The recent arrest and sentencing of Dennis Rader, the BTK killer (bind, torture, kill), reveals again just how dark this side of man is. According to the LA Times, on the day he was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms, Rader confessed he “still did not understand the forces that had twisted him into a monster” (L.A. Times, August 19, 2005).
As Christians, we understand these forces all too well. They are not a mystery, unique to only the deranged or demented; neither are they simply concepts to be debated by theologians and denied by academics. According to Scripture, the “forces” which twisted Dennis Rader into a monster are the same that actively churn inside every human being.
Of course, most of us will vehemently deny any similarity to this monster of a man. But the Bible is not so kind. It says, “There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom. 3:10) and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In our golden age of “feel good” religion, these are not the types of memory verses that make the favorites list. We want to be told God will deliver us and make us prosper, not that Dennis Rader is our accomplice in crime, that we’re equally unrighteous.
Even more difficult for some, is the thought that Rader can actually be forgiven. According to the Times: “He strangled his victims slowly, taking pleasure in their prolonged suffering. When he had time, he would masturbate on their bodies and pose them in bondage positions, snapping photos as souvenirs.” At his sentencing, Rader said, "I've humbled myself," bowing his head before the silent courtroom. "The dark side was there, but now I think light is beginning to shine." This from a man who, after killing neighbor Marine Hedge in 1985, took her body to his church—the church he served as president over—and photographed it in the basement. He then hid the corpse, changed into his Boy Scout uniform and went off to chaperon a camping trip. Can the light ever shine in such a soul? Was it ever there to begin with?
In his rambling statement to the court, Rader quoted the Bible and called himself a Christian, after which he was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms, for 175 years, with no chance of parole. Afterwards, one of those who’d served alongside him at Christ Lutheran, said he hoped his old friend’s remorse was genuine. "There is always the possibility of forgiveness. There is always hope," Paul Carlstedt said. "It's not my place to pass final judgment on anyone. That's going to have to come from a higher authority."
It seems most people are not so willing to extend “the possibility of forgiveness,” to one so monstrous.
Andrew Paschen, in an interesting blog entitled, “God, Monsters and the Gospel,” received a lot of heat for suggesting Dennis Rader could be redeemed. He cites three letters in response to a previous post on the subject:
I don't want to believe in any God that would offer or grant forgiveness to someone like Dennis Rader. If killing 10 people isn't enough to keep Rader out of heaven, then who the hell wants to go there?
He had better hope that he spends the rest of his life in jail. I am sure that I am not the only one who would actually enjoy murdering him in the most excruciating way possible. You can choose to believe what you wish, It's a free country. unfortunately, I just won't ever find it in my heart to feel anything but disgust at Rader. I have no interest in reaching out to him, either. What I want to do is feed him into a wood chipper feet first. Have a nice day.
Dennis Rader is a freak and a monster. There's a caste system in prisons and child killers are at the bottom. I hope he dies a vicious, bloody death. He hung an 11-year-old girl and masturbated as he watched her writhe and die. Easy to preach forgiveness when that wasn't your daughter. Dennis Rader will Burn in Hell, I can assure you My Children.
No doubt, many well-meaning, generous souls share these sentiments. Americans, by and large, are a forgiving bunch. We cheer adulterous presidents, applaud poetic gangsters and ignore (if not admire) the tics of our entertainers. But we draw the line at serial killers. Somehow, we believe God is obligated to forgive “the small stuff,” lyin’, cheatin’, hell raisin’ and being a general jerk. But then, there’s this other category of sin we define as “unforgivable,” or at least very, very bad. (Conveniently, none of us ever find ourselves in this category.) For God to forgive those who stray into such depravity and injustice, we consider equally depraved and unjust.
Problem is the Bible does not make a distinction between big and small sins. In fact, Christ said those who hate, are murderers (Matt. 5:21-22) and those who lust, are adulterers (Matt. 5:27-28). This is not comforting. As much as we loathe admitting it, the distance between Dennis Rader and John Doe is not that great.
Sufjan Stevens, in his song, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” traces the pathology of Illinois’ most infamous serial killer. From 1972 until his arrest in 1978, Gacy tortured, raped and murdered 33 boys and young men, many of whom were discovered buried under the floorboards of his home. The last stanza of the song is startling:
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid
Whether intentional or not, Stevens is stating an important biblical principle: We are all like the moon, we each have a dark side.
But, just as sin is universal, so is the offer of grace. "Whoever believes" has eternal life (Jn. 3:16) , and "Whoever desires" can drink "the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). I'm assuming that "whoever" includes the worst among us -- liar, thief, tax evader or serial killer. The wonder and majesty of the Christian gospel is that no one is "unredeemable."
David Berkowitz, who called himself "The Son of Sam," killed 6 people and left several others crippled or maimed for life. In 1987 he supposedly received Christ and has been active in prison ministry since. Karla Faye Tucker brutally murdered two people. She was the first woman executed in Texas since the 1860's. While in prison she was "born again," became a model prisoner and led others to Christ. Sometime before his death, Jeffrey Dahmer apparently confessed Christ and was baptized in a prison whirlpool. Were they really saved? Could these pieces of human debris possibly be redeemed? When I consider that Moses was a murderer, King David was an adulterer and a murderer, the apostle Paul hunted Christians, Peter denied Christ, Samson was a sex-fiend and Solomon had multiple pagan wives and, eventually, stumbled after them, I'm inclined to say, yeah. It's possible.
Despite our fronts and facades, there are secrets hidden under our floorboards. We all have a dark side. I can only hope, for Dennis Rader and myself, that "whoever" includes me, and even on the dark side of the moon, the "light is beginning to shine."