Spiritual truths behind the media’s JonBenet Ramsey tale

JonBenet Ramsey opening a present with her famly. Photo courtesy of John Ramsey and family.Here’s one more shocker about the Ramsey murder case: Just when John Ramsey thought he had suffered more tragedies than Job, his deepening Christian faith led him to spend several months serving the poor in India. That’s where he really saw the nature of suffering first hand. It’s all part of his powerful new book, The Other Side of Suffering: The Father of JonBenet Ramsey Tells the Story of His Journey from Grief to Grace.

The world knows a lot about the JonBenet Ramsey story. The 6-year-old child of John and Patsy was brutally murdered in the basement of the family’s Colorado home on Christmas in 1996. When her body was found the next day, the Ramseys themselves were accused of killing their daughter. What’s more, the media unleashed a ghoulish and often fictionalized account of JonBenet’s life and death, casting the little girl as forced by her parents into an unhealthy obsession with beauty pageants. The feeding frenzy rose until back-channel payments from global media were pulling out (and in some cases stealing) scraps of information from anyone who ever had contact with the family. The relentless spotlight left John and Patsy Ramsey trapped inside what amounted to a Hitchcock “Wrong Man” thriller—teetering between rage and despair so deep that John Ramsey contemplated suicide.

Yes, this story ranks with the trials of Job. But this new book, The Other Side of Suffering, is not a wallowing in self pity, as much as Ramsey would be justified in doing so. In fact, The Other Side of Suffering now stands as must-read testimony for anyone who is seriously interested in coping with grief and personal injustice, for anyone interested in spiritual formation and for anyone wanting to learn more about peacemaking.


CLICK THE COVER to see the book’s Amazon page.First, let’s be clear about the facts: The question of the Ramseys’ innocence now is carved in granite. New DNA science has ruled them out. Police have publicly apologized to them. Oprah has hosted an exonerating special broadcast. There is no question: Rather than horrific parents who killed their own child, the Ramseys truly were innocents trapped in a tale like Hitchcock’s “Wrong Man.” What’s more, JonBenet did participate in beauty pageants that John Ramsey today says he would not recommend to parents. However, the book makes clear that she was pretty much a typical girl, often a tomboy, and loved all sorts of ordinary family fun. She was an extroverted kid who enjoyed performing—but she was not that much different than countless other little girls in America who dress up and perform in dance recitals and other shows for kids. Yes, Ramsey says these days that childhood beauty pageants may not be a great idea, but JonBenet comes across in this book as a kid like countless others. Now, in light of all the facts, this ghoulish tale spun by the media is revealed as one of many tragic child murders in America where the grieving parents wind up suffering the tortures of the damned.

And there’s so much more to this story: Like the sufferings of Job, the murder of JonBenet and the witch hunt that followed were two in a longer series of crippling tragedies. Earlier, in 1992, the older daughter Beth was killed in an auto accident at age 22. We know from books like Guide for Grief by Rodger Murchison that the untimely death of a child, like Beth’s death, is enough to tear apart a healthy family. The Ramseys were barely coping with Beth’s death when JonBenet was murdered.

Then, Patsy—the spiritual core of the family, this new book explains—faced a second battle with ovarian cancer. Patsy was a remarkable woman and a person of deep faith. Since her mother was a former beauty-pageant competitor herself, it was natural for JonBenet to want to follow in Mom’s footsteps. Looking more deeply into Patsy’s life and faith, we see much more sympathetic family relationships than what the tabloids portrayed for years. In fact, Patsy’s reliance on the Bible and prayer and especially readings from the Psalms is moving for anyone coping with cancer or with grief. She finally died of her cancer in 2006 at age 49, about two years before all of the final full-scale exoneration of the Ramseys splashed across the news media.

Think you’re dealing with the loss, the rage, the hopelessness of grief? Read John Ramsey’s new book and you’ll find a wise, battle-scarred companion who has been there before you—and survived.


Ramsey is clear throughout the book—and in our author interview to be published later this week—that he is neither a theologian nor a pastor. He’s a business executive, a father, a husband, a man trapped in a tragedy—and he admits that he discovered in the depths of this experience that his Christian faith was “immature,” to use his term. By every other civic measure of religious commitment, John Ramsey looked like a pillar of the Presbyterian church. In fact, his faith was far too shallow to sustain him. Throughout this new book, we glean spiritual insights along with Ramsey from writers as divergent as C.S. Lewis and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Ramsey never boasts. He’s not a born-again zealot. He firmly declares—and you’ll find it in our author interview—that he never had a lightning bolt conversion experience. Like C.S. Lewis he simply stepped ever more deeply into his Christian faith. For years to come, people will read The Other Side of Suffering as an inspiring case study of a man and his wife who took the tough, step-by-step journey to deepen their faith and finally to lay a new and solid spiritual foundation.


This is probably the most surprising revelation in the new book and has largely been ignored by other news media covering The Other Side of Suffering. But, at one point in this unfolding drama, Patsy Ramsey was doing a live radio interview and was asked if she wanted to see JonBenet’s murderer sentenced to death. Immediately and honestly, Patsy replied: No. She had seen enough death. This turning point in the drama also involves John Ramsey, who began to wonder what yet another death would mean, even if JonBenet’s murderer finally is captured. At this point in the book, Ramsey writes about what he learned from the Amish after the Nickel Mines tragedy, for example. This is the kind of dramatic, real-life story of a change in heart that Daniel Buttry profiles in a book like Blessed Are the Peacemakers. The new memoir by John Ramsey is neither a manifesto on pacifism nor a political argument about capital punishment, but it does stand as a testimony to a family radically transformed by grace into seeing the nature of punishment and violence in new terms. Peacemakers will be reading this book for many years.

Finally, you may not immediately think of this book for small-group discussion in your congregation but I highly recommend it for that purpose. The topic is sure to draw a curious crowd and John Ramsey’s story honestly and compellingly moves us toward faith and hope.

CONTINUE TO … Our author interview with John Ramsey.

Get the Book: The Other Side of Suffering by John Ramsey is available now from Amazon.

Learn more about related books: Read about Guide for Grief by Rodger Murchison and abour real-life peacemakers in Daniel Buttry’s collection of inspiring profiles, Blessed Are the Peacemakers.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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