How do you welcome a man in your church who is an habitual child molester?

As I was working on another blog post this morning, an email with this question was sent to me from a pastor:

How do I and our church minister to a man who appears radically converted, desires to come to our church, but is an habitual child molester and long-time sex offender?

Needless to say, I put the other blog post on hold to think through this with him.  Here was my response:

Yes, you need to minister to him, especially if he is converted.  No one should be turned away from our doors as Jesus was seen with the vilest of sinners.   This is what the gospel is all about!  However, you cannot ignore the “elephant in the room.”   Here are a few suggestions having faced this in comparable ways before:

 
Appoint a “host” for him while he is at church.  Hand pick a very reliable man whose sole job that day is to meet him outside in the parking lot, walk in with him, and be attached to this man’s hip.  Pick a host who is spiritually mature, gracious, who understands the importance of his role, but will not make him feel like a prisoner in church.  Explain to the offender attending that this is what this man’s role is and that he must be seen with him at all times.  Pick a host who will take him to talk with others and it will be a good way for this new guy to meet and converse with folks he might not otherwise feel comfortable with and vice versa.
 
Inform the church ahead of time in some way of what is happening (email, member’s meeting, etc), so they know you are taking strict precautions to protect the safety of the people and especially the children.  This allows the church as a whole to “keep watch” in a loving way.
 
Inform all children’s workers of the situation weekly and report who the man’s “host” is for that week.  Allow them the freedom to ask questions as they feel the responsibility to protect their own children as well as the children in their room for that week.
 
One strike and your out.  There is no grace period for this man.  If he is found alone without his “host” once…that is it.  He needs to be placed in a position to be loved by the people, but must realize your responsiblity as a shepherd before God to protect the sheep first and foremost.
 
Remind your people that this is what the gospel is all about.  Jesus died for the most wretched of sinners and we deserved the same punishment for our sins from our righteous and holy God as this man does for his rebellion against God and crimes against others.  If he is truly converted, you want your people to rejoice in the hope of the gospel more than fear for their children when they see this man coming.  Pastor, through teaching and example is how God by His Spirit will form that culture in your local church over time.
 
I praise God for the opportunity you have to remind your people of the gospel and how sufficient, powerful, and glorious the mercy of God is in Christ!  But, be wise also dear brother.  Know for sure the enemy is prowling like a lion in your midst desiring to use this situation to divide your church…or worse.  I pray the Lord gives you great wisdom, discernment, and grace as you shepherd this man and your people through him coming. 
 
Posted in Battling Sin, Discipleship
36 comments on “How do you welcome a man in your church who is an habitual child molester?
  1. Bill G says:

    This seems like wise advice, but it leaves me with a question:

    How long do you do this for? As long as he is there? Even if it’s been 20 years, and he has been bearing much fruit?

    • Brian Croft says:

      Good question. I hesitate to place a time on it. I would say that needs to be discerned as they care and grow with the individual through the years. I could definitely see a time where a “host” all the time everywhere he goes would not be necessary, but restrictions in the children’s areas and things like that would still need to be enforced.

  2. Phil G says:

    I have been reading your blog for some time now and I really appreciate what you have been doing as you tackle this practical issues. This particular post caught my attention, because I went through a similar situation at the first church where I served. We had member of our congregation go through a very public crime (outside of the church) similar to what you have described. After some time in prison, he wanted to continue as a part of the church. We did almost exactly what you described. He had an appointed “friend” for the day. He was not allowed to sit next to children or go into our children’s ministry wing. Every children’s worker knew his situation and knew who to contact if he was out of bounds. Not to give to many details, but he even had an assigned bathroom that we would not take children into during services.

    In addition to these guidelines, he was also required to meet weekly with one of the pastors or church leaders for personal discipleship and accountability. Some in the church wanted us to ban him from coming to worship, but by sticking to our convictions about the grace of the gospel and providing clear guidelines we really saw his life begin to turn around through this process. It was not an easy situation and thanks providing a forum for it to be discussed.

  3. Brian says:

    Wow. What a question. Your response seems to be a wonderfully balanced gospel-centered and wise approach.

  4. Doug says:

    I had never even thought of this question! Thanks for tackling such a sensitive topic.

    Phil, I’d be interested in hearing more about how the person in question viewed his restrictions? Did he feel confined, or acknowledge that the restrictions were necessary?

    The one thing I was surprised at Brian, was the “tell the whole church” thing. Maybe it’s because I come from a 2,000+ weekend attendance megachurch, but letting the whole congregation know what’s going on almost seems excessive. Would you recommend in larger church settings to, say, only notify parents of those in the childrens’ ministry? I recognize the extraordinary dangers in these cases, but on some level we all are dealing with some sin in our lives, and putting it on public display involuntarily in some cases and not others just seems a bit off. (That being said, my church also was not big on church discipline.)

