Sunday, July 06, 2008

How should churches handle sex offenders?

Every good church preaches that God welcomes anyone and that we are all sinners and that only Christ can truly heal and regenerate a repentant sinner. All good churches want to be houses of worship for all people who are seeking Christ, and want to have their doors open as much as possible. But, what do you do, when opening your doors to everyone, means opening yourselves up to proven dangerous men, especially those convicted of molesting children? It is something that had not occurred to me before, and apparently I am not alone.

It's the same question facing a group of Protestants in Carlsbad, Calif., right now, members of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ who learned in late January that 53-year-old Mark Pliska, a convicted sex offender, wanted to worship with them. The normally progressive, welcoming congregation balked at the notion, and the resulting firestorm forced pastor Madison Shockley to tearfully ask Pliska not to come to services until the church could sort things out. (Shockley says he will announce the church's decision in mid-May.) "Nothing in my almost 30 years of ministry has prepared me to turn somebody away," Shockley told the local paper. But Shockely's biggest surprise wasn't that a sex offender wanted to worship, but that so many members of his congregation had been sexually abused as children; he estimated one in four of female congregants and one in 10 men. Having an offender in the pews with them on Sunday - even one who had served his time, registered with the authorities and voluntarily identified himself to the pastor - was too big a hurdle for these former victims, Christians or not.
The simple answer is obvious: the church should let in even convicted murders and sex offenders, as God is the god of all people. But we are told to be "innocent as doves, but wily as snakes" in scripture, and thus need to find ways of allowing them in without exposing the church to danger. How do we do that? I am not sure. I am interested to hear the opinions of other Mod-Bloggers on this, especially those who have served as pastors.


shadowmom1 said...

I know our church screens all potential youth and child workers with a background check. I don't know if there is any policy regarding who is welcome to worship with us. Of course, there could be several who have not identified themselves to anyone. This could be anywhere.

BowHunter said...

if there are 1 in 4 women that are abused, than there are probably some worshiping with us. I am less shocked by the church's reaction (which is difficult and understandable) that I am at the statistic.

CRCHAIR said...

The sermon at our church was on topic with this yesterday. (How to apply and balance grace and truth)

I think it would be unChristian for them or us to not allow someone to attend our church who has acknowledged their sin and repented of it, no matter what the sin. There would be areas where it would be wrong to allow someone to serve (ie. VBS and other childrens ministries), but to attend and serve in other areas is right.

Sean said...

Difficult situation for sure, but I think that if I were the pastor at this church I would welcome him in. Yes it would be hard for the congregation, but in many ways this would be a way of teaching/learning forgiveness. I know the pain is difficult for victims of abuse, but at some point you have to move past the pain or you will never grow. This is an opportunity for both the victims and this man to learn forgiveness. Living in forgiveness is hard and this is just one of those particularly hard situations.

As for whether he can serve in any ministries in the church, that is a whole different question. He could volunteer and help with proper supervision, but anything involving youth/children ministries would completely off limits.

Nomad said...

Thinking about the problem this weekend, I wonder if it is a case of "accountability partners" (as our pastors are fond of calling them) are a practical solution here. Buddy up the convicted person with a friend who stays with him/her during church, Sunday School, etc. That way, they are never alone which takes care of temptation and provides accountability without overly restricting freedom.

And, yes, of course this is coupled with banning such a person from certain ministries like VBS and the nursery.

Suricou Raven said...

Why such concern about children in all cases? The nature of the crime should be considered first. Sex offender can include many diffent crimes, some of which suggest he poses no unusual danger to children. Judge case-by-case, don't just throw them all in together.

People can become a registered sex offender for acts ranging from child-rape to urinating in public. It's too wide a classification to treat them all the same.

Your 1-in-4 number is so high, I can only conclude you have a non-representative sample.

Sean said...

SR has a good point about considering the nature of the conviction. There is a huge difference between a pedophile and a guy that is 19 having consensual sex with his 17 year old girlfriend. Neither case is good, but the latter is less bad than the former. The latter probably wouldn't be harmful to little kids, though I would keep some eyes on him if he wants to work with the high school youth group.

In response to Nomad comment on accountability partners a "better" option may be the AA concept of a sponsor. In the case of a sponsor they have a level of oversight rather than simply being a peer as an accountability partner tends to be. In fact in AA they recommend having both and that would probably be best in this case as well.

Ron said...

1-4 is the national average for women.

Our church has a policy in place for this, and in fact we have two convicted sex offenders in our church. Both are banned from dealing with children, but then they should be.