Thursday, August 7, 2014

how a congregation should respond to sex offenders among them

Yesterday, I congratulated The Lutheran for publishing Same Table, an article that talked about sex offenders in church. Its loving attitude and efforts to dispel myths about sex offenders were like the smell of bread fresh from the oven. Comforting. Promising something wonderful at the table.

The article linked to some suggested resources for churches trying to decide what to do about registered sex offenders. Heaven help the sex offenders!

Perhaps now that The Lutheran has made it known that...

1. "public perception of the risk of repeat sexual offenses [is] much higher than it is"


2. "offender registries and notification systems have little to no effect on recidivism rates and may, in some cases, increase the risk they will commit future sex crimes"

...the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) can rethink the "help" they offer congregations.

Numerous studies in recent years point to an extremely low likelihood that pedophiles can or will change. Without extensive professional treatment, virtually all child sexual offenders will re-offend. Repentance, prayer and pastoral support can be crucial elements when combined with life-long treatment, but, in themselves, they offer little hope of changing the behavior of perpetrators.
Let's begin with the casual use of that frightful word, pedophiles. Most sex offenders are not pedophiles, not even those who offend against children. Most pedophiles are not sex offenders. Pedophile is a word meant to frighten you.

As for that hopelessly grim statement, virtually all child sexual offenders will re-offend, see #1 above. The recidivism rate of sex offenders is extremely low.

The ELCA document continues:
A convicted sex offender who wishes to be part of a church community, whether one he or she has attended for some time or a new one, should expect to have conditions placed upon his or her participation. This can best be done through the development of a written covenant, signed by the offender and by church officials, preferably by both the pastor and the chairperson of the Church Council (or other administrative body of the church).
The covenant should begin with a clear statement of the role of the church as "sanctuary," with appropriate Biblical reference(s).
There's more but this is the point where I started laughing. The role of the church as sanctuary? Not for sex offenders! Sex offenders should expect to have conditions placed upon his or her participation. Forgiveness? Pfft.

The appropriate Biblical references in this case are meant to warn the sex offender that the need for sanctuary for people who are uncomfortable with former sex offenders trumps the need for sanctuary for the sex offender who wants spiritual nourishment.

Surely there must be some appropriate Biblical references about forgiveness and mercy that could guide a congregation in welcoming a sex offender. Maybe something like this:
Ephesians 4:32 - And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Back to the covenant that sex offenders must sign:
As part of your growth and penitence, you shall prepare and deliver written acknowledgments and apologies for the pain caused directly or indirectly by your actions. At the very least, you shall address these statements to your victims, their families, your own family and the members and supporters of this church. (Requests for forgiveness shall not be included). This will become part of an open letter to the congregation, informing them of your presence and of the conditions of your participation.
My, that's quite stern. I am trying to imagine the effect on children in the congregation. I am trying to imagine the effect on the family of the sex offender in the congregation.

Another condition for the covenant:
You may not use restroom facilities in the church buildings.
Welcome to church; stay away from the coffee.

Yesterday, I stood on my well-worn soapbox and was gently pulled down by someone reminding me that other people do have stories that make them fearful -- someone betrayed by a financial advisor, someone whose family suffered a murder, for example. Some fear they could be victims of another crime.

Members of the congregation who have been convicted of non-sexual crimes such as assault or fraud -- possibly leaving someone critically injured or leaving a family in dire financial straits -- those convicts can come to church with no covenant demands. They can even use the restroom.

Crimes and the effects of those crimes fall in a wide range. Some sex offenders perpetrated a violent rape; some touched no one. Some assaults don't do serious injury; some leave the victim in a vegetative state.

After serving their sentences, some criminals are allowed to continue with their lives without public self flagellation; some are seen as needing only a quick stop at the restroom to return to wicked ways.

The reason so much attention is on sex offenders is that there is a list of them. Once there is a list, the fear seems justified. They must be dangerous if the law requires them to register!

How to square this cold, demanding document with the compassionate Same Table article? At first, I assumed the document was very old but no, it was last modified November 2013. Better information was easily available at that time. I hope the ELCA realizes the disconnect between the myth-based covenant and the recent fact-based article and moves to update the document with better information and with more attention to the role of the Church in the world.

When I found Ephesians 4:32, I also ran across this:
John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
God gave his Son and the ELCA is putting conditions on space at the table?

This helpful document suggests that some in the congregation can partake of the Bread.
Some are allowed only to smell it.


Unknown said...

Your husband is a bad man, a registers sex offender and you try to sweep it under the rug.

Marie said...

First, my husband did do something bad and he is committed to not doing that ever again. Second, he is not a registered sex offender at the moment because he is in prison. Third, blogging about my husband and how he ended up in prison is more like airing dirty laundry than sweeping something under a rug. Thank you for reading my blog!

JM said...

I was on a federal jury for a pornography trial. A 18 year old boy wanted to trade pornography like baseball cards. I asked the judge to give him minimal jail time and the judge gave him no time in jail. I do not think the harm done to society from a person looking at pornography warrants a long jail sentence. The prosecutor was outraged at the judge's sentence and appealed it. The defense attorney asked if I would speak at the kid's referencing, but that was not necessary because the judge won.

Unknown said...

Your blog certainly makes some excellent points.
The sex offender registry does create a false sense of security, all child porn is not the same,etc.

However, you do not address the issue of how manipulative sex offenders are. It is common for an offender to state that "nothing happened", then (when cornered) "maybe something happened" then, "OK something happened but he/she enjoyed it".

Sex offenders also learn the "right" things to say while in counseling. Many "upstanding" people abuse children and get away with it because of being such excellent liars.

What is the difference between you and Jerry Sandusky's wife?

kate said...

The need for sanctuary and nourishment in a SAFE PLACE for the innocent (non offender) absolutely trumps that of the sex offender. The minute the offender crossed the line by taking advantage of a child (or other victim), he/she gave up many of his/her rights. Forgiveness is a PRIVILEGE, period.

And I agree, how, exactly, are you different than Sandusky's wife??

Unknown said...

What is the difference between you and Jerry Sandusky's wife?

Did the last two posters actually post that question?

Do they think they actually know the facts about anything that goes on in someone else's life? Have these two people ever looked around on their husbands/boyfriends computer and ever seen what he has been up to? Or better yet, what kind of things did their husband/BF do in their spare time while on a computer before they were in a relationship?

Even better, did their husband/BF, as a 17 year old in high school ever date or do anything sexual with maybe a 15 year old girlfriend?

I bet neither of them, along with many others, can answer questions like that with 100% conviction. Try to walk in someone else's shoes before asking a question like that. Maybe THEY are more like Jerry Sandusky's wife than they think, if their dirty laundry was aired.

Unknown said...

Oh, and for Kate that says forgiveness is a PRIVILEGE, better crack open her bible. Don't "feel" like forgiving? Forgiveness is a decision of faith to allow Christ to act in us. Forgiveness involves willing to allow Christ to minister to the other person through us. "Forgiveness involves willing to suffer abuse", Matt. 5:11,12.

Unknown said...

I was so happy to read your post. It distresses me to see all of the conditions that so many of our churches try to place on the children of God. Statistics show us that a child's Sunday School teacher is far more likely to molest him/her than the registered citizen sitting in the next pew. So,keep your hearts, doors, and minds open. THAT is what Jesus told us to do.

Unknown said...

I am saddened by the fact that I get treated differently at church because my husband is a registered sex offender. My husband was also falsely accused, as if it matters... and I don't feel comfortable going to a church that condemns us. We are saved by the grace of God, who died on the cross for everyone's sin, every sin no matter the kind, all sins are the same to God, murder is the same as stealing a piece of gum from the store a sin is a sin. The registered sex offenders are being watched carefully, the ones you need to worry about are the ones who haven't been caught yet! They are the ones who are still doing harm! At least my husband is trying to go to church and follow God, but when we are turned away, doesn't that make you want to not go? I have resolved not to go back to church, and I love God so much because of what he did for me, this is why it hurts so much, because I learn more in church than on my own, and now what am I supposed to do?

This Wreckage said...

As a registered sex offender, I made the mistake of trying to attend a church in Scotland in 2013. My criminal justice social worker and police monitor contacted the church which then created a behavioural contract for me before I was permitted to attend even one Sunday morning service. A meeting was set up; I duly attended and, around a table of unfriendly faces, I was handed the document. It allowed me only to sit at the back of the church on one occasion per week, so long as I was surrounded by church elders at all times. If I needed to visit the toilet during the service, I'd be accompanied by at least one elder.

No, this was not for me. I told them so, to their evident astonishment at my ingratitude. They had done all this for me, a monster and vile man who had looked at online pictures. I got up and left, followed by furious members of the authorities, but I've not darkened a church door since then. I was really only looking for a community, as I'm socially isolated, and my personal beliefs have matured into atheism. Many groups and organisations, religious or secular, have rejected me categorically, so I spend my time mainly alone at home. That is, apparently, the best way for a sex offender to live in the UK.

Marie said...

This Wreckage, I'm sorry that you encountered one of those churches. You sound very sure about giving up on God so all I will say is that God has not given up on you. He is there with you in your solitude, keeping you company, feeling all your pain. I hope that you are able to find--or build--a community that suits you. Thanks for reading my blog.

This Wreckage said...

Hmmm. Marie, any church would have done the same. I fully understand their need to present a pure and unsullied face to the world, given the ongoing investigations into child sexual abuse in several denominations around the world, and that means keeping minor-attracted men out. What annoyed me at the time was the assumption by both the church elders and the social workers that I would be grateful for the crumbs they offered me. The fact is that the UK as a society has no idea what to do with convicted sex offenders after they've served their time.

I've made many terrible mistakes in my life. Realising the non-existence of any supernatural deity was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It's not because of any bitterness towards church people, as I still have at least one good friend who's a Christian and I've been treated well by some other individual Christians. No, it's because now I don't have to believe the foolishness of faith (and I don't have to defend the old testament god with his genocide and hatred of women). And, yes, I know what's in the Bible about that.