Thirty-some years ago, someone I love was sexually abused by a trusted adult. Although this incident occurred when we were kids, time has done nothing to heal my friend. All it's done is stolen peace, freedom, and wholeness from him. Harboring hatred has a way of eating away at one's soul.
Child abusers are the most reviled people on the planet. Even hardened criminals view child molesters with particular disdain. And so did I. For years I harbored a deep hatred toward the perpetrator who violated my friend in an unthinkable way.
But then over the course of the last few years, I started to wonder whether all my righteous anger was really just a way for me to withhold forgiveness from someone who most certainly didn't deserve it. Could the blood of Christ cover someone as horrible as a pedophile? And if it could, would I ever bring myself to say to the worst of the worst–child abusers–you, yes even you, are saved by grace!
Questions like these are what drove me to spearhead a research project last year for Christianity Today. For nine months, I delved into the dark world of sex offenders. We conducted a national survey to find out what church leaders think about sex offenders–whether they should be integrated into congregations in a compassionate way, and if so, how they do this so no one is put in harm's way. Sex Offenders in the Pew, the Christianity Today story that grew out of the research, looked at how many churches have registered sex offenders attending their services and what they are doing to safely integrate these individuals into the congregation.
In interviewing people like Craig, a former registered sex offender (he violated his pre-adolescent daughter and her friend), my heart was filled with compassion for his struggle and the regret he feels over wrongs he can't ever make right. At the same time I am sickened by people like him who exploit kids.
I applaud churches that are fighting against this natural repulsion and instead reaching out to people like Craig–men and women who have committed terrible crimes against children. It's a hard calling.
The world's a dangerous place–I know this to be true. And sadly, church isn't always a safe haven for our most vulnerable members. But as leaders, we have an opportunity to change that.
What's your church doing to keep kids safe? Are you finding safe ways to minister to people with sexual offenses on their record? If so, please comment so we can learn from each other.
Marian V. Liautaud is managing editor of GiftedforLeadership.com and an editor for the Church Management team at Christianity Today International.