Mary Winkler, Mary Winkler


I’ve had the Winkler family on my mind quite a lot the past few days. Matthew Winkler was a Church of Christ minister, and on Wednesday, his wife, Mary, shot and killed him. Over the next weeks and months, there story will no doubt be told on cable news and in magazines and newspapers, told and told and told again until we all know it and then get to watch it all over again in a TV movie on Lifetime.

What sticks with me particularly are the comments of neighbors and church members, who all seem to say they can’t believe such a thing could happen to a family who “looked” so perfect. The tall husband, the pretty wife, the bright and lovely daughters have all been on our TV screens repeatedly in their Christmas card poses. No matter how perfect they looked, something was terribly wrong. Whatever the reason, Mary Winkler must have been hurting.

A conservative pastor blogged that clearly Mary Winkler hadn’t been listening to her husband’s sermons, or she would have known that one of the commandments says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” I think he has missed the point entirely. She surely knew that. What she didn’t seem to understand was God’s forgiveness. Maybe she did something wrong and didn’t want her husband to discover it. Maybe *he* had done something wrong and she didn’t expect to be believed. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing was. We’ll hear about it soon enough. What does matter is that the terribly wrong thing was hidden. It was hidden until it couldn’t be hidden anymore, and then Mary Winkler ran away with her daughters.

The portrayal of God in a lot of stories from the Old Testament is disturbingly human. God gets mad, no doubt rightly, about the faithlessness of the people. This week in church we read the story from Numbers in which God sends poisonous snakes to bite the Israelites as punishment for their lack of faith. After all, God saw to it they got out of slavery in Egypt, and even provided manna in the wilderness when they feared going hungry. Why wouldn’t they just trust?!?

It seems to me that Mary Winkler learned well the lessons about that harsh God portrayed in the stories of long, long ago. What she missed was the message of Christ.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17, NRSV)

God has come a long way from sending snakes to bite the faithless. God sends God’s self, known to us in Jesus, to teach us how much we are loved and to show us that God understands our hurts and our weaknesses. It’s hard to imagine being more exposed or vulnerable than a person would be on the cross.

But the cross was not the end of the story. The cross was a hinge, allowing a door to open. And that open door is the way to healing of our hearts and souls. We must look at the cross to really find our way through to the Resurrection.  Through death came new life.

My prayer for Mary Winkler is that she will finally tell someone what the trouble was. She can’t go back and undo what she has done. The law will no doubt lock her up for the rest of her life. Her children will suffer hurt most of us cannot even imagine. But God is not finished with her. There is still a place to turn.

Jesus is a wounded savior. It is safe to bring our hurting hearts and souls to him. He knows all about it. Jesus experienced hurt for the sake of healing us. If we can believe in God’s care for us, as seen in Jesus, we will walk through the open door and the healing will begin. And it is in that healing that we are truly saved.

41 thoughts on “Mary Winkler, Mary Winkler”

  1. Nice post, Songbird, and it seems right on to me. I do wonder if Mary Winkler might have a mental illness that is uncontrolled — just a possibility. In any case, it is a tragedy and I join you in your gentle concern for a woman who is doubtless feeling waves of hate from many.

  2. Thanks, Connie. This is a sermon excerpt, and I’m working it up further for a Religion page piece for next Saturday.

  3. My heart just breaks as I read this. It infuriates me that other ministers can be soo completely inappropriate.
    My prayers are with Mary and her family as they struggle through what is a much bigger issue that the shooting.

  4. I’ve seen very little of this story so I don’t have images of the perfect family in my mind’s eye. What I did hear was that MW was married to a pastor and took her girls away after his death.
    People will condemn her because of her husband’s position in ways that any other case of domestic violence wouldn’t consider.
    If the power of Christ to heal and transform doesn’t extend to deeply troubled, violent people, I want no part of it. Situations like this get attention. Where is the attention before a crisis happens?
    Please God, send her a listening pastor to help her now.
    Songbird, you write very well. I mean it.

  5. As I have been watching the news clips, I have had thought form in my head, but have been unable to put them into words.
    You did.
    Well said.

  6. Songbird, the news about Mrs Winter hasn’t reached us here (yet) but what you wrote struck a chord, a deep chord in me and I thank you for it.
    Like St C I think you are an awesome writer (and I expect preacher) and I wanted you to know that I appreciate what you write and the fact that you make me think – also with my heart.
    May God bless you as you wrestle with this, and other relevent issues of today.

