“Sex Offenders and the Congregation”Categories: Meditations
A few weeks ago, I ran across this article. To summarize, a longtime youth minister in a church of Christ in Pennsylvania molested a number of boys over a span of decades. In 2016, a couple of Christians confronted him about his misdeeds, and he broke down and confessed. He was charged with and convicted of multiple counts of corruption of a minor and indecent exposure. He then appealed.
Somewhere in the process, he “came forward” twice, and the elders of the congregation accepted his repentance and allowed him back into the congregation, much to the horror of the victims and victims’ families who still worshiped there. Currently, he is barred from attending services there by judicial order, which is one of the parts of his conviction that he is appealing.
As is always the case, this problem (and the larger problem of sex offenders in the church) is best solved by examination of the relevant Scriptural principles. Certainly, Christians are obliged to forgive a sinner who repents, but sinners must repent if they wish to be forgiven.
It is Scripturally appropriate to judge that repentance by its fruits. Does the sinner freely acknowledge his wrongdoing? Has he expressed remorse for the harm he has caused? Does his conduct show concern for those he has harmed? Is he doing his best to help them heal? Is he willing to endure inconvenience for their sakes? Or, conversely (as many sex offenders do), is he talking a good game while showing little evidence of repentance in his behavior?
Sadly, the latter seems to be true of this youth minister. Rather than accepting the courts’ judgment, he is seeking to minimize the punishment he faces for his crimes. Rather than showing concern for his victims, he seems intent on forcing his presence on them. I think any eldership would be justified in judging those fruits unworthy of repentance and refusing to accept him into fellowship.
Frankly, I would be suspicious of any Christian sex offender who sought to continue worshiping with those he had preyed upon. His presence could not help but cause distress to those whom he is supposed to love more than he loves himself. If there are literally no other alternative congregations, such a desperate expedient could perhaps be adopted. However, in the presence of alternatives, the offender would be best advised to seek to worship with brethren he had not personally harmed.
When the offender is forthright about his sin and no members have suffered directly, it is much easier for a congregation to admit him into fellowship. In such circumstances, the church leadership ought to consider both his interests and the interests of the congregation. No sex offender should be left alone with children, nor indeed left to himself anywhere in the building (though if possible, it’s generally a good idea not to leave anyone alone with children). If he stays in the auditorium and the lobby, no one will have any cause to be concerned about his conduct. Under those terms, the church can accept him as a brother without fearing that its children will be endangered.
Sin can be forgiven, but even after forgiveness, it can still have earthly consequences. A Christian woman is not required to accept her husband back after he has cheated on her, whether or not she has forgiven him. A congregation is not required to re-appoint an embezzling treasurer, even after he has been restored to fellowship. So too with pedophiles. Even after he has repented and been forgiven, the effects of his evil still continue, not only for others, but for himself.