On Repentance: The B.T.K. Killer & Steven Sitler

A Corruption of Justice Primer

“A repentant man who had done these things would evidence his repentance in his whole-hearted desire to be executed. . . . If he does not do these things, if his declared repentance is only an emotional sorrow that does not bear the marks of true repentance, then he should be excommunicated from his church.” Douglas Wilson

On March 4, 2005, Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church, Moscow, posted an essay to his blog addressing the subject of genuine repentance and how it would look in the case of serial killer Dennis Rader. Mr. Wilson wrote the post during the Federal Vision controversy to explain how the FV applies to difficult cases of church membership, such as Rader, who committed 10 horrifying murders over a 30-year period while he was a member in good standing of a Christian church.1

Mr. Wilson’s essay deserves the attention of everyone who may be interested to know if Sitler ever met Mr. Wilson’s standard for repentance, because he wrote it exactly six days before he discovered serial pedophile Steven Sitler. Here it is in toto, and as you read it, please note that the primary difference between the two serial criminals is that Steven Sitler did not murder his victims — at least as far as we know. He molested numerous children (25+) thousands of times in a six- to seven-year spree but to our knowledge he did not kill any.

The B.T.K. Killer and the Objectivity of the Covenant

Topic: Auburn Avenue Stuff

The recent arrest of Dennis Rader for the infamous B.T.K. killings presents an interesting dilemma for those who want to maintain, as I do, the objectivity of the covenant. For the sake of this discussion, I want to assume that the reports are true that Rader has confessed to a number of the killings, and that Rader is in fact guilty. If that were not the case, then our discussion should revolve around rules of evidence, and what constitutes proof.

The thing that makes this a problem for the objectivity of the covenant is that Rader does not meet the standard profile of a serial killer. He is a family man, and the president of his congregation, Christ Lutheran Church. His pastor has visited him in prison, and has said some things that provoke these musings now. After his visit, Rader’s pastor said, “We are not going to cut him off. I could tell that he was relieved . . . He is still a part of the body of Christ — and that is something some people will have a hard time hearing.”

Now some might say that this is the “objectivity of the covenant” coming back at us with a vengeance. Here is a man who has confessed to a number of horrendous murders, over a span of decades, and who remains a member of a Trinitarian church. He is baptized, and has not been excommunicated. His pastor certainly seems to think (in some measure) in terms of Dennis Rader’s objective standing within the covenant. But how are we to process this? Here are some preliminary thoughts.

  1. No one has ever done anything so horrendous that God’s forgiveness in Christ cannot reach him. Salvation is according to grace, not according to works. Of course Rader does not deserve to be saved. No one does.
  1. Because Rader was a member of a Christian church, he had a standing obligation to repent of his grotesque sins, and believe in Christ.
  1. His confessed behavior indicates that he was in defiance of this covenantal obligation over an extended period of time, over decades.
  1. This does not mean that he cannot repent now, but the Bible must be the only rule for us in defining what actual repentance looks like. There is a sorrow that leads only to death, but a godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret.
  1. In a situation like this one, again, assuming the confessions of guilt, what would repentance look like? In short, what sort of repentance should Christ Lutheran Church accept, so that Rader might remain a member, and not be “cut off,” as his pastor put it?
  1. A genuinely repentant man in such circumstances must confess everything, fully and completely, and this would include any crimes he has not been charged with. The chances are good that the authorities do not know everything he has done. He must plead guilty in court to any crimes he committed, publicly declare that he has sought God’s forgiveness, and ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims. So that they might know that this is not just talk, Rader must strive to receive the death penalty. A repentant man who had done these things would evidence his repentance in his whole-hearted desire to be executed. In this, he should echo the words of the apostle Paul. “For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die” (Acts. 25:11).
  1. If in substance he manifests repentance this way, that repentance should be accepted by his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he should willingly go to his death a communicant member of Christ Lutheran Church. If he does not do these things, if his declared repentance is only an emotional sorrow that does not bear the marks of true repentance, then he should be excommunicated from his church.

