He who is without sin

ejectbuttonIt seems to me that the only crime for which there is no forgiveness in our society is child molestation. It is certainly horrible to assault a helpless child, and I’m glad that the practice is shunned. The desire to protect children from any and all harm is understandable and hard to disagree with (though this op-ed in Newsweek shows how the desire to protect children from harm can be overdone).

But when I consider the shunning from the perspective of the child molester, I wonder how they’re able to even try to get better. Their picture, name and address are publicly available for all people to investigate. They have limitations on where they can live. They live in a society that tends to think improvement in this area is impossible, or only possible through castration and complete abstention from all contact with children.

So I’ve been fascinated by a recent spate of stories about how churches should receive or treat child molesters in their midst. Presumably child molesters have always been members of congregations — but members may not have realized it.

The most prominent story — and the one with the best coverage — has been in a San Diego United Church of Christ congregation. Many of the stories I’ve read have covered the internal strife caused by the revelation that a sex offender wants to join a congregation. But few have really analyzed the religious perspectives of the various sides in the conflict.

Here’s how Sandi Dolbee of The San Diego Union-Tribune began her March 14 story:

On a Sunday morning in late January, the Rev. Madison Shockley reminded his congregation at Pilgrim United Church of Christ of the New Testament story in which Jesus stops a crowd from stoning an adulterer.

Whoever is without sin should throw the next stone, Jesus tells the people, and the crowd disperses.

Then Shockley introduced Mark Pliska, who had been attending the Carlsbad church for a few weeks. Pliska told the crowd his story, that he was a convicted child molester.

Dolbee goes on to explain that the revelation produced a debate about safety and inclusiveness. Many of the members had, sadly, been abused as children. Pliska was disinvited from the congregation until they could figure out how to handle the issue over the long term. A non-member associated with the church’s preschool launched a vigorous campaign against Pliska’s participation in the congregation.

Dolbee provides great insight, speaking with a few experts on the topic of sex offenders and congregational life. Both provide very helpful information on what a congregation must know when dealing with known sex offenders. I only wish that the theological views of people who disagree with the pastor had been included. I’m very curious to know what their theological reasoning is, and none of the stories I’ve read have really fleshed that out. I’m not confused by their instinctual reaction or desire to protect their children — I just want to know more about how their Christianity factors into their decision to oppose membership for a sex offender.

Dolbee followed up the story with another big piece on March 25. She speaks with two members who were abused as children and finds they have very different attitudes about how to treat the sex offender. A 44-year-old mother of a young child doesn’t even want Pliska looking at pictures of families that are posted in the hallway. But a member who was abused by a priest is on a team of people working with the sex offender while the congregation spends months deciding whether he may attend.

In this and the previous story, the reporter speaks with other congregations’ leaders about how they would handle the situation. She also interviews local clergy to get their take. I found their thoughts illuminating:

Bishop George McKinney of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ in San Diego’s Valencia Park neighborhood, said he has had sex offenders in his congregation in the past, though he doesn’t know whether he has any now.

“We simply believe that the church is a hospital,” McKinney said.

Others are hesitant.

“You would hope that everything would all just work out fine and dandy,” said the Rev. Art Lyons, a longtime leader in jail ministry and a pastor at Canyon Community Church in Chula Vista. “But I think, realistically, it’s really a hard thing for people to get their emotions around, to have a convicted child molester or pedophile in a congregation where their children are around.”

It also would be a troubling request for Rabbi Scott Meltzer of Ohr Shalom Synagogue near Balboa Park.

“It is one of those crimes where the numbers and the issues around rehabilitation are really abysmal and disturbing,” Meltzer said.

“With a heavy heart, I don’t think I would be comfortable with a registered sex offender being able to participate actively within our congregation.”

UCCadvertisement 02She actually speaks with a bunch of Christian pastors, though I didn’t excerpt all of them. The Christians cover a certain range of views on the matter, but it’s interesting that she speaks with a rabbi, too. It makes the lack of theological explanation even more problematic since Jews and Christians presumably would have different theological approaches to the matter.

