The KC Strip is the sirloin of Kansas City media, a critical cut of surmisin' steak that each week weighs in on the issues of the day, dictating its column to Pitch writers.

The Exorcist? 

Here's one minister with a little too much sympathy for the devil.

The Strip doesn't envy Wichita pastor Michael Clark. About a year ago, the cops arrived at Clark's church, Christ Lutheran, with a search warrant. They had identified church president Dennis Rader as the BTK serial killer.

After his capture, Rader admitted to murdering 10 people in a reign of terror dating back to 1974. Police finally caught up with BTK — short for "bind, torture and kill," a nickname Rader had lavished on himself — after he began communicating with the media after years of silence. For his crimes, Rader is serving a from-here-to-eternity sentence at a prison in El Dorado.

Clark has continued to minister to Rader, who called the pastor "my main man" when he addressed the court at his sentencing. Clark deserves big props for his perseverance. If the Strip were a man of the cloth and not a cut of beef, its counseling of Rader would begin and end with a map of the best route to hell. After all, this is a man so depraved he popped a boner when describing his crimes to investigators. Godspeed, grave sniffer!

Yet Clark's pastoring turned from persistent to bizarre on January 16, the day The Kansas City Star reported that he had sought permission to perform a jailhouse exorcism of Rader. Star reporter Bob Cronkleton wrote the story after listening to Clark address a Lutheran church in Overland Park.

Turns out the story was wrong. You may have missed it, but a lengthy correction appeared in the Star the following day. Clark, the paper clarified, had merely asked the Sedgwick County sheriff about administering the symbolic body of Christ to Rader — not going all Max von Sydow on his murderous ass. "While an audience member's question pertained to exorcism, Clark's answer was more narrowly focused on his inability to bring Rader communion," the correction stated.

Clark tells the Strip that he spent January 16 trying to stamp out fires from Cronkleton's story, which the wire services picked up. The pastor says some of his friends in Omaha saw a TV report about his wish to cast out devils behind bars.

The exorcism story was bogus, but the Star was correct in reporting that Clark believes Rader was influenced by some kind of demonic force. Clark tells the Strip that before Rader's arrest, the minister never dreamed he'd be "talking about demon possessions or Satan or whatever." He went on: "But I am talking about it now. It's a situation where I just don't know for sure whether 21st-century Western culture can really handle a different kind of an understanding of evil, because we have so richly bought into a psychological model of understanding evil and bad things in the world."

Clark remains open to the idea of exorcism, though he says he isn't qualified to perform one himself. "It takes special training and knowledge of what you're doing," he tells this sizzler. "And you can't do it with just one person involved. Normally it takes place with two or three people involved, other than the person who requested it. And you don't do it on someone who has not requested it, or it doesn't work."

Before last week, the Strip always thought Lutherans were a pretty sedate lot — you know, hot dishes, Jell-O and Garrison Keillor. So to hear a Lutheran pastor talk about exorcism, well, the Strip's of the mind that Clark simply can't accept the fact that a member of his flock is a psychopath. Considering his cruelty to animals and his fondness for trophies (he stashed a victim's jewelry box at Christ Lutheran), Rader is a textbook example of someone with a personality disorder, an incurably remorseless bastard incapable of empathy.

But don't take the Strip's word for it. Observers much more godly than this rump roast think Clark has missed the obvious. Last summer, after the pastor talked with a Christian news service about the idea that Rader might be possessed, one exasperated reader reacted to the story on something called the Rapture Ready Message Board. "Dennis Rader is a sociopath!" the reader wrote. "It is plain and simple. He knew what he did and why! I think he is leading this pastor down that road to gain sympathy."

Are BTK's cellblock counseling sessions with Clark just another plea for attention? That wouldn't surprise Wichita psychologist Harold Brodsky. "I have been predicting that Dennis Rader will not go away easily, that we will hear much more of him," Brodsky tells the Strip. "He will do something. He'll either attempt suicide, get himself killed or cop to another plea in another case. I think there's a high probability that something like that would happen, that he will get tired of sitting at the El Dorado facility and he'll start shooting off his mouth about other things that he's done."

Of course, if Clark's having trouble understanding BTK's manipulative ways, he's not alone. After Rader's arrest, a flurry of stories described people's shock that a killer lived among them. "He was a friendly person, and he just seemed to be liked by everyone," a former resident of Park City, the suburb where Rader lived, told The Wichita Eagle. Yeah, as if serial killers walk around wearing black capes and biting people's ankles.

The remarks from disbelieving townsfolk reminded the Strip of a Saturday Night Live sketch from way back in its curing days. The 1982 sketch, a fake Nightline episode, explored the assassination of Buckwheat (played by Eddie Murphy) by John David Stutts, who said he acted on orders from his dog. At one point in the sketch, Ted Koppel (played by Joe Piscopo) interviews Stutts' minister:

Minister: "He was a loner and a quiet young man. He attended church and Sunday school. I remember he was always very polite."

Koppel: "Do you believe he killed Buckwheat?"

Minister: "Oh, yes. Definitely. That's all he ever talked about."


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