A number of recent posts have been circulating regarding pedophiles and sex offenders in the Church, specifically claiming that because of the extreme clinical nature of this sin/crime, known child sex offenders ought not be ever allowed to attend worship services where children are present.
A few thoughts:
1. First, as a Bible believing Christian, I happen to believe that in a more Christian society, the death penalty would be promptly administered for the worst of these predators. This is sometimes a form of rape where consent cannot be given by the nature of the case, and the law of Moses considers this sort of assault akin to murder (Dt. 22:25-27). What follows should in no way be thought of as going light on actual child rapists. However, we have every reason in the world to be skeptical of our culture suddenly growing a biblical backbone about sexual morality. We chop up little babies so we can have orgasms whenever and however we want. We are so drunk on the guilt of state supported infanticide that we are hardly to be trusted as the defenders of children. And now comes a crop of articles getting all fundamentalist up in here. But in this current cultural haze, we need to be crazy wary of any form of fundamentalism not explicitly backed up by Scripture. Turns out that’s only two steps away from tyranny, and one step away from the current sodomite regime. We need to think and speak very carefully about all of this.
2. One of the complicating factors we have in this whole discussion is an enormous confusion about the difference between forgiveness and trust. Jesus commands us to forgive anyone, anytime (Mt. 18:21-22). But forgiveness doesn’t invite the repentant drunkard out to the pub for a celebratory drink. Forgiveness doesn’t allow the pilfering pastor to continue mounting the pulpit, no matter how misty his eyes or trembling his voice. Forgiveness doesn’t smile and nod when the repentant porn addict says he’ll be searching Google till three am, but don’t worry he’s forgiven. Forgiveness releases the debt for the sake of Jesus’ blood, but depending on the offense, forgiveness is also often a certain level of commitment to love the repentant brother/sister back to faithfulness. Forgiveness doesn’t hold sin against the sinner, but forgiveness doesn’t pretend there is nothing to watch out for, nothing to guard against. Christians must have no trouble extending forgiveness to repentant sex offenders, and biblical Christians should understand simultaneously that this in no way qualifies them for an accountability-free existence in the Church. Churches who hire repentant pedophiles to run the nursery ministry are specimens of extreme folly and don’t know what spirit they are of. The Church, because we are committed to repentance, should be a place where there is free forgiveness and lots of barbed wire cheerfully and lovingly strung up around the pits and ditches for those repenting of entrenched sin. And it is the wise combination of this forgiveness and accountability that is the means to rebuilding true trust.
3. All that to say, I don’t have any problem with churches occasionally offering separate services for repentant sex offenders, and I can imagine some situations in which that would be most appropriate. But I also suspect that insisting on this exhaustive standard is like the guy who struggles with lust deciding never to see a woman again. Or the girl who gets drunk a few times and then swears on a Bible that the demon rum shall never cross her lips again. Maybe that will help for a little while and sure, these extreme resolutions may make you and your friends feel especially righteous for a time, but the women weren’t the sin and alcohol wasn’t the sin. The problem was in your heart. But often these extreme oaths are revelatory of other pre-existing conditions, namely a blame shifting game wherein you avoid the real cause of your sin: your black heart. What are the chances that there’s more than a little bit of guilt driving these policies? Maybe we’re going all Rambo on this particular sin because we’re still looking for real justice. And since we have a growing collection of scandals where nothing wise or careful was done, we’ve got plenty of guilt to go around. But, and this needs to be said: fearful, reactionary, guilt-driven policies rarely arrive at a measured justice. And churches should not underestimate the way these kinds of policies can drive the culture of a church in countless smaller ways.
