Serial killers are almost always psychopaths or sociopaths murdering out of an abnormal psychological need or gratification. Serial killers are different from mass murderers. Serial killers murder multiple people one at a time across a longer period of time. Most serial killers live what appears to be a normal everyday life, with a charming personality that lures people into a false bond of trust.
H.H. Holmes, a charming entrepreneur in the late 19th century, is often called America’s first serial killer. Many of his known killings took place in Chicago during the Chicago World Fair. Holmes enchanted his way into the lives of innocent, vulnerable victims — people who were susceptible prey. He killed with kindness, using his nice demeanor as doorways for his evil agendas.
Just before the turn of the 20th century, serial killings were a new phenomenon in the western world typified by Jack the Ripper in London and H.H. Holmes in Chicago. However, most serial killings take place without the public’s knowledge. These methodical murderers fly under the radar of society until evidence is brought forth connecting the dots of multiple victims.
The term serial killer is often used only for the murdering of individual people. There has been, however, serial killer behavior in the methodical murdering of individual communities such as churches.
The church appears to be the least likely place for serial killers to fulfill their narcissistic agendas, but if we look back across recent history, we can connect the dots of serial killer victims that took place in congregations.
As a Kentucky Baptist pastor, I look back through Baptist life and see the evil history of congregational serial killing in my own denomination. Over the past quarter of a century individuals in the greater Baptist community have used their masks of charm and kindness to prey upon vulnerable Baptist bodies. Congregational serial killers are often pastors, convention leaders and denominational presidents placing themselves in pulpits of power and swinging the emotions of the church to align with their lethal agendas.
These predators stalk a wounded congregation most often in financial crisis. Over time they build trust, luring their prey into their trap and then using tradition as torture tools and scripture as weapons that inflict deadly wounds. After an attack, the church body is cut apart and the congregation as a whole never survives.
Today, another aggressive movement from fundamentalist Baptists is taking place in the life of our country. Baptist churches are being trapped in dungeons of deadly decision making, causing the death of individual churches which once held differences in tension. These churches which have tried to hold both moderate and conservative Baptist beliefs for decades are being manipulated by a murderous agenda. This agenda divides and conquers, like “mid-evil” Christendom, destroying whole communities. The consequences of these murderous acts will leave empty church buildings like unmarked graves.
There seem to me more and more news stories of congregations becoming victims of violence both spiritually and physically. Grief and anger strike our hearts when we see the mass murdering of innocent people with gun violence. The tragedy that took place near San Antonio, Texas, when a man came into a church shooting and killing men, woman and children sent shock waves through every congregation in America. This horrible act of one person has ignited many church bodies to action, protecting themselves with proper security measures.
Horrible acts of violence continue to take place under the public radar. The spiritual killings of churches are occurring quietly by individual persons and conventions. They lure a church body into a deadly debate, tearing apart the membership before anyone is aware enough to stop them.
Historically, Baptists have been congregational led — one body united through local autonomy which stays connected to and through the greater community of faith. According to Walter B. Shurden, our Baptist identity was founded on four fragile freedoms: Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom and religious freedom. These freedoms help unite a faithful body of Christ by placing a shield of protection against those who wish to inflict harm. We Baptists must stay united, willing to work together in the midst of our individual doctrinal differences.
Dually aligned Baptist churches, please do not fall prey to the congregational serial killers of our day, those wolves in sheep’s clothing who come like thieves in the night to kill, steal and destroy. Hold tight to the core truth that unites the body together — the love of the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ.
If we are not careful, the consequences of Baptist politics will continue to destroy communities, leaving victims of Baptist brutality. We must protect not only ourselves but the greater good of all. Those who feel the bite of belligerent Baptist battles are individuals and families trapped on the margins, those stuck in systems of poverty. Our politics never affects those privileged by the status quo. Our politics always affects the poor. Our politics starves the greater community of all God’s children limiting our resources and our reach as partners in God’s mission in the world.
We stand together. We can stay united. We can stop congregational serial killers.