Dolbee also shares a story about a pastor who was told about a sex offender in the congregation. He gave the offender rules about contact with children — rules the molester repeatedly flouted. The pastor says he bets there are molesters in every congregation.

I guess that’s why I find this story so interesting. I assume that my fellow congregants are like me: we all have a lot of very dark and secret sins that we’re glad are not out in the open. I assume that each person has their own struggle but that the struggle is serious and profound. Maybe that’s why I wish some of these stories — though the ones I highlighted were far and away the best — had a bit more perspective on the general theological approach to sin.

Another note about the stories — all the reporters keep pointing out that Pilgrim United Church of Christ is a liberal and progressive congregation that is surprised to be dealing with an exclusionary debate. I follow this church body quite a bit because my mother was baptized and confirmed at UCC churches. Nearly her entire family has since left in the last four decades, but I still think fondly on what the church meant to my family and keep track of the various goings on therein.

But isn’t the point of the United Church of Christ’s stance on various issues that its theological progressivism means it doesn’t consider certain things sin? Remember its “pew ejector” ad campaigns that criticized other churches for condemning certain behaviors as sinful? It implied that other churches were racist and networks refused to run it on the grounds it engaged in advocacy — as opposed to other advertisements?

Anyway, when the UCC proclaims that it welcomes homosexuals, that’s not because it considers homosexuality sinful but want homosexuals to feel welcome in UCC congregations. On the contrary, the UCC doesn’t consider homosexuality sinful at all.

So this story about sex molesters is different. The sex molesters are not only considered sinful by some congregants — but perpetually and possibly irretrievably so. That’s a completely different enchilada. So I’m not sure if reporters are properly juxtaposing this against the UCC’s progressivism. Rather it might be interesting to highlight, again, the UCC’s stance on what qualifies as sinful behavior and how congregations should treat such sinfulness.

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  • http://www.streetprophets.com pastordan

    Mollie: I think the point is that UCC’ers aren’t used to having to say “no” to prospective members at all. A former Congregational church (as I assume Pilgrim UCC is) would have an ecclesiology based on voluntary association. So if someone wants to associate, it feels uncomfortable to turn them down, even in an extreme case such as this.

    As for the “UCC’s stance on what qualifies as sinful behavior” you’d have to refer back to the congregation, since in our polity, that’s up to the local church to define. We have some congregations who won’t admit gays and lesbians to membership, and some that actively welcome them. Occasionally, those churches are in the same local association, which makes for a real headache.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I would guess that the objectors invoke the “millstone around his neck” pssage as their proof text.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I would guess that the objectors invoke the “millstone around his neck” passage as their proof text.

  • Mark

    Theologically, I think the appropriate response would be to accept the guy. Just as all do, he submits to the discipline of the community and is welcome in so far as he does so. Of course, UCC churches aren’t particularly known for having a lot of disciplinary requirements in the first place, so I wonder if they are just not theologically equipped to think this issue through.

    Accepting him doesn’t mean that there can’t be stipulations, and it certainly doesn’t mean putting him in charge of an elementary Sunday school class. It means welcoming the sinner into a community of mutual support and grace, with the hopes that some sanctification is achieved.

  • Michael

    It should be noted that due to the publicity, Pliska was kicked out of his residence and lost his job. His ex landlord and boss did not want to deal with the fallout.

    http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2007/03/church-has-its-doors-open-to-everyone.html

    The problem here is that there is no room for redemption in society. Of COURSE I don’t condone his actions and hope his victims have recovered as much as possible from Pliska’s terrible crimes. However, society has a choice: put offenders away for life in prison, or learn to deal with the rehabilative process.

    I am for increasing penalties and sentences, but also for providing a path to redemption for those who have served their time. We can’t endanger our children’s safety with fear that dilutes the real threats in society, which is that over 90% of all sex offenses are committed by individuals NOT on the sex offender registry.

  • Marinda R

    Pilgrim isn’t the only church wondering whether protection trumps forgiveness or where theology ends and reality begins.

    (my italics)

    I hope that’s Dolbee’s catchy little expression, and not a quote from, say, a pastor. I agree that some discussion of the theology behind everyone’s stance would have helped a lot, especially with that breezily assumed contrast between theology and reality.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Marinda,

    Wow. How did I miss that prominent line from the March 14 story?

