Saturday, July 25, 2020

Christianity Today wonders if churches should welcome registrants

Megan Fowler, in a Christianity Today article titled, Sex Offenders Can Find Hope in Christ But Not Necessarily a Place at Church, begins: 
Churches that suspended in-person gatherings during the pandemic have pledged not to welcome their congregations back until they’re sure they can be safe.
The pandemic is on the minds of everyone who wants to return to in-person worship but that is not what she wants to talk about. Not at all.
While the risk of coronavirus spread is the major concern right now, LifeWay Christian Resources is urging leaders to use their reopening plans as a chance to also revisit their policies to prevent sexual abuse.  
Who is LifeWay Christian Resources? Why do they want churches to look again at sexual abuse policies? Why now? Good questions.

Fowler tells the story of a church that makes sure to "pay attention to new faces." That sounds friendly, doesn't it? They noticed a new face, learned his name, looked him up and found him on the registry.
The church had a plan in place for cases like his, developed based on conversations with the local alderman, police officials, and other church leaders. Tony Silker, an associate pastor at the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation, had a conversation with the man on his next visit, explaining what they found. Silker said he could not return; if he did, the staff would call the police. [My emphasis...but the church seems happy to emphasize this, too.]
So much for "friendly." 
Silker gave the man information about another church in the neighborhood that ministers to people struggling with sexual addiction and urged him to get the support he needed.

The staff at Family Empowerment Center are trained to interact with registered sex offenders because they expect sex offenders to enter their church.
Remember that interact with means to tell them not to come back to church. 
The church works with the homeless and other vulnerable populations in the high-crime crevices of the neighborhood.
Does the church leadership ever wonder why they regularly find registrants among the homeless? Do they realize that government statutes and ordinances are what drive registrants into homelessness? Do they care enough to demand changes so that this vulnerable population--a population they seem to pay attention to--can find decent housing? 

Fowler writes:
Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer and the founder of Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment (GRACE), suggests obtaining the offender’s court file, talking to the parole officer assigned to the case, and verifying whatever the sex offender tells the church leadership.
Not just a lawyer; a former prosecutor. (I wrote about him and his advice here.) 

The Godly Response not to Abuse in a Christian Environment but to someone who wants to attend church is to obtain the court file...just like Jesus always did?
Tchividjian said the way sex offenders talk about the crimes they committed can reveal the state of their heart and if they are ready to participate in worship or ministry.

“If they marginalize and minimize their behavior, [the sex offender is] not in a position to even be served,” he said.
Not even to be served? Oh, my God. They know not what they do.
“If you get to the point where the person is sorry and an open book, that’s a different story. They are teachable.”
They are long as they talk about their past in a way that is acceptable to someone who insists on ignoring all the evidence that people on the registry rarely reoffend with another sex offense.

The Christianity Today article has more stories about churches who turn away registrants. Fowler quotes Rob Showers, a church law advisor for a different CT publication:
“Only the churches that can delve in and get good legal counsel that walks through this should undertake it,” Showers said. “It’s a wonderful ministry that can go wrong in so many ways.”
Boy, isn't that the truth? Reaching out to people yearning for connection with church is a wonderful ministry. The part that goes wrong in so many ways is the refusal of churches to look at the wealth of research available that could help them welcome people to their congregation.

If Megan Fowler had done just the tiniest bit of research, she would have found that people on the registry are not the ones committing sex crimes in churches. No, those crimes are committed by people who are not on the registry. Are there exceptions? Of course. Those are the stories that make the big headlines precisely because they are so rare.

The other part that goes wrong in so many ways is illustrated by Fowler's article: lots and lots of talk about keeping registrants away from church but not a word about preventing sexual abuse.

By focusing on registrants, attention is taken away from those people who are molesting or assaulting people. 

Oh, yes...those questions about LifeWay. Who are they and what is their interest?

LifeWay sells background checks. They sell a lot of background checks, according to their own website:
From 2009 to 2019, more than 20,000 customers have conducted more than 416,000 screenings through the program, according to Jennie Morris of LifeWay. “On average, we add 150 customers a month,” she said.
Businesses across the country are permanently closing because the pandemic has reduced their business so drastically. The pandemic probably has a similar effect on a business that sells background checks to churches at a time when churches are no longer meeting in person.

A good guess is that LifeWay is tired of losing business and is spreading fear of people sexually abusing kids at church, now that churches are beginning to open up again. 

While child sexual abuse at churches and schools has certainly been reduced by eliminating in-person activities, sexual abuse is still occurring where it has always occurred most often: in the home. 


I have written previously about how churches treat people on the sex offender registry:

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

added--a list of resources

Notes from the Handbasket now offers a list of resources that may be useful to those traversing the rough territory of the registry. On your mobile device, click the arrow to the right of Home and select NEW! Resources, an Incomplete List. On your computer, under Pages to the right, click the Resources link.

As the page title says, this is an incomplete list. You are welcome to add other resources in the comments below or in the comments for the Resources page.