“The world is not fair, and often fools, cowards, liars, and the selfish hide in high places.” Bryant H. McGill
Thank you for bearing with me. My mother continues her decline and refuses to eat. She cannot speak except for a few words and cannot stay out of bed. It has been such a drastic change in two weeks. My children have been such a support to their “Grammy” during this time.
Recently, Christianity Today posted Should We Welcome Sex Offenders into Our Churches? which was written by Pastor Stephen Ko of the New York Chinese Alliance Church. This is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination (CM&A.) I read the article with great interest. This concern was raised within the church when a convicted sex offender visited the church. Pastor Ko reported the following, showing he wasn’t being naive.
Over 780,000 sex offenders reside in the United States—a country in which 81 percent of women have experienced sexual abuse, along with 43 percent of men. Sexually abused children know their perpetrators 93 percent of the time. And yet just over 30 percent of sex offenses are reported to authorities.
His conflict reveals a concern.
The pastor was conflicted. He is a pediatrician and a pastor and wanted to safeguard the children. On the other hand:
But at the same time, we wrestled with how Jesus would respond to this situation—especially knowing how he interacted with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other broken people on the fringes of first-century society.
A sex offender is not like a tax collector and the others. I agree that offenders are on the fringe of society. It is vital to understand that these folks have a profound psychiatric disorder that will stay with them until the end of their lives. The goal is to get them not to molest children even as they struggle with their disorder. I think Jesus would have responded to this situation more like He responded to the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-21. Here is an excerpt.
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.1 2 Andwhen Jesus2 had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of thetombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 vHe lived among the tombs. And no one could bindhim anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles andchains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one hadthe strength to subdue him.
In other words, we currently have no proven method to heal a pedophile. There are methods available that may help the pedophile to control their impulses. But it involves the pedophile to be committed to a long and arduous process. Deep inside, they will struggle with this disorder. That is something that must be discussed upfront. For those who like slogging through research, the NIH produced The Neurobiology and Psychology of Pedophilia: Recent Advances and Challenges.
Pastor Ko agrees that this is a complex conflict.
So, unfortunately, there is no easy answer when it comes to how churches should respond to sex offenders who want to attend worship, participate in Bible study, or engage in other ministry gatherings.
He agrees that most churches cannot handle a pedophile, but I have one quibble.
That said, most experts agree sex offenders should not be allowed to attend a church if its leaders are not properly trained to ensure the safety of their children. This includes staff being educated on the habits of sex offenders—such as their potential to groom churches and take advantage of their trust—as well as being informed of all relevant state and federal laws.
I am not convinced sex offenders should attend a church even if the staff is adequately trained. I would assume most readers would agree that Sunday mornings are busy times. Watching what goes on in churches during the activities is most challenging. Can a church body be sure that everyone is doing their part in keeping an eye on the offender? Perry Noble’s former church screwed up in this area.
Should everyone be aware there is a pedophile in the congregation? Yes.
Pastor Ko did not say if they answered this question. He did quote from an unnamed rehabilitation model that stresses the individual’s dignity.
Rehabilitation models place a prudential value on the dignity and wellbeing of every individual, including their relationships, health, work, and other activities.
He speaks about the need for accountability with a trusted church member. This, he believes, would help the offender to avoid sexual temptations. Seriously? The pedophile will have the temptation for the rest of their lives. They must accept this fact.
By fostering a relationship of accountability with a trusted church member, a sex offender has more communal incentive to avoid sexual temptations and live a sanctified life. Accountability partners are present to listen and support.
Unfortunately, that does not go far enough, in my opinion. When Wade Burleson was a pastor, he was confronted by a similar situation. He came up with a great idea that would assist the church in seeing just how sincere the offender was about their repentance. He asked to hang a picture of the offender in several areas throughout the church. This helped him ascertain the offender’s sincerity in their wish to come clean. This is also a way to alert all attendees about the presence of a pedophile.
Are pedophiles “modern-day leppers?”
In his 2009 book, pastor Dick Witherow defines sex offenders as “modern-day lepers.” When Florida laws restricted where sex offenders could live in the state, Witherow expanded his existing prison ministry to help sex offenders re-enter society and reintegrate into congregations. After a series of setbacks, he bought a property in Palm Beach County to build Miracle Village (also known as City of Refuge), now the largest community for rehabilitating sex offenders in the nation.
Here is a short video on this community.
There was no cure for leprosy 2000 years ago. Today, Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) is curable with antibiotics. Also, most people are immune to the disease. But leprosy colonies still exist, although most have closed. Isolation, albeit sad, was necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.
There is no magic medicine to cure pedophilia. I can only hope that medications will be discovered one day to cure psychiatric conditions. Currently, there is no remedy, and isolation from their preferred target, children, may be necessary.
Statistics worth thinking about.
Sexual recidivism rates are 30 percent at 10 years but as high as 52 percent within 25 years. Knowing that statistics are likely underreported, these rates of repeated criminal behavior demonstrate how difficult it is to overcome this particular thorn in the flesh.
Can a church truly be trained to take responsibility for a pedophile during a service? What else could be offered?
I believe it may be too complicated to have an offender attend church on a busy Sunday morning. Here are some thoughts for those who are interested in helping such individuals.
- Have the offender watch services online.
- Have some men (or women) meet with the offender in adult-only settings for Bible studies, etc.
- Appoint a mentor who has been versed in issues surrounding sex offenders and have the mentor meet with the offender regularly.
- Perhaps some local churches could come together and start a church gathering for offenders. I have a feeling finding folks willing to do it might be tricky.
Years ago, I got an email from someone who claimed he was proud to serve a God who saved “pedophiles.” When I asked him if he was actively involved in ministering to such individuals, he didn’t answer. It sounds good, but no one wants to help the pedophile find Jesus. I believe the church has been forced to face its naivete when it comes to sex offenders in the church. The church is stupid when it comes to this matter. They claim God saves pedophiles and then have them serve as Children’s pastors or even as prominent pastors of churches.
I know it sounds so christianly to say God saves pedophiles. But who wants to put in the time to care for such individuals? It’s hard work. How many people eagerly volunteered to work in leper colonies? There are few easy solutions to the problem of sex offenders, redemption, and the church.