Dealing with Sexual Abuse in the Church: Advice for Pastors, Part 2

(Read Part 1)

Shepherding the Perpetrator

Pastoring is not for the faint-hearted. It is not for those who shrink back from conflict or those who find it hard to confront. Dealing with sexual predators is not easy. Sometimes you feel like you are staring into the eyes of pure evil. Whether the perpetrator is a member of his church or not, the way a pastor deals with him has the potential to alleviate or aggravate the agony of the victim, protect or expose the church to danger, and bring healing or a cover-up to the perpetrator himself.

First, once a pastor confirms a report of sexual abuse by a victim it is important that he act. Most states have laws that require the reporting of abuse by educators, clergy and others within 24 hours. As I said before, don’t expect miracles from the local authorities. Nevertheless, reporting is the first step. This will probably involve giving an official statement, filling out detailed forms and multiple phone calls with authorities.

Second, immediately do everything in your power to protect the victim from further abuse or retaliation. This means providing a sanctuary of some kind where the victim can be cared for and protected. At my church several members have second homes hours away that can be used as sanctuaries.

Third, confront the perpetrator as soon as possible, but with caution. Do not go alone, especially if the situation might be dangerous. If it is not dangerous, demand to meet with the perpetrator that day. Do not let the issue go unaddressed for more than 24 hours. If the perpetrator is a member or attender of your church, meet with your elders or deacons and inform them that an accusation of abuse has been leveled against him.

What should you do if the accused denies the abuse? I think that this will be the reaction more often than not—sometimes because the accused is, in fact, innocent, and sometimes because the accused is attempting to hide the abuse. In the event of a denial, a pastor must exercise great wisdom. He must employ an acute sense of perception to watch the reactions of the accused. As I said before, predators are extremely proficient in deception, and Proverbs 20:5 reveals that “the purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water” which “a man of understanding will draw…out.” By asking specific, pointed questions, the Spirit of God may reveal a man who is hiding something.

If the pastor is unable to determine the truth, he may need to suspend judgment until a police investigation and trial render judgment. In such a case, unfortunately, the agony of the abused is prolonged. If the pastor doubts the truth of the accusation, and the accused can account for his whereabouts and actions, he must still provide protection for the accused by maintaining confidentiality (after reporting to the authorities, of course) and seeking to prevent gossip.

A false accusation of such magnitude is devastating, and pastors and churches should not rush to judgment. For the sake of the church, an accused member may need to step down temporarily from certain leadership positions until guilt or innocence can be established. This is an unfortunate circumstance for the innocent, but allowing a member to continue in leadership will damage the credibility of church leaders if he is later determined to be guilty.

Fourth, when confronting a known abuser, follow the biblical principles of confrontation found in Matthew 18:15-20, Galatians 6:1, and 1 Corinthians 5. The confrontation should be conducted in a calm, controlled manner, yet firmly. The response of the abuser is important. The only acceptable response is a total, heartfelt repentance that fits the seven criteria of 2 Corinthians 7:10-11. Remorse is insufficient. Excuse-making is unacceptable. Dodging, concealing, minimizing, and other forms of evasion reveal a lack of genuine repentance.

True repentance

Genuine repentance is a “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10, NASB) in contrast to remorse for getting caught or for “making a mistake.” According to verse 11, genuine repentance is characterized by “earnestness” or “zeal.” This seems to be the controlling idea of the next six characteristics. It speaks of thoroughness and initiative in setting right what one has done wrong. “Eagerness to clear” (2 Cor. 7:11, ESV) himself is willingness to follow whatever stipulations church leaders place upon the perpetrator, without resistance or resentment. This may include required counseling, a letter of apology, or whatever else is determined to be necessary. Restitution should be made willingly, whether it consists of paying medical or counseling bills, or any other kind of obligation that the abuse has incurred.

The “indignation” (2 Cor. 7:11) is anger at one’s own sin—not beating oneself up, but rather righteous anger that recognizes the extent of devastation brought upon the victim. The abuser should possess great “fear” (7:11) of chastisement and of ever committing such acts again. He should possess a lasting desire (“longing”) to make the situation as fully right as possible. He should burn with jealousy for the name of God that has been damaged through his sin. Finally, he should “punish” the sources of temptation in his life that led to this act.

Confession always accompanies repentance. To confess sin means to agree with God about the nature of it. This precludes any excuses or rationalization. A confession of sin that reflects genuine repentance will be complete and contrite, taking full responsibility for one’s actions, and recognizing the severity of the crime.

Paul’s final statement in verse 11 teaches us that any “apology” that falls short of this description is unacceptable. Forgiveness and a return to innocence can only come through this kind of repentance. Here’s where pastors often fail to properly shepherd sexual abusers. They fail to realize the complexity and depth of depravity, devious behavior and self-deception that led to the act in the first place. In an effort to avoid conflict or to show Christian love, they accept the first tearful or half-hearted apology. Now to be sure, some sexual abusers may be genuinely repentant when first confronted, but I believe these to be a small minority. A pastor needs to proceed very carefully before he begins offering clemency to abusers.

