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Pastor: Wichita has grappled with faith through BTK episode

WICHITA, Kan. (BP)–Amid the torment Wichita residents have weathered in sordid public proceedings against “BTK” serial killer Dennis Rader, the community also has learned some lessons about Christianity, a leading pastor noted.

“The BTK situation has opened a door for ministry like I have never seen,” said Terry Fox, pastor of Wichita’s Immanuel Baptist Church and organizer of a prayer vigil in mid-January to pray for BTK’s capture. Rader, who called himself BTK for “bind, torture, kill,” was arrested in late February. He was sentenced Aug. 18 to 10 consecutive life terms in prison for the murder of 10 people since the mid-1970s.

“The opportunity for dialog has been unbelievable, with BTK claiming to be a Christian and yet being a convicted serial killer,” Fox said of Rader who, at the time of his arrest, was president of the church council of a local Lutheran congregation where he had held various leadership positions during his 30 years as a member.

“Our community is asking a lot of questions about salvation,” Fox told Baptist Press Aug. 22. From the media to people on the street, the questions arise: “Who can go to heaven? And, how do you get there?”

“It may be politically correct to say that all people are children of God; however, this is not true,” Fox said. “Dennis Rader is an example of a person who … was an active church member — even a leader in a Lutheran church and claiming to be a Christian.

“Just being a church member does not make you a Christian,” Fox continued, noting that “all kinds of people attend church.”

“When Dennis Rader commented about his dark side” during the two days of court proceedings prior to his sentencing and in an earlier 92-page affidavit, “it reminds us that we are all sinners,” Fox said, “and without Christ we are capable of committing horrific acts.”

“Many have asked in our community how could anyone -– a human being — do something so terrible? Dennis Rader is an example of how far a person’s behavior can go without Christ,” Fox said.

“This event,” he said, “is forcing our community to discover what true Christianity really is.”

Many people in Wichita have developed a wariness in the months since Rader’s arrest “when they realized this man was a normal citizen that we would see at restaurants, movies and even church. How many more Dennis Raders are there in the world?” Fox asked.

The antidote to fear is faith in Christ, he added, citing a passage from Scripture, 2 Timothy 1:7, which states, “… God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Although Rader’s sentencing has provided “a relief and a comfort that justice has been served,” Fox said he has reminded the community in various interviews “that Dennis Rader has another court date with a different Judge -– with eternal ramifications.”

The 60-year-old father of two addressed the court for about 20 minutes Aug. 18 -– in what the Wichita Eagle described as “a rambling, at times incoherent, statement” — after victims’ families pointedly and tearfully had vented to Rader their years of anguish. The prosecution also presented an array of evidence about how Rader had documented details of his murders as well as deviant sexual fantasies, including photos he had taken of his victims. Rader had hidden the materials in his home and in his office in the Wichita suburb of Park City where he worked as a compliance officer.

Among Rader’s revelations in the court affidavit: his plans for a “grand finale” killing, having stalked a local woman and her daughter, planning a bondage and strangling murder.