    The notion that theology and reality would be at odds is a horrible thing to include — as fact — in a piece of reportage.

    And again, the reporter’s personal views about the tension between forgiveness and protection are understandable — if out of place — but need more theologicaly fleshing out.

  • Gary Aknos

    Mollie:

    You may want to check out UCCtruths.com for more on this. UCCtruths.com has been way out in front on this issue and the weight that this issue carries for all churches in the UCC.

    Also… just to clarify, “networks refused to run it on the grounds it engaged in advocacy” is not accurate at all (that’s the UCC’s spin). According to NBC’s and CBS’s own documents, the ad was rejected because of how it portrayed other churches – Look here for details and specific quotes from the networks.

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  • Eric Chaffee

    J: “Has any man condemned you?” A: “No man, Lord.” J: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

    So, whose sin is worse? — the person who is willing to elocute in church to his crime? –or, the person who, like the pharisee, (“Thank God I am not as other men…”) is superior? (Hint: God most hates pride.) And, isn’t it better to know of a person’s past, which has been publicly repented of, than not knowing there is a pedophile in church? The offender in this case has lost his job and his residence because the congregation doesn’t believe that Jesus’ instruction to the violator is practical (“go, and sin no more”) — which is to say that the community of faith is lacking faith in the Founder. How sad.

    I conduct a Bible study every Saturday at a local prison. Sex offenders in jail are at the very bottom of social standing. They are extremely likely to be abused in prison. They are often at risk for their lives. Can they be healed? Not readily, if the church won’t admit them into fellowship.

    ~eric.
    Eric Chaffee, Alden NY

  • http://until.joe-perez.com joe perez

    Mollie:

    I think the premise of your article–It seems to me that the only crime for which there is no forgiveness in our society is child molestation–could stand massize revision. You ever heard of Three Strikes and You’re Out laws? They’re extremely common and send many people permanently behind bars without hope of parole.

    And while you’re revising the premise of your piece, you might want to look again at your wording of your linchpin sentence claiming that “when the UCC proclaims that it welcomes homosexuals, it’s not because they view homosexuality as sinful but want homosexuals to feel welcome in their congregations. On the contrary, they don’t view homosexuality as sinful at all.” Since most Christian Churches proclaim homosexual behavior, nto the orientation itself as sinful, you’re guilty of pretty loose and inaccurate statements yourself. Can you even name three churches that proclaim homosexuality itself (regardless of whether the orientation is acted upon) to be sinful?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Joe,

    I didn’t meant to say anything about whether the UCC or any other church body views homosexual inclination or orientation sinful. I simply meant that the UCC does not view homosexual behavior or orientation as sinful.

    That’s an important distinction since it does view child molestation as sinful. The ad campaign was based on the notion that the UCC mindset about sinful behavior was different than those other churches.

    As for my premise that child molestation has a special place in our society? I stand by that. While you raise an excellent point about the three strikes laws — any of the individual crimes committed toward that end result likely are viewed differently than child molestation.

  • Jerry

    I was struck that the introduction of Mark Pliska started with Jesus’ words on forgiveness. Such situations put one’s faith to the test. It illuminates how deep or shallow our faith is and tests how we react. If we react with an honest appraisal of our faith we’ve won half the battle. If we at least try to live up to Jesus’ words we win the other half.

    There is an expression, I believe from Islam, that says “Trust in God but tie up your camel” that to me illustrates how we’re asked to react in such situations. Working with an offender to avoid temptation is perfectly reasonable and justifiable. And this is true in spite of the relatively low incidence of further sex crimes at least according to http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/rsorp94pr.htm

  • http://www.google.com Ruth

    I think an analogy might be helpful. How many banks hire convicted embezzlers. And if one did would the person be under heightened scrutiny and perhaps extra audits? I would suggest that child molestation is not the only crime that ruins a reputation or is hard to recover from. I think the difficulty here is while you can prevent embezzlers from the environment where the crime is likely to occur, how do you prevent someone’s access to children. Jesus did say to be as wise as snakes. I would no more trust an former embezzler to invest my nest egg than to allow a former child molester to babysit my kids (although babysitting is not the same as church membership). There is also something to be said about fleeing temptation. Perhaps a spouse who has cheated in the past shouldn’t have intimate lunches with someone to whom they are not married. Just as people who are trying to quit smoking often avoid places where they typically smoked. Or people trying to lose weight avoid certain aisles in the supermarket.

