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Insurance Carrier Orders Church How to Treat Sex Offenders

Oregon congregation protests requirements it must meet in order to stay insured.

An Oregon church may be penalized by its insurance carrier for being open about having sex offenders in its congregation.

According to Chad McComas, founding pastor of Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, the church's insurance carrier, Church Mutual, sent him a letter May 1 with several requirements: first, that he fully disclose the identity of sex offenders to the approximately 100-member congregation; second, that offenders be allowed to attend only one predetermined service; and last, that offenders be required to have an escort.

The proposed requirements may lead to the end of a church founded in 1997 that reaches out to a variety of individuals, including those struggling with addictive backgrounds.

"That's part of who we serve. But that's not all of who we serve," McComas told the Mail Tribune in June. "We know who our members are. We are being careful and diligent. But how often are we going to have to tell the congregation that someone is a sex offender? The congregation changes all the time."

Church Mutual provides coverage for more than 100,000 religious organizations and has covered nearly 5,000 sex-related claims since 1984. Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing at Church Mutual, says the company's number one priority is to protect churches and potential victims (i.e., children).

Some believe these restrictions would do more harm than good in a congregation dedicated to healing and fostering authentic community. Pam Shepherd, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ashland, told the San Francisco Chronicle about the importance of running background checks on all Bible school teachers, youth ministers, and others who deal with minors. Though no one in her congregation has disclosed any sex crimes, she said, "if all sex offenders glowed orange, people might be surprised to see who they are sitting next to."

Christianity Today has surveyed and analyzed how churches today are ministering to "society's most despised"; examined the pastoral and legal need to balance grace and accountability with sex offenders; reported how a Florida ministry's misstep illustrates the difficulty of outreach to despised groups; and noted the insurance complications when churches house congregants or leaders with criminal backgrounds.

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