The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
Nick Arnold, a former youth pastor at Shepherd of The Hills Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas, is accused of engaging in sexual conversations with underage girls and and asking them for nude photographs. Shepherd of the Hills is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — a Fundamentalist sect. Arnold was working for ACTS Church Lakeway in Austin, Texas at the time of his arrest. ACTS Church is also affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
As the Black Collar Crime series has shown, Evangelical pastors can and do commit all sorts of crimes, including — in the case of Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor Christopher Gattis — murder. Gattis stands accused of murdering his wife, stepdaughter, and the stepdaughter’s boyfriend on Thanksgiving Day.
Gattis worked for and was a member of a church that believes “the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the only revelation on both beliefs and practice.” Lutherans believe people must persevere until the end to be saved (as do Calvinists). The difference between Lutherans and Calvinists, according to Douglas Sweeney, chair of the church history and history of Christian thought department and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is that Lutherans believe:
….the elect will certainly persevere in faith. God is not impotent to carry out his decrees respecting salvation. But not everyone who is born again is among God’s elect. It is possible for regenerated people to apostatize. So perseverance is largely a matter of walking in step with the Spirit, persevering, and encouraging other people to do the same.
According to Sweeney, Martin Luther believed that there were sins that could result in people losing their faith. Luther wrote:
“it is necessary to know and teach that when holy people—aside from the fact that they still have and feel original sin and also daily repent of it and struggle against it—somehow fall into a public sin (such as David, who fell into adultery, murder, and blasphemy against god), at that point faith and the Spirit have departed.” Luther, Smalcald Articles (1537), 3.3
None of us can know Christopher Gattis’ “heart.” For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that he was a good Missouri-Synod Christian who loved Jesus, and the moment he committed the very public sin of homicide, the Spirit of God took flight from his soul and Gattis is now a sinner in need of conversion.
Using murderous, adulterous David as an example, Luther believed that when King David publicly sinned against God, faith and the Holy Spirit departed. Gattis, much like David, had a record of misconduct. In 2010 he was accused of public intoxication, and in 2012 he was charged with assault and battery. Kevin Defford, his victim in the assault, said the following to the NBC-12:
“He was on edge that day, was my thinking,” says Kevin Defford, who is the victim in the 2012 case.
Defford was delivering samples of a newspaper with his son and tossed one onto Christopher Gattis’ driveway.
“On the way up, he had come from his driveway and was standing in the middle of the road,” said Defford.
He says Christopher Gattis threw the paper at his face and started yelling, even going as far as to pull out a box cutter.
“The fact that he pulled the box cutter, it had me thinking about my son at that point, and that’s why the police were called,” says Defford. “But again, it seemed like he was on edge that day when I met him.”
Christopher Gattis was found guilty, but the charge was dismissed once Christopher Gattis paid restitution. Now knowing this man is connected to a triple murder has Defford shaken.
“Now it makes me wonder a little more um, what might have been,” he said.
It seems that Gattis has had several bouts of faithlessness. The good news is that if Gattis repents — telling God, my bad, Jesus. I promise never to kill anyone again — he can, once again, become a man after God’s own heart. No sin — no matter how perverse, vile, disgusting, or evil — is beyond the forgiving power of the miraculous blood of Jesus. For Gattis, restoration is but a prayer away.
Or is it?
Evangelicals love to talk about how bad they were before they became new creations in Christ Jesus. As anyone who has sat through a Baptist testimony time can attest, wild claims of depravity are quite common. The greater the sin, the greater the grace needed to save sinners from their sins. Over the course of the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, I never heard believers minimize their sinfulness. Oh no, the bigger the sinner, the better. This is why the history of Evangelicalism is filled with stories about people who were once witches, Satanists, and mob hit men before J-e-s-u-s saved them. Such people regale congregations with stories of murder, sexual abuse, demonic possession, sacrificing infants to Satan, and all sorts of perversion. Yet, Jesus somehow, some way, reached down into their wretched souls and saved them. (Of course, many of these wild testimonies are lies straight from the mythical pit of hell.)
