Pastor denies Tetelestai Church to blame for killings at LA Fitness
A pastor at a church once attended by the LA Fitness shooter cautioned the congregation Sunday about losing their spiritual bearings in a “frantic search for happiness.”
Pastor John Dorohovich took to the pulpit at the Tetelestai Christian Church and appeared to refer to former church member George Sodini without mentioning his name.George Sodini Home Videos. See also: Gym shooter lives on in Internet videos
Police said Sodini shot three women to death at a fitness center in Collier on Tuesday and wounded nine others before killing himself. On his blog, Sodini claimed to have been a church member for 13 years. Other postings reflected an unhappiness and disillusionment with life as well as anger and bitterness at his inability to meet and cultivate relationships with women.
He disparaged his family and the leader of the Tetelestai Church, Pastor Alan R. “Rick” Knapp of Oakmont. Sodini wrote that Knapp “teaches (and convinced me) that you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven” and referred to religion as “a waste.”
“My pastor has never condoned such behavior,” Dorohovich said in an interview after the service.
“He is accountable for what he’s done; I believe that wholeheartedly,” Dorohovich said of Sodini.
“God will hold him accountable, absolutely,” Matone said.
In hateful posts on his Internet blog, Mr. Sodini, the man behind Tuesday’s deadly shooting spree at LA Fitness in Collier, frequently referenced the Rev. Knapp, blaming him — among many others — for his wealth of social woes.
“This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder, then still go to heaven,” Mr. Sodini wrote. “Guilt and fear,” he continued, kept him in the church “for 13 long years until Nov. 2006.”
In his first interview since the shootings, the Rev. Knapp said he is struggling to understand how Mr. Sodini distorted his messages — as well as God’s.
“It’s impossible to describe seeing your name written by someone in a context of such a horrible distortion of everything you believe in,” he said. “You have to comb through everything you have ever said in 30 years and say, that’s not anything I have ever said. … The message of the word I preach never reflected such a thing.”
The Rev. Knapp spoke following an hour-long special service he called in light of the shooting and the attention it has brought upon the church of about 400 members. The nondenominational church’s focus is on Bible study and teaching, as it videotapes its services to mail to ministries in other states. Tetelestai incorporated in 1991. The name means “It stands finished,” Jesus’ last words before his death, in Greek.
At last night’s service, the Rev. Knapp read from scriptures, reminding the group that distorting God’s word can be destructive to one’s self and others, that salvation comes with a moral obligation be benevolent instead of narcissistic or full of rage. Actions come with consequences in this life and the next, he said, even if we can’t understand what those are.
In his postings, Mr. Sodini tried to ascribe blame on others, including the pastor, who said his outreach to church members comes from his teachings.
The Rev. Knapp later said he feels “grief and sadness, but certainly not guilt.”
“It’s clear that this man acted on his own,” he said. “From bitterness and rage.”
George Sodini rests in heaven now because he professed a faith in Jesus years before his shooting rampage, a Tetelestai Christian Church leader said.
Jack Rickard, a deacon at the Plum church Sodini attended for years, said the Bible makes it clear that “professing a faith in Jesus as savior means you will have complete eternal salvation.”
Rickard, 80, of Indiana, Pa., said Tetelestai members “are firm believers in ‘once-saved, always-saved.'”
He said the church, which is in process of moving to New Kensington, focuses on the intense study of Scripture.
Rickard conveyed his belief that Sodini attained eternal life.
“George is going to heaven, but he’s not going to get his rewards,” Rickard said. He said that Sodini won’t be offered all of heaven’s benefits because of his sin.
Rickard said Tetelestai, an unaffiliated, independent Christian congregation, has about 400 members. The name is a Greek word that translates to “It is finished” and is purportedly the last word spoken by Jesus.
Rickard acknowledged that public perception of the church has suffered because of Sodini. But he defended his congregation as a group of Christians whose sole interest is in studying Scripture and serving God.
“We are not a cult,” Rickard said. “We are solely involved in an in-depth study of what the Scriptures say.”
The Valley News Dispatch published a photo Thursday of a National Rifle Association sticker on a window at the Tetelestai Church in Plum.
The sight struck some as odd.
It shouldn’t, said Jack Rickard, a deacon at the church attended for years by fitness center killer George Sodini.
“We are firm believers, all of us, in the Second Amendment,” Rickard said. “That’s Constitutional.”
“Everybody [at Tetelestai] is a student of weaponry,” he said.
When pressed to explain why church members carry weapons, Rickard said the church had been threatened.
“Our church is protected,” he said. “We have had people try to take over the pulpit.”