September 28, 2013 · 11:15 am
After I wrote the last post, I was pointed to this article in the Independent on Sunday about a program of caring for sex offenders through friendship groups. The organization, Circles UK, develops these groups around offenders in order to build relationship and accountability. The article says that over a 4.5 year period, none of the Circles offender re-offended where a control group of the same size committed 10 new offenses in the same period.
As you can easily imagine, most sex offenders lose their entire support system. Loneliness and isolation can only lead to temptations to connect through offenses. If anyone is interested in supporting offenders and reducing recidivism, check out the program. While it is UK-based, it shouldn’t be hard for a church to decide to follow the same pattern.
September 25, 2013 · 11:58 am
As the church does a better job in understanding the epidemic of sexual victimization (1:3 women, 1:5 men report unwanted sexual contact by age 18), the church also faces the challenge of understanding how to care for sex offenders in the community. Gone (hopefully!) should be the days where a congregation just ignores offenders and acts as if their sins are in the past needing no further follow-up. And we don’t want to swing to the other extreme of making it impossible for sex offenders to be part of the church community. Rather, the church will best represent Christ to victims AND offenders when it exemplifies the grace of limits to offenders.
The local pastoral counselor (whether in the church or in a para-church organization) will be called upon to participate in the care and counsel of a sex offender. In preparation for this eventuality, every pastoral counselor should embark on their own continuing education. Read books (start with the difficult book Predators by Anna Salter), meet your local ADA who prosecutes sex crimes and find out what is required of offenders after they leave prison, find local clinicians who specialize in treating the various kinds of offenders (e.g., adolescents, adults, Internet based, those who have been incarcerated, etc.)
Dos and Don’ts
After improving your understanding of the nature of sexual offending and the available resources, consider these three dos and don’ts in order to avoid some serious pitfalls
- Do treat them as fully bearing the image of God, just as you would a victim of a sex crime. Your relationship with the offender should not be a barrier to their ongoing growth and sanctification. Do you share the same mercy and grace as you would to someone you may feel more compassion? Do you see them as less human? Your compassion should lead you away from an adversarial or judgmental approach to them (this does not mean you won’t be firm or even skeptical!). Accusations, no matter how accurate, rarely lead to transformation in another. Instead validate their feelings and experiences. They will have lost much: friends, family, finances, standing. While it came at their own hand, you surely want to validate this experience.
- Don’t treat all sex offenders the same. Recognize differences between adolescent and adult offenders, Internet only offenders and direct contact offenders. You do not want to have a one-size-fits-all approach for supposed fairness reasons. If you don’t have training in understanding these differences, do not assume you already know how to counsel these individuals. Get training, supervision, and consider referrals.
- Do assess on a continual basis. As with all clients, a competent counselor never stops assessing for treatment readiness, commitment to change and growth, commitment to the grace of restriction, insight and more. Does your client show a growing evidence of empathy towards victims and the community? Does your client evidence a thirst for community supports and accountability (vs. passive acceptance)? Does your client give evidence of being solely focused on personal experience; give evidence of resistance and bitterness that others do not offer blanket trust?
- Don’t use words, time, or other factors in determining growth and repentance. Far too frequently, churches use the right words, a few tears, and the passage of time to indicate when they reduce oversight over an offender. These are not good indicators of change! In addition, do not confuse repentance with a requirement for reconciliation. Do not neglect the matter of restitution but do not hold requirements of victims to return to a former level of intimacy with the offender. Not all that is broken in this life can be fixed in this life. Do not fall prey to the fantasy that all things are restored and reconnected in this life. Yes, our God can work miracles, but he also gives grace to us to continue with our thorns in the flesh.
- Do set specific goals. Whenever we provide counseling for chronic issues, it helps to set goals that can be evaluated even as there may be a long road still to go. A competent counselor agrees upon goals with a client. Some of these goals might include (a) growing in empathy for others, being able to sit with the experience of others without bringing up one’s own, (b) deepening Gospel understanding about sin and impact of evil without either despair or superficial repentance, and (c) accepting limits and little trust as a way of life.