Murderers present a real conundrum for Evangelicals. They know that David was a murderer, yet God forgave him, and he was considered not only a man after God’s own heart, but also a relative of Jesus. Evangelicals read and hear stories about murderers whose lives were transformed by the mighty working power of the triune God. This must mean, then, that murderers can be saved too, that even killing your family or strafing innocent men, women and children with weaponized drones is within the purview of Jesus, the savior of humankind. But, is it really? What does the Bible say on the matter?
Revelation 21:8 states:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Revelation 22:14,15 adds:
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. [OMG! all dogs go to hell!]
The writer of First John said:
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
Speaking of reprobates — those beyond the grace of God — the Apostle Paul said:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:26-32)
Paul emphatically states in Galatians 5:19-21 that murderers shall not inherit the Kingdom of God:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Did Christopher Gattis, by murdering his family, cross a line of no return? Has his nonrefundable ticket for the Lake of Fire been punched? Or, is there still hope for Gattis; that if he really, really, really says he is s-o-r-r-y that God will say to him, aw shucks, Chris, I forgive you. The Bible is incoherent on this matter, as it is with virtually every other theological, cultural, and social issue Christians say the Bible addresses. God said it, and that settles it, right?
Of course, there is no God, so flesh-and-blood humans are left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out why Gattis picked up a gun and murdered those closest to him. Was he mentally ill? Was he under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Did he shoot them in a fit of rage? If so, what caused him to be so angry? So many questions, and regardless of the answers, Gattis, if convicted, should spend the rest of his life in prison (and I know some readers think this is a death-penalty-worthy crime).
I grieve for those left behind in the wake of Gattis homicidal rage. And for those who attempt to paper over this tragedy with God, prayer, and faith? Child, please. Stop excusing bad behavior with nonsensical theological arguments and clichés. What’s next? — God needed more good angels so he used Christopher Gattis to send his family to heaven; that God always works things out according to his purpose and plan? Enough, already. (Please read Sutherland Springs Massacre: God Answered the Victims Prayers by Allowing Them to be Murdered.)
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Terry Herzberg, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Hackettstown, New Jersey, was charged today with “invasion of privacy and criminal attempt at invasion of privacy.” Gethsemane Lutheran is affiliated with the Missouri Synod — a Fundamentalist sect.
Peggy Wright, a staff writer for the Daily Record reports:
The former pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church was charged Thursday with invading the privacy of his secretary by secretly taking pictures and videos up her skirt while she was working.
After an 11-month investigation, town police on Thursday charged now-retired Rev. Terry Herzberg, 66, of Tannersville, Pa. with invasion of privacy and criminal attempt at invasion of privacy. Herzberg was charged after turning himself in at the Warren County courthouse in Belvidere, where he was expected to make a first appearance before a judge, according to a release from Hackettstown Sgt. Darren Tynan.
Herzberg is accused of attempting to photograph up the victim’s skirt while she was sitting at her desk between Nov. 5, 2013 and June 27 of last year. He also allegedly took videos up his secretary’s skirt on multiple occasions while she was sitting and standing, according to the release.
The alleged victim, whose identity is not being released by the Daily Record, first alerted police on June 27, 2016 that she had observed Herzberg – then the pastor at the church on E. Baldwin Street – taking photos of her intimate body parts while she was working.
A search warrant was issued and electronics from the church and the reverend’s home were seized. While the investigation was pending, the victim, a Flanders resident, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, Morristown in November 2016 against Herzberg and the church.
The lawsuit charges that the church violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and that Herzberg’s conduct interfered with the secretary’s job performance and “created an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
The lawsuit said the woman left the job because she could not work in that environment.
The victim’s lawsuit said she was hired in July 2010 to work as administrative assistant to Herzberg and the director of the church’s preschool, and that she often worked alone with Herzberg, who was her immediate supervisor and the highest-level employee of the church.
The lawsuit said that Herzberg routinely made sexually provocative comments about her appearance, clothing and weight and once gave her a card that said she was sexy.