While God forgives immediately upon the occasion of genuine repentance, pastors do not see the true intent of the heart except through outward fruits of repentance (Matt. 3:8). This takes time. While God restores our relationship with Him immediately, the broken trust between a sexual abuser and other people is restored much more slowly. A pastor who accepts a hasty or half-hearted apology is robbing three people. First, he robs the victim by cheapening the high cost of forgiveness and minimizing the offense against the victim. Second, he robs the abuser of an opportunity (which he obviously needs) to learn genuine repentance. Last, he robs the church by allowing an unrepentant abuser back into fellowship. This is akin to opening the door of the henhouse to the fox.

But there’s one more who is robbed. The pastor himself is robbed of credibility, because he failed to protect the flock. If I were a member of a church where an unrepentant sexual predator was allowed to freely move within the community, I would feel betrayed by my pastor. His integrity would be severely damaged and his leadership in my life would be nullified by his negligence. He would be complicit in any future abuse by the perpetrator. Pastors have an obligation to protect the flock, whether the threat is from without or within.

If a sexual abuser is genuinely repentant, then he, too, will need pastoral care. He will need to be counseled, held accountable, and encouraged (because he will be broken-hearted and may despair). His wife and children will need encouragement. He will need someone to accompany him to court. He will need his pastor to instruct and encourage the congregation to welcome him back into fellowship (2 Cor. 2:6-8). In short, he will need ongoing care and accountability for years.

Shepherding the Church through Sexual Abuse

The perpetrator and victim of sexual abuse need pastoral care, but the church as a whole also needs careful, biblical leadership from the pastor in the wake of this sin. Pastors must regularly teach and preach the biblical truths of repentance, forgiveness, sexual purity, biblical confrontation, and church discipline. If a pastor is faithfully doing this, the church will be better equipped to deal with cases of sexual sin.

In addition, churches must develop written discipline and sexual abuse policies and must make these available to the congregation. The procedures must be followed carefully if the church hopes to retain credibility and protect itself from legal action.

According to Matthew 18, public church discipline is reserved for unrepentant members involved in serious sin after due process has been followed. This has several implications. First, victims of sexual abuse should absolutely never be put in front of the church to apologize for being abused, even if (or especially if) that abuse resulted in pregnancy. Such action is a complete failure of leadership as well as a failure to understand abuse and offense. In Matthew 18:5-6, Jesus is abundantly clear that the worst fate awaits those who offend (sin against in a significant way) children. Forcing a teenager to confess wrong for getting pregnant from abuse adds insult to injury and turns religious authority into abuse as well.

Second, a sexual abuser who does not satisfy the criterion of biblical repentance or the requirements of restoration needs to be publicly named and his sin condemned, all the while protecting the victim’s identity and dignity as much as possible. Again, a pastor who does not warn the flock of the presence of a sexual predator in their midst has failed in the most egregious manner.

Third, even if a sexual abuser clearly demonstrates fruits of repentance, and thereby avoids public naming and expulsion, he must be permanently restricted from certain activities in the church. He ought never to be involved in ministry with children and teens again. He ought to be banned from any leadership position since these inherently require influence and trust. He ought to maintain the accountability assigned by church leaders. Monitoring these matters must become a top priority for leaders for the church’s sake.

Some may wonder why this particular sin should bring such restrictions, when we might not argue for the same with other past sins such as drunkenness, assault, etc. I believe that Paul sets sexual sin in a distinct category in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” There is something unique about the violation of the body in sexual sin that makes it particularly offensive and devastating. A detailed discussion of this is outside the cope of this article, but I believe Paul’s theology of the body warrants this interpretation.

If these measures seem too severe, the horrific nature of abuse is still not understood. An abuser who fully understands the nature of his sin will not object to such restrictions. This is not a matter of forgiveness; it is a matter of broken trust. Paul reminded the Corinthians of their past sins, which included sexual abuse (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Now in Christ they were washed, sanctified and justified. Abusers can be truly forgiven, washed and free. Being forgiven, however, does not easily restore broken trust, especially given the magnitude of sexual abuse. A forgiven abuser ought to be able to minister in other areas, and find full fellowship in the body.

Conclusion

With sexual abuse as widespread as it is in our world today, pastors cannot afford to fail in their care and shepherding. The very lives of people, the credibility of the church, and the name of Christ are at stake. Every young man studying for the ministry should possess clarity on this issue. He must ensure that he obtains adequate biblical training in counseling cases of abuse and in pastoral leadership. He should conduct research and ask questions so that when he is confronted with sexual abuse in ministry, he will be able to handle it with confidence, competence, and courage.

Much more can be said on this critical issue, and perhaps some of my advice is debatable, but I hope that this essay will help provide a foundation for Christian thinking regarding sexual abuse. I also hope that it will start an ongoing conversation that will help bring victims of sexual abuse out of the darkness of pain and shame, and into the glorious light of God’s healing power.


