Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

Rev. Charles R. Moore is neither a martyr nor insane #umc

Last night, a new friend brought to my attention this news article about the passing of Rev. Charles Moore. “Passing” is not, I think, the proper word. Rev. Moore, a retired elder of the United Methodist Church, died as a result of the injuries he inflicted upon himself during a botched suicide attempt.

Perhaps because I have spent the last few months steeped in literature related to what we would call suicide, this has…to be honest, I am not sure how to process this just yet. In a real sense, I feel a peculiar hurt that is neither rational nor healthy. In somewhat of an abstract sense, I cannot help but connect it to my current dissertation work. Rev. Moore plainly states in language familiar to most Christians that his death will be a self-sacrifice not only as a penance to past crimes “probably” committed but so too for the lives of those around him now, that they may seek to change the current situation.

rev charles moore suicide letter page 2

I cannot help but to connect this to the Jesus of my dissertation, at least in my capacity as an academic.

However, as a Christian — and as Christian who has become something more orthodox not in the very least because of my current research tract — I cannot help but to wonder how Rev. Moore lost faith in the Atonement. Indeed, if Jesus did (as Paul suggests) become the curse by his own hand, and by his own hand decide to lay down his life (according to John), and if this atonement is good not only moving forward but equally moving back so that the entirety of humanity is encapsulated under the blood (Hebrews)… then why did Rev. Moore lose faith in the death of Jesus?

Did Rev. Moore think that his death could undo anything that the death of Jesus didn’t? Did he really believe his death would spur others into action when the Cross of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit did not? In language so familiar to us, we get a sense Rev. Moore believed his death vital to salvation. Where did he get the sense that Jesus and his death was commonplace enough to be repeated, with the same effects?

There are some with too much time on their hands and not enough Christian theology who are declaring Rev. Moore a martyr. Worse yet, they confuse this self-sacrifice with the words of Jesus.

Moore did not give his life for others (Noble Death). He did not stand in the gap, he did not plead with an attack. He was not executed for his beliefs (martyrdom). Rather, he took his own life as an atonement for sins and to spur others into action. This is not insane. After studying the literature and trying to grapple with a few weightier matters, I cannot even suggest Rev. Moore is insane. But, he is not an atoning sacrifice either. He had lost faith in the atoning work of Christ.

I cannot applaud his death.

I cannot uphold it as an example for others to follow.

It was needless and wasted.

But, I pray his soul has been welcomed by the Saints above us and his wounds healed by Our Mother above. I pray that his time on that side of this pain has been spent with Jesus and in doing so, he finds the rest he sought.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

8 Responses to “Rev. Charles R. Moore is neither a martyr nor insane #umc”
  1. Rev Carole E. McCallum says

    This is not about atonement.

    I can well understand a follower of Jesus experiencing great pain at the evils of our world and wanting to do something to change things. pray that his death will motivate others to work for the changes that are needed.

    • No, no I will not pray that a needless death takes precedence over the death of Christ. It is a shame anyone would suggest that.

      His death was in vain, sadly. And yes, he attempted some sort of atonement.

  2. Eddie Gonzalez says

    His suicide was not a martyr’s death. We should not look to it at all as an example, as something to remember with honor and awe. Such would dishonor those true martyrs in our history. Mourn, but that’s not a death to celebrate. It’s only sadness.

  3. First, I hesitate to comment on such a tragic event.
    However, this doesn’t seem to be a typical martyrdom method. Considering his advanced age, and the fact that he lived through Buddhist monks doing the same, from Vietnam to the present, maybe a non-logical obsession built up. He writes coherently, but this appeared to be an obsession built up over time. Advanced age (I’m talking about Alzheimer’s disease), does sometimes express itself with obsessions, even if the person appears coherent. Many people, including myself, have seen elderly parents act in rather strange ways with this disease. I cannot accept that a rational, logical choice for martyrdom was made in this case.

  4. John Tunnell says

    Charles Moore was my pastor in the early 90’s at Grace UMC in Austin. He was a very supportive pastor, and preached a strong message of social justice. I recall him saying once that if a person wanted to commit suicide, there was nothing wrong with that, and that they should be supported in that decision. It was in a small group study, and everyone was surprised, but Charles was known to make statements that were shocking.

    I have fond memories of Charles. He was always supportive, and he had a passion for justice issues. I am saddened by the news of his death.

    • John, think me not heartless. From what I have read of Rev. Moore, he had a heart for the gospel of peace and justice. I wish I could have learned at his feet.

  5. I am reminded of something a mentor once asked me when I was agonizing over the unrealistic expectations a parishioner had of me. He noted that I could choose to run myself into the ground trying to please said person, which might very well result in my own illness and death, or I could remember that I am not God, it is not my job to play Messiah… Jesus has already died for that person

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