The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Where is the church?

When I talk about criminal justice, I explain that my experience has been personal—working to have the murder of my wife's daughter solved. A guilty verdict and justice in 1998 for a crime committed in 1979 gives one quite a bit of experience.

I go on to say that we achieved justice because we were part of a three-legged stool, which could not stand missing any one of the legs. The search for justice involved a family actively seeking the murder to be solved, a cooperative press helping and not just sensationalizing the crime, and law enforcement using the proper investigation techniques.

We were, of course, the family. Marlys Ann Wohlenhaus was attacked with a blunt instrument in her family home on May 8, 1979, by a person or persons unknown. Her mother—Fran, my wife—came home to find Marlys near death and called for the rescue crew. Marlys' wish to be a donor was honored two days later when she was removed from life support. There were many suspects but no evidence. Eventually, we sought help from a number of sources.

One such resource came from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension cold case unit, which obtained a large reward and brought the case before the public again in 1996. We believe the bureau took on the project because we had engaged some high-profile criminologists from out of state. The bureau didn't want to be scooped.

The media became the third leg of the stool, featuring our case on CBS' 48 Hours. They filmed Fran as she made an appeal for someone, anyone, who knew something to come forward. And they did.

In 1998 the person accused of the murder stood trial for first-degree murder. The jury found him guilty, as did two other juries in other cases where he had murdered other young women.

But if the family, the media and the investigators made justice happen—where was the church? During the trial, we sent messages to our friends and church family. In one message, we apologized for being morbid in what we wrote.

A reply simply said: "Please do not apologize for ‘morbid' news. By sending your pain to us, perhaps we can then share some of the burden and that, of course, is what we are called to do.

"I'm reminded of ‘The Servant Song' we sing at church .... ‘I will weep when you are weeping. When you laugh, I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow till we see this journey through.' Know that your faith community is very much with you."

Being part of a faith community like that should be the experience of every person of faith. In every difficult time, we are to be there for others. I call it the theology of accompaniment.

Check out this week's articles:cover4

Where school is a safe place: (right) In Nairobi, Kenyan Lutherans keep girls off the streets.

Pray it forward: S.D. congregation will pray for you—just ask.

Trinity Trotters: Washington, D.C., church boasts monument(al) runners.

On the Atoll: Exploring an island, I discover Christ's love.

Also: Visit sacred places.

Also: Hooked on music.

Also: Jesus art in book form.

Read these articles at our front page ...

This week on our blog:

Sonia Solomonson (right) blogs about being grateful.
Andrea Pohlmann writes about religion and health.


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February issue


Embracing diversity