There’s Something Queer About this Story

Have you heard the recent news story from Tenneessee about the wife of a Church of Christ minister who gunned him down then fled the state with their three daughters? Yeah it is a made for TV movie sort of news event that gets the media all sexed up. Mary Winkler was captured over the weekend and pled no contest to the crime. The funeral is today.

Although no one has yet publically shared a motive for the murder of Matthew Winkler, today reports come out that the parents of the slain pastor assure their forgiveness for their son’s kller. According to the Jackson Sun,

Though they don’t understand what reason Mary Winkler would have had for killing their son, her in-laws have “assured her of their forgiveness,” a longtime family friend said Monday.

Wow, what a powerful display of Christian love and witness, and so quickly on the heels of the murder. It seems unnatural.

I guess God’s love is like that, and had we seen a similar expression of Christ’s teachings from President Bush towards the 911 terrorists, I imagine we would have impeached him on the spot.

This woman is no “terrorist”. She is the beloved wife and mother of a respected and popular minister of a particularly conservative Christian denomination which believes that musical instruments have no place in the church, that adults must be baptised in Jesus’ name and that basically anyone not part of their church is technically unsaved.

The church is also decidedly anti-gay. Several Love in Action participants (and subsequent survivors) I met in the Tennessee-based program, attended and ministered in the Chruches of Christ, and from the reaction they got to their queerness, I imagine that for some, it would be easier to forgive a murdering wife of a gay man than to embrace a minister in their midst who happens to be gay.

Now I am not saying that Matthew Winkler was gay. Nothing in the news reports indicates this as of yet. I’m just saying that there is something queer about this story. Keep your eye on it and see how it unfolds. While many American stories have to do with race, so many American church stories (particularly white church stories) have to do with queer issues these days.

Although, according to one news report, authorities have ruled out infidelity as a motive, a husband with same-sex attractions can be a completely different animal, one that family and friends might fight to keep in the closet.

This post has 8 Comments

  1. historymike on March 28, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Great site, Peterson! You have an interesting theory; perhaps Matthew Winkler had a secret so incongruent with his beliefs (and those of Mary) that his wife settled the issue with a gun.

    He certainly would not be the first straight-acting gay man who led a double life if this were the case.

    The one hole I see in the theory is the insistence by police officials that infidelity was not a factor.

    Of course, if the Matthew Winkler story followed the script of Brokeback Mountain…


    Nah, I’d better not go there. I already have a bunch of fundamentalist types trolling my site since I started posting about the Winklers. One nut job claimed that Matthew Winkler, in a Christ-like act of triumph, will not be in his coffin today.


  2. Peterson Toscano on March 28, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    historymike, ah, but “infidelity” often (but not always) refers to heterosexual adultery. Same-sex attractions and action is more often coined, “sexual immorality”. For some it is in a class all by itself.

    What amazes me is that women normally get a bum deal in many conservative churches. The positive reaction towards Mary either speaks to the remarkable Christian love at work in the church. That or they have a common enemy that binds them together. Right now, for many conservative churches that common foe most often is not Satan, but the person with same-sex attractions in their midst.

    Thanks for your comments. I will be sure to revisit your site as this story evolves, um I mean as it is intelligently designed.

  3. Joel Maners on March 28, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Peterson, Great post. I think it’s interesting that the motive of this crime has not been revealed. Apparently, whatever the motive is, once it has been revealed, it could release a wave of sympathy for Mary Winkler. I’m sure that the prosecution does not want that right now. We’ll see in the coming months.

    As a member of the CoC, I can tell you that there is a wide variety of opinion within our fellowship. As you know, we have no central governing body(Thank God!). Some of us are far more open in our fellowship than others. Max Lucado is a CoC preacher but there are a number of CoC members who would not consider him a Christian. There is also a wide variety of opinion on homosexuality. You might find these links to be of interest:

    You might also be interested to read this:

    Thanks again for the post.

  4. Bruce Garrett on March 28, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    It’s very odd. Examine it from the cop’s point of view. She’s apparently confessed and they know the motive behind the killing…what reason would they have for not divulging it to the media? I can only think of a couple reasonable ones: fear it would cause a media sensation, and/or that it might somehow prevent a fair trial. There’s a third more tribalistic one though: that “let’s just keep our dirty secrets buried” kind of thing.

    What’s interesting is that the cops are ruling out just that one thing, infidelity. But if she gave them her motive they can put to rest the other two motives likely to come to people’s minds – child abuse and spousal abuse. But they just ruled out the one. That tends to make you think that infidelity could at least implied by the motive she gave them and the cops took the trouble to rule the implied issue out. If he simply confessed to her that he’s homosexual, that wouldn’t necessarily mean he’d ever actually had a same sex relationship with anyone.

