Preacher's Wife -- Guilty

I've posted a couple of times on clergy related issues. One was a discussion of a Time Magazine article on pastor's wives. Yesterday I posted the results of a survey that said that clergy express the most job satisfaction of any profession/vocation. Today, I read first in the LA Times the verdict in the Mary Winkler trial.
Mary was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the murder of her husband, Matthew Winkler, who at the time of his death was pastor of 4th Street Church of Christ in Semler, TN. Winkler claims that the shotgun she was holding during a fight with her husband had gone off accidentally --- which is probably why she got the lesser sentence. She tells of a life of abuse, physical, emotional, and even sexual. It's a sorry tale, and of course much of it went on behind closed doors with no witnesses. Thee are three children, but all are under 10. How could a minister's wife do such things? And then of course, if, as I suspect she is, telling the truth, how could a pastor do such things to his wife. Ah, but that's the tale we neither wish to tell nor to hear.
But the family, as traumatized as they must be, aren't the only parties involved. There is also a church, now without a pastor and facing questions about its judgment in selecting a pastor. From Ted Parks' article in the Church of Christ magazine the Christian Chronicle, we find out more about what's going on from within.

The church’s progress after the shattering loss does not mean the congregation fully comprehends what happened the Wednesday morning in March 2006 when Matthew Winkler died.

“The pieces just do not fit together,” said Fourth Street member Pam Killingsworth. “I think there’s some things that weren’t meant to be understood. And we’re just going to have to live with that fact and go on with our lives.

“At this point,” she added, “I’m ready just to give it to God, and let him take care of it.”

Indeed, this is a tragedy that affects families, congregations, and the church at large. In a week when we contemplate acts of violence, we find that this story is added to the others, and we grieve and we wonder. We pray and hope for better days.
Mary Winkler's story reminds us that even within the sanctity of a family, yes a clergy family, all may not be right. It's too bad that Mary didn't have a safe haven, but as is true of many pastor's wives there appears to have been no place to go and so she suffered in silence so as not to embarrass her husband -- until it was too late.
Thanks to Rebecca and News Muse for the tip on the Ted Parks article.


Mystical Seeker said…
You should check out the book "Fleeing Fundamentalism" by Carlene Cross. The author is an ex-pastor's wife who was, as she tells the story, involved in a psychologically abusive marriage. I recently wrote a review of the book on my blog
Anonymous said…
Hiya Bob,

Thanks for the pastor's wife issue that you brought up. As opposed to the correlative bigotry of Mystical Seeker, part of the bigger point, as you said, is that many times pastor's wives have nowhere to go, even in the midst of a great marriage (does that exist in Christian orthodoxy, Mystical Seeker, or shall we broadly apply the sample size of one?). Pastors do have higher expectations, not just from people but from God, but the flock quite often begins to see the Pastor as higher or better, and just as often the pastor cultivates this image. Those trained in the soiled human heart should know better, but, oh, yeah, the heart is wicked and incremental changes in altitude to the pedastal go unnoticed in everyone's life.

However, I disagree about it being a tale that we neither wish to tell or hear. Falleness is what it is, and the sooner people know how dark their heart is, the better. If you don't think you have anything to repent for, you won't.

Anonymous said…

There is far more to the correlative review by the mystical seeker than may be known. A study was done back in the 1970's that found spouse abuse rampant among fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalism is not very different in their views of and treatment of women from Muslim fundamentalist. It's all about power and control.

One of my high school classmates is a social worker. A few years ago, I was appointed to pastor a church where she is a member and one of our former teachers sings in the choir. She told me that the greatest number of spouse abuse, child abuse, and yes that horrible thing called incest was found far more among fundamentalists than anyone else in her work experience and what she heard from others.

So, I can see where fundamentalism would have caged this preacher's wife in.

Also, one can be an orthodox Christian without being a fundamentalist.

Many Protestant pastors appear to have adopted the approach to marriage that Richard Baxter had. He told his wife to not expect him around much because his pastoral work came first. What he told her was the standard statement that pastors said to their wives in his day. Also, by the end of his life wondered if pastors should be married at all.

In contrast, there is Martin Luther who evidently was more of a family man.

I do not see in the NT where the pastor is called to a higher level of married life than are all Christians.

We do seem to have trouble with really believing clergy and their families are real human beings, not a glorified species.

Yes, we do have many who build the image of a Pastor super star. However, their spouse and children suffer the double life it creates. I wrote about this once

Having said all of this, spouse abuse does happen in clergy families who are not in fundamentalist denominations. However, they may have acted like a fundamentalist at home. From what I studied in my sociology major, fundamentalism is more of a mindset or subculture than it is a theological system.

Sad to say but I have heard of fundamentalist clergy tell abused wives in their congregations to just go back and love 'em more and stay married because the Bible says so. That sick thinking is equal to saying the NT call to self-denial means giving up the very self God created you as.
Hannah said…
I think article you posted to is very sad. It shows they aren't willing to really deal with what has happened. Focusing on forgiveness is good, but commenting about how they may never understand certain things and will give it to God shows to me how they are unwilling to look at the possibility of domestic abuse within their own church.

Whether they believe it happened or not this factor came to them, and instead of pushing it away it would be nice to hear they are at least trying to learn about it. Educate themselves so if in fact if someone else feels they need to ask for help....they could because they understand the dynamics enough to deal with it properly.

To me a door opened, and in their fear they closed it. Sadly, most churches do the same thing. Preaching of the sin of domestic abuse just isn't popular, despite the growing numbers of people it effects.

Thank you for your article.

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