Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Church Going Sex Offender

The New York Times has published an interesting article on the struggles of churches to put faith into action when it comes to sex offenders. I can see how this topic could be a cause of strife in a church. If your congregation is like ours, more than a little fearful of the sex offender threat, you will understand the need for concern in handling this situation. In our case the fear is not entirely unfounded. One prominent family lost their oldest son to a man who raped and murdered his victims. Now, this incident happened 20+ years ago so it is not the primary driving force. Some of the fear, I think is due to the hype the media gives to the situation, but still people are afraid of sex offenders. You add on to the driving idea that they are irredeemable and you have a real problem on your hands. Particularly, since we believe that Christ can change the darkest of hearts.

So, what do we do? I'll be up front and say we invite them to receive God's grace just as we would any other sinner, because in the end we are no different than they in the need for God's grace. I imagine some will say that is easy for you to say in theory, but in my case it is not theory. We have a convicted sex offender in our congregation. We have handled the situation rather quietly, one due to legal requirements (convicted as a minor) and two to quote K from MIB "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." The Pastors and the youth minister know about him and that is pretty much it. We take care to work around his weakness and not place him in a position to be tempted and give him the help he needs in handling this sin. In essence, we trust but verify. We also, due to insurance requirements, background check anybody who will be working with minors on a regular basis.

What about the victims of abuse the article asks. Well, they need to be handled with care, because they understandably will have a strong feeling about having abusers around. Here is where catechesis is vital; they need to be nurtured, in order to bring them to a level where they can in Christian charity interact with the the offenders. All the while, we should take care to show them the same level of care we do the offenders and remind them that just because they are members doesn't mean you have to hang out with them either. Above all let them move at their own pace. When they are ready, they are ready.

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