5 Things church leaders should do to treat the wounds of survivors

In my last post, I gave 5 reasons why church leaders don’t treat the wounds of abuse survivors. It’s one thing to continually point to the deficiencies of the church (which could go on forever!), but I like to instead offer tangible solutions. Really, God offers the solutions. We just have to put them into practice. That’s it. Jesus offered very real solutions to some very real problems. There are two things that will cause harm to people who turn to the church for help–inactivity and the wrong activity. I used a hospital metaphor the last time, so I’ll use it again here. We should be aware that there are some hospitals that are in decline. They will continue to fail until someone takes the lead and begins offering tangible solutions and actually follows through! The church is no different. We need to talk solutions and actually find people willing to lead the charge and make changes. If the church is really going to be a hospital for sinners and if we are serious about healing, then we must have a clear plan. Here are my top 5, in no particular order of significance.

#1 Leaders need to know that triage is essential for people who are hurting
Every emergency room has triage nurses. They are trained to assess and assign, and are the first point of contact when a patient comes in. They assess the degree of urgency the minute a patient comes through the door. Every single patient’s needs are assessed and from there they are assigned to the proper specialist at the proper time. Certain patients are given priority over others due to the severity of their illness or injury. There is good reason for this. I’ve been in full time ministry for nearly a decade and have rarely seen this done in the church. In fact, rather than assess and assign, we most often assume and avoid. We assume everyone either is in their happy place or they should be and we avoid the people with the deepest wounds. Even if desperate people are lucky enough to find someone who will listen to them, it could be days until a scheduled appointment takes place. This is unacceptable for people in crisis.

Jesus and his disciples assessed and assigned constantly. Think about it. When they fed 5,000, they didn’t just happen to find a group of thousands hanging out one day. No, the reason they crossed the Sea of Galilee was because so many people came and went that the disciples couldn’t even find time to eat (Mark 6:31). They crossed the sea to escape people and find a desolate place to rest and recover. According to Matthew, this was right after John the Baptist was murdered and Jesus wanted to get away. But the crowds figured out where they were going and beat them there by foot (Mark 6:33). Exhausted from sleep deprivation and hunger, they saw a crowd of thousands waiting on the shore. Jesus “had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He taught them and fed them that same day. When Peter and John went to the Temple after Jesus ascended, a beggar who was lame from birth cried out to them. Peter stopped, looked intently at the man, and said three words that changed his life forever: “Look at us” (Acts 3:4). Probably for the first time ever, someone was intentional about making eye contact with this man. Many of you know the significance of what Peter did for this man by uttering these three words in that moment. They didn’t give him money that day. But they gave him something far more significant. Peter and John let him know that they saw him. And they healed him. Not everyone received this level of care, and not everyone was treated immediately. Jesus taught us how to triage–to assess and assign.

#2 Leaders need to use discernment
The seeker friendly movement, in my opinion, has removed discernment from church leaders who once upon a time had common sense. Suppose a woman comes into the hospital with severe bruises. An intoxicated man is beside her yelling and cursing at her. Trained staff know how to read signs and act accordingly and immediately. The woman is immediately shielded from the man, police are called, and she is prioritized for treatment. Every hospital has procedures for how to protect people from abusers. Rethink this scenario. The battered woman comes in and the nurse begins asking her, “What did you do to provoke him?” “You really need to forgive him if you’re going to find healing for these wounds.” The man says he is sorry, that it was all a big misunderstanding. He is now prioritized, brought back to a room, and nurses begin looking at the cuts on his knuckles. They hug him and say how wonderful it is that he apologized to his wife out in the waiting room. He displayed what the model patient should look like. He took the “high road” when his wife was yelling and screaming about how he’s to blame.

This sounds ridiculous but I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over and over again. All the hundreds of biblical references to protecting the oppressed, caring for the needy, and ferreting out the wolves in sheep’s clothing get tossed aside in the name of cheap grace. We proudly proclaim, “All are welcome. . . come as you are.” That’s fine, but where is the discernment in this process? Not all sins are equal. Nor is the treatment of people who commit the sins. Sometimes Jesus flipped tables and made whips of cords. Other times he talks about it being better for people to have massive rock tied around their necks and to be drowned in the depth of the sea compared to what’s in store for them. Still other times, he is defensive and compassionate to prostitutes who scrub his feet with tears and hair, women who are caught in the act of adultery, and Samaritans who have had five failed marriages. Why? Because Jesus showed us how to use discernment and know the difference between oppressors and the oppressed.

#3 Leaders need to sit on the ash heap with people
Spending time with friends in crisis is not something that can be outsourced. I don’t know of a church leader who has not outsourced a church member to a professional therapist. While it’s wise to know our limitations and expertise, this needs to stop being the catch all response for every person in crisis. Not every person needs or is willing to see a therapist. Many people have been badly burned by therapists and are coming to church leaders because they need someone who will just simply listen. Let the words resonate from Job. He literally lost everything. . . everything. Then he gets painful boils all over his body. Listen closely: “And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes” (Job 2:8). While he’s sitting on the ashen remains of what once was his successful life, his wife told him to curse God and die. When Job’s friends showed up, they didn’t recognize him. “And they sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13).

His friends were great companions until they opened their mouths. When Job was on his ash heap, he didn’t need advice. He needed to feel the presence of his friends. He needed silence. We cannot sprinkle some encouraging Bible verses on people who are on their ash heap and expect them to feel better. When people are in the middle of their ash heap, they don’t need Bible verses. They need comforters. They need someone who has the wisdom and willingness to drop everything, drive over to their house, and check on them. And leaders need to be sensitive and accountable. They need to know when showing up alone is a bad idea.

#4 Leaders need to know when to prescribe home time
Jesus often sent people away to be with their families. Many people were called to follow him and others were sent home instead. To the woman caught in adultery, he said, “Go in peace.” To the demoniac named Legion who begged to follow Jesus, he said, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mk. 5:19). He often prescribed time at home for hurting people. Home is where some people need to be for healing to take place. Jesus spent lots of time in people’s homes. He was teaching in a home when the paralytic was lowered through the roof. He prayed in people’s homes, ate in them, taught in them, worshiped in them, and often just sent people back home even when they wanted to follow him. I feel like we’re so focused on “getting people to church” that we’ve lost sight of the ones who need to be with their family in their own home. Time and time again I hear survivors explain how they are shamed for not going to church. Many were sexually abused in the church buildings. For some, setting foot inside triggers them in all kinds of ways. Others have been spiritually abused. To shame them into “coming to church” or to speak of their lack of faith or lack of commitment when they are not able to come into a church building stands counter to Jesus’ example he gave us.

#5 Leaders should seek to improve the world, not just the church
Church leaders can easily experience mission drift. Mission drift is when we no longer know what our mission (purpose) is as a church. It’s always troubled me when I see churches pump millions of dollars into a building that gets used a few hours a week, but don’t have much time or money for helping the needy. Some church leaders are obsessed with improving the local church to the point that they fail to see that it’s the world that needs improving. The church should lead the way in changing the way the wounded are cared for. I’ve asked local churches what they are doing to help victims of abuse in our community. The typical response is, “Don’t you know that we have different child services? That’s what they’re here for.” I’m working closely with one of those services and was told that I’m the only minister in town who has volunteered to work with them. We have a great relationship and we envision together what it will take to make the world a brighter place. That’s a conversation that I don’t want to have with just my church. We need to network and join hands with others who have a heart for caring and nurturing others who are hurting.

I’m calling other church leaders to move into action. It’s time we start offering success stories for the oppressed. They need to know that church is a safe community where people care for their neighbors.

A Peek Behind the Catholic Veil in the Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Cover-Up

Last week Pennsylvania was in the national spotlight for another big sex abuse scandal. This time it involves over 50 Catholic priests and other leaders who sexually abused hundreds of children in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The investigation began 2 years ago in Johnstown, less than 20 miles from my home. I am currently working my way through the Grand Jury’s 147 page report, which I will post below. I highly recommend reading this report in its entirety after reading my thoughts on how cover-ups of this magnitude still happen regularly. But first, we need to remember that these are real victims with real names, real families, and lasting struggles. Many of the hundreds of victims in this report thought about or attempted suicide, and these hundreds of victims only account for an 8-county radius around my home. This kind of abuse is going on every single day all over the country. There is an estimated 42 million living people just in the US who have suffered sexual assault by an adult when they were a child. This 147 page report is significant.

