I had this question posed from last week’s blog, Signs of a Predator in Your Church, (and I’ll paraphrase here), “What about the reentry of a ‘predator’ to the church after experiencing redemption?” It was a great question and calls for a follow-up answer because a major role of pastors/leadership in the local church is to protect its members.
Redemption means to be bought, paid for by another. To redeem is to atone for a fault or mistake. When one is redeemed by the cross they are repurchased, made right through Christ. However, that redemption does not remove the consequences of one’s sin. If someone is guilty of murder, goes to jail and then experiences true redemption, they will still be incarcerated and rightfully so. Salvation does not stop the consequences of our sinful behavior. Keep in mind all of us needed redemption; none of us is or was without sin.
With that, what would be our response to this repentant one? It is said that it takes a lifetime to create a sexual predator. What that means is they perhaps have a history of being abused and abusing. There is most certainly a not so good background preceding the life of a predator. And there are a lot of factors to consider, but through the love of Christ we are welcoming to the saint and the sinner. We do not judge their heart, but hope for the ongoing completing work of salvation to wholly change a life. First Corinthians six is very clear and concise when it says, “And that is what some of you were (the sexually immoral). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It does not get any clearer than that.
Please remember not all abuse is the same, however. Some is accomplished without ever touching the victim through exhibitionism or voyeurism. There are presently over 550,000 registered sex offenders in the Unites States.
Does this mean as the church we have an open arms policy and immediate access to our teens and children’s ministries? Does this mean we pose no boundaries or period of caution for the one that struggled with this sin? It clearly does not. So, here are some suggestions when dealing with this person and their reentry into the local church. (Note: By the way, there are 600,000 persons who leave prison every year. A reentry program for your church is something to consider.)
A few considerations
- You are not looking to enable an abuser in any way or further traumatize a victim. So we err on the side of caution and not on the side of mercy.
- At the risk of sounding harsh, if you are dealing with a registered sex offender, then in all humility and an attitude of, “If not for the grace of God there go I,” the congregation needs to be aware and the former offender should give permission to make this known. It does not need to be a public announcement, but every family should receive an email or some form of communication. In this effort, you are protecting the whole and not just the one or two.
- Often the one who has been incarcerated enters a “reentry program” before reentry into society at large. Create a reentry program with clear boundaries, e.g., counseling, close accountability, Internet watch programs, close supervision in church activities and certainly no access to minors (which means no activities, no transportation and no children’s church functions unless it involves their biological children). Create boundaries in the spirit of love and not in a spirit of retribution. (Suggestion: Designate a reentry person and assign them to this member.)
- Be clear on these person’s probation boundaries/terms. If this individual was arrested for their crimes and convicted, they will have probation/parole guidelines to follow and will most assuredly be on Megan’s List. They will have a public record of criminal convictions. Obtain this record and be informed. Discuss their attendance to your church with their parole officer to be sure it falls within allowable guidelines. (It’s not a bad idea to receive written permission from the PO that this person can attend your church.)
- This person normally spent years learning how to “groom” and “grooming” victims in that it became a lifestyle of action and thought. Time to heal, time to rebuild foundations and time to learn another way of thinking and acting is crucial. Be aware of the propensity of the offender to be a reoffender.
- Be assured of ongoing counseling and one-on-one accountability in this person’s life. Depending on the level of their crime, it is not too far-reaching to have their designate reentry person with them at all times when on your church property.
- A violation of these guidelines will result in immediate action taken to remove this person from the fellowship.
- Know your states laws when it comes to sex offenders. For example, in Iowa it is illegal for a convicted sex offender to be on any school premises or public libraries.
Clinical psychologist, Anna Salter, wrote a helpful book titled, Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders. In that book she said, “Decades of research have demonstrated that people cannot reliably tell who is lying. Many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.”
Rachel Denhollander, the attorney who summoned her personal faith in her trial of her abuser, Larry Nassar said, “It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.”
Jesus set a man free from his bondage and then that same man begged Jesus to get into the boat with Him and His disciples. Our Lord’s response to him was, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you…” (Mark 5: 19). Jesus might have been creating a boundary for further healing for this man as he left his sin-filled life and reentered his community.