    I’m also fascinated by the nazi war criminals or the former bomber who make a new life as an upstanding law abiding citizen. Did the break from their past itself help? Being around people who didn’t know of their criminal reputation? or the greater fear of discovery and possibly greater punishment motivate them to keep to the straight and narrow?

  • Anonymous This Time

    Mollie, I know that on this site we often complain that an article ought to have gone into more depth. But just consider for a moment the depths that could have been plumbed here. The article focuses on the congregational response (not the congregation’s doctrine, the denomination’s doctrine, or the member’s doctrine). Several articles could be written on the person who doesn’t even worship there, but who doesn’t want a child molester to have been in the same building her child will be in later that week. (no hint that she has ANY theological, or logical, reason for her opinion) Much more could have been written about the two molested members who reacted differently, one who is working with molesters and the other who is offended by the idea that a molester could even see a photograph of her child in a hallway. (!) I won’t extend this indefinitely, but I could. A LOT more could be written about why people come to the weird conclusions they do – but to what end? The articles only seek to raise the interesting dilemma that these congregations find themselves in. They’re left to solve it on their own.

    I’m anonymous this time because I want to mention, we don’t inform members of the sins of others. We recently had a person attending our church who had issues with theft. She was receiving counseling from another member and had been clean for many months. However, when she returned to her pew after communion she picked up another member’s purse and walked out of church. We knew she did it – but couldn’t prove it. We spoke to her very directly about it, but didn’t tell her not to come back. And we counseled with the victim, who decided that anger and resentment were not what God desired. She forgave her, in her own heart. 2 months later the thief returned, tormented with guilt. We arranged for a meeting with the victim, where there was confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. No one else in the church knows anything about it.

    It doesn’t always work that way. But THAT is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.

  • Michael

    I simply meant that the UCC does not view homosexual behavior or orientation as sinful.

    I’m not sure that’s really a correct interpretation of what the UCC ads are saying. The UCC says gays should be included in the life of the church and that inclusion doesn’t mean attempting to convert, ostracize, or condemn. I think the UCC position is that we are all sinners and that homosexuality is no greater a sin than other sins and that the literal interpretation of the Bible is an inaccurate interpretation. Consistent with that, allowing gays to marry is consistent with moving forward with allowing gays and lesbians experience their sexuality within marriage, as encouraged by the scriptures.

    Here’s Paul Sherry’s letter on homosexuality.. You will notice nowhere does it say that homosexuality isn’t a sin

    http://www.ucc.org/news/record/pastoral.shtml

  • http://www.streetprophets.com pastordan

    Mollie:
    If your premise is that the UCC said it doesn’t believe in sin, then you’re approaching this completely wrong. We do believe in sin – we just don’t think that, you know, being in a committed relationship and wanting to raise a family together qualifies.

    And if you’re trying to somehow equate homosexuality and child molestation, or say that the UCC does, wow. That’s ugly.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I am certainly bothered by policies which say “You have finished your sentence, you are being ‘released’ — but we will make it impossible for you to live anywhere.”
    And increasingly, the proposed solution seems to be — keep them locked up. Indefinitely.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Michael,

    Thank you for the link. I’m noticing that the language used therein is similar to many other UCC links on inclusivity. I must admit that I never would have interpreted the statements as meaning that homosexuality is viewed as a sin but one no greater than others. I do see how sanctioning marriage for gays is consistent with the inclusivity viewpoint, though, rather than solely based out of the notion that homosexual behavior is sinful. Very interesting.

    pastordan,

    Your reading skills leave a bit to be desired. I said neither of the things you accuse me of.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I would love some analysis of why we view crimes against children as so different from crimes against adults. You also see it with news stories that highlight the age of victims — if they’re young.