Mark Farnham is Assistant Professor of Theology and New Testament at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He and his wife, Adrienne, grew up in Connecticut and were married after graduating from Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Watertown, WI). They have two daughters and a son, all teenagers. Mark served as director of youth ministries at Positive Action for Christ (Rocky Mount, NC) after seminary and pastored for seven years in New London, Connecticut. He holds an MDiv from Calvary and a ThM in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA). He has also studied ancient manuscripts at Harvard Divinity School and philosophy at Villanova University. He is presently a doctoral student at Westminster Theological Seminary (Glenside, PA) in the field of Apologetics. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary or its faculty and administration.

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Don Johnson's picture

Mark, I took you to task for the statistics part of your introductory remarks, but I want to give kudos for the rest of the two articles, the ministering to the various parties involved. These are good summaries of what must happen.

As for the ministry to the perpetrator (i.e., the truly guilty), according to one book I have read on the subject, it is almost impossible to minister to both victim and perpetrator at the same time (assuming the perpetrator does demonstrate real repentance). I wonder if you might have any comments on that point.

The book I mention, BTW, is When Child Abuse Comes to Church by Bill Anderson.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Diane Heeney's picture

Thank you. Well done...scriptural, straightforward, yet compassionate. A good resource for pastors...will share with ours.

"I pray to God this day to make me an extraordinary Christian." --Whitefield http://strengthfortoday.wordpress.com

RPittman's picture

Mark, you tackled a very, very difficult subject in dealing with the perpetrator. This is one of the hardest issues to address from a Biblical perspective. It involves coming from both sides simultaneously. A pastor must strongly condemn the sinner's sin while attempting to bring the individual into a right relationship with God. You did a fine job in maintaining balance and perspective within Biblical teaching. Well done.

RPittman's picture

Luke 17:3-4 seemingly indicates forgiveness is to be given upon a profession of repentance and a request for forgiveness. Forgiveness is to be immediately granted even upon frequent subsequent offenses. Certainly, there are no fruit of repentance here. On the other hand, I understand you to have applied Matthew 3:8 as requiring works showing repentance to be necessary before forgiveness. Perhaps I am misunderstanding. In context, I have always understood this Scripture as Christ challenging the Pharisees and Sadducees to show works (i.e. fruit) indicating a true heart change instead of their external religion. I do not understand the passage teaching works as prerequisite for forgiveness but rather works that would follow genuine repentance. I do not see forgiveness as being conditional.

As I understand it, forgiveness is the release from a debt or obligation. It is the choice of one to whom the debt is owed and no payment is required of the debtor. It does not, however, necessarily remove the consequences. A sexual abuser may be forgiven by people and God for his sin but he still faces the criminal and civil penalties.

IMHO, forgiveness is as important to the victim as the abuser. Forgiveness releases the victim from the chains of bitterness, anger, and hate. It also brings the person into a right relationship to God Who does not forgive us if we fail to forgive our enemies (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:25-26). Using God's pattern of forgiveness, I believed at one time that forgiveness was not to be given until the person asked. However, I am now persuaded that forgiveness may be rendered without the offender asking as Christ prayed for forgiveness of those who crucified him (Luke 23:34) and we are commanded to forgive when offenses come to mind during prayer (Mark 11:25). If so, would it be inappropriate to forgive the unrepentant sexual offender as well? Now, please understand that I still advocate church discipline. He doesn't get off scot-free even in the church. Forgiveness is the releasing of the attitude that he owes me. One ceases trying to make him pay and pay dearly for his offense and leaves him to the heavier judgment of God's hand. I think this is one of the main points in Romans 12:17-21. Don't we trust God to judge justly and do right? Do we think that we can levy worse punishment than God. Sometimes, I really believe that we lighten the sinner's punishment by our lack of forgiveness and vindictiveness (Proverbs 24:17-18).

Well, Mark, I would value your opinions and comments. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Susan R's picture

I think this has been a good set of articles on the subject, especially considering the amount of space allotted. I'm sure Bro. Farnham could have written a novel based on the details of his experiences, but this is great for starters to get some good information out there for church leadership to ponder. And hopefully put into practice.

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Second, immediately do everything in your power to protect the victim from further abuse or retaliation. This means providing a sanctuary of some kind where the victim can be cared for and protected. At my church several members have second homes hours away that can be used as sanctuaries.

I think sanctuary is a good thing to offer to the victim, but the perception is likely to be that the perpetrator is being allowed to stay and the victim is being 'sent away'. So not only has a child lost their innocence, they may feel that they've lost their home and friends as well. The balance of ministering to both parties is probably the most precarious element of this problem.

When dealing with the accused, I believe it's important to differentiate between [URL=http://www.atsa.com/ppPedophiles.html types of sexual offenders[/URL ]-

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Although virtually all pedophiles are child molesters, not all child molesters are pedophiles. Pedophiles have a clear sexual attraction for children. The focus of a pedophile is a child or children generally under the age of 13. Pedophiles often report they are attracted to children in a particular age range ([URL=http://allpsych.com/disorders/paraphilias/pedophilia.html DSM-IV[/URL ]). Child molesters are sexual offenders who have committed either intra-familial sexual offense (incest) against a child victim or extra-familial sexual offenses against a child victim or both.

