It’s way too easy and convenient to lump people into groups and assume “they are all that way,” and forget that life and people are not that simple. While most of this blog is about sex-offenders, a group at the bottom of most people’s barrel of sins, it’s really about being more thoughtful and spiritual about groups we don’t truly understand and often fear.
A decade ago my church was asked if registered sex offenders, those who have been convicted of a sex crime, were welcome to worship. Apparently a number of them who’ve served their sentence were wanting to attend live worship services and possibly even adult Sunday School functions and were getting rejections from other churches. The rationale was that these men (largely men) need a Christian community to heal and keep themselves morally and spiritually strong.
Michigan state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living or even being near a school, or anywhere children are gathered, unescorted by an adult non-sex offender.
As elders we were conflicted. Our first reaction was, “Some parents will go crazy if they think we’ve given permission for sex offenders to attend our church! Why can’t they just watch our services or some other church’s service online?”
But thankfully, the elders didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand, but of course, we appointed a committee! I was on that committee which forced us to delve into an area that none of us ever had been exposed to. Here are the important things we learned.
Not all sex offenders are alike. Just to make it simple, we’ll use these two very broad categories:
Pedophiles are people who have sex with, expose themselves to, inappropriately touch, or text sexually messages to a child under age 12. That group can include offenders who are not yet adults. (I’m trying to not get technical or legal here) The point is, the age of the victim, not the age of the perpetrator is what technically separates a pedophile from other sex offenders.
The second grouping are adults (over age 18 in most states) who have sex, or committed any other other sex crimes above whether it is forced, or consensual, with anyone under 18 (a minor) but not a child, under age 12.
Here’s where it got complicated for our committee. To be sure any adult who perpetrated a sex crime against a child was a serious sex offender and should be considered dangerous around minors for sure. The research we did said pedophiles often repeated, or tried to repeat their crime. While nobody is beyond redemption, given the statistics, our primary duty was to protect our kids. Depending on each individual circumstance, we agreed they could only attend our church if they were escorted by an approved adult member of our church and under no circumstances allowed in our children’s, or student ministry wings, even if escorted.
But we found a number of other men who were 18-24 years of age at the time, who had consensual sex with a girlfriend, a minor sometimes not even knowing they were not yet 18, whose parents insisted the police prosecute. To be sure, it was still against the law and a serious sin. But were these men really dangerous to the people and children of our church? Most men on our committee had to remind ourselves of our own sinful temptations and sins as teenagers. We concluded that after an interview with that person’s parole officer, some men in that group were not a threat and should be allowed to attend unescorted. However, legally we had to give them written permission to attend our church unescorted and what other church activities they could participate in. However, they were not permitted to be in our children’s, middle or high school ministry areas anytime and could not volunteer in any ministry that exposed them to minors under 18.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
I’m not at liberty to share our churches formal policies with others, for liability purposes and I’ve not reviewed them for close to a decade. Also I’m not an attorney so I’m not giving legal advice. I’d advise your church to visit the website of www.brotherhoodmutual.com and go to their resources page. Brotherhood mutual is led by Christians and almost all their clients are churches or Christian organizations.
The virtues that ought to drive us are these; wisdom, love and mercy. Having said that, our greater responsibility for all three virtues must be to protect our children.
But as I said, the real value of this blog isn’t about what to do about sex offenders in church. Just like not all Republicans, or Democrats are alike, neither are all divorces, marriages, LGBTQ people, church boards, school boards, sinners or their sins. It simplifies things to lump people and behaviors into categories. “Us and them.” Perhaps “they” really are different from “us” but I’ve found it far more helpful to get to know individuals and hear their story before I make a judgement about “them.” So before you write off a group, or person, take the time to read up on them, or get to know them. Try to find some merit in their arguments or positions. That does not mean you have to agree with them, but it may give you greater empathy for them amd how they arrived at what they believe. Jesus hung out with “republicans and sinners😂” not because he agreed with them but because he loved them. And he’s asked us to be like him.
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:16-19