The situation is obviously filled with tangles, and I do not envy Rader’s pastor at all. He was right that a godly response to the situation contains things that “some people will have a hard time hearing.” But the difficulty should cut across the political spectrum. Those who think that the grace of God could never come to someone like Rader will have a hard time hearing about any kind of forgiveness for such a man. And those who think that forgiveness must mean a removal of all consequences will have a hard time hearing that a repentant man in such a case must ask to be executed, and must be supported in this desire by his church. But there it is.

Posted by Douglas Wilson — 3/4/2005 11:42:28 AM

According to Mr. Wilson, a serial criminal would demonstrate genuine repentance by fulfilling the three conditions outlined in point #6:

  1. “Confess everything, fully and completely, and this would include any crimes he has not been charged with.”
  1. “Plead guilty in court to any crimes he committed, publicly declare that he has sought God’s forgiveness, and ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims.”
  1. “So that they might know that this is not just talk, Rader must strive to receive the death penalty. A repentant man who had done these things would evidence his repentance in his whole-hearted desire to be executed.”2

Mr. Wilson’s first two requirements are biblical and it would be difficult to rebut his third, which he puts forth as the deal closer: “So that they might know that this is not just talk.” The “they” refers to the “court,” “the families of the victims,” and “his brothers and sisters in Christ.” According to Mr. Wilson, the criminal must convince these parties of his sincerity by pursuing the maximum penalty for his crimes, which is true. An honestly repentant man would recognize that Scripture places the highest sanction on him and he would seek to honor the spirit of God’s law.

Mr. Wilson’s third condition also suggests unstated point. A truly repentant man who had committed these crimes would know that he sinned away his right to live in society, and his actions before the court would reflect this understanding.


  1. No one knows if Steven Sitler “Confess[ed] everything, fully and completely, and this would include any crimes he has not been charged with.” No one, including Mr. Wilson, has ever said Sitler confessed every crime he committed or identified every child he molested. This chapter of Sitler’s criminal history remains open.
  1. Steven Sitler did not “Plead guilty in court to any crimes he committed. . .” He pled guilty to one count of Lewd Conduct with a Minor Under Sixteen Years of Age. Public records show that he molested numerous children in several states — yet he pled guilty to only one count.
  1. Steven Sitler did not “strive to receive the death penalty.”3 Quite the opposite. Sitler leveraged the court with his confessions to reduce his charge. Specifically, he offered the names of children he molested to the state in a plea bargain for a single count indictment. Sitler did this knowing that his victims had formed a stonewall of silence to protect him from accountability, and he did this knowing that his confessions had no prosecutorial value: The state cannot prosecute a crime based solely on a criminal’s confession. Therefore, in short, Steven Sitler gamed the system.

In further violation of Mr. Wilson’s third condition, Steven Sitler retained an exceptional lawyer to argue for mind-boggling privileges that would never be discussed if Sitler had whole-heartedly pursued the death penalty or life imprisonment. First he wanted out of prison to seek professional counseling. Second, he asserted his right to marry with the intent to father children. Third, he sought to “have a normalized relationship with his son,” in denial of his diagnosis as a fixated pedophile. And at present he has amassed beaucoup chaperones to watch him 24-7, hoping that he may live in the same house as the baby for whom he entertains “deviant sexual fantasies.”

Dennis Rader & Steven Sitler

Serial criminals Dennis Rader & Steven Sitler. “The serial killer has the same personality characteristics as the sex offender against children.” — Dr. Mace Knapp, Nevada State Prison Psychologist

According to the public record, Steven Sitler failed to meet two out of three of Mr. Wilson’s conditions and, arguably, he didn’t meet any of Mr. Wilson’s conditions because Sitler did not demonstrate the ultimate proof: He did not “evidence his repentance in his whole-hearted desire to be executed.” Therefore, when we apply Mr. Wilson’s “objectivity of the covenant” standard to Steven Sitler, we may conclude that Sitler has not repented of his sins. Or as Mr. Wilson put it, “his declared repentance is only an emotional sorrow that does not bear the marks of true repentance.” Further, we may conclude that, according to Mr. Wilson’s standards, Steven Sitler “should be excommunicated from his church.”