Even though we use the term 'pedophile' for anyone who engages in sexual activity or has an attraction for underage youth, technically, a pedophile is someone attracted to prepubescent children while ephebophilia is the sexual preference of an adult for a mid-late adolescent.

Also, based on several studies, [URL=http://www.atsa.com/pdfs/ppYouth.pdf ]youth sex offenders[/URL ] should be handled differently than adult offenders.

Of course, all the literature on the subject must be weighed against solid Scriptural doctrine, but I think it naive and even dangerous to ignore the research on this topic. The implications of an adult being attracted to a 6 year old are much different than someone attracted to a 16 year old. We can't forget that many offenders are teens themselves, or that female sex offenders have increased by something like 30% in the last decade.

Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, and 24:6 all advise that there is safety in a multitude of counselors. I think having an educated staff that is alert and watchful could do wonders for the safety of our kids. Prevention was mentioned in the thread on Part 1, and IMO wisdom comes from having a knowledge base on which to develop discernment about how adults are interacting with children.

We should also, (again, IMO) exercise more wisdom about youth activities and choices of entertainment and games. I think we open the door and invite temptation in with games that involve alot of physical contact between children and adults, showing movies with sexual content (no matter how subtle), and having mixed group discussions on sexual matters. There should be an emphasis on modesty at all times, even when in gender segregated groups (I once knew an adult female camp counselor who had no problem walking around in her skivvies in front of the young girls in her charge).

Never forget that predators take time setting up their victims, while most of us are going about our business with nary a thought as to the implications of some of the behaviors happening right under our noses.

Louise Dan's picture

In terms of true repentance, you don't mention submitting to the legal ramifications. Or did I miss that? I thought I read through everything, but maybe I just didn't see that. But the perpetrator hasn't fully exercised restitution until he walks into the police station to make it right with the laws of his country.

Susan R's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
In terms of true repentance, you don't mention submitting to the legal ramifications. Or did I miss that? I thought I read through everything, but maybe I just didn't see that. But the perpetrator hasn't fully exercised restitution until he walks into the police station to make it right with the laws of his country.

I think Bro. Farnham covers this to an extent. If you read through the first section on "Shepherding the Perpetrator" he does give some guidelines about what to do to work with the legal system. I think the problem is that the church has little power when it comes to investigating and determining guilt.

Louise Dan's picture

Mark Farnham wrote:
Confession always accompanies repentance. To confess sin means to agree with God about the nature of it. This precludes any excuses or rationalization. A confession of sin that reflects genuine repentance will be complete and contrite, taking full responsibility for one's actions, and recognizing the severity of the crime.

At this point, what Farnham is saying is how you evaluate true repentance for a proven offense. But he doesn't include restitution with local authorities. And I would like to say in very strong terms that if a sexual crime is committed against a minor, TRUE REPENTANCE hasn't taken place until the offender has walked in the police department and sat down with a detective and told the truth.

Anna Walker's picture

And, also, perps may appear very sorry. But, are they sorry for their actions or are they sorry they got caught. My perp was an incredibly manipulative man. He knew how to read people and he'd say exactly what they wanted to hear. That is why it is way too dangerous for a pastor to judge if someone is truly repentant before allowing a perp back in the church. Show the victim you care by making the perp leave -- not shipping the victim away. If there are any other perps in the church, they will watch how you handle the situation. If they see that they can just say a few words and be welcomed back into fellowship, then nothing will stop them from doing the same thing. But, if they see that you have a harsh stance against sexual offenders, then they'll leave and look for easier prey.

Leave the dealing with perps to the police. That is their job. They are trained to know how to handle sexual crimes.

Sex offenders will offend again. Do you want to take the chance of allowing a ticking time bomb in your congregation?

Jay's picture

Quote:
Sex offenders will offend again. Do you want to take the chance of allowing a ticking time bomb in your congregation?

How do we keep sex offenders out of a congregation in the first place? It's not like they wear a special yellow helmet that makes perps highly visible and puts the rest of us on notice.

It's a GREAT question, though.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Anna Walker's picture

Sex offenders are often required to stay away from children as part of the probation/parole. So, if they are attending a church, they would be in violation of that. I know, we had one man who told us he was a sex offender when he first started attended. He was allowed to stay for a very short period of time (the men in the church shared the responsibility of keeping an eye on him). But, he did not abide by some rules laid out before him (use the separate handicapped bathroom vs using the regular bathroom where he could be in contact with little boys; don't socialize with the children etc) and we had to ask him to leave. It was too dangerous for the church to allow him to come. It is hard to *know* who the perps are. I understand that. But, if you have someone accused/suspected etc, then your first priority is to protect your flock.

RPittman's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Quote:
Sex offenders will offend again. Do you want to take the chance of allowing a ticking time bomb in your congregation?

