What’s A Church To Do?

Fairfax Community Church has a problem.

Fairfax Community Church, located in the Washington DC area, has in recent years seen an influx of refugees from Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Fairfax campus due to the ongoing sexual abuse scandal in that church network.  Yet a few weeks earlier it was reported that a prominent member of Fairfax Community Church’s staff is a registered sex offender.  Here is Fairfax Community Church’s statement.

In her summation of the situation Dee at The Wartburg Watch raises some concerns:

–People who went through the SGM scandal and left because of it have been hurt badly and have probably lost a lot of trust in the local church as a result.  Rebuilding that trust is going to take a long time.  When they find that the church where they wound up has a registered sex offender on staff and is being less than fully transparent about it, that is not going to help.

–Sexual dysfunction, especially when it involves children, is an extremely complex issue and many evangelical churches are ill-equipped to deal with it.  The FCC staffer in question initially served as a greeter, which allowed him to have access to families with children as they were coming and going, and also sent the message that the church considered him a trustworthy person.  TWW also notes that Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC, has a similar issue with a sex offender serving as a greeter.

These are legitimate concerns.  Sexual dysfunction is a complex issue.  It involves a lifetime of struggle and requires the care of a competent therapist who is experienced in dealing specifically with these issues.  It does not go away simply because you prayed a prayer or went through a deliverance service.  Many evangelical churches do not realize this.

TWW recommends that if you are considering joining a church, you should search for names of pastors/staff/volunteers on the sex offender registry.  Discuss your findings with church leadership, if you find anything of concern.  If leadership gives you grief, then move on.

This is wise advice.  SGM got into trouble because they shamed the victims of sexual abuse while coddling the perpetrators.  Many churches that are theologically close to SGM now have their own issues to deal with.  If you raise concerns about this issue and get pushback from church leadership, that could be a sign that they have something to hide.

Yet here is what concerns me:  If the Church is the means by which God’s kingdom is revealed in this world, then it has to be a welcoming place for all people.  If engagement with the Church is a necessary and vital spiritual discipline of the Christian life, then there has to be a way for sex offenders–even the most egregious sex offenders–to engage with the Church in some form or fashion.

Sexual abuse is becoming an issue of great concern, and there is a lot of righteous outrage over this issue.  Back in the 80’s, there was a lot of righteous outrage over the prevalence of drugs in American society.  This led to harsh sentencing laws which put many people behind bars for life who did not need to be there.  Now several states are beginning to revisit those sentencing laws.  In our zeal for the victims of sexual sin, in our zeal to protect our families from the perpetrators of sexual sin, will we make it impossible for those with sexual dysfunction to engage with the Church?

This is a complex and troublesome issue.  Churches are places with a very high prevalence of families with children.  Due to the complex nature and high recidivism rates of certain types of sexual dysfunction, it seems unwise to allow sex offenders access to such an environment.  And yet, engagement with the Church is a crucial discipline of the Christian life, and to deny a certain class of people access to the Church because of the nature of their sin…well, there has to be a better way.  I don’t know the answer.  But this is a conversation we need to have.

Surely the grace of God is big enough to provide both healing for the victims of sexual sin, and pardon for the perpetrators.  As the Church, we need to figure out how to bring this grace to our world.