- Don’t be caught off guard by common concerns of the offender. In my experience, offenders often have these questions that repeat on a fairly regular basis: Where can I worship? When can I come to church? Why can’t I worship with my family? When will I be done and be treated like anyone else? Doesn’t [victim] bear some blame? Why does [victim] get to make decisions about my worship? Why am I treated as a leper? These questions are important and being prepared for them means the counselor can more likely respond with compassion and clarity. This can only better serve the offender and reduce the bitterness that comes from unanswered questions.
Additional links to check out:
1. Church Ministry to Sex Offenders
2. Sex offenders vs. Sex Abusers?
3. Search “sex offender” in search box in the upper left for more blogs on this topic
January 18, 2012 · 12:27 pm
I have another post on our Seminary’s faculty blog site today. You can read it here. In it I give a few very initial steps a church might take when considering starting a ministry to sex offenders.
Such a ministry is good, sorely needed, but should not be taken without concern for the entire church, including victims of abuse. as well as the family members of the offender. Any ministry we undertake should put spiritual protection–the very soul of our ministry targets–as a primary objective. Thus, helping an offender to limit access to vulnerable peoples would be seen as part of their spiritual care. As I have said on this site before, the grace of limits is a very good thing. When I accept boundaries, I am accepting God’s grace.
February 9, 2011 · 5:57 am
After I posted earlier this week about resources for the church to use in caring for sex offenders in the congregation, I got a call asking if I knew of any residential sex offender treatment programs for those having been convicted of a sex crime.
Let me pose this question to readers:
1. Do you know of any quality residential offender treatment programs for post incarceration? Programs would need to accept voluntary admission clients.
2. Do you know of any Christian versions?
Most Christian programs focus on sexual addictions and all that I know of do not accept individuals with felony convictions (usually due to zoning restrictions set up by the community).
February 7, 2011 · 5:51 am
Last week I received a blog comment asking about counseling helps for sex offenders who wish to leave behind their offending behaviors. You can see the question and my answer here. I would add my thoughts from this short essay gives an overview of the kind of growth we want to see in reforming abusers.
This week I was shown some materials designed specifically for churches in order to protect victims (and potential victims) and aid the recovery of sex offenders–whether prosecuted or not.
These materials are published by an English organization, Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS). They have a number resources relating to the protection of children and describe themselves as,
a professional safeguarding charity providing training, resources, support and advice in all areas of safeguarding and a 24 hour helpline. CCPAS is also an umbrella organisation appointed by the Criminal Records Bureau to process criminal records checks.
The great thing about this organization (yes, I spell it with a z) is that their pamphlets are available for FREE downloads. Their “Help” series covers issues from sex offending and church attendance, sex trafficking, domestic violence, responding to allegations of abuse, etc.
The organization also encourages every church to have a volunteer safe-guarding coordinator.
Also, they have a host of DVDs as well. One I have in my hand is entitled, The Supervision and Pastoral Care of Sex Offenders. It is a 2 DVD set with victim and perpetrator accounts and reviews offender behaviors and helpful assessment, treatment and church supervision plans. You can purchase it on the above websites for about 25 US dollars.
I wasn’t able to review one other item sold by them: Walk the Walk: A Treatment Supplement for Sex Offenders with Christian Beliefs. Authored by Tim Horton and 80 pages in length, it is available on an American site (along with two other titles, one for helping sex offending clergy and for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Finally, a recent Christianity Today article covered the topic of working with sex offenders after prison. It did a good job as far as it went. But too often we concern ourselves with issues such as forgiveness, church attendance, and restoration. These issues are indeed important and ought not be neglected. However, focus for offenders should be on treatment, accountability, and willingness to support the well-being of others over their own supposed rights and freedoms. Diane Langberg and I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in a subsequent edition that might peak your interest.
Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, Diane Langberg, Sex, Uncategorized
Tagged as Christianity, Christianity Today, church, Sex offender, Sex Offenses, Tim Horton