Officials have concluded that the gunman who shot up a small Baptist church outside San Antonio on Sunday was not religiously motivated.
It may come as a surprise to know that very few attacks on houses of worship are.
Instead, the details around Devin Kelley’s abusive past and ongoing feud with his in-laws point to a domestic incident causing him to target First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Local law enforcement indicated Kelley’s second wife had occasionally attended the church with her family, and that the two had separated.
“The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church,” Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Freeman Martin said, according to The New York Times. “We know that he had made threatening texts and we can’t go into detail into that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated.”
Though the scale of Kelley’s carnage is unprecedented, his motive is all too familiar. Domestic violence rarely stays confined to the home, and has increasingly led to violence on church property. Estranged husbands make their way into church parking lots and lobbies to settle fights, take revenge, or confront their victims.
A second church shooting took place on Sunday, this one in Fresno, California, where a man shot his wife and her new boyfriend in the parking lot of a Catholic church following early morning Mass.
“Year after year, domestic abuse spillover—when a fight at home comes to church—is one of the three most common killers at faith-based organizations,” wrote church safety expert Carl Chinn for CT sister publication Church Law & Tax.
Last year, among violent attacks at houses of worship where the cause was known, 25 percent of victims were killed as a result of a domestic abuse incident, all by male attackers, according to Chinn’s data. The next most common motive was personal conflict, followed by robbery.
While in the Air Force five years ago, Kelley had been convicted of assaulting his first wife and breaking her infant son’s skull, The Times reported.
The charges resulted in 12 months of confinement, followed by a bad conduct discharge from the service in 2014. His crimes should have prevented him from obtaining a firearm; a federal law bars anyone convicted a domestic violence misdemeanor from owning a gun.
Not all incidents of domestic violence lead to criminal charges, though; victims often keep silent out of fear of retaliation or justify their abuser’s behavior in hopes that they will change. The secret and shame around abuse can lead onlookers—including church leaders—to underestimate its presence in their communities. Experts recommend pastors look out for signs of domestic violence and familiarize themselves with reporting laws in their states.
A 2017 Church Law & Tax report entitled “Why Domestic Violence in the Home Endangers Your Church” laid out the following statistics:
- About three-quarters of pastors (74%) estimate that less than 20 percent of their congregation has experienced domestic violence, according to a 2014 LifeWay Research survey for Sojourners and IMA World Health.
- National prevalence rates show that 1 in 3 women (33%) and 1 in 4 men (25%) have been victims of intimate partner violence.
- Almost half of Protestant pastors (45%) said their church does not have a plan in place to respond if someone says they are a victim of domestic violence, according to a 2017 LifeWay survey.
Overall, 1 in 5 incidents of violent crime in the US between 2003 and 2012 resulted from domestic violence, most commonly between spouses, exes, and partners.
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Source: Christianity Today