    I understand some of the difference, I really do. There’s something just instinctually worse about raping a four year old than a 30 year old. And the loss of life barely lived is certainly more tragic than the loss of life lived well or lived long.

    But sometimes I think we get a bit carried away. Sometimes the news stories imply that the lives of children are more valuable than those of adults.

    I’ve always wondered if some of this isn’t the result of some American Protestantism. In other words, is the view that children are innocent until they reach an age of accountability at all in play in our collective view?

    Perhaps not — probably not, in fact — but it’s something I’ve just wondered about.

  • Michael

    Mollie, it’s an interesting question about crimes against children. Why is it that child molesters are more pathalogical than molesting adults. I do think it’s because of our inhrent need to protect children, but I’ve never understood why we have Megan’s Laws–for instance–but we don’t do monitoring of drug dealers, or embezzlers, or people who lie to Congress.

    The greatest challenge to our ability to provide grace is to determine where redemption, forgiveness and–yes–hospitality and grace fit in when it comes to all ex-offenders, but especially child molesters.

  • Michael

    I must admit that I never would have interpreted the statements as meaning that homosexuality is viewed as a sin but one no greater than others.

    And I concede it is a nuanced position. Being a welcoming faith community for gays and lesbians requires taking some nuanced positions and, arguably, clear black and white things like “sin” and “not sin” are hard to define in those nuances.

    Ulimately, that’s the great divide. It’s incomprehensible to me how the LCMS can interpret the Bible to forbid women from being ministers. It requires, to me, such a tortured absolutism that it is almost incomprehensible. But for you–and for those of faith traditions who share that belief–what I view as tortured and incomprehensible is crystal clear.

    So there we are at the brink. The tortured nuances of the UCC position makes sense to those who have that faith belief and the tortured absolutism of the LCMS position makes sense to those who have that faith belief. I may never be able to explain the UCC position to you and you will likely never be able to explain the LCMS position on women ministers to me.

  • Gary Aknos

    Pastor Dan:

    You said “And if you’re trying to somehow equate homosexuality and child molestation, or say that the UCC does, wow. That’s ugly.”

    Mollie didn’t make that connection, but Pliska certainly does:

    San Diego Union-Tribune

    “After several years in therapy, Pliska said he has come to believe that his problems stemmed from a combination of factors, including abandonment issues, an alcoholic parent and wrestling with his homosexuality.”

    I don’t agree with the connection at all… and frankly I think it’s a cop out.

  • Gary Aknos

    Michael said:

    “Why is it that child molesters are more pathalogical than molesting adults. I do think it’s because of our inhrent need to protect children, but I’ve never understood why we have Megan’s Laws—for instance—but we don’t do monitoring of drug dealers, or embezzlers, or people who lie to Congress”

    There’s some sort of moral and legal equivalence between child molesters and “drug dealers, or embezzlers, or people who lie to Congress”?

  • Corita

    There’s something just instinctually worse about raping a four year old than a 30 year old.

    Mollie,
    It is not just an “instinct” that we have. A four-year-old, whose developing neural pathways are still extremely impressionable, will have suffer a more profound effect (although this will vary with child and with the typa and duration of the abuse). The brain is extremely complex, its understanding of the sexual self is especially so.

    While children are always described as “resilient,” and are indeed, it is important to remember how some types of sexual abuse and violence can completely shatter a child’s ability to conceptualize who s/he is as a physical and sexual person capable of intimacy.

    That is generally not the case for an adult who has already had time to develop these ideas and relationships with others.

  • Michael

    Actually, there is a legal equivilance, Gary. All are potentially felonies. In terms of moral equivilance, I think that’s the question Mollie is asking. Why do we create a Megan’s Law to make sure everyone can know if a child molester lives next door, but there is no similar list for drug dealers or embezzlers or even people who lie to Congress. Why are child molesters singled out for such stigma and surveillance but not other felons?

    IOW, would a church have a crisis for letting an ex-felon who murdered someone join their church? How about an ex-felon who created corporate fraud? or who sold drugs to kids?