How do we keep sex offenders out of a congregation in the first place? It's not like they wear a special yellow helmet that makes perps highly visible and puts the rest of us on notice.

It's a GREAT question, though.

The rate of recidivism is so high that some secular psychologists say that it is 100%. Sexual habits, including homosexuality, are hard to eradicate. As Christians, I think, we must hold to the power of Christ being able to change people and give victory over sin. The individual, of course, must do his or her part with the help and support of the pastor, the church, and other Christians. The point is that we can never lower our guard with a known sex offender but we must build walls that he cannot climb over to do it again.

Anna Walker's picture

So, when professionals say the recidivism rate is 100%, you think you can take the chance of changing them and inviting them back into the church. Do I believe God can change people? Yes. But, God did tell us to use discernment and wisdom. I don't think the church is the safe place to test whether a perp is changed or not.

RPittman's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
Mark Farnham wrote:
Confession always accompanies repentance. To confess sin means to agree with God about the nature of it. This precludes any excuses or rationalization. A confession of sin that reflects genuine repentance will be complete and contrite, taking full responsibility for one's actions, and recognizing the severity of the crime.

At this point, what Farnham is saying is how you evaluate true repentance for a proven offense. But he doesn't include restitution with local authorities. And I would like to say in very strong terms that if a sexual crime is committed against a minor, TRUE REPENTANCE hasn't taken place until the offender has walked in the police department and sat down with a detective and told the truth.

In defense of the author, we must realize that he is covering a very broad topic in a short space. He has neither the time nor space to specifically cover every point that we would like to see. The general phrase "taking full responsibility for one's actions" should adequately cover what you are advocating. Again, I sense that the emphasis is more on making sure that the perpetrator feels the pain and full penalty than concern for his soul and right relationship with God. (Disclaimer: The preceding statement in no way advocates or implies the lessening of the guilt, or failing to fullfil the law, or letting the criminal escape punishment.) Perhaps it is best to exercise Biblical judgment (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Timothy 5:24) and to leave vengeance (Hebrews 10:30; Romans 12:19) in God's hands.

Susan R's picture

I don't know where you all got your numbers, but I've not seen them anywhere near 100%. [URL=http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1136 ]BJS- Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994[/URL ]

Quote:

Highlights include the following:

* Within 3 years following their release, 5.3% of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime.
* On average the 9,691 sex offenders served 3 1/2 years of their 8-year sentence.
* Compared to non-sex offenders released from State prisons, released sex offenders were 4 times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime.
* The 9,691 released sex offenders included 4,295 men who were in prison for child molesting.

Here is another good article on recidivism rates - [URL=http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/how-likely-are-sex-offenders-to-repeat-t... How Likely Are Sex Offenders to Repeat Their Crimes[/URL ]?

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Recidivism rates vary widely depending on which crimes are counted, the timeframe of the studies, and whether repeat offenses are defined by convictions, arrests, or self-reporting. But even the author of a widely published report suggesting a recidivism rate of 52%, Wisconsin psychologist Dennis Doren, told me of the notion that all sex criminals are likely to re-offend, “There is no research support for that view, period.”

Interestingly enough-

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Several researchers, including Dr. Doren, say that residency-restriction laws may be counterproductive. Such a constraint “drives them out of their community, and leads to a lack of stability,” said Karen J. Terry, a criminologist at John Jay College in New York. “Those are some of the underlying conditions that caused them to abuse in the first place.” A consensus on how to measure recidivism, and determine its baseline rate, would help evaluate such laws.

RPittman's picture

Anna Walker wrote:
So, when professionals say the recidivism rate is 100%, you think you can take the chance of changing them and inviting them back into the church. Do I believe God can change people? Yes. But, God did tell us to use discernment and wisdom. I don't think the church is the safe place to test whether a perp is changed or not.
A 100% recidivism rate means that every molester will do it again and again. This, IMHO, denies the power of Christ to change lives and give victory over sin. I don't think these professionals are correct. Undoubtedly, there are individuals who did it once and never repeated the offense. These individuals are coming in under the radar because they probably were not caught and never received counseling. But, we have no idea of how many or what percentage these represent. Also, realize that the ones in therapy are usually serial offenders who have been caught after a long history of abusing with heavily ingrained behavior and thought patterns (lust, if you please).

Now, there are separate and complex issues here. If a man or woman is repentant, we are obligated to receive him or her back into fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:3-11). For the unrepentant, we are to judge, discipline, and deny fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

Receiving one back into fellowship does not mean that we are blind, deaf, and naive. Instead, we erect safe fences that cannot be breached. For example, the restored perp, as you call him or her, meets a deacon at a specific place and remains within his sight and hearing for the entire time that he or she is on campus. Restroom visits are restricted, as one poster mentioned, to a single user facility where no children would be present. He or she is always in the open and accountable. He or she is received back into fellowship with safeguards in place. Do we need to belabor the point?

Mark Farnham's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
In terms of true repentance, you don't mention submitting to the legal ramifications. Or did I miss that? I thought I read through everything, but maybe I just didn't see that. But the perpetrator hasn't fully exercised restitution until he walks into the police station to make it right with the laws of his country.

