A Challenge to Christian Conduct and Acceptance of Others
by Loretta Leonard
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The article was on a page inside the Arkansas Baptist News. The title “Bellevue Fires Staff Member, Hears Full Report” was published on February 8, 2007. It gives insights into a very difficult situation, dealing with sexual misconduct. A church in Tennessee fired their long-term minister of prayer due to alleged sexual abuse/misconduct. The activity was against his son over a period of 12-18 months. He asked for forgiveness from his son and never told anyone else about what had happened. No one knows exactly how the situation came to the attention of the church, but after the pastor investigated the charges, the staff member with 24 years of service was fired.
The article “Guarding Against Sexual Abuse” appeared in the same publication on April 17, 2007. Frank Page, author, feels that the local church is responsible for accountability and should have some type of policy guidelines for handling cases of sexual abuse. His article also calls for churches to prosecute any offenders to the fullest extent of the law. His reasoning focuses on the trust that needs to be at the church. “Simply put, there is no place in the church for persons who would take advantage of these relationships”.
In an incident that occurred about two years ago, a young girl was raped by a young boy. Both the girl and boy were members in the same church youth group. A short investigation by the girl’s parents revealed that there was a pattern of abuse in the young boy but no one had ever confronted him. Inquiries were made into the allegations and court documents were processed to subpoena the youth minister as well as the boy. Ironically, the day the subpoena was to be delivered the staff member had disappeared. Rumor had it that he was ushered out quickly by the church before legal action could be taken. He moved to another state and it was quite some time before anyone knew where he was living. In this case, the church avoided dealing with sexual abuse and/or rape and the victim had to live with the feeling that she had done something wrong. The young boy was never held accountable.
The first article caught my attention and prompted the actual writing of this article. I realize that sexual misconduct is a serious problem and that the individuals who are being investigated or have been convicted face a very real problem. In today’s world there are a series of restrictions placed on people so that they cannot live within a certain radius of schools, churches, playgrounds and day care centers, and bus stops. Just finding a place to live is a challenge. Most of these people do not have a job or can’t keep a job due to the sexual charges. They have a whole host of legal problems to face such as meeting regularly with court-appointed probation officers. There is a registry of sexual offenders and almost anyone can search the list.
The issue of sexual misconduct is a touchy one because even if the person who committed the crime repents and becomes focused on serving the Lord, they still have the stigma of being a sex offender. Most of us would agree that having these offenders worship with us in a regular service would be very difficult. We just are not ready to offer forgiveness to those who commit these crimes. We don’t want them around our children and we take a different attitude towards them when we find out that they are on a registry. It wasn’t until recently that I came close to a situation which tested my own Christian thinking on this topic. I had to search my heart and challenge my Christian thinking to see if I could do this with someone I knew.
Not many churches participate in programs that address sexual misconduct. One church that I know about does offer Monday evening classes for people who are facing serious legal and/or criminal problems. The church is a rather large one and has many resources available to reach out into the community. The topics that are discussed allow people to ask questions and get feedback from others in the group as well as from the leader. The conversations are confidential and the names of people who attend are known only to those within the group. The safety of that setting does permit people to feel free to open and talk. Gossip is not allowed and once the class is dismissed each individual (hopefully) has a better insight into both his problems and those of others in similar situations.
Our God is a God of second chances. He offers forgiveness to those who earnestly seek Him. (I John 1:9) “He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Colossians 3:13 Christians are to “Bear[ing] with one another and forgive[ing] one another”. The prodigal son was forgiven. The two men from Gergesnes possessed of a demon were given a second opportunity when Jesus took pity on them. The majority of these sex offenders will continue to make the same mistake over and over again, but what if someone is genuinely sorry for their actions and needs direction? Is there any way to reach out to them?
Our country is challenging us to “think outside the box”. This area is one that fits in that category. The need to reach out in new directions is important in any church work. Does this problem need to be addressed in the future or should we continue to let the legal system deal with this group of offenders? In the case with the Tennessee church, the people have decided to analyze the problem closer. “New policies and procedures are being instigated so that future cases like this can be handled appropriately through the church.”
Should we open more prison ministries to help support people like this? Think about it. Christ came for everyone, the just and unjust. Our system is filled with people who need help recovering from drugs and alcohol. Crimes such as breaking and entering, assault, prostitution, and manslaughter are realities. Rehab centers are open for many who have decided to make a change in their life. But more can we do to help? Can we find a way to reach out to others? In the large church which already has a program in place, leaders try to find a place for the person to stay. They are always available for counsel and they have worked to not be judgmental over someone who has made a serious mistake.
Is there any way that we can “think outside of the box” and help others who need and WANT guidance? Notice that the key word here is WANT. If the person has no desire to get help then the task will be more difficult, if not impossible. There are Christian psychologists who can help the person understand his inner thinking. There are prison ministries devoted to people who have made errors and are rejected by society. Maybe we should get out of our “comfort zone” and consider if we could make a difference. The challenge would be great but the rewards could be even greater for those who attempt to find God’s direction in a delicate situation. Even one person trying to set up a program to address this issue could be the beginning of a new outreach.
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