The late Father Joseph Bender became angry with young boys who refused his advances. “Bender would lash out in anger when the children rebuffed his advances. In a particular incident Bender grabbed a boy by the neck and asked ‘don’t you love me anymore” when the child insisted on wearing underwear to bed. . . The challenge after being Bender’s victims wasn’t to attempt to live well, but to attempt to simply live.” One of Bender’s victims from the 70s wrote an anonymous letter to Bishop Joseph Adamec in 1991 giving details of forced foreplay, masturbation, and oral sex. The victim wrote, “Because I respected his position, and feared the consequences of disobeying him, I would remain silent. I would estimate that I was abused approximately one hundred times.” That letter was stored along with scores of others in the secret archive of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

As I read through this report about priests abusing in the name of God, forcing 8 year old children to perform oral sex on them hundreds of times, forcing them to get drunk, anally raping them, and inflicting unfathomable mental abuse on top of the sexual abuse, I get angry. But my anger is not only reserved for the pedophiles who were relentless in their abuse of helpless children. It’s also aimed at the deadbeat bishops and law enforcement officials who knew about the abuse and chose to shuffle these pedophiles from church to church while remaining silent. But my righteous anger doesn’t stop there. While the Catholics get their share of justified finger pointing, they are not alone–not by a long shot. We at Church Protect regularly hear stories about churches of every stripe who chose to invite pedophiles into their ranks and grant them access to children. In our experience, church leaders routinely allow even convicted pedophiles to waltz back into their churches, “redeemed” by the blood of the lamb and with very few restrictions. One desperate message to me chronicled a group of elders who gave their blessing to a convicted pedophile who had recently been released from prison. The registered sex offender offered to house a struggling youth in his basement under the guise of offering moral support and being a positive role model. Not surprisingly, he attempted to rape the young church girl. Surely an attempted rape of a young troubled youth from their church by a convicted child predator would cause the elders to ban him from that congregation, right? Nope. The girl was told to sit elsewhere if this man made her feel uncomfortable.

I would not experience daily anger if I didn’t daily hear these same stories time and time again. My guess is that people reading this post are getting angry that this kind of thing goes on in churches regularly. I also imagine that anyone who actually takes the time to read the Grand Jury’s report will get angry reading it. But here’s my question–why do people get angry at stories about child predators but turn completely passive when actually interacting with them in real life? All of a sudden we move from the facts of raping young children to shoddy theologies of sin, grace, and assimilation. “Well, they seem genuinely remorseful,” the argument goes, “so I’m sure they’ll never harm a child again.” But they do. Again and again and again. Read the report. It’s full of records of rehab, confessions, promises to change, victim blaming, and minimizing the abuse. The sad thing is that it works and pedophiles know it.

In his book Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches, Patrick Parkinson has a short but excellent section on repentance. Here’s what he says:
Forgiveness can have little meaning if the offender has no intention of stopping the abuse. . . In the area of child sexual abuse, repentance has often been confused with remorse. Remorse is what happens in the back of a police car. Repentance means taking full responsibility for the offending and walking the painful road of lasting change. . . The offender may well feel devastated by the prospect of losing these things. Such deep remorse may well be taken for repentance, but the signs of true repentance are in deeds, not in tears. . . The repentant offender ought to be willing to acknowledge to the police and the courts that he has done wrong, that he has committed criminal offences of the utmost gravity and deserves to be punished.

Parkinson also argues that a repentant abuser will take every step to make reparation. Just as we learned as children that an apology for a broken window must be accompanied with an offer to pay for the window, so there must be reparation as adults. The abuser will at very least voluntarily pay for counseling bills of all of his or her victims. In more significant cases, Parkinson rightly argues that the offender may have “to sell his house, or his car. It is costly, but it is also just.” I have argued, and continue to argue, that a repentant child molester will insist on being removed from the presence of children precisely because they have proved time and time again that they cannot be near children without fondling, massaging, raping, and performing oral sex on them. This response does not mean that the church “has it out” for pedophiles. Rather, they have the safety of children as their top priority. A repentant offender will be more than happy to be part of a church with strong accountability–where he or she is still free to worship with other adults and not be near children.

But sadly, this biblical stance of repentance and accountability is viewed as inhumane, cruel, and unjust. And so, like the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, churches of all denominations in 2016 continue to mistake remorse for repentance and they routinely let pedophiles join their worship, preach, lead children’s programs, all while keeping their congregants in the dark about the abuser’s past. So why do churches enable (and thereby bless) abuse to take place in practice while condemning it in theory?

