Churches are supposed to be a place where people who have failed and fallen and made terrible choices can find love and acceptance, forgiveness and transformation. Churches are also supposed to be a place where parents can safely bring their children to meet Jesus and worship and where those children experience a safe refuge from all of the storms and pain of life.
So, what do we as church leaders when those two goals are in conflict?
A good example would be the circumstance when a convicted sex-offender begins attending our church – a circumstance which is guaranteed to be disconcerting to parents with children and to be a conundrum to church leadership. This is a source of legitimate concern because, while the figures vary from statistical report to report, the recidivism rate for sexual offenders is high enough to be very troubling. Yet, the Christian walk has always been risky – we have always crossed into areas involving risk in order to minister – just ask the missionaries who have gone round the world to frightening situations.
The challenge is to do what we do as intelligently and safely as possible.
A church I pastored realized that the key to being able to minister effectively to both groups was healthy boundaries. Parents have a legitimate right to assume that when they bring their children to church it will be safe. So, we developed a contract in conjunction with our local conference legal department that any known offender was required to sign and live by and which we committed to enforce.
It can appear draconian, but it enabled us to minister to people desperately needing to connect with God and caring people while allowing our parents to bring their children to worship and other church activities in a safe environment.
· Multiple studies have found that the average pedophile has molested over 300 children in his/her lifetime (Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, 2001).
· Sex offenders are at least four times more likely than other criminals to be rearrested for a sex crime (Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).
· Of the released sex offenders who committed another sex crime, 40 percent perpetrated the new offense within one year from their prison discharge and the majority of the children they molested after leaving prison were aged 13 or younger (Department of Justice).
· More than 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator (Department of Justice).
· Not all child sexual abusers exclusively target children - some are opportunistic offenders who seek vulnerable individuals to victimize (e.g., assault both vulnerable children and adults) (Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking).
· 34% of offenders are related to the child they abuse (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).
· Studies suggest that convicted sex offenders in prison represent less than 10% of all sex offenders living in the United States (Center for Sex Offender Management).
· Males made up 90 percent of adult child sexual assault perpetrators, while 3.9 percent of perpetrators were female, with a further 6 percent classified as ’unknown gender’ (McCloskey & Raphael, 2005).
Church Attendance/Participation Policy for Convicted Sex Offenders
I recognize the concerns and responsibilities of the church to ensure a safe environment for its members and wish to stipulate to the following conditions that would allow my participation in church activities:
1. I will not associate with any minors attending or participating in any church/school activity. I will not sit next to a child and if a child sits next to me, I will move.
2. I will not linger in areas where children are being taught and will not go to any area where children's or youth ministries are being conducted.
3. I will not place myself into, or accept, any position of leadership or authority.
4. I will under no circumstances take a child home with me or transport them anywhere at anytime.
5. I will not develop any special relationships with minor children or their parents.
6. I will not go to a church member's home where children are present.
7. I agree to maintain an accountability network with individuals as defined by the church and make sure my whereabouts at church or church activities is known at all times.
8. I authorize the church to obtain information regarding myself from my parole officer, governmental agencies or other persons who might have information relative to my prior criminal convictions.
9. I agree to comply with any court-mandated restrictions, treatment, and/or requirements and recognize that these take precedence over any less restrictive parts of this agreement.
10. I understand and agree that the church, in fulfilling its responsibilities in providing a safe environment for its members and guests, will disclose an account of my past behavior and/or criminal history to parents,
church leaders, and other persons who may need to have such information in order to meet their parental or supervisory responsibilities.
11. I understand that the provisions of this Participation Agreement do not create any personal and/or legal rights against the church that would afford me any claim or right of redress in any legal or administrative
proceedings, nor does this agreement in any way preclude the church from exercising its U.S. Constitutional First Amendment rights pertaining to the church membership and/or discipline.
12.This agreement shall remain valid as long as I attend and/or participate in the activities of the church named in this document, and should I wish to transfer my attendance, participation, or membership to
another congregation, a copy of this document will be sent to them.
I have read and understand the above conditions and agree to abide by them. If at any point I break one of theabove conditions, I recognize that I shall not be allowed to attend church activities in the Northern California Conference.
Dated this day of ,20
Participant’s Signature Participant’s Printed Name
Dan Appel is a retired pastor who lives in Magalia, California