  7. At our church Sunday we combined the two stories — the serpents in Numbers and Jesus telling Nocodemus he, like the serpent must be lifted up — by fashioning our own snake and coiling it around a cross made from December’s Christmas tree. At the end of the service folks were invited to write a sin that troubled htem on a piece of provided paper and bring it forward to attach to the serpent on the cross. It seemed to be a meaningful exercise for the people. But …
    Oh, that it were just that simple. It’s not. I like your concept that the cross is a hinge. It certainly gives me more room to work it out.
    Thanks for a great post.

  8. Questing Parson, I like that idea so much. How beautiful, even for those of us who don’t like snakes! The curriculum we use has worship suggestions and included something similar, but since I was sick last week, I was not up to pulling off the technical pieces, unfortunately. I’m beginning to see the value of a worship committee!

  9. Such a terrible story. I kept thinking many of the same thoughts every time it came onto the news. I hope that she and her children find peace.

  10. “Christmas card poses??” If you had looked a little more carefully you would have seen a funeral wreath, card still attached, behind the family. It was a picture taken on the occasion of another family funeral.
    Much of what you write is insightful, but I know the family personally, and it hurts to have their thoughts and intents dissected by total strangers.

  11. Dear Ken,
    I was not looking at an actual photograph, but rather at a picture copied over and over from TV to Internet. The big smiles on the adult’s faces did not suggest grief, and I saw what I thought was a Christmas tree in the background. I apologize for the misinterpretation of the intent of the photo, but the fact remains that they appear to be doing what most families do: putting a good face on things for a particular purpose, whenever the photo was taken. It wasn’t meant as a slam at them but as an indictment of our collective need to present ourselves as “okay” even when we are not. And as I point out above, whatever the reason this tragedy occured, things were not “okay.”
    My heart goes out to you, Ken.

  12. I feel that as ludricious as it may sound that Mary Winkler is going to come out OK. I believe God can use this “event” to open eyes to what is going on behind closed parsonage doors and inside churches.
    She didn’t look happy in the family photograph.
    She was probably so emotionally starved by someone more interested in putting up a front rather than nurturing her.
    Her mother had died not long ago from cancer. She had a miscarriage not long before she became pregnant with her third child.
    She had just begun substiute teaching.
    She thought she had to appear to be the perfect minister’s wife.
    Something inside snapped but God can and I believe will bring her through this and I believe Mary Winkler will rise to a new plane where she can have her own ministry of helping the suffering.
    I was in her position for 27 years as a minister’s wife until I finally broke free so I sense where she was coming from.

  13. Thank you, I’m aware of that now.
    Sarah, I think many people understand the pain of trying to be “on” all the time, and I appreciate your comment.

  14. songbird, I too knew the family, for years. I agree somewhat of how hurtful it has been to see/hear the winkler family “guessed” out so much, but I don’t think these were your intentions. I appreciate your thoughtful, sensitive, and truthful writings. I understood what you meant completely.

  15. Songbird, as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), I grew up learning how to hypocrite so everyone would think we were the “perfect family.” So I know how to go to church and fool everyone into thinking us “perfect” all the time knowing my dad had beat my mother the night before. I know how preacher’s families have to pretend to be “okay” when they’re really not.
    So many times, in churches, we have forgotten that you ‘catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ We’re guilty of leaving out the biggest part. GOD IS LOVE!!! The last thing Mrs. Winkler needs is to be hated and condemned. We need to remember that it’s not our place to judge her or speculate, but to love her and pray for her. In God’s eyes, sin is sin, and He hates it all. Who can say they’re perfect and never sin? I know I can’t. What she did is between God, her, and the law…not God, her, the law, and US. Right now more than ever she needs to be shown the love of God.
    As a mother of 3 very little ones, my heart goes out to the little ones as well. They don’t understand why their mommy and daddy are both gone. My prayers are with them all.