    But…it could have been practically anything. Except infidelity at least. You know, a lot of people get more sympathy then you’d expect from their conservative churches. In my opinion a lot of it is less forgiveness then tribalism.

  5. Peterson Toscano on March 28, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    Joel, thanks for the links! Great stuff. It will be interesting to hear these voices emerging and influencing the hearts and minds of the majority.

    Bruce, interesting thoughts about tribalism.

  6. Dana on March 29, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Hi Toscano,

    I’m intrigued! I will be spending some time reading back over your blog to hear (read) your story. Maybe I can throw another point of view in here. I am 28 years old and my husband is a youth minister at a Church of Christ. I really appreciated what Joe said as I am from one of the more progressive type Churches of Christ. I can’t tell you the many times I’ve begged to change the name on our sign because of the stigma that often goes along with the CoC. It can be quite confusing because since CoC’s don’t have a governing head, each church determines their sets of beliefs which is even more confusing because since they don’t have a written doctrine, it’s sometimes hard to pin point exactly what those beliefs are. However, the Church of Christ was founded on the idea, “speak where the bible speaks and be silent where the bible is silent” and that “We are Christians only, not the only Christians”. Unfortunately, many CoC’s have done the absolute opposite of that. It’s my dream to take the church back to what it was intended to be when it first began a couple of hundred years ago and not in 33 A.D. as many Church of Christers claim. Anyway, I could type forever about how badly we have represented the name of Jesus Christ and how it makes me cringe every time I hear that a member of our fellowhip has told someone else they aren’t going to heaven. Or, how I wonder how people can’t see that the only people Jesus ever got angry at were the religous hypocrites. But, none of us have that much time.

    Anyway, I will say this… Being a minister’s wife is often pressuring. I have to say that I do feel a pressure to look and appear a certain way. I have to constantly remind myself that the bible says to “work as if you’re working to please God and not man”. I often feel like I live in a glass box and the whole world gets to analyze my every move. However, having said that, regardless of the church type, I don’t think that alone is enough to cause a person to murder their husband. There definitely has to be more to it than just that as I have heard so many say. Maybe you are right. If I found out my husband was attracted to the same sex, I wouldn’t react that way but I guess a lot of women would. This may sound weird but I love my husband and I think that is something that could be worked out. I know of many men who were attracted to men that have made great husbands. However, if I ever found anyone messing with my little girl, I would not think twice about shooting them in the back (if they were lucky, I’d be that kind). It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    By the way, my blog is pretty much about being a wife and mother. No great theology there. But, my husband has tons of stuff about the CoC and he even does a podcast about the restoration movement (the movement that started the CoCs) that you might find interesting. He’s quite brilliant if I do say so myself. That address is I’ll be stopping back in and God Bless!!

    Dana Ellis

  7. Peterson Toscano on March 30, 2006 at 2:07 am

    Dana, you write: “It can be quite confusing because since CoC’s don’t have a governing head, each church determines their sets of beliefs which is even more confusing because since they don’t have a written doctrine, it’s sometimes hard to pin point exactly what those beliefs are.”

    This reminds me of my own people, the Quakers. No creeds, governing bodies, codified beliefs. Everyone gets a say and each is responsible for their own beliefs. Like a church for adults. 🙂

    Thanks for visiting. I’ve checked out Adam’s site and left some comments. I know of a gay Christian who writes a lot about the emerging church. Check out Eugene’s site.

  8. Anonymous on April 28, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    When I first heard about this story the first two things that came into my mind were child sexual abuse and the guy was gay. I am a lesbian and at one point in my life moved to Nashville, TN to be with my partner. We fought a year long battle with the court system to have partial custody of her two children… her ex husband had even told the courts she was a great mother and deserved to have the children. The battle we had to fight was against the church they had both gone to, who had financed the entire divorce for her husband. The church contacted the media, had protesters at every court appearance etc. Eventually the resolution from the court was the homosexuality was unfit for children to be exposed to at all and my ex-partner was prohibited from having any contact with her children. Churches are amazingly nasty places when the issue of homosexuality comes up, leaving no one safe, and in this case not even children. So would the willingly embrace and love a murderer? Would the victims family offer immediate forgiveness? I believe they would if it was a rather well known secret that her husband was gay. It is easier to love her (who would be a matyr) than to accept him and change their whole mindset. I don’t post on this site, but am on livejournal under: Arie_Yuki if you wish to comment.

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