    One other thing I could imagine coming out of this arrangement, especially in smaller towns, is if the man relapses and hurts someone again, will the church be in some way looked at as responsible? That they were the man’s patron in the town, and failed to prevent this? Is such a perception likely? How would you deal with it?

    • Brian Croft says:

      A very good question. Yes, for a larger church, I would make it known to those who would need to know. The pastor who asked is at a smaller church, hence my particular counsel. Yet, there has to be some way to inform other pastors in case he would go to another church. Tricky, and something that would need to be considered in each church situation. A healthy understanding of church discipline would certainly help in making these decisions.

    • Phil G says:

      I would have to say that the person in the situation that I was talking about respected the restrictions. If I remember correctly, he thought they were somewhat unnecessary, but still submitted to them. He did not view himself as a habitual offender, but rather just someone who messed up once. We were unwilling to take that risk. To myself and the staff, accepting these restrictions was a sign of a repentance. On a side note, the church where i served was a larger context (1,400) across multiple services. We did not tell the whole church, although many already knew from the news. We did however notify every child worker and anyone else that needed to know for safety purposes.

  5. Lori Ryberg says:

    This happened to us. Our church handled it completely wrong. They not only didn’t tell everyone, but when it was found out, he went to jail. Then came back to our church after he was released and they asked us to leave so he could continue to go there. Because his parole officer wanted him to only go to a church where there was no 15 year old girls. The exact age of our oldest daughter at the time. So they picked the child molester over us. We had been there 9 years.

  6. Joseph Gould says:

    Very nice article. On another note, there are legal issues to consider as well.

    Some sex offenders have specific language as terms of their parole which may lead the individual to be violating their parole by attending a church with children. And each state’s laws are different regarding what is allowed/not allowed as well.

    Make sure you keep your church informed on legal issues and liabilities!

  7. Hayden says:

    Brian,

    Good to know there is someone else out there thinking through these issues. We had a similar situation here and are probably going to run into this more and more as we have a prison ministry as well.

    I did pretty much all of what you said in this situation (except for the friend thing, but that was helpful). I would add that it might be a good idea for the Pastor to meet the probation officer and their court appointed therapist. They are more than willing to meet with Pastors and it is a good testimony to them. I found them to be a help.

  8. Susan says:

    Church leaders should know the legal implications of ministering to convicted sex offenders. The following article lists some issues that may impact churches. These statutes vary by state/locality.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070205128.html

    Churches should consider adopting an official plan that
    includes measures described in this article before this issue arises.

  9. Kelly Webster says:

    Christianity Today just wrote a piece on ministering to sex offenders. I thought it was a pretty balanced article and offered similar advice regarding assigning a host. It might offer further guidance as you minister to this person.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/21.49.html

  10. Kelly Webster says:

    I’d like to point out that while I don’t agree with everything in the above article it does offer some food for thought.

  11. Jackie says:

    Everything you say is right, yet I still don’t trust ‘former’ pedophiles. It is so hard to reconcile this with what I know is right. I apologize. I have no real excuses. I just don’t trust pedophiles.

  12. NavyMom says:

    As the mother of a 11-year-old who was raped by a pedophile (not a church member or professing Christian), I read the column and comments with great interest. This is a pain that does not go away. Yes, we have forgiven the man (He begged our forgiveness just prior to his conviction and deportation. As Christians we are commanded to forgive, so we did. We didn’t have a choice.) But we are enslaved to the events that so greatly harmed our daughter. She is 16 years old now and a straight-A college freshman, but we bear horrific scars from this. I still weep almost every day. In our case, our child was repeatedly raped by a trusted neighbor, a man we had “known” for 15 years. I’ll be honest: life has been very hard for our family the past four years. It has colored everything in our lives. Our daughter has ‘issues’ about the opposite sex and just sex in general. This will take years to continue to sort through. I strongly urge pastors to take it very seriously when a pedophile is in your midst. Yes, he needs the gospel and he needs the accountability of a local church, but don’t ignore the pain of families dealing with sexual abuse. Protect them first and foremost.

  13. Janet says:

    NavyMom, have you ever read Mary DeMuth’s book, “Thin Places”? It’s the story of her experience of being molested and abused as a young girl. I wept through the reading of it, but was also very blessed. Perhaps it would help you.

    I agree that churches need to protect families who have dealt with sexual abuse first and foremost. I also believe the gospel extends to the worst of sinners. This is a valuable discussion.

