Praise without a “preyer”?

In my denomination, as in most other mainline Protestant ones and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, clergy and lay volunteers are required to undergo anti-sex abuse training, which includes a criminal background check.

Given the wariness about sex abuse in the wake of decades of scandal and some highly publicized crimes, how would clergy or congregants feel if a freed sex offender showed up for worship? How do laws differ state to state? Have they been challenged? What’s constitutional and what’s not? Are there alternative ways to minister to released sex offenders?

These were a few of the questions that went through my mind when reading an article on the topic of sex-offender laws in North Carolina from the sent to by Lee, a GR reader. Only a few of them were addressed in the story, which discussed the implications of North Carolina laws that keep sex offenders away from places with youngsters.

Props to writer Jordan Schrader for covering the issue at all — it’s not one I’ve seen examined much in the news. Here’s the punchy lede:

If they want to repent their sins, sex offenders in Buncombe County and elsewhere had better do it at home.

Some church services are among the activities that are off limits because of tough restrictions on registered sex offenders’ movements, passed all but unanimously last year by state lawmakers who invoked a young girl’s tragic murder.

This week, though, the General Assembly will likely start to rethink a ban that keeps sex offenders from going within 300 feet of a place “intended primarily for the use, care or supervision of minors.”

But then things get a little confusing. A Fayetteville legislator is quoted as saying that the General Assembly might have acted unconstitutionally — but the reporter doesn’t quote him or anyone else saying why. The story doesn’t tell us what the legislators are considering doing to change the 300-foot law.

There also seems to be a subtle assumption that all houses of worship in North Carolina are Christian. As reader Lee pointed out, the quote directly addressing whether registered offenders belong in worship is from a legislator, Bruce Goforth. He certainly seems to make that assumption.

Goforth, among the most vocal advocates in the legislature for sex-offender restrictions, said the far-reaching ban was an unintended consequence.

“We want them in church to try to turn their lives toward Christ,” Goforth said, so “they would no longer prey on society.”

Making that the sole reaction on the question of offenders in worship surely doesn’t reflect the breadth of the feelings of worshippers. The article itself doesn’t spend a lot of time going beneath the surface, where lurks a few challenging questions — can sex offenders ever be rehabillitated? In Christian terms, can they be redeemed? What rights do they have? Will this set up a church-state conflict? One gets the impression, from the list of upcoming bill tacked on near the article’s end, that some legislators are moving towards tightening the laws. If a more permissive law about where they can worship is enacted, it will be the exception in North Carolina rather than the rule.

Picture of the U.S. Constitution is from Wikimedia Commons

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  • Jerry

    This is a hard issue for a society that likes simplistic answers.

  • AskYourPreacher

    I agree with Jerry. As a minister, I’ve had to deal with this issue a handful of times and it is never a simple answer. Sex offenders come in all shapes and sizes. Some have abused small children, while others are a case of a 20 year old with a 17 year; both are illegal, but not exactly the same.
    On the positive side, all of the rehabilitating sex offenders I have interacted with have been very open to doing whatever it takes to make a congregation full of parents comfortable and to satisfy state requirements.

  • Joel

    In Washington, you can be registered as a sex offender for a public urination conviction. “Sex offender” is a very broad term.

    My aunt is a Unitarian minister, and she ran into the question last year of just how much to tell the congregation. Do you allow the offender his privacy, or do you warn everyone and take the chance of his being ostracized by the congregation?

    It seems to me that this would be a wonderful opportunity for an outreach ministry by some enterprising church. Arrange special services, maybe in a home, just for these offenders, where they don’t have to worry about who’s looking at them sideways form the next pew or about being exposed to temptation.

  • JohnB

    Its a truly sad and broken system when abusers are turned away in the same way victims of these crimes are turned away.

    Across the globe churchs are closed and priests are threatened with dire consequences whenever one attempts to openly work with either offenders or victims.

    Oddly this is often turned on its head if the perpetrator happens to be a local priest who has operated for years under the wing and the protection of his bishop who has taken an issue which is a rights issue and mires and sullies these rights due to an unbending, unlearning hierarchy who has believed for the past 100 years or so that protecting the “good name” of the church has been more important than the rights of those children harmed. The real scandal in regards this issue is the fact that these double standards can exist within a church/religious structure such as the Catholic church.

    The Catholic church’s teachings are said to be based on past knowledge and words and must be upheld at all costs. The clergy sex abuse crisis has come about as a result of these church ideals and the inability of the church to integrate into its teachings the knowledge and understanding that society has acquired in recent times.

    Unbending, non-evolving religious edicts, commandments or other can and do become outdated, ineffective and socially destructive when these old beliefs are not upgraded to our modern understanding. The most obvious of these is on display in the fourth commandment – quite simply a foolish notion in light of the fact that some of these offenders are parents themselves and our history is littered with the names of those whose children must recoil in horror at the actions of their parents.

    When you add to that mix a hierarchy which uses all at its disposal to enforce its ideals on to society consists of men who have not experienced a licit sexual relationship, men who have not experienced real fatherhood and are men who have no experience of the everyday lives of their own followers or the life experiences of those who follow other beliefs.

    Having those with the least experience in the human experience of life set the agendas of countries and pass their judgment on all areas of life for all the people of a country based on out of date commandments is a sure recipe for social disaster. The breadth of that disaster can be seen in country after country where these ways are being challenged and questioned.