4. And so, the central qualm I have with the articles circulating is that I don’t find their rhetorical rigor compelling when they insist that ‘all known sex offenders will be removed from worship where children are present.’ Again, while recognizing some situations where that might be appropriate, making it a blanket and exhaustive rule seems dangerous to me simply because God didn’t give us that rule. Certain people were excluded from the assemblies of Israel in the Old Testament, but these folks didn’t make the list. If the argument is that God demonstrates how bad this sin is by issuing the death penalty for some forms of it, are we prepared to escort adulterers out of our assembly too? What about homosexuals? If this is different, why? What’s the biblical basis? Will we be having separate worship services for men and women repenting of porn addictions? Studies have shown that prolonged porn use changes the chemical make up of the brain, and even after changes begin to take place, a man cannot view a woman rightly. Should these men be required to attend worship services where no women are present? Related to concluding what the nature of the danger is would be the necessity of concluding what the nature of the crime is. In a culture drunk on the blood of children, there is a high degree of likelihood that we do not have a biblically informed understanding of how God views the spectrum of sins against children. Any chance we’d end up smashing ants with a sledgehammer?
5. The only way to avoid this, the only way to walk in wisdom is through repentance and forgiveness in the blood of Christ. Jesus says that if we want to be qualified to use the tweezers on our brother’s eye, we need to be well practiced using the chainsaw on our own eye. In other words, the reason we don’t understand forgiveness is because we have not been forgiven. Forgiveness is not merely getting a free pass on sin. Forgiveness is not just forgetting the past. There is no forgiveness of sins apart from the shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22). The reason we have insane policies that throw children to the sharks is not because we are too forgiving, it is because we have not actually understood forgiveness. We may have cut the word out of our Bibles and scotch taped it to whatever ham-fisted idea we came up with, but that doesn’t make it forgiveness any more than Hollywood claiming they know what love is actually. But veering off into the opposite ditch and banning anybody who might have had a nasty thought in their head one time is just another evidence of guilt. Guilty people have no peace, and they are driven by regret, by the what-ifs of the Enemy. The Accuser has a bull whip, and its three strands are named Guilt, Fear, and Shame. But Jesus gives peace, and He gives it through His blood. He stood in our place, and He was pounded for our transgressions; He was pierced for our iniquities; and by His stripes, we are healed. Sin isn’t just forgotten; sin gets paid for — one way or another. Either you are still trying to get it paid for, or it’s already been dealt with, it’s already been owned, it’s already been ransomed. It is finished. What we need is peace: the clarity and sobriety of peace. And when we have this blood-bought peace, Jesus gives sight to the blind, wisdom to the simple, and His Spirit rests on those who have many difficult judgment calls to make.
6. Lastly, there’s a strategic ditch, we need to be aware of here. Not even sixty years ago, all of the same highbrow, exasperated rhetoric was being used about sodomites. It is a mental illness. They cannot ever truly change. This perversion is so deep, so insidious, they will never be free of it. They are predators. They will always be tempted! But where are all the blog articles circulating about the dangers of homosexuals in our assembly now? The Bible teaches that they are abusers of themselves and other men. Shouldn’t all repentant homosexual men be required to worship separately from all other men? No, instead of these worries, we have piles of articles circulating about how welcoming we are, about how we want to dialogue with the homosexual community, etc. Now hear me carefully: I think we need to use biblical wisdom and grace in both instances that is both realistic and defends the most vulnerable (victims/potential victims). But making hard and fast rules based on how things make us feel is just playing right into the pomosexual agenda.
The bottom line is that the Bible is God’s Word, and it is sufficient. But in the current culture meltdown, where standards are like birds that fly away, perhaps Christians are more vulnerable to anything that sounds dogmatic, anything that sounds remotely objective and concerned with morality. But we’ve been down this street before, and turns out Adolph Hitler was elected by a Christian majority. We need to realize the real potential of fleeing from the frying pan into the fire, running from one abuser straight into the arms of a thug that will end up making the first look like a sweater-wearing Mr. Rogers. And so the point is just that we must cling to the Word of God and use caution; though it may not be popular to say, tyrannical sentimentalism is fully capable of perpetrating worse evils than even sex offenders can muster. And we should be on guard against both. And the only way to do that is by resting in the blood of the Lamb who was slain.