This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for some time, but haven’t really had the time and the guts to write it. But I read today that Mary Winkler may go on Oprah to talk about the case, so I thought I’d just go ahead and do it. (If you don’t know who Mary Winkler is, she’s the woman who shot her minister husband in Tennessee. They are members of the church of Christ.) I am afraid that if she begins doing interviews, the C of C will get some unflattering press. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen.

I have strong feelings about this case, being an attorney, a wife and being raised in this particular religion. I don’t think there are any innocent parties to this sad, sad case, although the guy certainly didn’t deserve to die. Obviously, shooting your husband is wrong. But there is so much wrong here on every side.

I think that once the “in depth” interviews start rolling, there will be more news stories on the church, most likely in a cult-like flavor. This is disheartening to me, because it just doesn’t have to be that way. We have made it so easy for those who aren’t familiar with the church to view it that way. Our views on women, views on ministers and their families, our male dominated church will all be paraded out across the country in high definition television. In my opinion, we are to blame for a lot of these perceptions.

I have been in the role of a minister’s wife before, and let me tell you (in my experience) it is absolutely horrible. So political. You feel like you’re on display for everyone to see – what you do, what you say, what you think. If we bought a new car, we didn’t want to drive it to church because of judgmental people thinking they’re paying the preacher too much. I was chastised by other women for having career aspirations. One person told me she would not babysit for a working mother. (Ironically, her kids didn’t turn out so well.) I worried constantly that we might say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing or anger the wrong person – then we’d be out of a job.

The pressure on ministerial families in this religion is immense. We go to church with our best faces on and expect to see everyone else do the same – preachers and their families have to be “on” 24/7. I’m sure the Winklers felt the pressure of this position just like we did.

Most of the preachers I remember from childhood left the church’s employ in disgrace – affairs, problems with kids, spouses. Who do ministers go to for family counseling? In small towns? They don’t. The way the church is set up, the ministers are pretty much on their own spiritually – our Eldership (aka leadership, pastors, shepherds) are the minister’s employers. It is not especially comfortable confiding problems in your marriage to someone who could fire you for having those problems.

If problems in the marriage can’t be solved with counseling because of the stigma, they certainly can’t go the divorce route – he’d lose his job. If she has no education, how is she going to support herself – her ex-husband ex-preacher can’t get a job in his field, so child/spousal support payments would not be something to count on. The problems just linger, unaddressed until something major happens and then everyone’s shocked. Don’t be – we have created this horrible situation for these people.

Of course, there are examples of very faithful and long-lasting ministerial families. I think they are few in number compared to the number of families that start out in ministry, but it does happen that there are families that serve well even under pressure and serve for a long time. I also think that there are Elderships that understand this unique position and are supportive of their ministers and their families. I am encouraged to see this happen.

I think it’s waaaaay past time for us to reconsider our perspectives on ministers (among other things). They can’t be perfect because they aren’t perfect. They have all problems (and more) just as any other couple. It is unfortunate that the Winkler situation happened. But I am not any more surprised at it than if it happened in a crime-infested neighborhood. Frankly, something like this was bound to happen.

If Mary Winkler begins giving interviews and stories about the church start airing, I hope that we take this opportunity to take a step back and look at us from an outsider’s view. Who are we? Who do we appear to be? I hope that it serves as a wake up call for all of us C of C’ers. Remember that all of us are human. Your ministers are under so much pressure. They have problems, too. We need to stop being judgmental.

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2 Responses

  1. Although I don’t have a husband that is a minister, I have found myself defending ministers and elders in the Church from time to time reminding people that they are human. Humans make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Watching Brian through his ministry I have realized people don’t understand that being a minister is an extremely tough job. It’s not a job that you clock in at 9 am and out at 5pm. It is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week occupation. You are responsible for molding young (and older) minds in spiritual matters. That’s serious stuff. People are quick to cast stones at these men and their families and it upsets me. We need to be supportive of our ministers, elders and their families in our Church. They struggle with the same problems that face many people, but they are on display for all to see.

  2. You are right. I don’t have the perspective of a ministerial family, but Scott does. He agreed with what you had to say. What bothers me is how we as a church family are going to be viewed by the outside world. It hurts to be judged yourself by what happened to this family.

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