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The Escape Trigger

A couple of months ago there was a large amount of shock and surprise, especially among Church of Christ people, regarding the brutal murder of Matthew Winkler, a minister in Selma, Tennessee, by his wife Mary Winkler. Naturally, the biggest question out of this situation is "How could this happen?" It seems reasonable to believe that this situation is unthinkable among a couple who serve together in ministry, are well-liked, live in a small town, and come from long line of ministry. Matthew Winkler was a third generation preacher. They served an unassuming little church and lived comfortably with their children in a nice parsonage.

But details are emerging that are revealing a dark side to their lives together, and it largely has to do with the hidden persona of Matthew Winkler. Neighbors are starting to tell stories of angry outbursts and threats to kill pets that wander onto their property. Mary is now speaking of the intense control he was maintaining over her life and his constant criticism of her every move and action.

"He had really been on me lately criticizing me for things — the way I walk, I eat, everything. It was just building up to a point. I was tired of it. I guess I got to a point and snapped."


All of these things are haunting to me because I was, at one time, close to a situation very similar to this. A well-known and well-liked minister who, behind the scenes, let his rage go uncontrolled and exerted a crippling and abusive domination over his wife and family. I sat under a streetlight with a woman who had managed to escape him for a night and heard her desperate cry for help that deftly avoided directly implicating him because of fear. There is a helplessness that grows in these situations. A fear that can, at any point, suddenly turn to anger. I experienced it and I didn't even live with him. The fear grows because confronting it with such a person runs a great risk of only deeping the threat to yourself and alienating yourself from the community because of his manipulative power with so many. So, you stay silent. You buckle under the intimidation. You stare at the floor as he verbally and mentally reduces you to nothing and reminds you of his power to crush you. He reminds you that he is the only reason you are anything. And you have no way out.

That is, until the pump action shotgun is in your hands.

Is she justified in her actions? Never. But the years and years of setup to this situation make it one that, when seen in a perspective of time, leaves little surpise in the mind of anyone who has faced such abuse. My situation was not even in a marriage context and I felt the overwhelming need to find a way to escape. Thankfully the weapon that I found that allowed me to get out from under him without being destroyed first was non-violent. But in many ways it was like a shotgun.


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