Officials said that religion was not a motive for Devin Kelley when he murdered 26 people as they worshiped in Sutherland, Texas. Rather, his motive was a “domestic” conflict with his estranged wife’s parents. As I commented, any such attack on a church has to do with religion. Nevertheless, research does show that a large percentage of church shootings do also involve domestic violence. The question is, what’s the connection? Why do men who abuse their wives sometimes shoot up her church?
Kelley was thrown out of the Air Force and imprisoned for 12 months for repeatedly beating, kicking, and choking his wife and fracturing the skull of her toddler, his stepson. His wife divorced him, but after getting out of prison, he married a second time and abused his second wife also. She left him, though they were not divorced, and Kelley began threatening her parents. They sometimes attended First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, though not on the day of Kelley’s attack, when he massacred the congregation anyway.
On that same day, there was another church shooting that did not attract as much news coverage. In Fresno, California, a gunman killed his estranged wife and her new boyfriend as they left a Catholic mass.
It turns out that church shootings are not all that uncommon. In 2016, according to security expert Carl Chinn, there were 65 violent deaths at church. Fifty-two were homicides, with seven suicides, and six were “perpetrators” killed as they were committing their crimes. Of the homicides, 25% were “spillovers” from domestic violence. (Takeaway: Chinn says that churches with members going through this should take precautions.)
Maybe the twisted psychology of the perpetrators goes something like this: A man who is violent against his own wife must realize on some level that he is being bad. But he is so angry. Her very innocence enrages him. He resents her goodness, which condemns him further. And if she goes to church that only adds to his fury. “She thinks she’s better than me!” “She’d rather spend time with all those holy rollers than me!” “She probably complains about me to those church people!” “I’ll show her. . .I’ll show them all!”
Maybe striking at her church is an attempt to hurt her on a deeper level than he has hurt her before, not just attacking her physically, as he has been doing, but attacking her in her spiritual life.
I don’t know. (Feel free to add your own thoughts about this.)
But it occurred to me that there may be a deeper reason, a profoundly spiritual reason. And it has to do with vocation.
God is in vocation, and, according to Ephesians 5, marriage embodies the relationship between Christ and the Church.
Husbands are enjoined to love their wives, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5: 25). If a husband rebels against his calling to love and serve his wife and instead harms her, he is refusing to be a Christ to her. In his rebellion against marriage, instead of sacrificing himself for his wife, as Christ did for the church, he sacrifices her for himself.
He is violent against her. And in extreme cases he may be violent against her church. This is because, in vocation, his wife is the church!
Photo by Alexas_Fotos, via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons