Air Force

Veering to the dark side: What role did religion play in Devin Patrick Kelley's fatal family feud?

Veering to the dark side: What role did religion play in Devin Patrick Kelley's fatal family feud?

Yes, this is another GetReligion post about the contents of the original Facebook page that belonged to Devin Patrick Kelley, as opposed to some of the doctored material being circulated by "fake news" conspiracy theory websites.

After my original post on the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas -- "Texas church massacre: What to do with atheism arguments on that Facebook page? -- I received several messages pointing me toward an important quote from a Texas official involved in the investigation.

Here's the quote, as it was included in a report at The Washington Post:

“This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs,” Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news briefing. “There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws.”

Journalists are, of course, still struggling to put the "Why?" component in the old-school news formula known as "Who," "What," "When," "Where," "Why" and "How."

It is certainly crucial information that Kelley had been sending threatening messages to his mother-in-law and that she, along with Kelley's estranged wife, had been attending worship services at the Sutherland Springs church from time to time. This kind of family feud, linked to a history of domestic violence, is a powerful and logical hook for "Why?" reporting.

However, I have been pondering several questions over the past 24 hours as new evidence emerged: First, are law officials absolutely sure that there was no religious component to the family split at the heart of Kelley's actions? He was, after all, an ex-Baptist who -- according to his Facebook page and the testimonies of friends -- had evolved into an angry and argumentative atheist.

My second question: If the goal was to seek revenge on his mother-in-law, and she was not in the service, why did he try to kill the rest of the congregation?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Military Times team forgets to ask a crucial question about that Navy SEAL chaplain

Time to take a quick dip into my folder of GetReligion guilt, where some important stories have been calling for my attention. In particular, I wanted to note that debates about military chaplains, always a controversial church-state subject, have flared up once again in the news.

At the center of the debate this time around is Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a chaplain who has in the past handled the rather difficult challenge of keeping up with Navy SEAL units. Now, a Military Times article notes that he may be tossed out of the Navy after 19 years for "allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex." Readers are told:

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter on Feb. 17 after his commanders concluded that he is "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.
Modder denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the dismissal with attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions. Modder has served more than 19 years and could lose his retirement benefits if the Navy convenes a board of inquiry and officially separate him before he completes 20 years of service.

As often happens in these stories, the crucial question of what actually happened in these encounters between the chaplain and the soldiers making complaints is hard to discern, since the details all come from the accusers. Also, military chaplains treat the details of these one-on-one encounters as completely confidential (even chaplains who are not in traditions that include Confession).

Thus, the Gannett newsroom notes that the Navy's letter of complaint included offenses such as:

Please respect our Commenting Policy