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Let's learn some lessons from Brookfield
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Let's learn some lessons from Brookfield

Mark A. Kellner
By Mark A. Kellner
Mr. Kellner is a freelance writer who is employed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church's world headquarters. The views he expresses here are his own, however, and do not represent a statement on behalf of the SDA church or any other church or organization. See Mr. Kellner's Web site at

ROCKVILLE, Md.--Are there any general lessons to be learned from the shocking, tragic events that took place in Brookfield, Wis., on the Sabbath of March 12? I'd like to suggest some, for those within the "Church of God" fold and those outside its ranks.

For those inside the arena, here are some thoughts, if you'll permit a former WCG member (and current Sabbatarian in the Seventh-day Adventist Church) to comment:

  • "Make friends" of outsiders, particularly the media and government officials. You can choose to be apolitical and not vote--that's your privilege--but it's still a good idea, as a taxpaying citizen, to get acquainted with local officials in advance of any troublesome or tragic situation. It will help these public servants to better serve you and your congregation in a time of need, and also to avoid misrepresenting, even unintentionally, who you are and what you do.

The same goes for the media. Hundreds of articles about the Brookfield tragedy referred to the Living Church of God as "obscure" or "little-known."

Fortunately, there's a Web site for the group; unfortunately, it may have been difficult to access immediately after the shootings.

Regardless, it pays to get to know your local media and to be a resource to them when needed.

This was not common currency in the Armstrong-era Worldwide Church of God; I was told numerous times of Herbert Armstrong's, shall we say, antipathy towards reporters. Ted Armstrong was not a great fan of the news media when he was in the WCG organization, either.

However, I observed that both Armstrongs were much more welcoming of media attention during and after the events of 1978. Making friends of the media is much like saving for a rainy day. You might not appreciate it all along, but when that roof begins to leak you're glad the money is there.

(There are numerous resources to help churches in media relations, both on the Internet and elsewhere. One key is to always ask a reporter or editor how and when he prefers contact, and then honor that preference.)

  • Accept public support as gracefully as possible. One LCG member posted online comments objecting to the display of crosses at the hotel, as well as comments by onlookers that the victims were, at that moment, "in a better place."

I understand and respect the sentiments and the beliefs that stand behind them. However, when spirits are tender and hearts are wounded, it may not be the ideal moment for a miniature Bible study on the state of the dead or the use of Christian or pagan symbols. If I were involved in a tragic situation, unless the person coming to my house brought something that was outright demonic, such as a Ouija board, I would try to be as gracious as possible in accepting whatever tangible expression of concern and respect was offered.

A slightly related example: After the 2003 hurricanes in Florida, the federal government offered canned food to nonprofit agencies for distribution to victims. Among these were cans of a pork product. Whatever my dietary beliefs--and I happen to support the Levitical rules--I would have no hesitancy in redistributing such provisions to someone who needed them and would accept them. I hope they would remember the act and create a later opportunity to discuss what's best for their health and nutrition.

Now, there are those who'll disagree. They will suggest that a can of pork or a pagan cross is just as bad as an occult communication device. In such cases I would suggest a polite demurrer, not a forceful rebuke.

People responding to a tragedy may not know the best way to help--reports of winter clothes such as parkas sent to South Asian tsunami victims are one example--but perhaps there's a way to take a less-than-perfect gift and use it for good.

What's important here--vital, perhaps--is that those reaching out to us see that we are good neighbors who accept help graciously.

That, I would submit, will open bridges where understanding can later be shared.

For those of us watching from the outside, as it were:

  • Don't jump to conclusions. I'm ashamed to say that I've seen some speculation online, direct or implicit, that somehow the doctrines or teachings of the Living Church of God would be in some way responsible for or related to what happened in Brookfield.

Unless we find something in the sermon that allegedly made Terry Ratzmann upset that would incite a rational person to violence, it would seem unfair to that church to lay the blame at its door.

  • Don't use this to advertise your superiority. An evangelical group put out a press release saying that the LCG was one of the "new religions" that "concerned" the evangelical group's members, who engage in "ministry" to such faith groups.

That may or may not be the case, but it's hardly the cause for a news announcement, even one that expressed sympathy to the victims and LCG members.

  • Finally, don't imagine that your church, ministry or organization is exempt. Unless it's a congregation of one, any church could attract people who, if provoked, possessed or are psychotic, can erupt in violence or another type of crime.

This is no place for hubris but rather a time for prayer and reflection, asking God to guard each of our hearts and, as Jesus enjoined, deliver us from evil.

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