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FIRST-PERSON: Is TV to blame for a murder?

MADISON, Ind. (BP)–No place in America is exempt from the violence that saturates our society. That point was made forcefully to me several weeks ago when 17 year old Andrew Conley, hailing from a small town just up the road, allegedly murdered his helpless 10 year old brother, Conner. Our local newspaper, The Madison Courier, reported that the killer ignored his little brother’s repeated pleas to stop and took 20 minutes to choke the boy to death in their home. He then covered his head with a plastic bag before striking it several times to ensure the younger boy was dead. That’s where this sickening tragedy takes an even more bizarre turn. After dumping his brother’s body at a nearby park, Andrew Conley went to visit his girlfriend and gave her a promise ring. She reported that he was in a giddy mood, happier than she had seen him in a long time.

It turns out that Andrew did not kill Conner because the brothers hated each other or were in perpetual conflict. Instead, by his own admission, Andrew killed him to satisfy a long-unfilled craving to murder someone. According to documents filed with the court, the teen attempted to explain the killing to authorities by comparing the murder to a hungry person eating a hamburger. He was also transparent about his inspiration: He said he identified with the “hero” of Showtime’s sadistic television series “Dexter,” which chronicles the exploits of a serial killer by that name.

The tragedy of this story is so intense that most people want to turn away from it quickly. While understandable, that would be a mistake. Events like this one are becoming more and more common. Only weeks prior to this particular murder, a 15-year-old Missouri girl brutally murdered her 9-year-old neighbor for similar reasons — just to have the thrill of killing. It is past time we face these violent acts and draw appropriate conclusions that lead to actions. I would suggest three.

First, the morality of this situation is clear. Showtime is profiting by airing a program that is dangerously corrupting. I cannot speak to the legal matters involved in the question of whether they have criminal or civil liability in Conner’s death. But in any event, the producers of this program have the blood of a child on their hands. Hiding behind cherished rights to freedom of speech or artistic expression cannot excuse the immorality of profiting from a program that celebrates a depraved view of life and turns a serial killer into a figure to be identified with by its viewers. By extension, those who tune in week by week are also complicit in this crime. They have helped create a market for such disgusting programming. “Dexter” just completed its fourth season, with at least another planned, so the market for the product is plenty wide and deep. Those who have been watching and sponsoring the series need to consider the consequences of such programming and turn away from it immediately.

Second, let this tragedy stand as strong reminder to parents about one component of our calling today. It is imperative that we take control of the forces that shape our children’s worldview and value system. Education and entertainment options we allow will have huge impacts on our children. No child should ever be allowed access to programs like “Dexter.” Whatever steps a parent must take to prevent such access are justified. If complete supervision is not possible, then get rid of the television, cable packages and Internet connections that make it accessible. To assume that as long as we raise our children in a loving home, we can be “hands off” in terms of their educational curriculum and entertainment choices is to court disaster.

Finally, there are theological lessons we must take away from this awful tragedy. What God said to Israel long ago is applicable to America still: “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). In so many ways and for such a long time, we have turned our backs on God and His values. The results of those decisions are, as the prophet Hosea indicates, predictable. We live in the midst of a culture for which human life is not sacred and has no intrinsic value since we deny our creation in the image of God. As those ideas percolate further and further into our society with the passing of time, horribly violent acts on our fellow men are becoming increasingly common. America, is this the kind of world we really want? Hosea experienced the same downward spiral consuming his people until he was led to conclude that the loss of the knowledge of God had resulted in an explosion of swearing, deception, murder, stealing, adultery and violence. In other words, societal ills had a theological component. They still do today.

The good news about this situation is that repentance can lead again to renewed health and wholeness. Let us pray that God quickly grants an outpouring of repentance in our churches and across the land.
Paul Brewster is pastor of Ryker’s Ridge Baptist Church in Madison, Ind.

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  • Paul Brewster