  16. I don’t often feel compelled to post to most BLOG’s that appear on the web –so I’ll try and keep this short. It would appear that despite –OUTWARD APPEARANCES –of a happy, well, adjusted, Christian family, something was amiss, something so outrageous, that this poor lady felt a soul wrenching need, to even things out and, in spite of her upbringing in the best of modern day Christian homes, decided that the best way was to KILL THE BEAST.
    From what we. the, general public, know, the good Sheriff and other local law enforcement,supposedly know why poor Mary, did what she did.
    I’m trying to be neutral and not “pass judgement” on the dear lady. Bottom line –we are all in the same boat–each dealing -with the frustrations–that seemingly appear –from no where. One day –life is beautifull and we stop and marvel at the beauty of life–and the next day –we curse the day we were born.
    I cannot begin to fathom why this tradegy occured, but somewhere in the Almighty’s plan there is a reason.
    I’ll stop for now before I become morose and depressed.
    On a more upbeat note and I leave it up to you, who know this dear woman: Just be there, listen very carefully –and above all, show compasssion and empathy for her situation and pain–which was, and is a raw wound–which only God aka our Saviour, Jesus Christ, could and does fathom.
    I remain, a friend of Mary Winkler
    Ed Yagerlener. Costa Mesa, Ca. 92626

  17. The stress levels of Mary Winkler, in a little over one year, family moved to a new town, husband had a new job, Mary was pregnant, birth of a child, child is sick, death of her mother, Mary has a new job, Mary goes to college, Mary takes care of three children, and she is the wife of a preacher. It makes me sad for this family, where was their support system.

  18. Not one of us do not have a string of problems and hurdles that, when examined in hindsight, could help explain how something like this could happen. My concern is for those children. Instead of using whatever situation Mary and Matthew were in to teach their children how to deal with problems, they went the opposite direction and left their innocent children with no parents and no explanations. These girls will suffer the most, no doubt, and their lives have changed forever. I cannot comprehend or accept that Mary’s solution to the ‘problem’ was justified in any way. The consequences that her children must suffer are too great.

  19. With all due respect to those here who knew Mary and Matthew and their family, I would like to comment. I knew nothing about the Winkler family, but I know that things are rarely what they appear to be on the surface. My impression of the situation when I first saw it via internet was that something must have been seriously wrong. It seems that Mary was an intelligent, rational, responsible woman. From what I read here, she apparently had been dealing with a good deal of stress. But we all have times when the circumstances come until we feel overwhelmed. It’s interesting to me that Mary confessed immediately to the deed. It’s also interesting to note that she has given a motive that for some good reason is not being revealed. She knew that she would be found, arrested and convicted. She must have weighed the consequences beforehand and considered the cost to herself and to her children. It seems that she made a rational choice and did what she felt she had to do. The choices we have are not always the choices that we would like. May the peace of God be with Mary.

  20. This is a bit different in that I am commenting on the community and church. I am so proud of the members of her church and the community in which she lives. They have done what Jesus taught us to do…forgive. Even Mary’s in-laws, if reports are correct, immediately went to her and forgave her. They will never see there son again in their lifetime. What a gift they are to the world. I have struggled myself during my lifetime with forgiving someone who hurt my child, and although, it does not take the hurt away, I still have my children and they are healthy and happy. If they can forgive Mary, how can we not all take a lesson from this and forgive others also? I’m praying that Mary, her children, both families of this tragedy and the community as a whole finds peace. God will make all the final decisions, not us.

  21. Good post Regina. While muddling through many articles and posts concerning the Winkler family, I was glad to come across yours. I too, am very proud of the church members and Mary’s in-laws. What Christ-like attitudes they are displaying! While being crucified–Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34 Their (Matthew’s folks and others) entrance into heaven became contingent upon their willingness to forgive Mary. What a stumbling block! …forgive and ye shall be forgiven: Luke 6:37b For IF ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But IF ye forgive not men their trspasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15 Let us continue to lift up this family in our prayers!

  22. At first I was sympathetic with Mary Winkler. As time has gone by, however, I think more and more about her children. Mary has left them with the legacy of “our mother shot our father in cold blood and then confessed and went to prison.” How will these innocent children ever deal with this legacy? They will have severe psychological problems for the rest of their lives. I don’t care what the home situation was, murdering your husband in cold blood is not the solution. I can conclude only that Mary must have been suffering from a mental illness, such as clinical depression, and that her judgement was severely impaired.

  23. I used to be very sympathetic towards Mary Winkler but lately I have been thinking more about her children. The legacy Mary has left her children is “our mother shot our father in cold blood and then she went to prison.” Her children will be severely psychologically damaged all of their lives. Whatever was happening in their home, shooting her husband in cold blood was not the answer for any of them. I, too, was married, and people thought my husband and I had the perfect marriage. My husband tried to kill me once and was verbally and emotionally abusive for nine years until I left him. It never occurred to me to kill him. Mary must have been severely clinically depressed and thus her judgment tragically impaired.

  24. I think as a Christian the most important thing we can do is remember this family in our prayers! They are all hurting right now, The in-laws, Mary Winkler, Friends and most of all those dear children. Obviously something was terribly wrong or this wouldn’t have happened, however I don’t think it really matters why it happened to most of us the courts can deal with that, what matters now is what is left and that is a lot of tragedy in a lot of peoples lives and those people can use all of the love and prayers from as many people as they can get. Pray for the family, Pray for Mary Winkler, Pray for the friends of the family and most of all pray for innocent children to find peace and serenity at a time of such tragic loss in their little lives.

  25. Very nice post. It is nice to see someone who is trying to understand and who is trying to pray for and with Mary Winkler in this her time of trouble. God has also placed this lady on my heart and I have prayed for her and actually written to her just to offer comfort and friendship should she need it. Jesus was all about helping those in need and I can’t think of anyone more in need of that love and help than Mary Winkler right now. Thanks for actually posting something positive.

  26. I think the issue here is that we often forget that our rightousness come from Jesus and not from our own works. It is the general expectation of the chiristian churches today that thier pastors (and thier families) are supposed to be “perfect”. In expecting this we are forgetting that they are on the same side of eternity as we are. They are just as imperfect as we are and they must draw thier righteousness from the same source that we should draw our rightousness – from Jesus. We christians should let people see the truth when we fall and be honest about it. All the characters in the bible have one thing in common (with the exception of Jesus Christ) – They have all fallen, they have gotten back up and run the race, Not putting up a show, but acknowledgeing thier sinfulness.
    We also need to let our pastors and thier families live the same imperfect lives that all of us do. It is time we realise that in the final analysis, what the people around us see does not matter; only what God sees does. And God sees everything we have done in secret. Keeping our failing secrets is of no use as they would be public on the judgement day anyway.
    it is time we treat our pastors and thier families with grace and not make superhuman demands on them.

  27. i agree with Treefrog’s comment of may 10, 2006.
    She could have left him.
    She did not have to kill him.Yes, there were problems but we all have them and as Christians we are supposed to be examples to the world. Give her your prayers and sympathy but remember Jesus told the woman caught in adiltery, ‘go and sin no more’.Killing a person is one of the worst things a person can do.She should have left her husband if she couldn’t bear her life with him anymore and he would still be alive today.


  29. Mary Winkler is still a christian woman! I believe that she has ask God to forgive her and I know that he has.
    I pray for you every night Mary, I pray that God will give you the strength that you need to get through the days ahead of you.

  30. Mary Winkler is in more pain that any of us can imagine. I hope I never know. But I can tell you–as a minister’s wife–she has been in alot of pain for a long time. People CANNOT fathom how lonely life can be in the ministry. You just don’t know until you have been there.

  31. I appreciated your thoughts on Mary Winkler. As a preacher’s wife myself, I know first-hand the unbelievable pressures and demands that can be made on you. I am so sorry this happened to them. We will never know the whole story, and we really do not need too, because it is truly in God’s hands, and I am thankful for that. He knows each of us better than we do.

  32. I feel very sorry for Mary Winkler. I don’t condone what she did, but I can relate somewhat to the frustrations of trying to be perfect..It took me a long time to learn how much God loves me, in spite of my inferfection. All he expect of us is to follow his comandments [and they are not as hard as men impose on us] the best we can. to do the best we can each day, trust him, and things do work out, with faith.

  33. One thing that needs to be understood is that Mary Winkler knew what she was doing. As a member of the church of Christ myself I know that she was taught forgiveness, not to kill, and God in general. The problem was she chose not to listen to it. Her family forgave her and I’m sure God did too, because the thought that a Christian like her wouldn’t ask God for forgiveness is insane. So I conclude that she asked for forgiveness, and the church and I cannot hold anything against her if she had asked for our forgiveness either. So it’s not the fact that she didn’t know, because like I said, the church is strict (as it should be) and she knew what she was doing was wrong. She just chose not to do the right thing. And frankly I’m insulted that the “pastor” would think that we’re so idotic.

  34. I just happend to google mary winkler tonight and come across this website.
    To all the people who support Mary. Thank you. I am a friend of Mary’s and I was a friend of Matt. He was my youth minster where he lived before he moved to Selmer. For the people who know nothing about them and who dont know her or their family. You have no right to judge. Shame on you…
    No, I dont believe she should have killed him. But if you are a member of the “Church of Christ” a real Church of Christ. I’m telling you, You may not have a way out of your marriage. Her father-in-law, Matt’s dad was a very well-known Church of Christ Preacher and well-known teacher at Freed. She would have never been able to get out. The name “Winkler” to most people who are Church of Christ is exciting. You should hear Matthew’s dad preach. He is amazing! For those of you who aren’t Church of Christ you would never understand that. It’s not easy being a Christan. I was torn when I found out about Matthew, I loved him. As does Mary, That was her husband, She’s not just a cold hearted women. She loved him more than most married women love their husbands. There just comes a point where you may feel trapped with no where to go and no one to help you. Most people look at Mary or talk about her as if they are scared of her. Even with her living here in TN-Warren County TN that is- People are scared of her. I’m not scared of Mary in anyway. I have kids and I would even today call and let her keep them. She’s not a threat to anyone. Something was terribly wrong with that family. I dont know, as most and probably all of you don’t.
    I have taken Mary out to lunch now that she lives back here in McMinnville,TN and I wanna sit near her at Church where we go! Mary was and still wants to be a good mother, daughter, friend, sister and most important Christan. But, let God be the judge of her when that day comes. Until then Keep her and her 3 girls in your prayers. They need it!
    And for those of you who choose to be ugly,and make your own Jugement. I pray for you. Because it could easily be your mother, sister, friend, co-worker or whoever next time. Mary was as normal as they come! So be careful to quickly judge because who are you to Judge??
    I’m sure you must be Perfect…

  35. Personal Story – My first husband was abusive. Mostly verbal and emotional, then it escalated. When you attend church, and are working on a personal relationship with Jesus, things can become fuzzy in situations like abusive marriages. You hear your preacher say from behind the pulpit that “God hates divorce”, then you look it up and sure enough, it is right there in the bible…God hates divorce. I can remember being so torn, for years trying to figure out what I could do to make it better, but then I wondered, what was ‘it”…I worked, I cooked, I cleaned, I kept myself attractive….and other “wifely” things, but nothing was ever good enough. By the time I went to see my pastor, my daughter had been kidnapped, I had had a gun pointed at my head, (barrel touching), my apartment door kicked in…the list goes on. Anyway, very concerned about what God would think of a divorce, and being a young christian, I went to my pastor. After listening to me for quite some time, he finally said to me, Sheryl, I am a preacher, God hates divorce, I can not nor will I advocate for a divorce. I hung my head in defeat. I just couldn’t figure out how God could possibly want me in that situation, not to mention my young daughter. When I left there that day I felt completely void of any emotion. If I could describe my feelings with color, I guess I’d have to call it black….nothing. We lived out of state at the time, so when it was time to leave my mom’s house, she asked if my daughter could stay and spend some time with her. When he and I left that day, on our way back home several things were going through my mind and one of them was that if I couldn’t divorce him, then the only way that I could ever have peace in my life would be if he were dead. That was 18 yrs ago, I can still feel that nothing feeling when I think about it.
    The “mental illness” that a few people are suggesting could be the problem is not it, however, most battered women present that way.
    Those who suggest she could just leave, get a divorce, well, the dynamics of domestic violence are not that simple, and then when you put that violence into a christian home, those dynamics become more complicated.
    I did not kill my first husband, only because I chickened out. But when I speak to people about it today, I tell them, I guess I just kept hearing how God hates divorce, but then on the other hand you hear and read how He forgave and promoted the murderer, (Moses) so in my battered, blank, wore out mind I figured if I can’t divorce him, I’ll just kill him.
    Mary, I feel where you are and you are not alone. I think the statistics are that one in three women are battered and every 8 seconds a woman dies because of domestic violence. It is probably safe to say that in your very church there are other battered women, some may never tell.
    Please remember this, domestic violence is about power and control, it is not about love and hate. Forgive him, and don’t forget to forgive yourself. Your daughters will be fine, lean on your heavenly father for guidance there, and it is so true that God can take our mess and turn it into a message. Women need you, the church needs you, not to be “perfect”, just to be you.
    My prayers are with you,

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