Category Archives: Repentance

On Churches and sex offenders


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:

  1. Repentance. What is it? What are the fruits of it? What are signs of either inadequate or false repentance?
  2. 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?  
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Repentance, Sex

The danger of apologizing too soon


Can an apology come too soon? I was listening to an NPR show discussing a national apology for slavery in the US (and reparations). One guest on the show stated that if a government or organization apologizes before there is adequate dialogue about the real effects of that entity’s misdeeds (i.e., support of slavery), it kills further dialogue.

Really? Why is it that if we apologize for hurting someone that we think the conversation is over?

Point of fact: true apologies invite further discussion, including exploration of the effects of the “crime.” When discussion ends because of an apology, we discover that the apology was really cover for, “Will you let me out of jail for what I did to you? Will you forget my bad behavior?”

True apologies are not formed as questions or requests–either explicitly or implicitly. It is offerings of forgiveness that end or at least change discussion regarding criminal activity. When we demand instant forgiveness or apology acceptance we inappropriately tie apologies with conversation endings.

Do you agree with this next statement? The truly repentant do not mind apologizing as many times as necessary nor engaging in conversation about the effects of their misdeeds.

In relationship to slavery, the matter is complicated in that the conversation is happening between those who either indirectly benefit or suffer from slavery. Because of our overemphasis on individualism, we often fail to acknowledge corporate sins and that some of us benefit from those corporate sins. Read Ezra and Nehemiah and you see a different picture. A people repenting for sins done by the previous generation. Now there’s a novel idea.

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Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Forgiveness, News and politics, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Repentance

David White on “Sinners Need Forgiveness not Blame”


Check out this great (short) eassy in the Philadelphia Daily News by HarvestUSA’s David White. He addresses the all-too-common tendency for Christians to sound self-righteous when talking about sexual sins. Here’s the link:

http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20080112_Sinners_need_forgiveness__not_blame.html?adString=ph.news/news_update;!category=news_update&randomOrd=011608074014

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Filed under News and politics, Repentance, Sex, sin

Restoration to the office of minister after a fall?


Can I share with you a great nugget Diane Langberg shared with me last week from Ezekiel? It was so good that I thought I’d like to share it here as a little snapshot of our AACC talk yesterday in Nashville.

Background: Diane has been thinking and writing about abuse of power and the impact of Christian leaders feeding on the sheep. Together and individually we have talked with churches about whether pastors who abuse or have significant moral and public falls should be restored to the office they formerly held. If you read the existing literature, authors fall into two camps: yes and never.

Now, consider this text: Ezekiel 44. Verse 10 speaks of the sins of the Levites (church leaders), “who wandered from me after their idols…” These leaders, “must bear the consequences of their sin.”  However, verse 11f says, “They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and serve them. But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin…They are not to come near to serve me as priests nor come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their destestable practices.”

If we apply this to falling after idols in our world, it sounds like the answer is yes there can be restoration to some forms of ministry but not to the most important or highest offices where the person represents the voice of the Lord. Senior pastors who fall from their position may (if repentant) be restored to lower level, nearly lay ministries but must not be returned to the highest offices in the church.

What do you think of this interpretation for today?  

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, Repentance

What letter would you write to your former abuser?


Last night I was perusing a treasure I re-discovered on my bookshelf. Back in the dark ages my wife took a Black literature class at UConn and had the foresight to keep the books. This treasure, Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America (Free Press, 1968) contains works from great writers such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B Dubois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, and of course Frederick Douglass.

It is Douglass’ Letter to Thomas Auld (sometimes entitled, “To my old Master”) which first appeared September 22, 1848 in the Liberator. Thomas Auld was Douglass’ master before he escaped and gained his emancipation. Here’s a link to the whole letter but consider for a minute what you might write if you were writing to a past abuser. Continue reading

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Filed under Abuse, Great Quotes, Racial Reconciliation, Repentance, suffering

Restoration as Surgery


In Restoring the Fallen, chapter 7 begins this way:

Earl, we want you to cancel all your speaking engagements, resign from teaching at the seminary and suspend all your writing projects for at least two years. You are not in a position to be helping other people right now… (p. 63)

Earl Wilson recalls having this reaction: Am I willing to leave my sinful way and begin to walk in God’s light? (ibid). How would you react to someone telling you that you shouldn’t work for 2 years?

When leaders are caught in or admit their significant hidden sin patterns, they must choose between escape (or the easier path) and honesty. This kind of honesty is not just about the sin at the surface (e.g., the abuse of power, sexual sin, addictions, etc.) but about uncovering the “self-absorption, pride, disrespect of others, selfishness…and distorted view of [one’s] own spirituality.” (p. 64). The critical question is whether or not such severe honesty can happen if the person is still trying to maintain a portion of their leadership.

