Archive for Saturday, March 12, 2005

Lawrence pastor has walked in Wichita church’s shoes

March 12, 2005


It's hard to imagine what must be going through the mind of the Rev. Michael Clark, pastor of Wichita's Christ Lutheran Church, as he ministers to a notorious member of his congregation: Dennis Rader, the suspected BTK killer.

But the Rev. Leo Barbee Jr. knows what it's like to have a respected member of his church -- a model of faith in the community -- stand accused of a terrible crime.

Martin K. Miller, 46, formerly the chairman of Veritas Christian School's board of directors, was arrested July 30 on suspicion of murdering his 46-year-old wife, Mary, a Kansas University librarian.

Miller, whose preliminary hearing was Wednesday in Douglas County District Court, is a member of Barbee's congregation, Victory Bible Church, 1942 Mass.

Mary Miller was an active member there, and the couple's children continue to attend the church. The circumstances have placed Barbee and the church in difficult roles.

"It's a challenge. I'm human, too," Barbee said. "You have a love for him (Martin Miller), for the family, a love for the wife and the children. I've called him, and he's missed me a time or two. I haven't talked to him as much as I would have liked to. It's a sad situation."

Forty to 50 members of the church gathered for a prayer vigil

for the Miller family Sunday afternoon.

"We have sought to minister to them," Barbee said of the Miller's school-aged son and daughter.

"They have gone through some real traumatic experiences, to lose the mom and the dad. Your mom is gone, she's with the Lord, and your dad is accused (of her murder). It's hard because you're close to the people. They became real active in the church," he said.

Barbee said he doesn't understand why Lawrence residents were stunned by the arrest of Miller, who appeared to be a model Christian.

"I don't know why we are so shocked," Barbee said. "People are people, even if they have come to know Christ. None of us has lived a perfectly godly life. Every one of us is susceptible to sin, to doing wrong.

"The church is filled with the blood of the martyrs, good and bad. Man looks at the outward appearance, (but) only God knows what is really in a person's heart and motives."

Places of great pain

Since the arrest of Rader in Wichita as the suspected BTK killer, some Lawrence pastors have been thinking about how they would deal with ministering to a man accused of strangling 10 people.

"The thing that leads the way is that the nature of God trumps any and all other considerations. What guides you isn't a particular person, a particular crime or even a particular series of crimes. But what guides you in ministry is a mandate to extend the nature of God -- that of redemption and justice," said the Rev. Marcus McFaul, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive.

But how could a pastor counsel a man whose terrible acts are almost beyond comprehension?

"His (Rader's) pastor isn't having to understand everything before he ministers to him. If we understood everything and everyone before we did any ministry, nothing would ever get done," McFaul said.

Love, forgiveness

The Rev. Randy Beeman said his first response to learning a member of his congregation stood accused of a serious, or even terrible, crime would not be one of surprise, given his bedrock belief that the church is for imperfect people.

"Second, I would unconditionally love that person," said Beeman, senior pastor, First Christian Church, 1000 Ky. "Third, I would speak the truth of their wrong to them. I would pray for them, support them, forgive them and speak the truth to them.

"God's forgiveness and mine doesn't mean there are no more consequences for our bad choices. What it does mean is that my love and God's love for that person continues regardless of their behavior."


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