In almost every area of our society, sex offenders and pedophiles are considered monsters. Those who prey on the weak and defenseless are rejected, marked, avoided, and even persecuted. There is a valid societal safety need to protect ourselves and our loved ones. But are these people beyond hope? Does the church have a responsibility to minister to them? And if so, how?
The following story is submitted by a pastor in our fellowship who preferred his name and location be withheld to protect the situation.
In early August I received a notice from the sheriff’s department that a registered sex offender had moved into my area. Interestingly, I was outside the defined area that should have been notified, but his location was fairly close. When I checked the website that lists all registered sex offenders, I learned that a total of 11 live within the limits of our small, rural town. I also learned that three registered sex offenders live at the address of this man (whom I will call Bill). I had not received any previous notifications.
I shared the information with my church staff, filed the notice, and thought the issue was closed. We’d be alert, but there was nothing else we could (or should) do. However, two Sundays later a man slipped into church after the service had begun and sat in the back. After the service he told me he wanted to set an appointment. His visitor’s card later confirmed that he was the convicted sex offender whom the notification was referring to.
When we met, Bill told me he was now a believer. His wife had committed adultery when he was about 30 years old, and he “made a huge mistake” and entered into sexual relations with a minor. He was convicted of rape and spent almost 18 years in the state penitentiary. He had been on parole and in a residential rehabilitation program in another city for the past year. During that time he had been welcomed by a local Baptist church and had been mentored by a retired pastor. Bill is sorry for his crime, and he is aware of the damage that has been done to everyone involved. However, he is now 48 and realizes that he needs the fellowship of believers and the ministry of a local church. He found my church in the phone book, and since it was close, he chose to visit.
From previous training I am aware that sex offenders can never be allowed to minister to children or teens. I have also read that if they are allowed to attend, it is a good idea to assign a person to serve as their escort while they are at church. As all this was happening, I received the September issue of Christianity Today. It had a six-page article titled “Sex Offenders in the Pew.” It shares the stories of several ministries that have chosen to minister to sex offenders, including one small church that actually closed because of the tensions that resulted within the congregation.
I have sought counsel from other pastors and leaders. I have contacted the retired pastor who mentored Bill, and he gave a solid recommendation. I have met with our deacons and shared with them Paul’s desire to present every man perfect in Christ (Col. 1:28) as well as the fact that God forgives sin and changes lives (1 Cor. 6:9–11). When I told them Bill’s story, they agreed that we have a responsibility as a church to minister to him. However, we will not allow him to be involved in ministry with children or teens, and he will be escorted any time he is at church. We will be presenting all of this information to the church following the service this Sunday evening.
Here are some questions for discussion: Have you ever ministered to a “monster”? How have you helped him? Do you have any policies or procedures concerning the attendance of sex offenders in your church? How do you minister to the individual, yet protect the congregation? How has your church responded to people like this?