  • Matt

    As someone studying to go into ministry, and who works with sexual offenders, I can tell you that a church body accepting an offender into the congregation is VITALLY important. Allow them to work with the youth group? No. Let them roam about during the fellowship time after the service? No. Let them join with others in the Body of Christ to worship God? YES, YES, YES! It is so important that we show the love and forgiveness of Christ to EVERYONE. The article mentions a contract, which I imagine follows very closely to the Methodist Church of Great Britain’s guidelines that it published – which can be found at
    Section 7 details some guidelines such as limited access to facilities, accountability partners, pastoral counseling, and in some cases, contact with parole and sexual offender counselors – which is an amazing step towards witnessing towards the greater community.

    What lacks so often in the church is Grace. We receive grace, and we appropriate it for our lives, but we don’t live under it or show it to others. Remember the depths of your own sin which has been forgiven…is God unable to pardon another for their sin? Or is it just us?

  • Matt
  • Gary Aknos

    Michael, that’s simply absurd. There is no legal equivalence between felonies and it’sreflected in the differences in sentencing. C’mon, stop insulting everyone’s intelligence.

  • Michael

    There is no legal equivalence between felonies and it’sreflected in the differences in sentencing

    You’re right. Drug trafficking can often bring a higher penalty than sexual assault, even when it involves children. Federal drug trafficking convictions have a 5 year minimum, 40 year maximum. Sexual assualt involving a child would most certainly not result in a 40 year maximum sentence.

  • Hans

    Greg-

    Of the three things you listed, many might argue that the first two are caused by people having too much sex and the third by people not having enough. Solve the sex problem, save the world. After all, that’s what these guys here at Getreligion are trying to do, right? Right?

  • Dale

    Sexual assualt involving a child would most certainly not result in a 40 year maximum sentence.

    That’s incorrect, Michael. Sentencing guidelines for sex crimes against children vary from state to state. In my state, sex crimes against children involving penetration carry a maximum sentence of life in prison without a possibility of parole. As far as I know, that’s not an unusually harsh sentencing guideline. Drug crimes involving large amounts of cocaine or narcotics (amounts that could not be reasonably construed to be for personal use) also carry a maximum life sentence, but with a possibility of parole (unless the convict qualifies as a “habitual criminal”–three or more felony convictions). Someone who is a repeat offender for sex crimes against children is likely to draw the maximum sentence and/or never receive parole; drug offenders are mostly non-violent and are therefore more likely to be paroled or receive a reduced sentence because of prison overcrowding.

    Federal sentencing guidelines don’t mean much in sexual assault cases, because such crimes are hardly ever prosecuted in federal courts, as opposed to drug crimes, which often involve federal interstate jurisdiction.

    I think it’s a mistake to think that criminal laws and sentencing reflect the moral weight that a crime carries in society. For example, in my state, writing a bad check and sexual assault without penetration carry the same maximum sentence, but it is clear to everyone involved which crime is considered worse. I’ve never seen a defendant draw the maximum for a bad check, but I’ve seen many draw the maximum for sexual assault. We don’t have to make special arrangement for courtroom security to protect the defendant from bank employees in a bad check case. So sentencing only somewhat reflects the moral impact of a crime.

    All that said, I would basically agree with Michael. People are quite unrealistic about sex crimes against children. They are more likely to be committed by someone in a position of trust, not a person whose photograph is posted on the internet as part of a sex offender registry. They are much more common than generally known, and are most often committed by family members, just as the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances.

    To the extent that we make a sex offender’s life in the community untenable, he or she is more likely to abscond and reemerge in another community where he or she is not known. A person who is socially isolated is more likely to act out sexually. So much of the social reaction to sex offenders is counterproductive.

    I would think it interesting if a reporter could find a church that instituted guidelines like those proposed at Pilgrim UCC, and the molester still managed to assault children. I would think that rarely happens, if ever.

  • Dale

    Why is it that so much time in religious discussions is spent on sex either homosexuality or whatever?