Louise,
Yes, you are correct. I should have said that more explicitly. Part of restitution would be turning oneself in to authorities, pleading guilty to all appropriate charges, and taking the prison sentence without protest. Thanks for the clarification!

Louise Dan's picture

RPittman wrote:
Louise Dan wrote:
Mark Farnham wrote:
Confession always accompanies repentance. To confess sin means to agree with God about the nature of it. This precludes any excuses or rationalization. A confession of sin that reflects genuine repentance will be complete and contrite, taking full responsibility for one's actions, and recognizing the severity of the crime.

At this point, what Farnham is saying is how you evaluate true repentance for a proven offense. But he doesn't include restitution with local authorities. And I would like to say in very strong terms that if a sexual crime is committed against a minor, TRUE REPENTANCE hasn't taken place until the offender has walked in the police department and sat down with a detective and told the truth.

In defense of the author, we must realize that he is covering a very broad topic in a short space. He has neither the time nor space to specifically cover every point that we would like to see. The general phrase "taking full responsibility for one's actions" should adequately cover what you are advocating. Again, I sense that the emphasis is more on making sure that the perpetrator feels the pain and full penalty than concern for his soul and right relationship with God. (Disclaimer: The preceding statement in no way advocates or implies the lessening of the guilt, or failing to fullfil the law, or letting the criminal escape punishment.) Perhaps it is best to exercise Biblical judgment (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Timothy 5:24) and to leave vengeance (Hebrews 10:30; Romans 12:19) in God's hands.

First of all, consequences are different than vengeance. My desire is not for pain and penalty. And I'm happy to see grace and mercy extended to the perpetrator. But the pastor and the perpetrator aren't the ones who get to extend grace and mercy. The victim can extend it. Law enforcement can extend it. But true repentance hasn't taken place until the perpetrator has humbled himself in front of those he has sinned against -- i. e. the victim and the laws of our country.

Louise Dan's picture

Mark, I didn't see your clarification until after my last post. Thanks for making that clear.

Diane Heeney's picture

Anna Walker wrote:
So, when professionals say the recidivism rate is 100%, you think you can take the chance of changing them and inviting them back into the church. Do I believe God can change people? Yes. But, God did tell us to use discernment and wisdom. I don't think the church is the safe place to test whether a perp is changed or not.

The church is not a venue for experimentation, but it is a place where sinful human beings come for healing...from all sorts of sin, all of which is detestable to a holy God. "Perps" need healing too. They need shepherding. The possibility of receiving this care needs to be offered to them. If that individual fails to comply, they cannot be a part of the fellowship. I don't think it is fair to say that it is a 100% guarantee that an offender will offend again. The road may no doubt be longer and more arduous, but to say it is positively a dead end is to suggest that God cannot deliver. That it is an impossibility.

I think the author's point is that if the church has a set of guidelines put together regarding expectations etc. in these situations, then, if the offender is genuinely repentant and contrite, he (or she) will be willing to submit to whatever they are told to do (ie use a particular rest room, not be involved in the children's ministries etc). A repentant individual is one who has come to grips with the fact that their own heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted, even on a "good" day. If he or she is told they may never be alone, must be accompanied by a deacon, must sit in a certain place, must arrive at a certain time...whatever...a submissive heart will assent to the need for those parameters. If there is hedging, excusing, outright defiance...it becomes obvious that the heart is in need of further renovation.

"I pray to God this day to make me an extraordinary Christian." --Whitefield http://strengthfortoday.wordpress.com

RPittman's picture

Susan R wrote:
I don't know where you all got your numbers, but I've not seen them anywhere near 100%. [URL=http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=1136 ]BJS- Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994[/URL ]
Quote:

Highlights include the following:

* Within 3 years following their release, 5.3% of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime.
* On average the 9,691 sex offenders served 3 1/2 years of their 8-year sentence.
* Compared to non-sex offenders released from State prisons, released sex offenders were 4 times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime.
* The 9,691 released sex offenders included 4,295 men who were in prison for child molesting.

Here is another good article on recidivism rates - [URL=http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/how-likely-are-sex-offenders-to-repeat-t... How Likely Are Sex Offenders to Repeat Their Crimes[/URL ]?

Quote:
Recidivism rates vary widely depending on which crimes are counted, the timeframe of the studies, and whether repeat offenses are defined by convictions, arrests, or self-reporting. But even the author of a widely published report suggesting a recidivism rate of 52%, Wisconsin psychologist Dennis Doren, told me of the notion that all sex criminals are likely to re-offend, “There is no research support for that view, period.”