Despite Sitler’s failure to bring forth the essential proofs of repentance, Mr. Wilson advocated for the pedophile. On August 19, 2005, six months after documenting this “objectivity of the covenant” standard, Mr. Wilson assured Judge Stegner, “I have a good hope that Steven has genuinely repented. . .” Note his use of the words “genuinely repented” and how they contradict the terms of his B.T.K. post: “A genuinely repentant man in such circumstances. . .” Mr. Wilson has never accounted for this inconsistency and he has never explained why he turned his standard upside down to accommodate Sitler.

Doug Wilson impales his readers on the horns of a dilemma. Either they believe the terms of repentance as he wrote them in “The B.T.K. Killer and the Objectivity of the Covenant,” in which case Steven Sitler should be excommunicated, or they believe Mr. Wilson’s verbal assurances that Steven Sitler repented of his serial molestations despite the absence of evidence. But they cannot believe both.

Regardless, if the so-called repentance of Steven Sitler indicates what Mr. Wilson really thinks about the “objectivity of the covenant,” then we may conclude that he doesn’t believe any of it. And you can take his word for that.

1 Dennis Rader adopted the signature “B.T.K.” It stood for “Bind them, Torture them, Kill them.”
2 B.T.K. killer Dennis Rader almost met Mr. Wilson’s three conditions. He publicly confessed all his crimes in grisly detail. He professed faith in Christ, expressed sorrow to the victims’ families and asked their forgiveness. However, he did not ask the state to execute him. Rather, he asked for the “Hard-40,” which is prison lingo for a life term, without the possibility of release, instead of a death sentence. The judge gave him 10 consecutive life terms. Dennis Rader will die in prison.
3 Douglas Wilson believes that pedophiles should be executed: “But when we are dealing with young children who are abused by adults (pederasty, child porn, etc.) the penalty for those guilty of the crime should be death.” This quote makes Doug Wilson’s defense of Sitler even more inexplicable.


  1. It might be time for Wilson to replace the barking dog on his blog with a guillotine or a noose and change the slogan to “Words That Will Come Back to Condemn Me.”

  2. One can only hope that as his victims come of age (or new victims are created) and are able to sue Sitler civilly for financial damages, that Wilson and the Kirk and named as defendants as well.

    1. His victims don’t have to wait to sue him or the Kirk (their parents can on their behalf), and the potential defendants all have plenty of money. It’s actually kind of amazing that he hasn’t been sued already. Maybe they are refraining for the same reason they refrained from cooperating with investigators.

  3. @Janet & Mike — We’re still getting the paperwork ready on this, but here’s a heads up: Team Sitler has argued for the right of victims’ parents to not tell their children (the victims) that Sitler molested them, and they’re doing this alongside a request to allow Sitler to reestablish contact with those victims. Judge Stegner approved.

    So to be clear, Sitler has begun reestablishing contact with at least four of his victims, and the parents of these victims have not told these now-grown-up children what he did to them.

    And on a personal note, I think the parents of these children, along with Sitler’s parents, are as sick as it gets. Their pandering to the pedophile’s wants along with their inconceivable betrayal of their children’s trust defies words.

    1. That is bizarre. I’ve never heard of anything like that. I’m also surprised that Stegener approved it–maybe it’s because all concerned parties were on board with it, and the victims would still have as much notice as anyone that Sitler was a sex offender. But that still sounds crazy. I wonder if any criminal lawyers who might be watching this would care to give their take. It will be ineteresting to see what the Idaho DOC said about this, and how the lawyers argued if there was a hearing on the issue.