    • NavyMom says:

      Yes, Janet, I have and thanks for your concern. Ms. DeMuth’s books are very helpful. However, in the past 4+ years I’ve read countless books, some dealing with the abuse the author suffered and others that are mostly how-to-move-on type books for those who survived such an attack. No matter what we read, though, we seem to be left with a gaping, festering wound in our souls. Due to the dead real estate market and God’s mysterious providence, we still live directly across the street from the chamber of horrors where our child was assaulted. The pedophile’s family still lives there, too. We don’t have the luxury of simply giving our house away, as some have suggested. It would bankrupt us. So, we stay here and suction ourselves to the grace of God. It’s all we have.

      • Janet says:

        NavyMom, don’t feel you are alone in living with a gaping, festering wound. I am so sorry that you still live across the street from the place your child was assaulted, but you’re right – it’s God’s mysterious providence. I love that you said you “suction” yourselves to the grace of God! It is when we are weak, and broken, and helpless, and lost, that He shows Himself strong and powerful and in control. I believe that some day, God will redeem all of this in your life, and use it for your good and His glory.

        Mary DeMuth has a video on her Facebook page right now of a talk she gave at a writer’s conference. It’s well worth listening to.

        I wish I could sit with you and chat.

  14. Tara says:

    Basyle Tchividjian (one of Billy Graham’s grandsons) came and talked to my church recently about how to prevent sexual abuse in the Christian environment…and pedophiles claiming repentance (some of whom were infiltrating new churches for the express purpose of gaining access to a trusting group of believing children) was part of what he addressed. He’s got some great thoughts: http://www.netgrace.org.

  15. Matt Siple says:

    What do you mean by “that’s it”? What do you have in mind as a consequence here for being found without the host?

    • Brian Croft says:

      He would not be allowed to continue to attend until he is willing to submit to the guidelines the church set for him, in light of his situation. Unfortunately, there is too much at stake to not be firm on these matters. Affirmed by the many comments left by some today.

      Thanks for your question.

  16. Marie says:

    1. You warn all parents of children about him. Upwards of 90% of molesters re-offend. Unless you warn the parents, they may agree to have him watch their kid while they go to the bathroom, sub for them for Sunday School, whatever. If he is truly repentant he will not object to the warning of the parents.

    2. He does not go to child-oriented functions. He can go to church; Bible Study; adult Sunday school; congregational meeting; men’s fellowship; etc.

    Not to kids’ Sunday School, child/day care, the affiliated school, the kids’ room at the church dinner, the youth group, etc.

    There is no need to apologize for the two conditions above. You are to protect the CHILDREN in the congregation, who are the innocent ones. If he is truly repentant he should have no problem with the above conditions.

    To presume that you have to prove your forgiveness to a man who never even harmed you by exposing innocent kids to a man almost certain to re-offend is ludicrous.

  17. Dan Lowe says:

    Hello, Brian. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I think you have some excellent suggestions here regarding how to deal with this very touchy issue. I don’t know if I have anything to add to this discussion or not, but prior to entering full-time ministry, I worked as a probation officer and specialized in supervising sexual offenders for approximately 3 years. In that time, I personally supervised or observed approximately 50 sexual offenders in various settings. Following are a few characteristics of sexual offenders which I have noted time and again and some suggestions for how to protect the congregation while still ministering to the offender:
    1) In virtually every instance I have seen, the sexual offender was a “religious” person… at least by profession. I’m not saying they were all converted… far from it. But they all attended some church. And typically they were well-like and respected within their local church. It was not uncommon for me to receive numerous letters of recommendation from fellow church members on behalf of convicted sexual offenders. I would encourage all pastors to recognize that sexual offenders are very likely to be attending local churches. Keep your eyes open for wolves in sheep’s clothing! I don’t want to sound all “gloom and doom” but this particular sin trap is more prevalent than most people would think. And sexual offenders…more so than say, substance abusers… are likely to be in the local church.
    2) Secondly, sexual offenders are by nature quite manipulative. They are particularly adept at covering their offenses and convincing others that they are not in the wrong. (They would not be able to perpetuate their crimes if they were not skillful manipulators.) In point # 1 above, I mentioned how common it was to receive letters of recommendation on behalf of sexual offenders from churches. Many of these church members refused to believe that the offender was guilty. Many would engage in blame shifting behavior on behalf of the offender. It is essential that church leaders recognize the tendency toward manipulative behavior in sexual offenders. Strive to be discerning when listening to their story. If something doesn’t sound right… it probably isn’t. If you lay down ground rules for attending the church… be absolutely certain that the offender is adhering to them. No deviance from the established rules should be tolerated, because, in most cases, they will test the boundaries…
    3) If the offender is truly repentant and wanting to attend church… then they should be willing to be open regarding their offense. Have them confess their sin to your church leaders (how many is up to you… but multiple leaders are better… it is easier to detect manipulative behavior.) Once they have self-reported their offense… follow up by meeting with their probation / parole officer. (Most convicted sexual offenders will have a supervising probation / parole officer. Reporting the name and contact information of their probation officer should be part of the offender’s confession/repentance process in the local church.) Explain your concerns to their supervising officer and your desire to protect the congregation from future offenses (trust me… they will appreciate this…) and share with them what the offender told you. They may not be able to confirm all the details of the offender’s crime, but they should be able to confirm whether or not the account presented was generally true. Also… assure them that you will report any questionable behavior you might observe to the probation/parole officer immediately.
    4) Do not allow sexual offenders to be in ANY situation with ANY vulnerable individuals (not just children… think about the elderly, mentally challenged, etc…) unless they are supervised by an appropriate chaperon. NO EXCEPTIONS!!! And I would suggest that this continue INDEFINITELY. You would not support an alcoholic spending time in the local bar… even if they weren’t drinking… because the temptation would be too great. Why would you allow a sexual offender to spend time unsupervised around vulnerable individuals in the local church given that they have the potential to harm… not only their own life… but also the life of another.
    5) Remember the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes! Continually pour the good news of Jesus Christ into the sexual offender and pray for their salvation and continual sanctification. But never forget your responsibility to protect the flock of God which you are called to shepherd.
    I don’t know if any of this is helpful or not.
    Thank you for taking the time to deal with this difficult issue.

