Thursday, April 19, 2007


The past week and a half the trial of Mary Winkler for the death of Matthew Winkler has been going on in Selmer, Tennessee. Matthew was a 5th generation Church of Christ minister. His family is very well known in the circles of the Church of Christ --- the old statement that you can draw a line between Nashville and Dallas and the majority of the population of the Church of Christ is 100 miles either side of that line. This family is known especially across Tennessee.

This trial is being viewed live on a local TV station’s cable access channel, replayed nightly from 7PM to 11PM on this same cable channel. It is also seen live over the TV station’s web site in streaming video, by streaming video on the internet from the Nashville Tennessean newspaper web site and from the Jackson, TN. Jackson Sun web site.

Watching the replay of the Mary Winkler trial tonight makes me so sad. Regardless of the outcome of this trial, no one wins, most of all the three surviving children of Matthew and Mary.

The trial has also put the Church of Christ on trial as well. It started early on with the statements of "strictness of the church, the teaching and beliefs of the church and the attitude of the church." Many of the “opinion” callers and people who e-mail into the TV station have expressed some very harsh comments about the church and their conceived beliefs of what the Church of Christ is about.

The TV commentators, Nick Bares and Attorney Nick Bailey have repeatedly said that the Church of Christ is not on trial, Mary Winkler is the one on trial. That is true from their viewpoint. But, shouldn’t the church be on trial too?

If the church, (its prominent preachers, teachers, authors, universities, etc.) have created such an environment that contributed to this tragedy, isn’t there some responsibility on the part of the church? Not to change Christ, not to change the scriptures, but to question the environment we as believers have taken that has created an environment of secrets, by presenting the front of happy, healthy, productive lives and marriages. Then, finding out through court testimony that this marriage may not have been the same as what was presented for the public. There are questions of mental abuse, possibly some physical abuse and even testimony about questionable behavior with the children. Regardless of what is believed from the testimony or to what degree you may believe the testimony, there was obviously problems between these two people. Obviously, neither of them sought out help from family, close friends or their church family, or especially their church family. Have the teachings we have in the Church of Christ created such situations of secrecy and hiding, putting on fronts, creating two faces.

James 5:16 (NIV) says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

As a child growing up in the church, this verse meant to go forward during an assembly and make a confession and have a prayer said for forgiveness. It was a major thing to walk the aisle. It was a major thing to go forward and write out your statement and have the preacher say a prayer. I don’t recall anything beyond this event.

Have we created such an environment of strictness that we forgot about love? Have we created such an environment or law, that we forgot about grace and mercy? Have we created such an environment that we have forgotten about Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:36-39? Have we created the environment that is quick to judge and slow to help? Have we created the environment that has forgotten how to treat a brother or sister in Christ with an open heart who needs help?

In watching this trial and seeing both families sitting across the court room aisle from each other, I can not help but ask myself questions like, does this testimony make Matthew’s parents question if they really knew their son, if Mary’s family had any idea of her possible abusive situation? If any of the friends or people they may have associated with in the churches they attended have gone back and thought of situations that now trigger something that says, if I had paid attention to that then, could I have diverted this tragedy? Or, do we put this in our denial box and say this is not what it seemed, the only problem was with Mary, money and that is the only reason why Matthew is dead? Could not all of these alleged problems be intertwined and have contributed to this horrible situation? If any of these people that personally knew them, are thinking what did I miss, what did I not pay attention to and what could I have done to have made a difference?

What does this do for what we refer to as the un-churched? What view does this leave with people looking for God? What does this do and how does this alienate people who are making a decision about the Church of Christ or believers in general? Matthew Winkler was a 31 year old man who came from a long line of Church of Christ preachers, had a career of being a youth minister and now a pulpit minister for the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee. Because of the publicity of this trial and the ties to the Church of Christ and the stereotyping of the Church of Christ, the church has been on trial over beliefs of the man’s role in the home and in church, the woman’s role in the home and in the church and how it was portrayed as an item in this trial. Fairly or unfairly, the church has been and is judged on the perceptions generated by the viewers of this trial.

This home had obvious problems. These problems were obviously hidden and kept secret from people who were close to them. Shouldn’t this make us as believers and part of the Church of Christ open our eyes? Shouldn’t this cause us to question how we portray and teach the scriptures? Not to change Christ or the scriptures, but to change the environment we can create by the things in the scriptures we stress in teaching. By the attitudes we have or by the stereotypes we give credence for others to believe, the stereotypes we ourselves make more believable.

Of this particular trial and situation, everyone comes out with a huge loss. Matthew Winkler lost his life; Mary Winkler lost her husband, her freedom, her children, her in-laws and many friends and acquaintances. Dan and Diane Winkler lost a son, a daughter-in-law and probably friends who have picked a side in this trial. The Freeman family lost a son-in-law, years of contact with a daughter, and possibly three grandchildren. The Church of Christ has seemed to have lost some credibility over questions of the “interpreted and perceived beliefs” of the church over a man’s supremacy in the church, supremacy over women and control in the home. All have lost.

I don’t have answers, only more questions. I see the need for the church to not sit in a corner with hands over their eyes and ears, and take a role in changing the environment to openness, love, help and addressing problems like these.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey there! We might be related. The article is completely wrong. It is a sad day when such words would be penned by a member of the "church". How dare you use his death to undermine those who have stood for the truth. It is your generation of people and your "misdefined love" and lack of respect for Biblical authority that has caused the church in many places like Woodmont Hills to slide into apostasy.

Lets study.

Brant Stubblefield