One of the most damning film portrayals of media hordes came years ago in Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, which repeatedly made the sound of whirring cameras sound like so many locusts. Those scenes came to mind when I saw this detail in the Los Angeles Times‘ coverage of the scene at Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita, which Dennis Rader, the accused BTK serial killer, has attended for more than 30 years:
As congregants walked into the two-story brick church Sunday, bundled in warm coats to ward off the chill of an overcast day, reporters and television crews blocked their path, peppering them with questions about Rader and his family.
On any other Sunday, the people might have lingered over cups of coffee and nibbled on sugar cookies, chatting about sports and work while the children played outside. But this Sunday, they stopped and stared, saying little.
As P.J. Huffstutter’s Times article demonstrates, the best reporting about the worship at Christ Lutheran on Sunday morning resulted from going inside for the service and not simply conducting walk-by interviews at the entrance:
Gerald Mansholt, bishop of the Central States Synod in Kansas City, Mo., spoke at the service and pleaded with the crowd for patience — to wait for the evidence. He said churches across the state were praying for the congregation, as well as for the survivors of BTK’s victims and for the Rader family.
“We grieve with you,” Mansholt said. “Words fail us at times like this. . . . The very foundation of our faith is shaken.”
Several women cried. One buried her face in her hands, bent over her knees and silently sobbed.
Deb Gruver of The Wichita Eagle also reported on Sunday’s service, and revealed this strange detail: “Rader, who was elected president of the church last year, will continue in that role for now, [Pastor Michael] Clark said.”
Gruver’s report also quotes pastor Clark as saying, “We are not here to judge him but to support him as a brother of Christ” (Clark more likely meant “brother in Christ,” though even that reference is a bitter pill amid accusations of serial torture killings).
Clark’s sermon, which the Eagle published this morning, provides more context:
The light of Christ continues to shine and lead us in the paths of darkness. As we continue forward to seek the truth that Christ wants us to know, we are to continue to pray for all concerned. We are to pray for peace and comfort for those victims and family members of the BTK murderer. We must lift them up and ask God for continued strength in the days ahead. We must pray for healing of heart and soul for those who have been victimized in this tragic series of murders.
We are to pray for all law enforcement people for the time and energy they have committed to the task of solving this problem.
As we continue on as a body of Christ, it is important that we show compassion and love towards Dennis. If what is claimed is true we should be about the business of asking for God’s help in healing of heart and soul. As we travel from this day forward we should pray for all of Dennis Rader’s family members. Bring them peace and comfort as they too wonder what each new day brings.
So far most reporters are handling Rader’s membership at Christ Lutheran in a responsible and sensitive manner — but The Age newspaper in Australia wins a Most Strained Irony in a Headline award for “Church leader is killer of 10, police say.”
Rader’s regular attendance at Christ Lutheran, which already has led some talking heads to refer to his “devout” and “staunch” church life, adds another painful detail to this grisly saga. The most interesting stories about Christ Lutheran Church will come not just weeks from now, but months and years later. Let’s hope a few reporters are still around then, occasionally attending services after the horde has moved on, of necessity, to another horror.