    What gets attention in the media doesn’t reflect what goes on within religious institutions. The adults in our congregation rarely debate sex, because there’s consensus on what constitutes Christian conduct in sexual behavior. (I don’t know how they discuss it with the youth, as I don’t have children.) Much more time is devoted to the tension between career and family obligations (quite frankly, it seems that many people are too busy to have much sex), disbelief, anger, fear, etc. In the twenty years that I’ve attended, I’ve only known two instances of men who were disciplined for sexual misconduct: in both cases they were straight men engaged in ongoing adulterous affairs. Ten or so years aso, a married man publicly confessed to having anonymous sex with other men. He remains married and a member in good standing; I would imagine he has relationships within the church to hold him accountable and protect both he and his wife, although I don’t ask him about it. Most people who want to engage in sexual behavior that’s inconsistent with the church’s teaching will stop attending, so it just isn’t an issue. Except, of course, when a reporter calls looking for a quote.

  • James Davis

    I merely scanned most of the previous 34 posts, so I don’t know if my idea was already stated, but hey, when should that stop an opinion (grin)? My thought is simply that someone shouldn’t be denied entry into a church for being a child molester; just don’t let him have anything to do with children’s classes. And to do that, of course, the pastor and church board would need to know his sexual track record. Forgiveness is lovely, but don’t give a molester more temptations — or, of course, expose children to undue risk.

  • Eli

    I think Mollie brings up an incredibly interesting and important question on the thread when she says:

    I would love some analysis of why we view crimes against children as so different from crimes against adults…. But sometimes I think we get a bit carried away. Sometimes the news stories imply that the lives of children are more valuable than those of adults.

    I’ve always wondered if some of this isn’t the result of some American Protestantism. In other words, is the view that children are innocent until they reach an age of accountability at all in play in our collective view?

    And I also think Corita brings in an interesting approach to begin to address the question but I’m not sure it fully does justice to the idea of why children’s lives might be counted as “more valuable than those of adults” in using a scientific/psychological approach to justifying why this might be.

    I think both approaches to answering the question engender an “is” conception of the world whereas I would add a more explicit “ought” approach to answering the question (that is implied in Mollie’s reasoning) which might better address the fundamental question of *why* we have an instinctual need to hold our children’s lives as more valuable than those of other adults or even, potentially, ourselves.

    First of all, I don’t disagree with Mollie that it’s an instinct and a notion of American Protestantism relating to the progression on a continuum of a child from a state of pure innocence to one of greater social accountability. I also don’t disagree with Corita that child abuse could lead to profound intimacy issues later in life and affect one’s sense of self and feelings of safety in intimate situations.

    Beyond this, though, I think the higher value placed on the lives of our children is a pretty universal theme that goes way beyond American Protestantism to other religions, as well, and even extends into the animal kingdom (e.g. see what happens when getting between a mother bear and her cub where the mother will fight to the death, etc.).

    Even beyond this still, I think there is an existential question underlying all of this which relates to the fundamental question of why we’re even here in the first place. Biologically speaking, it would seem to be that to ensure the survival of our genes makes having children a fundamental instinctual need that we all have. Children (or cubs) lacking street sense or knowing the laws of the wild, are much more vulnerable to threats to their existence than an experienced adult would expected to be. From this, it naturally follows that it would be in our best interest to ensure that our children learn a fundamental sense of right and wrong (or “oughts”) in how to negotiate the world in order to get their basic needs met and to avoid threats to their lives and existence. Since our children are carrying our genes forward, their future lives and existence really in fact represent all of our own hopes and dreams for the future. To me this would help explain why our society would treat crimes against children, or wrongs done to them, as so much more offensive and difficult to forgive than those same things done against adults. So, just to conclude since this post has already gotten way too long, I guess this is why, as Emerson wrote, “We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.”

  • Paul Barnes

    I am not sure about the innocence being a Protestant idea though. Look at Calvin and Luther’s conceptions of justification. According to them, people are rotten to the core. Yet, we are discussing American Protestantism, which might be a whole nother animal…

  • Eli

    Paul, I don’t see much of a difference between the notion of original sin and pure innocence in infancy since a character, at that point, has more or less infinite potentiality. Makes sense that only really through greater accountability, or lack thereof, does one’s character really take shape….

  • Eric

    I’m very curious to know what their theological reasoning is, and none of the stories I’ve read have really fleshed that out.

