Interim pastor consoles grieving church

The interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., said in his Sunday sermon that the senseless murder of a beloved church member and staff member’s wife holds lessons that are timeless and unchangeable.

By Bob Allen

God did not cause last week’s brutal murder of a minister’s wife in a normally quiet neighborhood in Homewood, Ala., but is in control of the situation, the interim pastor of a grieving congregation said Sunday at First Baptist Church in Birmingham.

karen shahanCharles Carter, a former Alabama Baptist Convention president who served 26 years as pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church before retiring in 1998, told worshippers July 28 that the unsolved murder of 52-year-old Karen Shahan, wife of First Baptist's children’s minister Richard Shahan, was something none of them could have imagined just a week before.

“Since you and I last gathered here in this beautiful sanctuary for a time of worship a week ago, our church in general and collectively -- as well as the Shahan family specifically -- has been through an unimaginable, terrible, painful, unexpected tragedy,” Carter said. “We did not remotely expect this to happen when we met here last Sunday morning.”

Shahan’s body was found about 11:15 a.m. Tuesday on the couch inside the family's home after co-workers and others grew concerned when she didn’t show up for work. Police have not released the cause of her death but said it was apparent she was murdered and that the house was in disarray.

Carter said one of the investigating detectives called it “the most brutal murder that he had ever examined.”

“In this instance we see a totally depraved human mind and human personality,” Carter said. “Whoever did this dastardly deed is a sinner in need of salvation.”

Carter listed “the depravity of human nature” as one of a number of “unchanging truths” from Scripture brought to mind in the days after the crime.

“The tragedy that we have seen is a commentary upon what man is by nature,” he said. “We cannot conceive of any human being doing the tragic, murderous act that was done here last Monday night/Tuesday morning. It’s inconceivable, and yet it was done.”

“We happened to be close at hand,” Carter said. “The truth of the matter is it’s extrapolated all over our nation every single day.”

Carter said another lesson is the sovereignty of God.

“The God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ doesn’t go around murdering young 52-year-old mothers and wives,” he said. “He never has and he never will, and we need to say so.”

“The sovereignty of God is not so much that God caused this to happen, [but that] he can reveal his grace and his sovereignty even in the midst of it,” he explained. “That is, he can work with Richard. He can work with Colin and he can work with Kyle. He can work with our church and produce good even out of what man intended for evil.”

Carter said God “didn’t make it happen,” but “wasn’t caught off guard” when it did.

charles carter“He’s not up in heaven pulling his hair out saying, ‘What am I going to do for First Baptist Church and Richard Shahan.’ No, no, no. God is a God who understands and is always here and who cares and whose sovereignty will somehow reveal his grace and his power in the midst of this.”

Carter said the tragedy is also a reminder about what things in life are really most important.

“Whatever time Karen was killed last Monday night [or] Tuesday morning, at the bottom line, at that time, the only thing that made any real difference was did she know Jesus Christ as personal savior and Lord,” he said.

“It didn’t make any difference what kind of house she lived in, how many churches she and her husband had served, how she tried to raise her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, how much money she had. The only real thing that counted, did she know God.”

“Fortunately I can say to you -- and you know about her life and I know about her testimony -- she did,” he said.

“As a teenage girl she walked the aisle of the First Southern Baptist Church of Dell City, Oklahoma,” Carter said. “I know where it is. I’ve been there. A friend of mine named Bailey Smith baptized her into the fellowship of that church when she was just a young teenager.”

The day before more than 200 people gathered for Shahan’s memorial service, also at First Baptist Church. The church canceled Sunday night services and will return to its normal schedule on Wednesday, Carter said.

Since retiring from the pastorate, Carter has served as interim pastor of more than a dozen churches in Alabama and neighboring Mississippi. He has been active in denominational life, chairing the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee in 1995 and serving nine years as an International Mission Board trustee.

He is a longtime trustee at Samford University, which last year honored him by establishing the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School.