“Everybody Has a Past”

“Everybody Has a Past” July 1, 2014

I recently came upon an article by Boz Tchividijian about a church that hired a known sex offender as pastor three years ago. Surprise surprise, the man was just arrested for sexually abusing a fourteen-year-old boy. But as Boz went over the church’s defense of their decision to hire the man, I was struck by one bit in particular:

“Everybody has a past”: All too often scripture is distorted in order to justify the blind embracing of those who have sexually victimized children. Though the interim pastor proudly states, “We are firm believers in the Bible”, he provides no scriptural basis for his “belief” that past offenses of a sex offender should be forgotten. He provides none because there is none. At the time this offender arrived at the church, many obviously believed his words that he was a “changed person” in Jesus. Even if that were true, Christians must understand the fundamental difference between an offender’s changed position before God and the fact he/she is still the same person who committed an abhorrent offense against a child that comes with lifetime consequences. (The 7th chapter of Romans has much to say about the fact that Christians are still in a battle with our flesh.) Don’t be fooled, offenders love a distorted theology that gives them immediate access to the little ones in the church. Whether or not the offender is a “changed” person before God, he/she is the same person who was convicted of sexually abusing a child. That is a past that should never be forgotten by those around him. This church just doesn’t get it.

Everybody has a past . . . 

I was one of those good little evangelical children who listened to speakers talk of pasts full of drugs and sex and their changed lives and wished that I could have a “testimony” as powerful as theirs. Christianity had the power to change lives, to completely transform people—or at least, that’s what I was taught. And those whose lives reflected that—those who were in the past addicts or criminals but whose lives were changed by Jesus—were the proof of the transforming power of Jesus.

I’d never thought about what this means when applied to sex offenders. 

Evangelicalism is a religion of change and second chances. In fact, the gospel is centered on the promise of second chances. Whatever sins you’ve done, however bad they are, you can be redeemed by the blood of Christ. Jesus came to save sinners, after all.

I Corinthians 6:9-11—Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

And such were some of you . . . 

Everybody has a past . . . 

These ideas go along with the evangelical emphasis on forgiving others “as Christ forgave you. Further, the verses that urge believers to be “wise as serpents” are aimed at those going out among unbelievers, and not at how to approach other believers. The idea that “everybody has a past” but that those who are believers are forgiven and redeemed through Jesus creates a situation where evangelicals can be too gullible for their own good.

In this particular case, the committee that selected the pastor cared more about the positive testimony of a sex offender redeemed by Jesus than they did about protecting the children in their church—and it was the children who payed the price. The sad thing is, I can see it happening. I can hear the “praise the Lord”s at the changed life of a sex offender, and at this example of the power of Jesus.

Boz has this to say of the argument that “everyone has a past” and that even a sex offender can be transformed and become a “changed person”:

Even if that were true, Christians must understand the fundamental difference between an offender’s changed position before God and the fact he/she is still the same person who committed an abhorrent offense against a child that comes with lifetime consequences. (The 7th chapter of Romans has much to say about the fact that Christians are still in a battle with our flesh.)

This is the first time I have ever heard this distinction drawn. Usually the break between the old nature and the redeemed self is painted so drastically that the old self is swallowed up in the “new creature.”

II Corinthians 5:17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

What is the Romans 7 passage Boz refers to?

Romans 7:14-25—For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again—the Bible says many things, and sometimes the things it says are contradictory. Romans 7 emphasizes the continued struggle with sin and with the flesh, but I was taught that once I was saved I no longer had a sinful nature. Interestingly, it was actually Romans 6 that was brought out to defend this idea:

Romans 6:1-14—What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

This is actually why Michael Pearl teaches something called “sinless perfectionism”—essentially, that Christians are capable of sinning “no more.” Our sinful nature, I was taught, was “crucified with Christ.” In fact, I was taught that sin no longer has any hold over us.

You can see how these ideas—and the “everybody has a past” line—would contribute to the hiring of convicted sex offenders. In fact, the sex offender status becomes not a warning of the need to protect other children but rather a critical part of a compelling “testimony” of the power of Christ. I can only hope that Boz’s interpretations, and those of others like him, will change this justification and make hiring a convicted sex offender to work with children less acceptable in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. The Bible leaves room for many interpretations, and some are better at protecting children than others.

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