    While the church continues to preach these failed notions to us on the one hand and be seen publicly to be involved in genocide and the rape of children on the other it destroys its own creditability as a church and as a religion which is suitable and valid in our present day.

    The stronger these bishops hang onto out-dated ideas and push them as commandments of the church and the more they urge their followers to protect “the good name” the faster the decline of Catholicism will be.

  • Joel

    I tend to amuse myself reading through comments on religion stories (especially Catholic-related ones) to see how many posts it will take before some yahoo brings up the pervo-priest scandal. Usually it’s only four or five, depending on whether the commenters can find anything intelligent to say instead.

    I was pleased to see that this story didn’t have a single one. Alas, John had to drag the matter here, however off-topic it might be.

    But still, I just can’t let this go:
    The Catholic church’s teachings are said to be based on past knowledge and words and must be upheld at all costs. The clergy sex abuse crisis has come about as a result of these church ideals and the inability of the church to integrate into its teachings the knowledge and understanding that society has acquired in recent times.

    Huh? Are you serious? Doctrinal orthodoxy causes gay men to prey on teenagers? That’s like saying that wearing boxers causes goldfish to die. There simply is no conceivable causal relationship.

  • Keith Richard Radford Jr

    Having separated a nation from its right to know what is going on has stifled us Fund~&~Mentally, into war Inc. Karzai has proposed law making it illegal for a woman to refuse to have sexual relations with her spouse and would prevent her from leaving her house without her husband’s permission. Wasn’t that cultural 1930’s USA?
    Differences fundamentally are based on lifting us all from the thinking that we have power over one another. If your husband or wife comes home at night it because they want to be there not because you have some magical power, law, or spell over them, its their choice.

    Now we know there are no gays in the Middle East thanks to Admenijad who also denied the Holocaust which proves he is not in touch with facts or relaity, but if there were what treatment would they expect?
    In California where they are told they can not marry, in the past they have locked up, given electro shock treatment, branded for life for loving one another because it is, what mentally ill to have thoughts that way? Its all the same, it’s not about sex it’s about control and who has that?
    People who have a long way to go to grow up!

    The rage created by the prejudice is the sound of diversion from the reality that any hate for our fellow man is worth nothing and the least of us are worth more than all the thieves using law to regulate sexual bhevior.
    Law using the internet coalition of thieves tattling someone touched me while organizing online, getting paid tax dollars to “set up” one another for political and monetary gain has become the scam tool used by hubby hoppers looking for that next money tree.
    This money scam running on every home they can take from their neighbor, and sell it on TV, because unless they can get richer they have no time for anyone.
    Have you seen how many officers cover Peterson, and wondered just how much that is costing you to be entrained by his investigation and judiciary process? Who is paying for all that? You are and it all come tumbling down in cost of living, cable tax, and ever form of income tax, and your wondering where your money went?
    Alowing them to come up a way to hide their crimes by exterminating/incarcerating/renditioning, their victims before they realize they can ask for their homes or properity back proves its not about sex.
    Continued persecution has infiltrated our own credit company’s policy proving it’s not about care for common man ether it is about misdirected greed where 1 in 40 America’s are actively being monitored by someone else for fun and profit.
    Try a search for yourself results where a law and the consequences of that law has brought a nation to its knees.
    A small group use fear and faith groups to keep a way of life reminiscent of the inquisition unable to recognize that hunting humans is no more legal on the web than it would be anywhere except Borneo in the 1400’s and California today.

    We are not talking about fines/time for a crime spent addressing that crime in prison.
    We are talking about over reactive people telling fellow humans where they can or can not go/do for past actions after they have paid their debt to society and these groups are now making a living off creating suffering for free citizens on the web, in neighborhoods, making a living hell for people that just want them out of their lives.
    Striping their neighbors in their own neighborhoods of their gold teeth leaving them blooded by their inhuman actions of greed seeing something they want and having no valid clam using powerful people who will hunt a person down no matter where they are on the planet by use of GPS and the guys getting away with everything are the same ones using sex as a wepon against everone.
    The outcome has proved the sex offender’s data base was designed by real killers. People who feel the need to track down sex thoughts anywhere in the world, to monitor, steal from, annoy, harass, and kill, for an ideology is missing incite for having never allowed anyone to live long enough to tell them they are wrong. Well I am still here for now, to bad huh? I got sooooooooo much more.

  • Keith Richard Radford Jr

    I love the collors that come up just like the terror alert system. No reds on this page yet? who will be the 1st?

  • Jonathan

    Yeah, it’s unfortunate that this post so quickly degenerated into silly screeds about this or that group because the larger issue IS important.

    As posts #2, 3, & 4 point out, it’s a very complicated issue, and it would be great to see an indepth news story about the issue involved. When we see “sex offender”, we automatically think, “pedophile”. But as AskYourPreacher and Joel point out, there are a number of lesser crimes that get you the label, too.

    Although I don’t know that the MSM would cover this issue, I’d also like more indepth coverage of how clergy from different faith traditions deal with the problem of ministering to sex offenders, especially the most incorrigible (e.g. pedophiles). As a Christian who is also trained in psychology, the issue of redemption vs. rehabilitation is an issue I’d like to see covered.