Friday, June 08, 2007

The Preacher's Wife

A travesty of justice played out on the nation's TV screens this afternoon. And no, I'm not talking about the Paris Hilton case.

Instead, I refer to the Mary Winkler case in Selmer, Tennessee. The former minister's wife was sentenced to three years in prison for killing her husband while he slept. Prosecutors had charged her with murder in the case, but jurors convicted her on the lesser count of voluntary manslaughter back in April.

According to Ms. Winkler, she suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband, Reverend Matthew Winkler, the popular pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer. Winkler claimed that her husband hit and kicked her, forced her to watch pornography, and submit to sex that she considered unnatural. According to the AP, jurors were shown a pair of platform shoes and a black wig that Winkler said she was forced to wear during sex.

But there was no evidence that Winkler ever reported her abuse to police, or sought protection from her husband, whom prosecutors described as a good father, and a man who trusted his wife. Even in tiny Selmer, Tennessee, there are resources for abused and battered women, but Mary Winkler never sought any help.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Mrs. Winkler fell for that Nigerian bank scam that fills your e-mail inbox each day, and began kiting checks to cover her losses. Bank officials testified that her financial scheme caused at least $5000 in losses for their institution.

To prevent Reverend Winkler from discovering the financial problems, Winkler shot him in the back with a shotgun while he slept, then packed up their three children and fled to Alabama. She was arrested by police the following day, driving in the family van along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Once in custody, she hired an experienced defense attorney, Steve Farese, to represent her. Mr. Farese mounted a carefully crafted campaign to depict Mary Winkler as a victim, and not a cold-blooded killer. She appeared positively dowdy in court, dressed in shapeless frocks that your grandmother would probably love, with minimal make-up.

Against over-matched local prosecutors, Farese convinced the jury (and the judge) that Winkler deserved leniency. She could have received a seven-year sentence on the manslaughter charge, but Judge Weber McCraw gave her credit for time already served, and ruled that Winkler must serve only 210 days of her sentence. He also decided that Ms. Winkler can spend 60 days of her remaining sentence in a mental health facility, so she may spend only another week in jail. And they call that justice.

Let's suppose the roles were reversed, that Matthew Winkler had killed his wife, then claimed a defense of spousal abuse. The case would have been a slam dunk--for the prosecution. Reverend Winkler would have been quickly convicted on first-degree murder charges, and cable news anchors would be talking about "justice" for his late wife.

But it was Reverend Winkler who died in the church parsonage that day and, except for members of his family, there's been little talk of justice for him. At the sentencing today, Mary Winkler said she "thinks about Matthew every day, and I'll always miss him and love him." Call us unconvinced.

Members of Matthew Winkler's family also have their doubts. "The monster that you have painted for the world to see? I don't think that monster existed," said his mother, Diane Winkler. She also testified that the couple's three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 2, were having nightmares about people with guns breaking into their house.

"You've never told your girls you're sorry. Don't you think you at least owe them that?" she asked.

Apparently not. After another week in jail and six months in a mental hospital, Mary Winkler will be free to resume her life, and continue a legal battle with her husband's parents for custody of the children.

We can only hope that the grandparents win the next round in court, and obtain a small measure of justice for their grandchildren--and their murdered son.


Beth said...

It is clear that many readers are not familiar with the teachings of the church of Christ regarding the roles of women in the home as well as their role in the church. The church of Christ teaches women are to be submissive to their husbands regardless of what they demand or how they are treated. From small children, women are taught to do what their husbands say and that once you are married, the only grounds for divorce is if the one of the spouses is unfaithful (aka commits adultery). I spent 30+ years of my life in that enviroment until I learned the real meaning of God's grace and mercy and got out. Unfortunately, some of the preacher's wives endure more that anyone ever knows. I have counseled women in that very situation and they are intimidated by their husbands and fearful of the repurcussions. In Mary Winkler's case, her husband was from a prominent Church of Christ family with an established history which only made her situation more difficult. After all, has any of his family even acknowledged that he might have had some issues himself. Wonder what his parent's relationship was really like when no one was watching and the doors and windows were closed? I don't condone her killing him, but desparate women sometime are forced to take actions into their own hands when no one listens and where she lived, Church of Christ preachers sit on high pedastal and when those pedastals are threatened, the Church of Christ circles rank and you are on the outside and the one doing wrong. Wake up and smell the roses, sometime they stink.

