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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is your church ready to have a child molester attend?

A church in San Diego County, California, has gotten a lot of media attention (if this link doesn't work any more, and you want to know more about this particular situation, try a search for "Mark Pliska," the man in question, or for "Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Carlsbad, California," or for "Madison Shockley," the pastor) recently, because a convicted (and released) sex offender has attended Pilgrim Church of Christ, and apparently wished to do so with the congregation being aware of his past.

I heard an interview with the pastor, and another pastor who has worked with several congregations on such matters. You can listen to that interview, and read some explanatory material here. Currently, the church is working on policies to cover the situation.

There are two major questions for churches:

1) How willing is the church to accept repentant criminals and other "outsiders?" It might be well for a church congregation, board, pastoral staff, or all of these, to consider this. What would happen if someone with AIDS, or, in churches with ethnic or language homogeneity, if someone from another ethnic group wanted to attend? What would Jesus do? What should we do? If we/I are reluctant to accept such people, why, and what should we do about it? This would probably be a healthy discussion best held before such an event occurred.

2) Does the church have policies or understandings in place to protect children? Most child molestation is done by family members, but too much of it happens from teachers, pastors, children and youth workers, and the like. Are there rules such that adults are never alone with children? This protects children, and also would protect the adult from false accusations.

I don't like to even think about such things, but I think I should.

Thanks for reading.

(Some editorial changes were made on March 26, 2007)

* * * * * *

On May 6, 2007, this church adopted a policy on safety, which would allow a sex offender who met certain requirements to attend, and should also go far to protect children against offenses committed by church workers and others, while they are attending a church function.


elbogz said...

It is such a hard part of Jesus commission to "feed my sheep". We want as a church to help the homeless, but God forbid one walks into the church and sits down. Especially when they sit in “MY SPOT!” OMG! It is easier for me to sponsor a trip to Africa to help feed the hungry than it is to walk down to the bus stop with a box full of bagged lunches.

In the case of this person, the church should be grateful that he confessed to them his past. Churches are often to trusting when someone puts up their hand and volunteers to teach Sunday school. The churches I belonged to were so desperate for volunteers that they would take anyone to do anything. Let us not forget one of America’s greatest serial killers old………***can’t think of his name*** . It’s a bigger question than one person who has sinned, it is a question of all those that walk into church that aren’t’ from prosperous middle class nice families.

Martin LaBar said...

Yes, too many of our churches expect certain types of clothing, or skin color, socio-economic level, or even age. I believe it was James who had some things to say about this.


Anonymous said...

I've seen a few mission church in poor neighborhoods who had integrated programs for released criminals. These programs were approximately like AA.

The criminals would meet in small groups (>6) once a week. They would meet in the full group once a week. They would also have the number of a leader in the small group to call if they needed to. The members were held accountable and the recidivism rate approached zero for this group. By the time I left the congregation was around 50% former felons.

I think that if the Church is going to fulfill Christ's command to feed his sheep we are going to have to organize the Church for that purpose. Many Churches are still organized mostly for the edification of the saints.

Martin LaBar said...

I believe that the church has a scriptural mandate to edify the saints, but also a duty to accept those who have repented, and a duty to help those who need it.