The Church and the Former Sex Offender
Notes from the ReFORM Radio Series
Derek “The Fallen One” Logue
December 13, 2008, last update Nov. 24, 2009

NOTE: This page will contain notes from the ReFORM Radio Series on the Church and the Former Offender. As each
series is recorded, I’ll add the notes from the show to this article.

Part One: Redemption -- How the Church deals with the Former Offender

North Carolina recently passed a new law barring Registered Sex Offenders from coming within 300 feet of any place
children congregate. Since churches have nurseries, churches can be off limits for registrants depending on the sheriff’
s interpretation of the law [
1]. Georgia faces a lawsuit over a law barring registrants from working or volunteering at a
church, citing the law "criminalizes fundamental religious activities [
2].” A number of states or municipalities bar
registrants from living in close proximity to churches [
3,4]. In these cases, the government has passed legislation limiting
the free exercise of religion, so chances are these cases will eventually be overturned.

However, in the wake of Predator Panic, many churches are struggling with the issue of whether or not to implement
their own prohibitions. One church in San Diego (Pilgrim United Church of Christ) illustrated this struggle when a Former
Sex Offender asked to become a member. The ensuing discussion was so heated the church asked the registrant not to
attend until the church could resolve the issue. The resulting news article offered a number of questions which needed
to be addressed: “Should anyone be turned away from a house of worship? How do people of faith balance redemption
with risk? What about liability issues [
5]?”

Churches are struggling with finding the delicate balance between offering forgiveness and reconciliation to everyone
and the need to protect members. Mark Pliska, the registrant who approached the Pilgrim church honestly and divulged
the information outright, was met with derision, isolation, and even harassment from both members of the congregation
and the community. In a separate church, Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sandpoint, Idaho,  the church
arranged for a registrant to be chaperoned and only attend certain services. Even so, some members left the
congregation, while others who were critical at first asked for the registrant’s forgiveness. Two churches, two different
approaches, but in both cases, the offender was the one who brought it to attention. In response to these cases, the
reporter mused, “The irony is that barring sex offenders who come forward and identity themselves from attending
services may not guarantee a congregation's safety, since it's likely there are child molesters in the church anyway --
they just aren't talking about it (or haven't yet been found out).” [
6]

So what is a church to do when approached by a sex offender wanting to join the congregation? The answer is not easy.
On one hand the Church teaches Redemption, Forgiveness, and the Community of Believers, among other things; on
the other hand, our society places great emphasis on the Former Sex Offender and protecting children, thus adding the
element of fear and liability to the issue. Almost every time a Former Sex Offender wishes to attend the church, "there's
a split in the congregation where you have people saying 'Jesus called us to welcome everyone,' and others saying 'if a
pedophile comes in, I'm quitting.'" "I wouldn't be surprised if some people leave if we do decide to include him, but others
have said they'd leave if we don't include him,” another pastor stated [
7]. That leaves three possible courses of action a
church can take in dealing with this dilemma. Below are the possibilities with the possible pros and cons of each choice:

  • Do nothing: Ignorance is indeed bliss, as people tend to react more in fear than in faith when it comes to sex
    offenders; however, the primary concern would be liability. In the rare event someone actually re-offends (or even
    a false accusation), churches may face litigation and public scrutiny. Also, chances are sooner or later the
    registrant’s past will be made public, and the congregation will demand something be done about the registrant.
  • Restricted Access: On the one hand, certain strategies such as an accountability partner or limiting church
    access may be the balanced approach, addressing the issue while allowing the registrant the opportunity to show
    his humanness and reformed life to those watching over him. On the other hand, it largely invalidates the
    concepts of forgiveness, creates a scarlet letter which gives great scrutiny to the registrant may hinder the
    registrant’s efforts at rehabilitation, and gives the impression of a looming threat, which may compel many
    members to leave regardless.
  • Deny Access: The “easy way out” and least likely to cause dissention in the ranks. However, in failing to address
    the issue to begin with, there are a number of bad consequences, including the reputation of a closed door policy,
    a rejection of the Christian calling to admonish the sinner, and the false sense of security of never addressing the
    safety issue, which will last only as long as an unregistered offender is caught in the act.

Ultimately, the Church must make up its own mind as to the course of action to take. In the event the Church wishes to
develop a “Restricted Access” plan, there are two programs already available for those churches struggling with this
dilemma.

“Balancing Acts: Keeping Children Safe in Congregations”
[http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/balancingacts/index.shtml]
Rev. Debra W. Haffner, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
safecongregations@uua.org

Congregation Policies and Practices

Congregations need to consider three major components to assure that theirs is a safe space for children, youth, and
vulnerable adults. They are:
  • Policies and procedures developed and implemented for keeping children, youth and vulnerable adults safe from
    sexual abuse.
  • Policies and procedures developed and implemented for educating adults, youth, and children in the
    congregation about child sexual abuse and prevention.
  • Policies and procedures developed and implemented for responding to a person who has been convicted or
    accused of sexual offenses against children, youth or adults.
These components will vary by congregation. The size of the congregation, the physical layout of the congregation, the
personal histories of the minister and the congregants, and other factors will influence development and implementation.
If such policies and procedures are not now in place begin the process of addressing these issues. Adapt or modify
these suggestions to meet the specific needs of your communities. Guidelines and forms are templates for discussion
and deliberation. There is no “one size fits all approach” to these complex issues. Each congregation will decide what is
right and fitting for you. Further this is a process—it may take a year or two to put all of these recommendations into
place. The following recommendations are offered as starting points, as procedures to consider. They are based on
best practices of existing congregational policies, expert advice and consultation.

From the USA Today article:

“From there, church leaders can create a list of restrictions, called a ‘limited access agreement.’ Such arrangements
might include making sure an offender is escorted while in church. He might only be allowed to attend adult worship
services or one-to-one meetings with a minister.
Balancing Acts suggests that two adults always be with a child and that children are in open spaces when possible [
7].”

Balancing Acts also suggests an accountability partner for both safety/ liability and protection reasons, not just for the
church (preventing sex crimes) but also for the benefit of the registrant (preventing false allegations, support network).
Some people may not agree with me, but I believe in an accountability partner because I am very aware of the real
possibility of false accusations even in the church.

Faith-Based Sexual Addiction and/ or Offender Resources:

There are many faith-based resources for dealing with sexual addiction or issues with deviant sexuality. It is only a
matter of reaching out to one of these ministries if you need help:


The bottom line: There are resources to help both the sex addict/ offender to deal with the internal issues, and
resources to reach out and support those struggling through recovery without resorting to the fear-based decision
making so commonplace in secular society. Honestly deal with the issue at hand, educate the congregation to promote
healing rather than fear, assign an accountability partner if you must, and be ready for the split decision no matter what
decision you ultimately make.

Part 1 References

  1. Ruth Sheehan, “Sex-offender law gets tougher.” Charlotte Observer, December 1, 2008. http://www.
    charlotteobserver.com/local/story/386492.html
  2. Bill Rankin, “Law bans sex offenders' church work, say critics.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 24, 2008, http:
    //www.ajc.com/living/content/metro/stories/2008/06/24/sex_offenders_church_work.html
  3. Domonique Benn, “Sex Offenders move to hotels to comply with HB1059.” WRDW Augusta, July 3, 2006, http:
    //www.wrdw.com/home/headlines/3281541.html
  4. “Communities Send Message to Sex Offenders.” WLWT Cincinnati News 5, August 10, 2007, http://www.wlwt.
    com/news/13869291/detail.html
  5. Sandi Dolbee, ‘Sex offender looking for acceptance, forgiveness.” San Diego Union-Tribune, March 17, 2007, http:
    //www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20070317/news_1n17pliska.html
  6. Eilene Zimmerman, “Churches slam doors on sex offenders,” Salon.com, April 26, 2007, http://www.salon.
    com/mwt/feature/2007/04/26/sexoffenders_church/
  7. Adam Gorlick, “Course helps churches handle sex offenders.”  Associated Press (published in USA Today),
    August 6, 2007, http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-08-06-church-abuse_N.htm


GREAT ARTICLE BY THE GASTON GAZETTE!

http://www.gastongazette.com/news/sex_28335___article.html/offender_jesus.html -- What would Jesus do? State law
would bar some registered sex offenders from attending church
December 18, 2008 - 5:57 PM

The Rev. Ben Robertson believes church doors should be open to everyone - even registered sex offenders.

Congregations are grappling with a new state law that prohibits certain sex offenders from being within 300 feet of child
care centers, which include church nurseries and playgrounds. If worship services are held in close proximity to church
child care, the law could prevent some from attending.

"As a church that preaches Jesus Christ as our savior, we at the same time preach resurrection and that Christ
welcomes all people, regardless of what they have done, regardless of what demons they are dealing with," said
Robertson, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Gastonia...

PART 2: Interview with Steve Vann and Greg Sporer from Keeping Kids Safe Ministries

On the March 10, 2009 Episode of ReFORM Radio, I interviewed the founders of Keeping Kids Safe Ministries. The
most striking revelation of their knowledge of how churches handle sex crime accusations is how people tend to
disbelieve "good people" can commit sex crimes and can even be enablers to deviant sexual behavior of church
members because they simply don't believe a good person can do bad things. The church is as guilty of painting the
issue in black and white as the secular community. We tend to focus on the convicted sex offender and not enough on
those not yet caught. Certainly more education and accountability is needed.

ADDENDUM Aug. 25, 2009

Article from KDSK 5 St. Louis (click link for full article)
http://
www.ksdk.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=183424&catid=3

"Imperial billboards ask, 'What's forgivable'?"
By Alex Fees

KSDK -- Jefferson Hills Christian Church in Imperial is asking a series of serious questions on billboards along Interstate
55 south of St. Louis. Those billboards ask whether God or people should forgive a certain list of offenses, such as: sex
offenders, suicide, cheating on your boyfriend, and little white lies."We've noticed that people everywhere, no matter
your faith or church background, have internal lists of things they think are forgivable or not forgivable," said Steve
Benke, lead pastor at Jefferson Hills Church. "Are there certain things you can do that are unforgivable, and have
heaven or hell issues at stake?" ...

"As Christians, we believe there is no unforgivable sin," said Benke. "Jesus Christ is our perfect savior, and that means
there's not a single sin a person can't turn to God with and find forgiveness." ...

The "forgivable" billboards stimulated conversation among drivers along I-55.
One driver, Keith Murphy, was asked if
sex offenders and people who commit suicide are forgivable. "It all depends on the situation and what happened, how it
all went down," he said. Another commuter, Erica Downs, said three out of four of the sins in the new billboard campaign
are forgivable. Which one is not? "The sex offenders," she said.
So what does Downs think about the campaign? "I
guess it's a good one," she said. "I guess that's what the Bible says, that you're supposed to forgive everyone, but I
don't think human nature really goes along with that all the time." Benke said it's important people understand what's
contained in Christian scripture. "And then, quite frankly, the church gets that message wrong, as well," he said. "But the
Bible teaches there is no sin that isn't forgivable in Jesus." ...

To see the billboards visit
www.whatsforgivable.com; for more information about Jefferson Hills Church, visit their website
at
www.jhchurch.org.

WHAS 11 KY asks should a sex offender be allowed to lead a church congregation:

Vote:http://
www.whas11.com/perl/common/surveys/display_full.pl?
poll_id=24221&site=whas11&vaction=voting&thissite=whas11

RESULTS:
http://
www.whas11.com/perl/common/surveys/vote_now.pl?action=viewResults&poll_id=24221&site=whas11

More to come!
Once Fallen featured on Conservative Christian Magazine!
The Cypress Times, Nov. 24, 2009, full length editorial "Of Myths and Monsters"
NEW! Brochure on the Church and the sex offender courtesy of www.sosen.org!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY! (posted here with permission)
NEW! Court strikes North Carolina ban on Church Attendance!

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2010/01/nc_court_upholds_sex_offenders.html
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