Charles Manson, a notorious serial killer, recently died. What is the biblical response to the death of a man who was, for many, the epitome of evil.
Charles Manson: A Brief History
Most people, including many of those in this present history-starved generation (as evidence by people on social media mistakenly mourning Marilyn Manson) are familiar with Charles Manson. This brief history is taken from the Biography website. Some of the following historical information may not be suitable for younger readers.
“Charles Manson (born November 12, 1934) was an American criminal who spearheaded a murderous campaign with his followers, the Manson Family cult, that would make him one of the most infamous figures in criminal history. Notoriously connected to the brutal slayings of actress Sharon Tate and other Hollywood residents, Manson received the death penalty in 1971, a sentence that was commuted to life in prison the following year . . .
“‘The Family,’ as they became known, was a group of around 100 followers of Charles Manson who shared his passion for an unconventional lifestyle and habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD and magic mushrooms. After Manson was released from prison for petty crimes in 1967, the Manson Family moved to San Francisco and later to a deserted ranch in the San Fernando Valley. Manson’s followers also included a small, hard-core unit of impressionable young girls. They began to believe, without question, Manson’s claims that he was Jesus and his prophecies of a race war.
“The Manson Family — including Charles Manson and his young, loyal disciples — is thought to have carried out some 35 killings. Most of their cases were never tried, either for lack of evidence or because the perpetrators were already sentenced to life for the Tate/La Bianca killings.
“The first of Manson’s victims was murdered on August 9, 1969, at the home Roman Polanski had rented, located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, an area just north of Beverly Hills. While Manson himself took no part in the actual killings, he directed four of his most obedient followers — Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian — to the address and directed them to kill everyone. According to one of the Family member’s statements, the Polanski household had been targeted because it represented the showbiz world that had rejected Manson . . .
“The following night, on August 10, 1969, Manson took Family members Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to the Los Feliz address of wealthy supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, and the couple was murdered in a similarly horrifying fashion . . .
“Ironically, Manson and his Family were arrested not on suspicion of the Tate/LaBianca murders, but simply on the belief that they had vandalized a portion of the Death Valley National Park while they were hiding out in the Mojave Desert. In 1969, the county sheriff had taken them into custody, not realizing that they were involved in the heinous murders. But it was through the confession of Susan Atkins, while held in detention on suspicion of murdering Gary Hinman during an unrelated incident, that led detectives to realize that Manson and his followers were involved in the killings . . .
“On January 25, 1971, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder for directing the deaths of the Tate/LaBianca victims. He was sentenced to death, but this was automatically commuted to life in prison after California’s Supreme Court invalidated all death sentences prior to 1972.
“Kasabian was granted immunity for her part as star witness. Susan Atkins was sentenced to death, but her sentence was later commuted to life in prison. She was incarcerated from 1969 until her death in 2009.”
Response to Manson’s Death by Religious People
The response by some religious people, including some professing Christians has been what I expected, which is not a good thing.
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society. In an article for the Religious News Service titled “Charles Manson Can Go to Hell,” he wrote:
“When a friend told me that Charles Manson had died in prison at the age of 83, my immediate response was: ‘Good’ . . . Was that a ‘nice’ thing to say about the dead? In fact, it wasn’t. And, for good reason. Judaism does not always require that we be nice. It does require that we be good, and that we strive for justice, and that we make clear ethical claims. In a world in which we frequently eschew such terms as ‘evil,’ the life of Charles Manson bore grisly witness to the fact that, yes, there really is evil in the world . . . So, yes — it is quite acceptable to (even quietly) cheer Manson’s death.”
An apparent Roman Catholic on a Reddit thread had a different take:
“Just another soul for the King to judge. No one knows the state of his soul or the Grace he may have received before death from Jesus. He deserves a Divine Mercy and rosary said for him, just like every soul that passes.”
Both the rabbi’s and the Roman Catholic’s response to the death of Charles Manson are wrong. The rabbi is sinfully glad Manson is dead. The Roman Catholic errantly believes Manson deserves God’s mercy. Neither response is biblical.
