If you stick around, in just a moment I am going to be dealing with the problem created by registered sex offenders attending church. However, before we get there, I want to say something about the cultural context we find ourselves in. And that said, I want to warn you beforehand that the point I am going to draw from that context is probably not what you think I am going to draw, so please hold your wrath until you finish the paragraphs following.
There is no way to pornify a culture the way we have done without making porn far more available to kids than it used to be. And kids obviously learn from what they see, monkey see monkey do. This includes what we call “mainstream” entertainment, and not just the triple-x stuff. We now have young kids who have seen, or who have heard about on the playground, practices that previous generations learned about in their second year of med school. Nobody should be surprised when when some junior high boy tries out some of what he has seen or heard about on his younger sister. When sexual corruption becomes ubiquitous, many more kids are going to get swept up in it. Call it the collateral damage of the sexual revolution.
But I am not saying this in any exculpatory way. Corruption is corruption, and being steeped in corruption from childhood does not remove any personal responsibility. We are a sinful race. So this point has nothing to do with the making of excuses for the perpetrators of sex crimes — while it is true that many victimizers were victims themselves first, that doesn’t make any of it right. Personal responsibility is assigned by the Bible, and not by our experiences.
So why make the point about pornification then? What this is intended to do is point out that those who promote and advance such corruptions in one area ought not to be entrusted with adjudication of crimes and offenses of a sexual nature in another area. Our establishment no longer knows what sex itself is supposed to be, and so cannot know what sexual justice is supposed to be. We therefore ought not to rely on their “wisdom” about sexual justice as it relates to children. They don’t have any wisdom. Our cultural milieu tolerates and teaches courses in our universities (!) which solemnly maintain that all instances of PIV (penis in vagina) are rape by definition, dogmatically pronounce that TMI sex education for grade schoolers is a moral necessity, say that doing the anal honors should be considered a high privilege, and now with much of the legal resistance to same sex mirage out of the way, has already been preparing to mainstream pedophilia. The last thing in the world Christians should do is join in with any stampeding opinions about any of this from the secularists. They don’t know what sex is for, and they therefore don’t know what sexual justice is.
Here is (just) one example of secularist dogma that Christians are bound to reject. “Sex offenders don’t ever change.” This is not only an error, it is an error which strikes at the heart of the gospel’s efficacy. Now it is quite true that sex offenders don’t ever change themselves, but this is true for the same reason that thieves and adulterers never change themselves. Christ came into the world to save sinners, including the really screwed up ones.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).
The words translated here as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind refer to homosexual behavior, plainly and unambiguously. Anyone who says otherwise is blowing some scholarly smoke at you. And in the ancient world, who does not know that this kind of practice routinely included young boys? But my point in citing this passage is not to prove that this kind of behavior is immoral, as much as that point might be needed in other discussions, but rather to demonstrate that “sex offenders cannot change” is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. Among the Corinthians, do you think there were any converts who had been given over fully to the ancient ways with a whole series of young boys? “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
Thus, if a sex offender is kept outside the congregation, and is served communion in a back room, then what you are actually doing is making a liturgical statement that he ought not be served communion at all. If he is vile, and cannot change, then excommunicate him and be done with it. Your justification for such excommunication would then have to be that “such people never change.” But if he can repent, and be brought to the Table, then he must be brought to the Table with all the other forgiven sinners — which perhaps includes the rest of us.
But, of course . . . the fact that a repentant sex offender can repent and can be truly forgiven does not mean that his professed repentance is genuine. We are not required to live in la-la land. Forgiveness and trust are two very different things, and so when a convicted sex offender is brought into fellowship with the rest of the congregation, it must be done in such a way that no parent has any reasonable cause to be worried about what could happen. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that a registered sex offender is made a Sunday School teacher, any more than a convicted embezzler is made the church treasurer. And one of the ways true repentance is manifested is that the person involved is not at all offended by this necessity, and understands completely that although his sin is forgiven, certain consequences necessarily remain. Paul once said that if he had been guilty of anything deserving of death, he did not refuse to die (Acts 25:11). A repentant offender receives the consequences, and, as much as possible, is eager to have the consequences of his crimes fall on himself.
