9.17.2010

Sex Offenders in the Pew

Just read a great article at Christianity Today about churches and sex offenders, but it is 7 pages long so I have put some of the key excerpts up here. As N.T. Wright says, every society has one unforgivable sin, and as the article pointed out, many would argue that in our culture, that sin is the sexual abuse of children. Fortunately, Jesus accepts all of us as we are, unconditionally. But that is hardly a license for stupidity or worse. If this is an issue (and a reality) that matters to you, I hope you find this useful. For the rest of us, I think these excerpts do a lot to shine some light on an often misunderstood issue. To read the article in its entirety, click here.

When the prison chaplain asked Craig, a sex offender, if he was willing to accept Christ as his Savior, he answered with a question: "Would Christ accept me?"

Anglican theologian N. T. Wright states in Simply Christian that every society has one unforgiveable sin. Many would argue that the unforgiveable sin today is the sexual abuse of children.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Sex Offender Registry includes the names and locations of 549,000 persons convicted of or charged with sex crimes. The odds are that if you are reading this article, you have come into contact with a sex offender or a victim, whether you know it or not.

Nationwide, church leaders are facing the same dilemma as Craig's pastor: how to help restore and incorporate into church life persons who have served time for heinous crimes, while keeping the church safe.
"Sex offenders can change just as an alcoholic or drug addict can change," contends Witherow. He quotes 2 Corinthians 5:17 to support his belief: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Witherow says he is on a mission to educate people and undo the hysteria that has built up around sex offenders.
"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." One molester, who was himself a minister, told Salter, "I considered church people easy to fool. They have a trust that comes from being Christians. I think they want to believe in people."
The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, the largest professional organization on treating sex offenders, states on its website that "although many, if not most, sexual abusers are treatable, there is no known 'cure.' Management of sexually abusive behavior is a lifelong task for some sexual abusers." The organization says repeat sexual crimes can be reduced significantly through prevention, assessment, treatment, supervision, and collaboration involving all parties.
"One of the great things that Jesus said is, 'I am the light of the world.' I want to live into that," says Tusken. "I want his light to shine in the dark places of the abuser's heart and in the hearts of the abused." St. Mark's lets its light shine—in every corner of its building. A recent remodeling project added interior windows to every room. A sign by the front door states the church's safety policies, and more than 300 adults in the church have gone through its child protection training program.
"One of our church's ministries had 'adopted' a low-income apartment building and was spending a lot of time tutoring the kids and engaging in all sorts of activities with the residents. We invited these folks to church, and we even provided transportation. Then I found out that a couple of the people who were coming were registered sex offenders."
Although a lot of issues factored into how to handle their attendance, Arvada's council agreed on one thing: "We all wanted to minister to them. We feel that they are probably among the neediest in terms of finding Christ and being coached and mentored by Christians."
Arvada Covenant got bogged down on whether offenders should be chaperoned in church at all times. "Do we have escorts for these people? That was probably the most contentious question," Thomsen says. Half of the church council felt that escorts would be too intrusive. The other half (Thomsen included) insisted on them to protect children and youth.
"We have children and youth all over the place, and a person would have unlimited, unsupervised access to kids. I just couldn't bear the thought of that happening," Thomsen says. In the end, it took about six months for Arvada Covenant to agree on and adopt a sex offender conditional attendance policy.
"In my 30-plus years as a minister, I have never asked someone to leave the church because their redemptive process was too messy. But what I learned in trying to work with a sex offender at our church is that you need more of a critical mass of people invested in recovery as a ministry."
A New Model - In 1994, the Mennonite Central Committee in Canada created a program that models a simple and effective gateway into society for ex-offenders. Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) began as a pilot project in Ontario. Its mission: to reduce the risk of re-offense and ease offenders back into society.
"When the community takes responsibility for its own safety and for assisting offenders to live productive lives, healing for all involved can occur in powerful ways," she says.

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