The Biblical Response to Manson’s Death
When I learned about the death of Manson, I wrote the following two posts on Twitter:
10:07 PM – 19 Nov 2017: “If the thought of this man or anyone else spending eternity in hell puts a smile on your face, then you might not be far behind him. 2 Corinthians 13:5.”
5:40 AM – 20 Nov 2017: “My hope and prayer is that #CharlesManson repented and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, before he died. The Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32). As a Christian, neither can I (Matthew 5:43-48).”
Christians should not rejoice in the death of Manson or anyone else. The Christian should hope, upon hearing of a person’s death, regardless of how evil the person may have been in life, that the Lord brought the person to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ before he (or she) closed his eyes for the last time.
God puts wicked people to death, but He does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Neither should we.
“But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:7).
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 18:23)?
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:11)?
To rejoice in or hope for the death of a person, no matter how wicked the person was or is, is a failure to live in obedience to God’s two greatest commandments.
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'” (Matthew 22:34-40; see also Mark 12:33 and Luke 10:27).
Jesus made it abundantly clear in His parable commonly referred to as the “Good Samaritan” that “your neighbor” includes people you most ardently despise (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus left no wiggle room to allow for hating some neighbors and loving others. Loving one’s neighbor is a discrimination-free endeavor. This would apply to feelings for and rhetoric directed toward the now-dead Charles Manson.
When I posted “If the thought of this man or anyone else spending eternity in hell puts a smile on your face, then you might not be far behind him (2 Corinthians 13:5), one person replied with the following:
“Helter Skelter – tried to instigate a ‘race’ war by the gruesome heartless murder of Tate-LaBianca familes. He was the tip of the ice berg of the dark side of the Hippi (sex-drugs-rock’nroll) revolution. Mo Berg and the Children of God should be associated side by side with Manson. Brian Warner took his evil name from this sociopath.”
Another person wrote:
“For you to suggest that [a] person may not be a Christian because they rejoiced in [Charles Manson’s] going to hell was not supported by the one verse you gave . . . At most it might be a sin to rejoice but it isn’t a sign that the person is not a Christian.”
It appears that both of the respondents want to justify their hatred for Manson, their positive feelings toward his death, and the real possibility he is now in hell. The problem: their perspective cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, as shown above, their perspective is contrary to Scripture. Not only are Christians commanded to love their neighbors, they are also commanded to love their enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-48).
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35).
Hating anyone, for any reason, is characteristic of the “old self.” It is not characteristic of the genuine follower of Jesus Christ.
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Christians are to put off the “old self” (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9) because the Christian is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). He’s not the man he once was (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Yes, Christians sin. I’ve publicly testified about my own struggle with sinful anger, which no doubt at times involved hatred toward others. But if a Christian seeks to justify sin, then he should examine himself and test himself to see if he is even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Christian: if you are trying to justify your hatred for Charles Manson by trying to justify your gladness over his death and likely eternal judgment, then you are not loving Charles Manson as you should, whether you consider him your enemy or your neighbor (by the way, your enemies are also your neighbors). You need to repent. If you guffaw or snicker at the thought, then you ought to examine yourself. Your heart is hard (Romans 2:5). You think too highly of yourself and are self-deceived (Galatians 6:3). You may not be saved.
Respond with the Gospel
In addition to biblically responding in thought and rhetoric to the death of Charles Manson, Christians should respond with the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, if all Christians do is articulate their hope that Charles Manson made a deathbed confession of faith in Christ (which would be likely be more reliable and genuine than walking down an aisle, praying a prayer, and “asking Jesus into your heart), then they’re not doing enough.
The death of a well-known personality, whether the person is adored or hated by the world, is an appropriate and opportune time to engage lost people in conversation. During such times, many people are often thinking about their own mortality, their own perceived goodness, and/or their sinfulness before a holy God. Bring the law of God and the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to bear upon the hearts and minds of those who, like Charles Manson, need the Savior.
Here are some online and printed resources to help you communicate the gospel to the lost: