It seems to be an increasing question these days: What should the church do when a sex offender finishes their sentence and wishes to return to church or join anew? I’ve written here on this before but want to return to the subject because it is controversial. Of the questions I get relating to this are,
- Shouldn’t the church be a place where all sinners are welcome?
- If a sex offender is disallowed in church aren’t we removing the one thing they need (Christian community?)
- Should victims of abuse have so much power as to say who can and cannot attend church?
Instead of answering this questions, I think churches need to have frank conversations about the following areas:
- Repentance. What is it? What are the fruits of it? What are signs of either inadequate or false repentance?
- Protection. There are more than 60 commands in the Old and New Testaments about protecting vulnerable members of society (widows, orphans, aliens, etc. ). True Religion, James says, is one that looks after the vulnerable. What does it mean to protect them. Is it enough to tell them that they are safe even though they do not feel so? Do we ever consider giving them power and some ability to say what they can tolerate?
- Forgiveness/Restoration/Redemption/Reconciliation. These terms are sometimes used synonymously. They should not be. What does it mean to forgive? Does it mean I should act as if it never happened? Where does this idea come from? Restoration to God? The Body?
- The Church and access to it. As Christians we are called to meet together for worship and the teaching of the Word? What are the options we might think about that meet this calling but value that same calling for everyone? Can the “church” come to the sex offender? Is he willing to not demand rights to be in church but find ways to worship with other believers while also being concerned about the welfare of others?
That’s a start. If churches would be willing to explore these issues and delay answering the questions I noted at the beginning, I think they will have a better chance of ministering to all. And if either victims or sex offenders are so impatient that they will not allow the body to study the matter, then that probably says something about the interest to care well for all the sheep. If the offender becomes impatient and demanding, whining and complaining, then we have to question his/her interest in being ministered to. There may be other reasons they want in the church. As Anna Salter discovered in her interviewing many many offenders, some offenders see the church as a place of protection from scrutiny due to naivete.