William the Coroner said...

Just goes to show, that women may kill with relative impunity. Many women are victims, but as killers, they get off lightly.

welches said...

Dear Beth,

Scripture also teaches that the husband must love his wife as himself. Those preachers who abuse their headship of the home do not love themselves or their Lord, to whom the marrage relationship is compared. Hubsands must love their wives as Jesus loved the church. What a powerful statement! Please do not generalize the good behavior of many by the bad behavior of the few.

Jesus did not teach that marital unfaithfulness is the only grounds for divorce. That is a false. Jesus did teach that the only grounds for divorce AND remarriage is marital unfaithfulness. A woman who is being abused is actually obligated for her own safety or that of the children to leave that situation. You will notice that Jesus' discussion on marriage, divorce and remarriage was so unique and rather strict that the disciples themselves thought it was better for no one to marry. In our progressive, post-modern society, Christians are being seduced by the other extreme of the feminist movement to the point that the church loses its identity in the world. We must not allow what the world likes or dislikes to influence what God has said in His word.

Matthew's mother did acknowledge that IF he did these things to her, then he needed help. But that's a BIG IF.

Fred said...

Beth, if you truly were in a church of Christ setting as you claim, and I believe you were, then you know well that your phrase "teachings of the church of Christ" is very misleading. The churches of Christ are independent and have no "denomination-wide" rule book other than Scripture, and each congregation is free to interpret that as they see fit. The atmosphere you mention is very much NOT the case at the church of Christ where my family attends, and in fact not only would the women of our congregation not stand for it but we liberated men would not either. I'm sure our Lord is ashamed of congregations like the one you mention, which have taken a verse of Scripture out of context and out of balance to justify a power trip. Christ Himself doesn't treat his bride in the way you mention, nor do I treat mine in such a shameful fashion, and I believe most churches of Christ today are the same. If our preacher were to treat his wife as your post infers, he would regret it, as she is a black belt in karate. No, please don't paint all congregations with that broad brush. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I understand the statements you made regarding the frustration you may have experienced with the Churches of Christ and the doctrine that you were taught. It is however important to realize that false doctrine is not something that is regulated to the "denomenations" (sp?). Satan is a liar and has used the misinterpretation of the scriptures regarding marriage to wreck havoc on those of us in the Church while at the same time ruining the reputation of the Churches of Christ. That is wht he does. He sees our weaknesses, exploits them and tries to destroy as many people as he can. I have been a Church of Christ preacher's wife for 29 years. I to have fought to really understand the mercy of God, to build a biblical relationship to my husband and to make sure that my 5 children developed a deep, personal relationship with Christ instead of turning into a group of "new age pharisees". I will admit that it is hard to do when there is so much pressure to conform to the standards others have set. I have also met so many amazing gentle, kind, and supportive people that belive the way I do .One lady, Mrs. Percy Keene gave me the best piece of advice I had ever gotten from anyone regarding being a preacher's wife. She said, "In my Bible, I read about being an elder, a deaacon and an evangelist. However, I have never read of a job called "a preacher's wife". Be the best Christian you can be. If it is not enough for those around you, it will be enough for God." I gave up on being the best "church of Christer" I could be years ago. I just try to be as much like Jesus as I can. If that is done, Satan can't get to us and there would be no more Mary Winkle situations.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, the author of this article is completely out of touch of the pressure placed on ministers' wives. I am one. You are unable to open yourself up for help from any quarter lest you be considered 'backslidden' or 'reprobate.' The fear is real when you are told that you will go to hell for such things. This author is speaking 'out of turn.' Not only is there abuse in some ministers' homes but there is also a lot of abuse from church members toward the minister's wife. I have seen it, experienced it, and still have no idea how to handle it. Thank God I have a good husband but my pastor, another family member, has become verbally abusive toward us because of slurs from the church members. All I would wish you to understand is that you are over simplifying this situation.