Interestingly enough-

Quote:
Several researchers, including Dr. Doren, say that residency-restriction laws may be counterproductive. Such a constraint “drives them out of their community, and leads to a lack of stability,” said Karen J. Terry, a criminologist at John Jay College in New York. “Those are some of the underlying conditions that caused them to abuse in the first place.” A consensus on how to measure recidivism, and determine its baseline rate, would help evaluate such laws.
Susan, you have an eye for picking out pertinent details. Yes, you are perfectly correct to note the discrepancies. Like all statistics in the sexual abuse area, we are hampered by the secrecy of the act. Also, confidentiality issues and other factors (e.g. different agencies handling reported incidences) make it difficult to collect accurate, comprehensive data. So, the range of recidivism varies tremendously among researchers. Sometimes, statistics can be so confusing and misleading that it may be better to use no statistics at all. As an observation, it appears that the reporting of low rates of recidivism tends to be by those involved with rehabilitation of the sex offenders whereas the high rates are reported by advocates for victims.

You are right that 100% recidivism is an extreme number. I used it to purposefully to refute the most radical view. You realize, of course, that I don't accept it and I believe in the power of Christ to change the heart--that was my point.

There is danger, IMHO, in the 100% recidivism view. Like the popular view today that homosexuality is genetic and it is the way that they are wired, there is a growing minority view that pedophilia is genetically determined. A 100% rate of recidivism would fit their argument. Although it is a lunatic fringe movement, more and more are being won to consensual sex at any age. In my research, I am running across this material. I only read a little before I am sick--I literally mean a real physical nausea. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)"

RPittman's picture

Louise Dan wrote:

First of all, consequences are different than vengeance. My desire is not for pain and penalty. And I'm happy to see grace and mercy extended to the perpetrator. But the pastor and the perpetrator aren't the ones who get to extend grace and mercy. The victim can extend it. Law enforcement can extend it. But true repentance hasn't taken place until the perpetrator has humbled himself in front of those he has sinned against -- i. e. the victim and the laws of our country.
I'm not sure that I fully understand the point that you trying to make. I have a couple of questions. Are you saying that true repentance (i.e we are able to observe the fruits) must precede our forgiveness? If so, what is your basis? Please see the earlier post where I asked Mark to comment on this issue. Carefully compare Matthew 3:8 and Luke 17:1-5.

Furthermore, I submit that all of us are to extend forgiveness, grace, and mercy to the repentant sinner. Don't you naturally have bad thoughts anger, and an attitude toward anyone known to molest a child. I do and I have to deal with it in my own sinful heart. Humanly, I want to harbor anger and resentment toward him or her.

Louise Dan's picture

I think we have to be very careful to use words like forgiveness and repentance in precise ways. There is a MAJOR theological difference in the forgiveness an abuse victim must wrestle through with "forgiveness" you may think you need to extend to someone who hasn't sinned against you. Your attitude to someone known to have molested a child is relevant. But it is distinctly different than the feelings and responses the actual victim has to work through.

Aaron Blumer's picture

On forgiveness, I'm convinced that people/groups can only "forgive" what is committed against them. I cannot forgive sins anyone has committed against God. Only He can. And a church cannot forgive an abuser for his offense against the victim. They can forgive him for his offense against the church (which overlaps with his offense against the victim and his sin against God, but is not identical to it). Also, nobody in the church, including the victim, has the authority to forgive the abuser's offense against society/law. This is why a church can "forgive" an abuser (or any other criminal) and still turn him in... as can the victim. Forgiveness is a feature of obligations within relationships.

I think I only have one concern with this second part of the article... it seems to put a bit too much on the shoulders of the pastor. In my view, he should not be in a position to--by himself--try to decide if an accused person who denies it is telling the truth or if his repentance is genuine. And his role in counseling a female victim should be very minimal/supervisory. So I agree w/most of the action Mark describes here but would recommend that much of what he has the pastor doing be done by a team of elders or deacons or other group formed for that purpose, and a skilled lady in or outside the church take over the counseling.

I don't think the details of Matt 18 were intended to apply to every situation. Arguably, the sin in view in Matt 18 is not one in which the offender has done something that is predatory and a threat to the entire congregation. It reads much more like an interpersonal dispute. For that reason, at the very least, I believe a few church leaders need to be involved in handling the discipline even in it's early stages.
Also, I believe the series of widening circles in Matt 18 has to do w/the private nature of the sin. If a crime is known to have been committed, it will be public record. There is no need for the pastor to protect the privacy of the sinning member in that case, and bringing along additional leadership to do the confronting would not be inappropriate.

I'm not sure, Mark, if I correctly understood what you were recommending on that point.

Louise Dan's picture

Mark, you mention you have church members with safe houses hours away. Are you advocating sending victims to such safe houses? It seems like this will set a pastor up for accusations of obstruction of justice. Can you clarify?

RPittman's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
I think we have to be very careful to use words like forgiveness and repentance in precise ways. There is a MAJOR theological difference in the forgiveness an abuse victim must wrestle through with "forgiveness" you may think you need to extend to someone who hasn't sinned against you. Your attitude to someone known to have molested a child is relevant. But it is distinctly different than the feelings and responses the actual victim has to work through.
From a Biblical perspective, how do we know this? Are we speaking of emotions or volition?

RPittman's picture

Personally, I am a little disappointed that we are not interacting with Scripture but, for the most part, we are expressing our own biases and opinions from whatever source.