  18. Jeremy W. says:

    Quite frankly, I would simply leave the church. It would be too much of a hassle to worry every week if the person was going to offend again, especially in light of the statistics of re-offense.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that the offender go to a Christian service where no kids are present such as a rescue mission. Here locally, the Denver Rescue Mission has services nearly every day that someone in this situation could attend.

    • Hayden says:

      So the Gospel for everyone else except sex offenders? Chances are Jeremy, there may be someone in the congregation you attend that either has this problem or knows someone that does.

      It is a hassle dealing with sinners, but I am glad that God didn’t take the same stance with all of us when we were ‘dead in our trespasses and sins’. If we want our churches to be places where sinners hear the Gospel then we should expect sinful people to attend. I am not advocating letting them have ‘free reign’ (I think Brian has some helpful guidelines) but just leaving should not be an option for the believer.

      We have a ministry to prisoners in the state facility where we preach the Gospel to the prisoners and study the Word. Some of those men are most likely sex offenders (I usually do not ask them why they are there), should I not allow them to attend our church if they are released? (At that point I would ask them why they were in prison)

      I would ask you to read the Word a little more carefully and not allow your love of ease and comfort and illusion of safety to cloud the Gospel. Sex- offenders do present some hurdles and difficulties, but the Gospel can change any man’s heart! It is greater than any statistic! Do you believe that? Then live accordingly.

  19. Jeremy says:

    Hayden,

    You asked, “should I not allow them to attend our church”?

    I didn’t say that. I said that I would leave.

    You also said, “I would ask that you not allow your love of ease and comfort and illusion of safety to cloud the gospel.”

    First, my dad was a police officer in a large metropolitan city for twenty years. I have no illusion of safety. I quite clearly understand the world we live in.

    Second, it is not my love of ease and comfort that would compel me to leave, but rather my love and concern for the well being of my children.

    The old illustration of the person who drives drunk and gets in an accident and loses a limb and then gets saved is applicable here. He may become spiritually regenerated, but he never loses the visual reminder of his sin.

    There is always a price for sin and in the case of this type of offender, people may simply not want that person around their children.

    With all that being said, you clearly have a love for Jesus and for sinners. God bless you wherever you minister.

  20. Jeremy says:

    Also, Hayden, please read more carefully. The headline reads, “How to welcome a man into your church who is a habitual sex offender.”

    M-W.com offers the following four possible definitions:

    1. having the nature of a habit : customary
    2. : doing, practicing, or acting in some manner by force of habit
    3. resorted to on a regular basis
    4. : inherent in an individual
    — ha·bit·u·al·ly adverb

    The headline indicates someone who has been and continues to be a sexual predator.

    If a man is in fact an habitual offender, he definitely should be looking for another place of worship where children are not present such as a rescue mission.

    At the very least, Hayden, wouldn’t you want to spare the person the temptation of being around children?

    I know it seems spiritual to want to welcome all, but sometimes the more Spirit-led thing to do would be to ask the person not attend and help him find an alternative.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "How do you welcome a man in your church who is an habitual child molester?"
  1. […] is a touchy subject, but Brian’s suggestions are excellent.  You can find his post here http://briancroft.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/how-do-you-welcome-a-man-in-your-church-who-is-an-habitua….  (Read down through the comments thread to find my suggestions if you are […]

  2. […] How do you welcome a man in your church who is an habitual child molester? « Practical Shepherding <span class="“> – Annotated […]

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