If we peel back the veil in the Pennsylvania Catholic abuse case, I believe we would find two bishops who covered up the abuse not because they hate children and like to know that they’re being abused, but because they mistook remorse for repentance. In the report, they did confront accused clergy time and time again. But every single time they allowed them to continue in ministry. Why? Unfortunately, the power of persuasion by an offender is a louder voice than the cries of abused children. The best leverage an abuser can get (and they may even request it!) is face time with church authorities. Abusers know how easy it is to use emotion to minimize abuse, explain details away, rewrite children’s memories, and plead for mercy. And it works. This is one reason we recommend churches never investigate allegations of abuse themselves. Church leaders need to remove themselves from the abuser emotionally and look at the facts. They need to listen to the cries of children and vow to lay down their lives to protect them. They need to always report allegations of abuse to authorities and not speak to the accused about it. Trust us that you will always leave those meetings second guessing yourself, having sympathy for the abuser, and wondering how such a good child could be so mistaken as to what happened to them.

Church leaders have a very long way to go. Churches continue to be ripe for abusers. The harvest is plentiful and the workers are naive. My prayer is that, for the sake of our children, we wise up and learn from cases like the PA Catholic scandal.

Tenancingo: Home Grown Sexual Abusers

Trucking had always been a dream of mine. I’ve always liked operating heavy machinery and traveling, so trucking was a natural fit. I drove truck coast to coast for one year in between college and seminary, while I was still single. My first time across the Rockies was in a bad snow storm. Dropping down a hill in a semi truck from 11,000 feet when it’s hammering snow is quite an experience! What makes it more adventurous is looking down and seeing other tractor trailers that have careened off the interstate to the bottom of ravines from years past. It’s an eerie feeling to see multiple unrecovered trucks at the bottom of a mountain. Once a truck has fallen so far, it’s impossible to tow it back up to the top of a mountain, so many of them end up being left there permanently.

I believe evil is the same way. Once someone has fallen so far down, it becomes impossible to tow them back to the top. I had a Bible professor who has another helpful analogy called the “chained dog” theory. Evil is like a dog that’s chained up. It has boundaries set by God. Evil still exists, but the chain restricts evil’s reach. We can either stay outside of evil’s reach, or we can taunt it and risk it latching on to us and dragging us deeper into its territory. Have any of you ever been to a place that is so dark, you can “feel” the evil?
chained dog

God warned the Israelites, “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:24-25 NIV). Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Bible mentions evil and its variants (evils, evildoer, etc.) just shy of 500 times. There is a consistent message throughout the Bible that many Christians deny. . . there is a level of evil that creates a suction point, a trap, a point of no return.

The small town of Tenancingo, Mexico is one of these places. It is the breeding ground for a major pedophile ring and sex trafficking to the United States. Young children are saying that they want to be like their dads and sell women for sex. There is no remorse, and darkness plagues the town. Psychologists are divided on what “makes” a perpetrator act out on very young children. Is it psychological factors, environmental, genetic, addictions to pornography, etc.? To be fair, nobody really knows for sure. If we are honest, we would admit that there are many hidden factors, both in the brain and in the home, that we will probably never figure out as far as causality. But one thing we can probably all agree on is that perpetrators who sexually act out on children are committing an evil. And once you begin messing with the dog, eventually it’s going to bite. And in Tenancingo, the dog has claimed its territory and is dragging people all over the place. I highly recommend watching this documentary on Tanancingo’s trafficking of sex slaves to the US. It is worth every minute.
****WARNING: We need people to watch this and raise awareness that this stuff happens all the time****

So what’s my point? Or rather, what’s God’s point? At the top of the list, remember the old saying, “If you play with fire you’re bound to get burned?” Well, if you play with evil, you’re bound to get bit. According to Scripture, we’ve all done evil. But it’s the perpetual toying with it that leads to the point of no return. There is, however, great news in all of this. For those who struggle with pedophilic thoughts at a younger age, rehabilitation is quite successful. I’d encourage parents who have allegations come against their children to not be so quick to defend them. Rather, get them the help they need.

I’ve received several phone calls with similar scenarios–a 13-15 year old boy was inappropriately saying things, doing things, or was infatuated with young children. And in all the cases (so far), the parents or guardians defended the perpetrator, not the alleged victims. Folks, if you see your child getting too close to a chained dog, don’t tell everyone else to buzz off. Help pull your child from that evil. Seek professional guidance from a sex-specific therapist. Help your child get out before it is too late. The more children learn to keep this a secret, the more they will be emboldened to act out. Help them get out. Help them find a way to deal with their attraction and aggression toward younger children. Love does not defend evil. It helps pull people from it before they become so debased that they cannot stop.