One other preliminary point needs to be made, and that has to do with ministerial confidentiality. When I am providing pastoral counseling, I never promise absolute confidentiality. I do promise discretion, but I don’t ever want to say that I “will never tell a soul” and then have somebody tell me where they buried the body. I reserve the full right (and moral responsibility) to call the cops, depending on the circumstances. But it is important to note that ministerial authority means that whether or not I am going to do this is a decision that rests within the church, and not with some bureaucratic functionary who has no understanding of the biblical principles of justice and mercy, and how they relate.
With regard to this topic, we have both been involved in situations where it was necessary to involve the authorities immediately. There are offenders who need to be arrested and prosecuted. But what if it was three or four five-year-olds out behind the barn being naughty? Now what? Do you call Child Protective Services over that? It is important for everyone to remember that there is more than one way to wreck a family.
All this said, here are some key areas where remembering the principles of justice are most necessary. For various reasons, our culture has gotten to the point where we believe that neglect of these principles in matters of sex and children is actually virtuous, and that it somehow displays our moral sensitivity. Christians have unfortunately gotten swept up into some of these errors, with a little help from inflammatory indignation on the Internet.
Accusation is not conviction. One of feminism’s many lies is that women “don’t lie about rape,” and the appropriate response to this is that “women” don’t do anything, but that some women do lie about rape, for the same reason that some men do. Some women will lie about anything. Men, ditto. The fact that she is a woman and the subject is rape is meaningless, and tells us nothing independent of the facts. Potiphar’s wife lied about rape (Gen. 39:14). This same problem is heightened when you are dealing with children who are testifying about something — particularly when the child witness is being “coached” by some expert with a head full of nonsense. However — and this anticipates my third point below — being careful about finding out the truth is not the same thing as not caring about the truth. Make no mistake — it is terrible when a child has to live within range of a sexual predator because the threshold of proof cannot be met. But it is also terrible to have a man who never did anything spend ten years in prison because a child was pressured into a false accusation. The thresholds of proof in the Bible require independent confirmation of guilt (two or three witnesses), which is where we get our “beyond all reasonable doubt” standard. This means that, according to Scripture, in a world in which terrible things happen, the terrible thing of a guilty man going free is to be reluctantly preferred to the terrible thing of an innocent man being convicted. In addition, we find that cultures in rebellion against this standard are soon in the position of inverting other biblical standards as well — as a prelude to leveling accusations against many innocents.
The fact that someone was convicted of a sex offense does not mean that all sex offenses are in the same category of offense. We do need to have the category of statutory rape, and it needs to policed with tough sanctions, but we also need to remember that it is a different kind of offense from the rape of a three-year-old. The latter is the kind of offense that you execute people for, and the former usually is not. It is important to distinguish, in terms of legal consequences, the creep show from the fornicator. But, returning to the point made earlier, even the creep show can be forgiven by Christ, and can be served communion on death row. Sorting this kind of thing out requires true spiritual maturity, and it needs to be done by men who truly fear God. It cannot be done by linking to rants on the Internet.
Once the spirit of accusation has taken root, accusations are often leveled at more than the offender. One thing I have noticed about such meltdowns is that they often occur in churches in such a way as to provide someone with the opportunity to accuse the pastors and elders who are trying to clean up the toxic waste in the aftermath. In our experience, such accusers frequently take the silence of pastors as an admission of complicity, or worse. But these snarls frequently involve many people with varying degrees of complicity, humiliation, shamed innocence, stupidity, and guilt. And it is far better for shepherds to be falsely accused than for shepherds to defend themselves by unnecessarily humiliating the sheep any further. In some situations, everything is out on the table, and a pastor can talk about it freely. But in other situations, there is no way to talk about it, and no way to explain, without doing a lot more damage. To those who say that in doing this, I am “covering up,” I would simply respond that I am a pastor and I cover things up for a living.
This post is going to be incorporated into a book on the principles of justice that I am working on with my friend, Randy Booth, hence the first person plural pronoun. For the time being, some of my previous work on this can be found under the tag A Justice Primer.