating prisoners, and they beautifully preach and model both Universalist faith and Unitarian rsepect for self-culture.

I'm not sure if I am theologically a Universalist. But really, although I *probably* believe that BTK will be brought back "into harmony with the divine" at his death, I'm sure that while he lives and breathes and walks among us, he is one scary Mo-Fo. What did it feel like to be bound and tortured, taunted, violated and raped by this man? How much evil and cruelty and insanity did his victims have to absorb from his hands before they were murdered? What kind of karma does that create -- for all of us?

It must require the utmost self-control on the part of the arresting officers not to put a bullet clean through the head of this particular kind of perp. Again, I'm not condoning that idea, I'm just struggling with the undeniable evil of pure sadism.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Restorative justice is easier to imagine when the trangressions are less severe, like ordering community service for someone who commits a misdemeanor.

I've only read accounts of restorative justice in cases of more severe crimes in magazines and books. One story was about a young man who was drunk driving and killed another young man. Now the young man and vicitim's father travel together educating others.

That absolutely blows my mind. I don't think I could do anything like that.

Peacebang, when you wonder about the officers putting a bullet through BTK's head, or whatever, in your thinking, is there really a release, a healing, a mending, a peace that would be achieved through his death? Or asked another way, is it enough to catch those who commit monstrous deeds or do we actually have to destroy the monsters?


Blogger PeaceBang said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

I am having a dickens of a time leaving comments on this blog lately. Apologies.
Thom, I don't think that the bullet thorugh the head would provide healing, mending or anything but an abrupt ending to a source of pain and cruelty.
Again, I don't condone this, but I struggle with theodicy. In this kind of case, although I am perfectly willing to dig DEEP to find comprehensible causes of such depravity, I also turn to my work in amateur demonology and the history of Satan to get a grasp on the possibility of inherent evil. Which may be cosmic, or may be a fatal flaw in that particular organism. I don't know.

This is my sixth attempt to leave a comment like this, so forgive the incoherence. I shan't try again or my computer goes out the window.


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