Exploited Children in Churches and How Our Denial Fuels Abuse

Surprisingly, I had never heard of the televangelist sensation Todd Bentley until a friend of mine showed me an outrageous Youtube video (thanks, John!). Known as the “BAM, BAM, BAM” faith healer with hundreds of thousands of followers”1, Todd is known for outrageous claims and violence on stage.

Though I believe that Todd is an embarrassment to Christianity and everything that Jesus stands for, the purpose of this blog is not to poke fun at Pentecostals. There are plenty of genuine Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who openly distance themselves from Todd and others. The purpose is, however, to generally demonstrate how easy it is for people to be blinded, manipulated, and groomed into believing the unbelievable while denying the reality of sexual abuse.

I admit that I am, as millions of other viewers are, intrigued with Todd Bentley. It is easy to get sucked into his videos because of the entertainment and shock value. But I have a tendency to profile nearly everyone and the more I watched Mr. Bentley, the more I began to see major red flags common to pedophiles–narcissism, the ability to quickly groom a crowd and gain trust, intentionally and unapologetically crossing boundaries (there is a video of Todd kicking a man with stage 4 colon cancer in the gut and the man falls over in pain), offering unwanted rewards, too helpful, too eager to be around children, too aggressive when confronted, too good to be true, etc.

It didn’t take but a few minutes to find that Todd has a dark past and has spent time in prison as a juvenile for sexually assaulting a 7 year old boy. “They were sexual crimes,” Bentley admits. “I was involved in a sexual assault ring. I turned around and did what happened to me. I was assaulted too.” “I don’t like to talk about it publicly because it would hurt [my ministry],” he concedes. “I don’t whip it out in the newspapers or on TV because people will go ‘Whaaa?’ I’ll say ‘I was in prison, period. Let’s move on.’”2 It is subtle and most people miss it, but narcissists begin most statements with “I.” Not only that, but when Todd speaks, the focus is all about Todd. “I” don’t like to talk about it. It would hurt “my” ministry. Sounds like a repentant sinner. . . or does it? Contrast him with King David, a truly remorseful sinner: “For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:17-18 ESV). Never mind, though, that a 7 year old boy has to live the rest of his days with the shame and guilt that “you” placed on him Mr. Bentley. We wouldn’t want that to get in the way of your ministry.

The fact that Todd admits “I turned around and did what happened to me” would turn the head of every professional psychologist who works with pedophiles, and it should church leaders as well. That fact is vital for public disclosure, since adult pedophiles, who were themselves molested as children more than 50 times, begin assaulting others at a much younger age (Todd Bentley was 14 when he assaulted the 7 year old) and they commit well over 100 more acts of abuse as non-abused molesters (Gene Abel, The Stop Child Molestation Book, pg. 321). Todd admits that he was part of a sexual assault ring, which implies this was not a one time event that happened to him. If Todd was abused more than 50 times, and if he had objective testing by a sex-specific therapist showing that he is sexually attracted to children, he is by clinical definitions a potential lethal weapon to children. But he will never submit to testing, nor will any church demand he be tested. Mr. Bentley, who divorced his wife in 2008 following an inappropriate relationship with his current wife, says that the subject of his past sexual assaults on children is “dead and buried to me.”3

Surely this stance is unacceptable to people who look up to Todd, right? When pastor Denny Cline of Albany, OR, who happens to consider himself a “spiritual son” of Todd Bentley, was asked about Todd’s past abuse with children, he replied, “I don’t think he told me that, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It wouldn’t have mattered in regards to what he is doing now, and the person that he is now…If he’s paid his debt to society and God’s forgiven him of everything, then who am I not to forgive?” “4

It wouldn’t have mattered anyway? To who? To the multiple young boys I’ve seen in Youtube videos with Bentley wrapping his grubby arms around them on stage as he nonchalantly caresses their shoulders? Should it matter to their parents who either blindly, like pastor Cline and God TV 5, ignore the fact that Bentley has a past of sexual assaults on a young boy, or who don’t know because Bentley insists on hiding it?

