Blog & Mablog: “The B.T.K. Killer and the Objectivity of the Covenant”

Blog and Mablog | March 4, 2005

The B.T.K. Killer and the Objectivity of the Covenant

Topic: Auburn Avenue Stuff

The recent arrest of Dennis Rader for the infamous B.T.K. killings presents an interesting dilemma for those who want to maintain, as I do, the objectivity of the covenant. For the sake of this discussion, I want to assume that the reports are true that Rader has confessed to a number of the killings, and that Rader is in fact guilty. If that were not the case, then our discussion should revolve around rules of evidence, and what constitutes proof.

The thing that makes this a problem for the objectivity of the covenant is that Rader does not meet the standard profile of a serial killer. He is a family man, and the president of his congregation, Christ Lutheran Church. His pastor has visited him in prison, and has said some things that provoke these musings now. After his visit, Rader’s pastor said, “We are not going to cut him off. I could tell that he was relieved . . . He is still a part of the body of Christ — and that is something some people will have a hard time hearing.”

Now some might say that this is the “objectivity of the covenant” coming back at us with a vengeance. Here is a man who has confessed to a number of horrendous murders, over a span of decades, and who remains a member of a Trinitarian church. He is baptized, and has not been excommunicated. His pastor certainly seems to think (in some measure) in terms of Dennis Rader’s objective standing within the covenant. But how are we to process this? Here are some preliminary thoughts.

  1. No one has ever done anything so horrendous that God’s forgiveness in Christ cannot reach him. Salvation is according to grace, not according to works. Of course Rader does not deserve to be saved. No one does.
  2. Because Rader was a member of a Christian church, he had a standing obligation to repent of his grotesque sins, and believe in Christ.
  3. His confessed behavior indicates that he was in defiance of this covenantal obligation over an extended period of time, over decades.
  4. This does not mean that he cannot repent now, but the Bible must be the only rule for us in defining what actual repentance looks like. There is a sorrow that leads only to death, but a godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret.
  5. In a situation like this one, again, assuming the confessions of guilt, what would repentance look like? In short, what sort of repentance should Christ Lutheran Church accept, so that Rader might remain a member, and not be “cut off,” as his pastor put it?
  6. A genuinely repentant man in such circumstances must confess everything, fully and completely, and this would include any crimes he has not been charged with. The chances are good that the authorities do not know everything he has done. He must plead guilty in court to any crimes he committed, publicly declare that he has sought God’s forgiveness, and ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims. So that they might know that this is not just talk, Rader must strive to receive the death penalty. A repentant man who had done these things would evidence his repentance in his whole-hearted desire to be executed. In this, he should echo the words of the apostle Paul. “For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die” (Acts. 25:11).
  7. If in substance he manifests repentance this way, that repentance should be accepted by his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he should willingly go to his death a communicant member of Christ Lutheran Church. If he does not do these things, if his declared repentance is only an emotional sorrow that does not bear the marks of true repentance, then he should be excommunicated from his church.

The situation is obviously filled with tangles, and I do not envy Rader’s pastor at all. He was right that a godly response to the situation contains things that “some people will have a hard time hearing.” But the difficulty should cut across the political spectrum. Those who think that the grace of God could never come to someone like Rader will have a hard time hearing about any kind of forgiveness for such a man. And those who think that forgiveness must mean a removal of all consequences will have a hard time hearing that a repentant man in such a case must ask to be executed, and must be supported in this desire by his church. But there it is.

Posted by Douglas Wilson — 3/4/2005 11:42:28 AM