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Can he be forgiven? Local clergy weigh in on questions of faith about BTK serial killer Dennis Rader

  • Published Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 8:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 2:05 p.m.

Two people who encountered Dennis Rader, the confessed BTK serial killer, see his claim of Christian faith in completely different ways: After Rader's arrest in February, Kristin Casarona, 38, of Topeka, wrote to him "as one person of faith to another." They talked about writing a story about his life, "which would have a Christian message."

Then there's Wichita police Lt. Ken Landwehr, head of the BTK Task Force, who met with reporters in July. His view of Rader?

"He is proud of what he did. He can think he's a Christian all he wants.... He is nothing but a perverted serial killer."

Christian and serial killer?

Most local Christian clergy say that as difficult as it may be for people to accept, Rader can call himself a Christian and can be forgiven if — and that's an important word — he repents.

They understand that people struggle to connect faith with someone who has committed such horrendous crimes. Questions abound:

Is Rader, who is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday for his crimes, a Christian?

Is a statement of remorse all that's lacking for him to be forgiven by God or to be considered a Christian?

And if Rader killed and committed other crimes believing he would always be forgiven, can he still be forgiven?

The Rev. Michael Clark, the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, which Rader attended for more than 30 years, said he couldn't respond to many of the questions, citing confidentiality.

He meets with Rader often in jail to pray with him. What he could say is that "there's no question" in his mind that Rader believes in Jesus Christ.

All of the clergy interviewed said they think Rader can be forgiven if he repents. Several noted that Christians commit acts that are wrong.

"We do all kinds of things both as a nation and as an individual that I would not consider as Christ-like behavior either," said the Rev. Mike Poage, pastor of Fairmount United Church of Christ.

Yet, he said, such people still consider themselves Christians.

The Rev. Floyd McKinney of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Newton said people's deeds and beliefs often conflict.

"Is it possible that someone who has had or has an abortion — can they be called a Christian? That's killing someone," he said.

"Is it possible for a politician to send someone to war where they can be killed — are they Christian?

"In other words, where do you draw the line?"

The Rev. Robin McGonigle, of Pine Valley Christian Church, said the only unforgivable sin mentioned in the Bible is rejection of God.

"I take by that we can be forgiven for things even as atrocious as what he has done," she said, referring to Rader.

She said she'd be the first to admit it's difficult to forgive a person who has committed such crimes.

"I'll also be the first to say that God is so merciful that we are slow to understand God's forgiveness and how it works."

And that raises other questions: Did God's mercy enable Rader to commit more evil? Did he believe that no matter what he did, God would forgive him?

McGonigle said you can't "use up your forgiveness unless you ultimately reject God."

McKinney of Our Lady of Guadalupe said the key word is "if."

"If you (sin) thinking that 'I can automatically ask for forgiveness later,' then you're actually denying yourself the repentance," he said.

"But if someone says they're sorry from the bottom of their heart, then they can be forgiven."

Both McGonigle and the Rev. Doug Luginbill of Hope Mennonite Church referred to the biblical story of Jesus' crucifixion.

On one side of him was a criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he went into his kingdom. Jesus told the man he would be with him in paradise on that day.

"At his very last moment, he was forgiven by Jesus," McGonigle said. "Our faith teaches us that God is merciful to the end."

Despite people's judgmental attitude of others, Luginbill said, there is only one judge.

"I think, ultimately, the final judge is God."

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