This chapter highlights 4 steps to consent for radical surgery: deciding to be honest, being willing to submit to the authority of God as revealed through the care team, being willing to give up secrecy, and “being willing to ‘avoid the edge‘–to break the habit of coming right up to sin and then trying to lean away just enough to keep from falling.” (p. 66)

What is the purpose of this surgery? Repentance. This chapter lists the following activities

1. Sin acknowledged as sin (no rationalizations!)
2. Bridges burned.
3. The possibility of sin must be ruled out. The authors consider, “I’m sorry Lord. Please help me” to be insufficient. Therefore, the person must go back to #2 and burn more bridges.
4. Willingness to allow other sins to be brought to light. Denial and shame have ways of so focusing on big ticket sins that the soil that allows those sins to grow are not examined and dealt with.

This chapter reminds me that I mostly prefer sin management rather than sin mortification. I prefer to not suffer the consequences of my fleshly desires rather than killing off what is not from God. We all need to face the fact that there are some sins (usually the littlest ones) that we are not willing to give up. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s self-protection.

I am convicted that if I have any hope of being a successful surgeon in someones life, I must go under the knife on a regular basis.

Who in your life do you entrust your spiritual surgery to?

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Filed under Repentance, self-deception, sin, Uncategorized

Spiritual health of Christian leaders


Well, my vacation was wonderful but now over. I ended it with a routine trip to the dentist for a cleaning (torture). It helps (I’m kidding) cement the reality that the fun is done.

While away I read a book, Restoring the Fallen: A Team Approach to Caring, Confronting, & Reconciling (IVP, 1997). Authors: Earl and Sandy Wilson, Paul and Virginia Friesen, and Larry and Nancy Paulson. It tells the story of Earl Wilson’s infidelity with a client (he is a psychologist) and the interventions his spiritual formation team enacted to help him over a multi year period of time. In between the story, they detail the best ways for a spiritual formation team to work through the process of repentance and restoration.

Very helpful. Over the next month, I’m going to blog a few of the chapters here given that it is so close to the kind of work I have done and am doing. They have put into words some things that I have done but not written about.

But, here’s my thought. This book suggests a spiritual formation team process for after the “fall.” Why not have one of these teams before a  fall? Why not have it as required care for the Christian leader, whether pastor, elder, missionary, counselor?

Here’s what they said they did as a team. They committed to:

1. Be in regular communication with both husband and wife.
2. Pray regularly (daily?).
3. Meet as a team regularly.
4. To consult with others who had experience in particular areas
5. To hold the leader accountable for specific promises made.

The team worked toward the following ends:

1. Spiritual health (interested in ferreting out the spiritual roots of problems, and to help the person become grou8nded anew in a relationship with God)
2. Body life (the team provides spiritual gifts such as discernment, intercession, admonishment, encouragement, mercy, etc.)
3. Accountability and sensitivity (the team acts as advocate for the spouse and family members as well as holding the leader accountable)
4. Penetrating denial and clarifying reality
5. Synergy (combined wisdom and consensus of the group led by the Spirit)
6. Intercession (“Restoration ministry is divine in nature and is characterized above all by grace. It cannot be driven by anything apart from consistent intercession.” (p. 37).

Obviously, this book is focused on the restoration of an offender. However, each of these goals and purposes ought to be part of a spiritual care team for any christian leader.  I wonder how many pastors, professors, counselors, missionaries have such a team?

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Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastoral renewal, Repentance, self-deception

PCA Mercy Ministry Conference


I will be traveling today to the 2007 PCA Mercy Ministries Conference in Atlanta to present two seminars: (a) Distorted Sex: Providing Mercy to Sexual Strugglers, and (b) Repentance & Restoration: A Look How God Restores Broken and Sinful people. If you are interested in seeing slides, click the page at the top that says, “Articles, Slides, And Other Things.”

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Filed under Repentance, sexuality

The impossible gift of forgetting wrongs done to you


Sorry for the brief hiatus from The End of Memory. Starting a new semester plus am looking at two books that I may review in some detail right after (Jimmy Carter’s new book on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and Ed Gilbreath’s book on being a black man in white evangelical organizations–both have to do with dealing with longstanding conflict and hurts).

Volf in Chapter 7 begins a new section entitled, How Long Should we Remember? Continue reading

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Filed under Abuse, book reviews, christian psychology, Forgiveness, memory, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Repentance, suffering

What makes for a great apology?


Last Sunday my small group used the story of Zaccheus to launch a discussion about what makes for a great apology. We know it when we see one and we definitely know when someone’s “I’m sorry” falls far short. But what are the things that make an apology meaningful? Here are some phrases I suggested we might hear in a great apology (order intended). Continue reading

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Filed under conflicts, Repentance, sin