In May 2016, the complaint said, Herzberg asked the woman to call up a document on her computer. He stood directly behind her and she noticed that he was holding an object over her head which he quickly stuffed into his pants pocket, the lawsuit said.
“When plaintiff returned her attention to the computer, she again perceived something above her, looked up and observed Herzberg taking photographs of her chest. Plaintiff became very upset and strongly objected to his behavior,” the lawsuit said.
On June 27 – the day the victim last worked at the church – she wore a skirt to work and while standing in her office felt Herzberg’s presence behind her. She turned, according to the lawsuit, and saw the pastor holding a camera and straightening himself up from behind her.
Moments later, the lawsuit said, Herzberg returned to the secretary’s office and she sensed his presence behind her. She turned around and spotted him holding a camera under her skirt taking pictures, the lawsuit said.
Working with police, the woman called the pastor and he allegedly admitted taking photographs underneath her skirt and doing the same to others, the lawsuit said.
The pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Northrop has been charged with possessing child pornography, a felony.
Robert Cairl Trueblood, 56, of Fairmont is charged with possession of pornographic material on a work computer, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
According to the complaint:
On March 7, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension received a tip from the company Chatstep. According to company representatives, a user identified as “PervyPastor” accessed a chat room through the service and uploaded a photographic image identified to be consistent with child pornography. Chatstep provided information about the user’s IP address, and indicated the incident occurred on March 7, at about 4:14 p.m.
The Bureau received information from Frontier Communications in response to a subpoena that indicated the IP address was assigned to a subscriber identified as St. James Lutheran Church and School in Northrop.
The agent accessed the website for the church and school and located the staff directory. Given the name utilized by the reported user as “PervyPastor,” the agent identified Reverend Robert C. Trueblood as the school’s superintendent. The agent noted that all other staff consisted of females.
The Bureau received information from Chatstep that indicated the identified user of “PervyPastor” had accessed the chat room in question at various times on March 6-7, and utilized the previously reported IP address on both dates. Chatstep officials also provided historical data from Nov. 4, 2016, through April 19, 2017, for access to their site from the reported IP address. The agent reviewed the comprehensive list of data and confirmed that on numerous occasions user “PervyPastor” accessed chat rooms on the service, and also noted that additional users “TrueRev,” “Kyle” and “Robert,” also accessed Chatstep chat rooms from the reported IP address, and the rooms were the same or similar to the ones accessed by “PervyPastor.”
In an undercover capacity, the agent accessed Chatstep, located a chat room and noted that “TrueRev,” was present and active in the room. The agent took the opportunity to engage in correspondence with the active participants.
The agent initiated correspondence with a greeting “Hi from MN.” “TrueRev” responded with “Minnesota here as well,” and indicated he was from Fairmont. During the conversation, the agent questioned “TrueRev” with regard to his username, and asked if it meant that the reference to “Rev” was related to his occupation as a reverend. “TrueRev” responded, “yes”
The agent asked “TrueRev” what his preferences would be given his occupation, and “TrueRev” replied that the “job itself has nothing to do with the preferences.”
The agent then engaged “TrueRev” in a private correspondence during which “TrueRev” provided his cell phone number and email address, indicating the information was to be used for “clandestine conversations.” The email given was “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and the agent confirmed that the telephone number given is a VOIP service number and that tutanota.com is an encrypted email service that provides end-to-end encryption of a subscriber’s email contents and attachments. This information led the agent to believe that “TrueRev” is actively engaged in taking steps to conceal his identity.
The agent conducted an open source search of the name “erastes” as noted in the email, and found that erastes is a noun to refer to an adult male in ancient Greece who courted or was in a pederastic relationship with an adolescent boy who was called an eromenos. The reference to erastes gave the indication that “TrueRev” has potential interest in adolescent boys.
The agent continued in an undercover capacity, and engaged in communication with “TrueRev” through the email address. “TrueRev” advised that his name is “Kyle” and stated that he was 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, red hair and goatee, and sent an accompanying photograph. It was noted that the physical description matched that of Trueblood. The photograph depicted a nude male seated in a chair pictured from the chin down, and matched the general physical description of Trueblood.