Aaron wrote:
On forgiveness, I'm convinced that people/groups can only "forgive" what is committed against them.
So, how do you interpret 2 Corinthians 2:10?
Quote:
I cannot forgive sins anyone has committed against God. Only He can.
Obviously (Mark 2:7-10), but the church does have authority and power of forgiveness (Matthew 16:18-19; Matthew 18:18; John 20:23) in its administration of the church.
Quote:
And a church cannot forgive an abuser for his offense against the victim. They can forgive him for his offense against the church (which overlaps with his offense against the victim and his sin against God, but is not identical to it).
I don't see your basis for the trichotomy here, although it may be just semantical.
Quote:
Also, nobody in the church, including the victim, has the authority to forgive the abuser's offense against society/law. This is why a church can "forgive" an abuser (or any other criminal) and still turn him in... as can the victim.
IMHO, there are too many artificial distinctions and categorizations here. It really boils down to semantics and complicates an already complex matter. It is not necessary that we delineate every thread. It is enough to realize there are multiple obligations without precisely defining each part. What's the purpose?
Quote:
Forgiveness is a feature of obligations within relationships.
I think you have hit on two key words--obligations and relationships. There has to be some obligation and some relationship. This is why I believe that all the politically correct apologies for slavery are inane. There are no obligations and no relationships with people living today. It trivializes the whole concept of forgiveness. In the context of the church, there are obligations and relationships--both corporate and individual. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Anna Walker's picture

So, RPittman, are you saying, that if my perp was in your church -- you'd have to forgive him? How exactly did he harm you? If I'm attending a church and my perp decides to come to the same church -- you'd allow him? Just because you may have forgiven him (which is a moot point since you weren't the one wronged), doesn't mean that you should ignore the victim's needs as well. I know you don't like the word victim. Okay, so let's step away from this for a sec. Your daughter or DIL is raped. Would you really allow the perp to attend the same church as your daughter. Wouldn't you want to protect her honour? I've heard a lot about restoring the perp, but not nearly enough emphasis about protecting those who have already been hurt. My job has exposed me to a lot of abused children. To further traumatize them by making them be around their perp is disturbing.

I know you will say that that is not what you are suggesting. But, when you get down to it --- it really is. I think the pastor needs to protect his flock and do everything within his power to help the hurting heal. The pastor can pray for the perp and visit him in jail. That's where his responsibility to the perp ends. The pastor's ultimate responsibility is to that little girl and show her that he cares enough to keep her safe.

rogercarlson's picture

I am glad this important topic is being discussed. Thank you Mark for tackling this subject. Anna's thoughts do ring true. I know all here agree that this is a big problem in our soceity. But it does seem like the direction some are (unintentionally?) taking is a strong desire to help the perpetraitor. He/she needs to be helped. If he is genuinely repentant most of the time my helping him will be at jail/prison. If he has been released, I would only allow him back in the church if the one sinned against were absolutely ok with it. My reasoning is because of my Biblical charge to guard the flock. While I have responisbilities to both (assuming they were both in my flock), i am going to err on the side of protecting the innocent and hopefully leading all parties to restoration. But I think it will be rare when those two can worship in the same church.

While we need to be paitient with someone who has sinned and repentant, we need to be as patient, or even more so, with someone who has been sinned against in this manner.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Mark Farnham's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
Mark, you mention you have church members with safe houses hours away. Are you advocating sending victims to such safe houses? It seems like this will set a pastor up for accusations of obstruction of justice. Can you clarify?

Louise,
Thanks again for pointing out a genuine obscurity in my writing. When I wrote about a safe house I was thinking merely of removing an abuse victim from an immediate threat if law enforcement does not provide assistance or if the perpetrator is on the loose. I DO NOT advocate interfering with law enforcement, or unilaterally removing victims from the area without consent and a joint decision with the family and others who need to know. The instances of providing sanctuary of which I am aware were mostly to remove victims of physical abuse (wife and children) from abuse by a husband who had not been found yet by police. So a sanctuary is merely to protect a victim from immediate harm, not to hide a pregnancy or any other reason.

Also, I do not intend to cast an entirely negative view of law enforcement or the legal system. I come from a long line of Irish policemen and firefighters in Hartford, CT for whom I have great admiration. I have several good friends who are policemen. My point in the essay is simply that IN MY EXPERIENCE in reporting abuse, I have seen little genuine help from the legal system. I hope that if anyone reading this has to report abuse, they receive better assistance than I got.

And yes, Aaron makes a good point. A pastor SHOULD NOT attempt to deal with these situations on his own. For his own protection, he should involve his elders or deacons, and female counselors if the victim is female. I was thinking more along the lines of the pastor needing to be the point man in dealing with such situations. There is safety in the multitude of counselors! Another point I failed to express in the article (the number of oversights are really racking up, aren't they?) is the critical need to take detailed notes of every conversation from the first accusation forward. Don't rely on your memory. It will fail you within hours.

Thanks, everyone, for advancing the conversation with your keen observations!

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