    What I have discovered in cases such as this — and I include other issues such as the war, where a clergyperson encounters vehement disapproval in preaching the gospel — is that no theological reasoning is involved on the parts of those who angrily disagree with various mandates of the gospel. When I try to engage such people in conversation, their arguments are usually based on an assumption that the Church has a responsibility to uphold some aspect of assumed “social respectability.” Part of this I assume is due to Church membership being seen by some as a way of “fitting in” with society; their family and friends belong, so they do to. If the gospel challenges social assumptions, there is a disconnect that makes them react in a hostile way to protect their safe assumptions.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    The confusion is the two ways of seeing Church.

    In most congregational churches, the church is a community of saints. So they can choose who can attend.

    But Catholicism is more like a mall: Everyone can come in as long as they wear a shirt and shoes and don’t act up.
    No one will notice, or rather no one should notice you, because we’re supposed to be too busy praying and worshipping God to see who is there.

  • Hans

    Greg-

    My previous comment was a joking response to your post, which insinuated that our friends here at Getreligion are “trying to put an end” to the world’s problems, as opposed to what they’re actually doing–analyzing media coverage of religious issues.

  • MJBubba

    I think Mollie’s question about why pedophiles are viewed as such monsters is worth exploring. I believe that Professor Mattingly identified the issue in several threads over the years related to the church scandals, especially the Roman Catholic scandals. He pointed out that the victims were young teens, not pre-pubescent children, and that there is a separate word for adults who prey on young teens (ephebophilia), and scolded the press for not noticing the difference.

  • Jeff

    Not to be terribly cynical, but a huge gap in the article, I think.

    This church is located in probably one of the highest concentrations of schools in the city. Within probably a mile of the campus there is a high school (across the street), a junior high school (just south), and an elementary school not too far from there. Its also interesting that this particular church has a daycare center as well – not something that you find at every church.

    It didn’t seem that Ms. Dolbee (whom I have low expectations for anyways, based on history) didn’t explore the UCC view on managing temptation. This is an interesting area of discussion that I believe plays into a larger discussion of what the plan for leading this man towards some amount healin was to be. Would you counsel a recovering (especially a recently sober) alcoholic to attend a church located next to a bar?

  • Jeff

    Repost to correct a few glaring errors:

    Not to be terribly cynical, but there is a huge gap in the article, I think.

    This church is located in probably one of the highest concentrations of schools in the city. Within probably a mile of the campus there is a high school (across the street), a junior high school (just south), and an elementary school not too far from there. Its also interesting that this particular church has a daycare center as well – not something that you find at every church.

    It didn’t seem that Ms. Dolbee (whom I have low expectations for anyways, based on history) explored the UCC view on managing temptation. This is an interesting area of discussion that I believe plays into a larger discussion of what the plan for leading this man towards some amount healing was to be. Would you counsel a recovering (especially a recently sober) alcoholic to attend a church located next to a bar?

  • David

    I’m puzzled by your comment “. . . . since Jews and Christians presumably would have different theological approaches to the matter.” Why would that be? This seems to me to be a case of not “getting” religion? I would presume (as a non-journalist) that similar to Christianity, there would be opposing views on the issue (even within single synagogues).

  • Eli

    But I also think tmatt’s wonderful post about the “good death” vs. the “bad death” plays into this discussion thread, as well. If a person is successful in bringing children into the world and in creating a healthy community with one’s family then it would seem to me that when the time is right, death might somehow, paradoxically, be an inspiration to all those we love and hold close.

    No one found it strange that children found inspiration in the dying days of an elderly woman. No one found it strange that she took comfort in the fact that her life and death inspired others….Some of her final words were, “The children. The children.”

    If for no other reason but this alone it makes a lot of sense to me why the realities of the protection of our children’s lives and the health of their psyches might be amongst our highest priorities – even higher than those of any theological considerations of forgiveness.

  • David Smedberg

    The desire to protect children from any and all harm is understandable and hard to disagree with (though this op-ed in Newsweek shows how the desire to protect children from harm can be overdone).

    In a nutshell, Indexed has the story.


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