In email communication, “TrueRev” indicated he had been propositioned for sexual contact by individuals under the age of legal consent, but indicated he had not followed through with physical contact.
On April 24, “TrueRev” established a privated chat room with Chatstep, and the agent corresponded with “TrueRev,” who was in the room under the username “Pastor.” During this time “TrueRev” sent several sexually explicit photographs of young males. Many were of young boys whose ages were questionable as it relates to them being 18 years of age.
During the chat, “Pastor” stated he taught elementary and secondary levels at a local parochial school, consistent with Trueblood’s position within St. James Lutheran School.
A trial date has been set for February 21, 2018. (link no longer active)
Having a bit of extra time on my hands as I impatiently wait for Thanksgiving Day (family, food, and football) to arrive, I decided to comment on a recent blog post written by my friend Gary. You can read his post and my comments here. Into the discussion came a Fundamentalist Lutheran by the name of Jim Pierce. Pierce is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). He swears he and his sect are most definitely NOT Fundamentalist. If you have some time, please read his comments on Gary’s blog. I’ll leave it to you to decide if Pierce is a Fundamentalist. For the purpose of this post, I want to share several of Jim’s comments that were directed my way. His comments are a fresh reminder that even if Evangelical Christianity’s narrative is true, I still wouldn’t become a Christian if it meant I had to go to church and heaven with the Jim Pierces of the world. No thanks. Give me hell every time. In fact, heaven for me would be the absence of such people. Dear Lord Jesus, PLEASE rapture your chosen ones ASAP.
The First Amendment guarantees our rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. Yet, college campuses have implemented speech codes and created “safe spaces” to protect people from opinions they find disagreeable. Corporations have followed suit, as have governmental agencies. Increasingly, differences of opinion are labeled “hate speech,” thus ending reasonable debate.
Now the Indiana legislature, through Senate Bill 100, is on the verge of weaponizing this politically correct movement by giving protected-class status to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. People with differing worldviews can coexist as neighbors who care for one another. This, sadly, is not where the politicized LGBT movement is leading. Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla Firefox, was stripped of his position simply for supporting a traditional marriage amendment. Kelvin Cochran, an African-American fire chief, lost his job for writing a book on marriage. ESPN commentator Craig James was fired for expressing his views on traditional morality. Government agencies and corporate America have grown inhospitable to people of faith.
I believe in marriage equality, but I hold to the definition of marriage that has itself defined civilization. Every child has a reasonable right to a father and a mother.
Parents are equal but not interchangeable. Not every couple has a child, but every child has a biological mom and dad, and for that there is marriage. While some disagree, this position is based on reason and love.
Meanwhile, as our society moves from same-sex marriage to legalized polygamy, polyamory, temporary, open and even incestual marriage, we do well to encourage public discourse. Together, we need to ask, “What is marriage?”
Our opponents seem to think that marriage is a societal construct, something we can change as we please. But any type of marriage that purposefully deprives a child of a mom or dad is unjust.
SB 100 is called a compromise by offering certain protections for churches and religious institutions. There are two basic problems to this approach. First, SB 100 turns our inalienable rights into privileges and exemptions. Second, rights belong not simply to groups, but to individuals. The free exercise of religion is more than the freedom of worship; it is the right of every single person to live according to his conscience.
While Scaer doesn’t directly mention the Bible (he is much too smart for that), make no mistake about it, it is, for Scaer and his fellow Missouri-Synod Lutherans, God’s infallible word that has the final say on human sexuality. The Lutheran Church-Missouri-Synod (LCMS) denomination officially espouses Evangelical beliefs such as creationism and Bible inerrancy. Missouri-Synod Lutherans vehemently reject homosexuality and same-sex marriage, considering both to be sinful rejections of God’s version of Masters’ and Johnson’s book on human sexuality (see LCMS position papers on human sexuality).
This post is designed to briefly show that Fundamentalism is not only the domain of Baptists and Evangelicals. Every Christian sect has a wing-nut division.