We parents and church leaders further exploit children by denying that abuse is going on in the churches. Children are extremely susceptible to suggestion, vulnerable, and malleable. Before blindly shoving our children into the hands of trusted church leaders, we ought to ask very hard questions and demand transparency. I close with a disturbing clip of Chris Harvey, a friend of Todd Bentley who put on quite the show when visiting Bentley at a Florida revival, tapping into the susceptibility of very young children. Shame on us when people like this go unquestioned by others:

No More Mr. Nice Guy: Jesus and Children

It’s a scripture that many avoid. We don’t want to believe that Jesus would utter violent words, so when he does we pretend like he didn’t really say them. But what if we took seriously Jesus defense of children? What if churches were willing to go to war for the protection of the kids who were in their care? Jesus is often painted as a fuzzy, cuddly kind of guy who was always soft spoken–a pacifist who turned to the other cheek at all costs, even the cross.

But the reality is that Jesus sheds his nice-guy persona when children are willfully led into darkness. Listen to his words: “He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea‘” (Matthew 18:2-6 NIV). I’m not arguing that Jesus was talking about vigilante justice here. Rather, he is talking about the justice of God. Over and over again Jesus talks about judgment, exclusion from the Kingdom, and torment with weeping and gnashing of teeth. God does not smile at abusers, pat them on the head, and say, “There, there, my unfaithful servant. Just try harder next time.” And neither does Jesus.

In fact, it is not often that we find Jesus visibly upset. But when children are involved, the gloves come off. The word for “to become angry at” is only used once of Jesus, and it appears in Mark 10:14: “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant” (Mark 10:13-14 NIV). Jesus then rebuked his disciples and took the kids in his arms to bless them. But only after he tells them that anyone who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a kid will never make it there. An angry Jesus. A Jesus who says a person would be better off to have death by drowning than to cause a kid to sin. In other words, “You think that downing was bad? You haven’t seen anything yet!” Let that sink in for a minute.

After conducting a workshop on child abuse, a young woman came up to me in tears. “I tried telling my mom that dad sexually abused me. She told me that I probably just imagined it. A few years later I got the strength to talk to someone at church about it. I was told that the Bible says to forgive and I need to move on. How can I trust anyone anymore? Doesn’t God care that he did this to me? I don’t even know if I believe in God anymore.”

When our response to abuse is a pacifist view, and when children are told to “just get over it” or to “learn to forgive like the Bible says,” I wonder if some of the wrath of God will not be reserved for them as well. I know–but their intentions were good. They didn’t mean to harm a kid by telling them those things. But guess what? They did. The last time I read my Bible cover to cover, I failed to find where people are rocket launched to heaven for having good intentions. We Christians are just as likely to “cause one of these little ones to sin” as the abuser if we give them a picture of God as someone who couldn’t care less about their abuse. And pulling scriptures out of context in order to not have to face an uncomfortable conversation is no excuse for damaging children’s eternal souls.

I’m just thinking out loud, but perhaps we should tell our sons and daughters, our children in the pews, our students in the schoolroom that we’d be damned (literally) if we would ever intentionally allow someone to harm them. I go out of my way to tell my 3 year old daughter that I will always try to protect her and that if anyone ever does something to hurt her she can always tell her mom or me. Kids should feel protected. They were designed by a Creator to feel safe and secure in a stable home. They shouldn’t have to fear that if they tell mom and dad about something bad that happened, they will get in trouble or be ignored. One night as I was putting my daughter to bed she said, “Dad, you make me feel safe.”

We exchanged “I love you”-s and as I walked out of her room I fell apart. I cried as I thought about the countless children who feel abandoned rather than safe. It’s time to take a closer look at the anger of Jesus and live in His shadow.

How Should Christians Treat Repentant Pedophiles?

On September 13, 2009 a small church in Louisville ordained a registered sex offender as a minister of the Gospel. The man was a “changed man,” they demanded. I personally think this was a foolish decision, for a host of reasons. But questions abound on the internet from churches asking what to do with registered sex offenders who wind up on their steps and in their pews. It’s a fair question. I live in a small town with two (yes, two!) state prisons and believe me, we do get released prisoners to show up, desperate for any help they can get. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll know that pedophiles are just like you and me on the outside–they are educated, religious, productive, sophisticated, warm, and trustworthy. But what lies beneath the skin is a genuine sexual attraction to children. Because we cannot see this attraction, we tend to listen to the kind, charismatic words and see the gentleness they exude. We view these people for what we see at face value–as the kind old man who is warm and nice to our kids at church. We don’t want to fathom that someone could ever think of a child in that way, let alone act out on it. But they do. Ask my friend Les Ferguson. He describes his son’s molester as a kind family friend. A kind man who did unimaginable things behind closed doors and then murdered Les’ wife and son.

