I have been pretty hesitant about using my voice in this manner. It seems it would be much easier to just let people figure it out on their own. But I know God would not have placed it on my heart or placed me in the center of so many recent discussions about this topic. Please know that I have given much careful thought and prayer about how to present my views in a non-condemning, gracious, and open-minded way. I recognize that it will be difficult and uncomfortable for many to read and think about. But, I believe it is of utmost importance that we talk about sex offenders and the church.
Over the last month, I have found myself in multiple discussions regarding how to respond when a sex offender attends your church. This is not something I had given any thought to prior, primarily because my abuser did not attend church. It will require multiple blog posts to provide a well-informed and multi-faceted view of this topic. Between researching the legal statutes pertaining to registered sex offenders and the church, to studying the range of protocols currently employed by churches, to asking for opinions from individuals with backgrounds in law, law enforcement, higher education, pastors, and from fellow survivors.
I hope that by the end of the series, churches will begin having more conversations about how to protect children, empower survivors, and implement best practices if registered sex offenders are allowed to worship corporately.
In this post, I just want to introduce a few different scenarios that could occur in your church. I’m not going to post my responses to these scenarios today because I hope to hear some of your thoughts first.
- Mr. S is 65 years old and has multiple aggravated child abuse convictions that span over 20 years and involve multiple victims. He is classified as a Tier 3 recidivist sex offender. He comes to your church and shares his status as a sex offender with the pastor. He also shares how he has come to Christ and it has changed his life and he wants to join a church that will welcome him despite his past. His life has changed.
- Mr. T is 28 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry at the age of 20 after he was found guilty of indecent liberties with a minor. He was 19 year old when he was in a sexual dating relationship with a “consenting” 15 year old. He shares with a church leader his status as a sex offender. He desires to learn more about God and be more involved in church.
- Mr. J is 48 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry for multiple counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He was in his 30’s and the minor was 8 when the crimes occurred. He has completed his probationary requirements. He initially does not share with the pastor or church staff that he is a registered sex offender, but because he lives in a small town several congregants recognized his face from the registry. The congregants went to the pastor concerned.
- Ms. R is 30 years old. She was placed on the sex offender registry following multiple arrests for prostitution in her late teens and early 20s. She never abused a child. She grew up in church and wants her kids to have that same upbringing. She is concerned about how people will respond to her status as a registered sex offender, despite prostitution not being her choice. She states she was a victim of sex trafficking. She meets with the pastor to share her concerns.
- Ms. M is 45 years old. She was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and sexual abuse by a teacher. In her late 20’s she was found guilty of having sex with a 17 year old student. She has abided by the requirements of the registry. She hopes to join a local church that will allow her to participate in various aspects of ministry and service. She does not initially disclose her offender status, however, when she began attending regularly she asked the pastor for a meeting.
***These scenarios are fictitious although similar or exact circumstances could arise at your church. These are just a few samples of the many possibilities that could occur. No case is the same.***
Who gets to worship regularly at your church? Who gets to join in membership and/or serve in some capacity? What regulations are in place to protect the children in your church? How will you address the concerns of other church members? Do you know what legal rights both the church and the offender have? Do you know how to access court documents that corroborate the offender’s story? How does the church extend grace as Christ would desire? How do we hold people accountable for their actions? How will this impact survivors of child abuse in your church family?
In my next post, I will share my thoughts on one scenario in which I wholeheartedly believe the registered sex offender should NOT be able to attend at a specific church.
Share your thoughts! I would love to hear them and value any input you are willing to share. Have you had any experiences like this? Leave a comment or connect with me via the “Contact Me” tab.