Church Ministry and Murder Victims

*** I found this blog draft and do not know why I did not publish it previously. It does deal with one of the most heavy and frightful subjects this side of heaven, but unfortunately, one which many people have to deal every day. ***

Ever since I came to Christ in August, 1974, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and teachings, besides my own preaching and teaching ministry. I think that we only deal with the issue of murder when we’re going through the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. As it turns out, every year there is a National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims on September 23. Our churches do need to become aware of this issue that deeply scars many families. I also think that fellow pastors find may need to see this to be an issue that we naturally think of when we come to the place where we put together the application of whatever passage of scripture that we’re dealing with, though I would hope not too regularly.

The National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims is on the anniversary of the passing of Lisa Hullinger. Lisa might not be a person whose name is familiar with many people. She was a friend of mine in college, and she was assaulted with a hammer by her ex-boyfriend Bill Coday in September 1978 while she was in Germany. She lingered in a coma for about a week, and passed away.

Lisa was a strong believer in Christ, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and I knew her through the fellowship of believers that we both attended. That time was a time of deep mourning for the loss of Lisa, and also a deep realization of the comfort that we have in Christ. In fact, her memorial service was announced as, “The Celebration of the Resurrection of Lisa Hullinger.” Her parents then went on to found the organization, “Parents of Murdered Children.” A fellow classmate, believer and friend of Lisa’s and mine wrote the following article several years ago about Lisa: Robert and Charlotte Hullinger fondly recall their daughter Lisa.

Several years ago, this issue was brought to my attention even more when I served as an alternate juror on a murder trial where the prosecution requested the death penalty. A wife was on trial for allegedly hiring a known murderer to kill her husband in vengeance for an act of adultery. When the jury was given a tour of the house, I was surprised by how many evangelical knickknacks were around the house. I don’t remember anything much about their church involvement or anything else about their professed Christian commitment, but they were both evidently exposed to evangelical Christianity and probably had made some kind of profession of faith in their lives.

The issue of murder does hit professed believers, both as victims, and, though we may not like to admit it, as perpetrators. Bill Coday, the murderer of Lisa, was a professed believer when I met him over a year before the actual murder, and not someone that you would have thought capable of murder. Both the husband and the wife in the trial where I sat as an alternate juror were professed believers and part of a local evangelical church. I can attest that this issue is not one which you can see approaching and avoid with a little wise scriptural advice and sin management. It’s one where when it hits you, you need all the comfort and strength of scripture, prayer, the fellowship of believers and above all the abiding presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Here are some things that believers and churches can do:

  • Understand that the human heart is capable of great evil that may not be apparent outwardly, and understand the capability of violence and murder within the wickedness of the human heart beneath all outward appearances.
  • Let what God says in the Bible so many times about hating violence and the value of other people made in his image touch your own heart.
  • Pray for and seek for peace among your family, friends, church and community at large.
  • Assess the kind of entertainment that you and your family may be seeing and whether it condones violence and treats murder and the value of human life lightly.
  • Preach and teach about the sins of murder during the course of any kind of preaching and teaching, when it comes up in the normal progression of  scripture.
  • Understand that dealing with anger and betrayal scripturally and with the love of Christ can literally be a matter of life and death where there is the potential for violence and murder in the human heart.
  • Understand that stalking behaviors are not a normal way of dealing with unrequited love, even if TV and movies depict it that way, and strongly counsel every believer to see these in themselves and to see the danger in these behaviors.
  • Understand that God does not condone using anger and violence to control another person and punish the sins of others or disobedience of others to one’s own selfish demands.
  • Understand the need for comfort and long term prayer and support that the family and friends of murder victims need from others in the body of Christ.
  • Above all, the greatest comfort that you can leave anyone else in the event of your own death is your own strong and unwavering testimony of faith in Jesus Christ that is backed up by a life of serving him. In Christ,

Here are some words from a friend of mine from California who lost her son and grandsons in a locally prominent murder case. I’m on an email list of friends who she emails when things get rough for her in her mourning, and while the trial of her daughter in law is underway. What’s below has been publicly posted on the Internet for others, so I’m not breaking any confidences in sharing these words. Something quite bizarre to me that she’s also shared that shows how ill equipped many people are to deal with the reality of murder is the first question they ask her: “What did he do to cause his murder?” The answer for him and his sons is, “Absolutely nothing. And it wasn’t something that he could have anticipated at all.”

“September 25, 2008 is the USA’s annual observance of the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. I hope you will make a special point of remembering and talking about Neal, Devon and Ian, and of educating others about the devastating effects of murder and it’s aftermath. I noted on an FBI website that a study in 2005 estimated the number of Americans who lost their lives to murder that year alone (not manslaughter, but murder) was more than 16,000! That’s an average of nearly 2 per minute! This is not acceptable, it’s outrageous, and people should be talking about it! Even one murder per year is too many, and can be utterly devastating to the families and friends of the victim. I know that many people assume that these are gang members and others who live a dangerous lifestyle, but you and I know that murder takes the innocent as well – even small children like Devon and Ian. So, please, when September 25 comes around, remember them and all the others who have had their lives and futures stolen by murder. I am always very grateful for your continued support. Jan Williams Mother of Neal Williams (27), Oma of Devon (7) and Ian (3) Williams murdered August 8, 2007”

“Murder isn’t over, you know, not ever – not for those of us left behind. In murder mystery books and crime dramas everything is wrapped up with a nice red bow right before the end, which usually comes just as soon as the cuffs are put on the suspect and their Miranda rights are read. The end. Cut to commercial. Show the previews for the next episode. It isn’t like that in real life. There are no quick, neat solutions. Forensics take months, investigations can be long and painstaking, and it seems to take forever for the trial to even start. And there is the pain of loss. That pain doesn’t go away, you don’t breathe a sigh of relief when the solution is presented or the trial ended. There isn’t even any real closure. You will never, ever, understand why someone felt they had a good reason to take your loved one’s life. No reason is good enough. And the pain is still there. The pain of loss is your life companion now. You may hide it. You many impress others with your strength, courageously build a new life for yourself, even find other happiness. But the loss is still there, the pain is still there, and grief just waits around the corner for a chance to trip you up again. “

**********************************************

Not too far from where I live, about a year ago the city of Cleveland, the nation and the world was rocked by the rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from their long, abusive and completely criminal captivity at the hands of a depraved man. Not far to the east, another house of horrors was revealed to the city, the nation and the world with the crimes of Anthony Sowell.  To all that I have written above, let’s add a strong persistence to remain in prayer for the rescue or revelation of the fate of those who may come up missing and for any perpetrators of any crimes which led to them becoming missing may be brought to justice.

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