I’m currently reading Jaycee Dugard’s memoir A Stolen Life. If you have not read it, get it today and read it. I mean it. Get. The. Book. Enter into the bedroom of a victim before rushing to embrace the “repentant” pedophile. The psychological abuse always accompanies the sexual abuse. God bless Jaycee. She holds nothing back. What I read last night made it difficult for me to fall asleep. Unimaginable. I am still haunted by the things this “nice man,” as she describes him in the book,” named Philip Garrido did to her–for 18 hellish years. I’m haunted by the things my dad, whom I always trusted and respected, did to young children. I still can’t wrap my mind around it all.

I admire churches who trust that people have truly repented, I really do. But pedophilia is a very complex issue and even the greatest professional people in the field of psychology have been repeatedly fooled. One area that churches need to become familiar with is recidivism (relapse) rates among pedophiles, because you can rest assured that they will use the statistical data to help their case. There are a number of common actuarial instruments currently used that gage risk in incarcerated sex offenders. The Stable and Static99 are 2 common instruments that are used. Without getting too technical, these instruments are touted as being wonderful guides to tell us whether “reformed” pedophiles will reoffend. Despite what you will hear from people who administer the tests, they are definitely not reliable for predicting whether a sex offender will reoffend. In fact, Dr. Anna Salter says this: “They do not measure the risk of reoffending; they measure the likelihood of getting caught. No instruments are able to measure the risk of reoffending, because there is no access to offenders who continue to offend but who do not get caught” (annasalter.com, “What Does Static99 Really Measure?).

The recidivism rate among registered sex offenders is lower than most other crimes, at less than 10%. So most people get a false sense that, because the recidivism rates are low, sex offenders really have an epiphany of sorts and have “learned their lesson” from spending hard time in prison. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I spoke with Dr. Salter directly and asked her what her thoughts were on why recidivism rates were so low among sex offenders (she is highly respected in the field of treating pedophiles, is a Harvard PhD, and has been in the field for over 30 years). She told me that several studies show that sex offenders have about a 3% chance of ever getting caught for any one offense against a child. She told me, “In my experience, that number (3%) is probably high. They just don’t get caught.” Reassuring, isn’t it?

Before churches swing open their doors and criticize people for standing in the way of repentant sinners, remember that there is no other sin in this category of such deep secrecy. It is the most successfully hidden secret and should be treated as such. Simply because someone says they don’t offend kids anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t actually doing it. One site asked the question (I can’t remember the source), “If a pilot told you that the plane previously had mechanical problems but they’re pretty sure there’s now only a 40% chance that there will be an immediate mechanical failure, would you feel comfortable flying?” Let’s factor in what we know about Gene Abel’s study and Anna Salter’s experience–that pedophiles only have a 3% chance of getting caught for any one offense. Here’s what that would look like:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. We just spotted some thugs dressed in black masks with a mechanic’s bag running from underneath the plane. According to our instruments, there’s a 97% chance that they secretly sabotaged this plane and badly damaged major components in the hydraulics and main computer. We should be cleared for takeoff in about 3 minutes, so make sure your seatbelts are fastened and enjoy the ride.” Any normal person would be jumping out the window to get off that plane.

So, when we know what we know about recidivism rates, when we know what we know about pedophiles avoiding getting caught at all costs, when we know that there is no cure for pedophilia, and when we know that it is extremely difficult to control pedophiles even after years of therapy, that should change our perspective on repentance. We should now be the passengers on the plane saying, “Something doesn’t feel right; it’s not safe to fly.” Paul preached all over that people should “perform deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20 ESV).

Repentance needs to be proved. A repentant pedophile will perform deeds by demanding that he not be near children again. A repentant pedophile doesn’t ask for pictures (no matter how innocent they seem) of any children. A repentant pedophile will renounce any internet use for the rest of his life, since pornography and fantasy drive them to their core. A repentant pedophile will not happily accept a role as minister where people now look to him as a spiritual leader of old and, yes even very young, people. A repentant pedophile will make sure that his presence is not traumatizing to survivors of child sex abuse in the congregation. And if it is, he will gladly find another church and not put up a fight. A repentant pedophile will not ask church members if he can babysit their kids. Please beware of these things and let’s work together to make our churches safe.