We are often asked, “Should we ever allow a known or convicted sex offender to attend our church?” The sentiment that is expressed with the question is something along the lines of believing that all persons are sinners who are saved by grace and therefore the non-offenders are not in a position to “judge” the known/convicted sex offenders. Sometimes, church leaders ask additional questions such as, “If we are allowing a sex offender to attend, does that put the church at risk legally?”, and “Should we have precautions if we do allow sex offenders to participate in church activities?”
Yes, as Christians, we believe we are all sinners saved by grace. In church, we believe we should be offering love, car, forgiveness, and mercy to those who need it most. However, that isn’t the full story of the work of the church. For the sake of the whole church, especially the children and vulnerable adults, it is vitally important to build guidelines and procedures as you seek to minister to those who are known/convicted sex offenders. It is a well-known principle that child sexual offends, without continuing professional treatment, will re-offend. Even though a church might be willing to include a convicted offender within its programs, doing so must be done with careful planning to assure that the children, youth, and vulnerable adults remain safe and that the offender is appropriately supported as he or she continues to maintain safe behaviors.
First, a convicted sex offender who wants to be part of your church or community of faith should expect to have restrictions and certain conditions placed on his or her participation. Today, every one of our 50 states have statutes regulating where convicted sexual offenders may live, work, or otherwise be found for any purpose while they are on probation or parole. Most such laws make a specific exception allowing for the convicted offender to be present in a church solely for the purpose of worship. In light of these laws, it is crucial for the convicted sexual offender who approaches your church to be willing to inform your leaders as to the particular requirements of his or her probation or parole. Therefore, the first most important step is to arrange a meeting with the pastor, a trustee from the church, the probation/parole officer, and the convicted offender. At the very least, the pastor must have a direct conversation with the probation/parole officer to learn the restrictions by which the offender is being supervised. The church leaders must understand the issues and seek to have full disclosure as to what happened and where the sex offender feels they are in the process of learning to control their behaviors. Determine if the offender can take responsibility for the offenses and if they are open to the need for clear boundaries for their participation at church.
Second, let the offender know your church has a desire to minister to them by allowing them to participate in the congregation within guidelines set by the state laws and the guidelines set by the church for maintaining the safety and health of the congregations and its ministries. Typically, these guidelines would include the following at a minimum:
- Requiring that the pastor or a designee always be present and act as a “covenant partner” anytime the offender is on the premises or at a church function held off-premises. Though the pastor or “covenant partner” does not need to stand next to the offender, they need to be in the room or within visual contact.
- The offender will need to communicate ahead of time with the “covenant partner” each time he or she plans to attend a church event or worship service
- The offender may not be involved with any function other than general gathering times and worship services if the function involves children. The offender must not be allowed in the children’s area of the church building.
- The offender must agree to meet with the “covenant partner” and/or the pastor on a regular basis to discuss issues and progress in treatment
- Any violations of these guidelines will require the church leaders to ask the offender to stop attending the church
- The offender should be required to sign a covenant agreement indicating that he or she understands these requirements and agrees to abide by them.
It is important for church leadership to develop and carry out safety guidelines anytime a known/convicted sex offender is involved in the fellowship. Without such guidelines, the presence of an offender can easily lead to serious consequences for the rest of the congregation and its ministries. Following such safety guidelines and faithfully working within these parameters will allow a congregation to protect the entire community of faith and engage in ministry with the offender.
For consultation on these issues, contact me at [email protected].