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'There Is This Belief That We Have to Be Forgiving': Should Known Sex Offenders Be Allowed in Church?

Children Church AS
Children Church AS

Since news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last month, abuse headlines from Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and New York have dominated news feeds and social media accounts.

But child abuse experts warn that predators are rampant not only in certain industries but in churches and ministries across the country.

Brotherhood Mutual, an independent church insurance provider, says ministries are frequently faced with the dilemma of known sex offenders who want to participate in worship and other ministry activities.

It's a situation that pits two ministry goals against each other: the safety of the most vulnerable versus the restoration of known offenders.

Richard Hammar, Assemblies of God legal counsel, has written and published a variety of books and articles on the subject and says that 80 percent of churches from all denominations allow known sex offenders to attend with strict boundaries.

Those parameters can include: a chaperone policy, limited areas or ministries in the church and prohibition from interacting with children.

Boz Tchvidjian is a law professor at Liberty University Law School and the founder of G.R.A.C.E., a non-profit group that consults with ministries on the issue of sexual abuse.

He believes that most churches err on the side of helping the offender rather than protecting the safety of children, potential adult victims and abuse survivors.

"There is this belief that we have to be forgiving and we're being unforgiving and judgmental if we create too strict of parameters," he told CBN News.

Tchvidjian says potential and former victims and not offenders must be the primary responsibility of churches and ministries.

He and other abuse experts advise church leaders to check sex offender registries in case any are currently attending their church, although of course it's ideal if that person initiates and puts church leadership on notice about their status.

Tchvidjian also recommends checking that person's court file to see if they're minimizing their past convictions and abuses.

Still, Tchvidjian believes that the sex offender who has abused a child or sexually assaulted an adult should not be a part of corporate worship. Even if an assault doesn't happen on church property, contacts and "grooming" by predators can start there.

Tchvidjian recommends that known sex offenders watch corporate worship online and get involved in an adults-only small groups where all attendees know their status.

Some churches, like First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, have taken a proactive step to help sex offenders. They offer adult-only services for those who can't be in the presence of children.

The Southern Baptist denomination and others have multiple resources for churches that want to check registries or think through their policies towards known and unknown offenders. And G.R.A.C.E. offers a certification course to help ministries protect their children and think through various scenarios and possible policies.

Of course, known sex offenders are only a part of the problem. Churches and ministries must remain vigilant for the unidentified offenders attending their activities.

"One of the things that can be a little misleading or dangerous is to be so focused on the identifiable sex offenders and probably ignore the reality that there are more in our midst that have never been caught," says Tchvidjian.

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