      1. Stegner gave his ruling at an “off-the-record proceeding” where Probation & Parole was not present to object. Apparently Stegner relied on Sitler’s psychotherapists, who argued that telling the children the truth could harm them emotionally. The whole thing stinks.

    2. I confess that reading the above comment made me physically ill. I cannot believe the evil that is unfolding before our very eyes.

  4. Ulysses, I’m not sure if telling the victims of Sitler would be advisable or not – that is, if Sitler were never again to have any contact with them whatsoever. However, now that Sitler wants to have contact with his victims cannot be construed as anything but disturbing. What could possibly be his motivations? What audacity! Further, how can the parents support such a thing? I really wonder if such ignorance is due to a perverse belief system. Why would any parent who seeks the welfare of their child co-operate with such a ruling? And this Judge Stegner; increasingly I am suspect of his motivations.

    1. There’s a Rosemary’s Baby dynamic emerging around Sitler, his parents & family, and the victims’ parents who want to reestablish contact with the devil without informing their children. Same thing with everyone’s earnest desire to see Sitler reunited with his child despite his deviant sexual fantasies.

      Yes, there is “a perverse belief system.” It’s called Christ Church, Moscow. Doug Wilson is the darkness that animates this nightmare. He started it when he covered for Sitler the night he was caught and he could end it with one phone call to Sitler’s father: “Dave, it’s over. This thing keeps getting worse and worse with no hope for change in sight. Call off the attorneys. Stop the charade. Turn your son into the authorities so that he can’t hurt anyone else anymore.”

      But Wilson will never do this, and I remind you that Dave Sitler is an officer in a CREC church.

  5. It would seem to me that Doug Wilson’s goal is to create a generation of grown children who will have been victim to all manner of sick sexually depraved crimes at the hand of a known pedophile, and who will willingly shrug it all off and say adoringly “We forgive him! He really loves us.”

    Is it possible that Wilson views Sitler as some kind of distorted analogy of a Christ figure? A Christ that molests small children, whose statement “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” is completed with “so that I may molest and fondle them to show them my fatherly love”?

    …Damn, man. It makes me physically ill to twist my brain into this sort of attempted comprehension of Wilson’s motives. It’s a good thing I’m well-versed in Stephen King for these kinds of exercises. This shit is straight out of “Children Of The Corn.” I would even go so far as to compare Wilson to “He Who Walks Behind The Rows.”

  6. I have a question concerning Wilson’s assertion that true repentance would be characterized by “striving” to be executed:
    In Kansas, where Dennis Rader committed his crimes and is incarcerated, the death penalty has not been carried out since 1965. During the time of Rader’s killings (1974-1991), Kansas had no death penalty (it would not be reinstated until 1994, though still not used). This means that, by Kansas law, the maximum sentence for Rader was life imprisonment.
    So, knowing that he is “ineligible” (for lack of a better word) for being executed, wouldn’t it be just as easy and empty to fake a desire to be killed for his crimes? To my knowledge, a convicted killer can’t decide his or her own fate as it relates to their punishment; no amount of campaigning, even by Rader on his own behalf, would somehow change his sentence from life imprisonment to death.
    Doesn’t this make Wilson’s requirement that Rader strive to be executed a moot point? And if Rader did write to governors and officials that he wants to be condemned to death, couldn’t this just as easily be done without true repentance, as he knows he won’t be executed?

    1. Yes and yes. Wilson premises all of his brave statements, such as this one, on chest beating and showboating. Anything to make himself appear to be God’s standard-bearer on Earth. This is why I footnoted that Rader “asked for the “Hard-40,” which is prison lingo for a life term, without the possibility of release, instead of a death sentence.” Rader went as far as the Kansas permitted him and met the spirit of Wilson’s demands, though not the letter, which is an essential point of Pauline theology.


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