Can Pedophiles Attend Your Church?
I want to talk this week on the podcast about a topic that is as important as it is sensitive, I want to talk about the reality of pedophiles in our churches. This is a massive topic, there are all sorts of things we could talk about. For example, we could talk about how to institute safety measures, safety protocols in your church, to keep the children in your ministry safe from child predators. There is a time and a place to do that. There’s a lot of information available for that there are a lot of best practices available for that. Your church should follow those best practices as mine does. That’s a different topic for a different day.
What I want to talk about today, among all the different things that we could talk about, is a more specific question of allowing a pedophile to come to your church. And the question is very specific that I want to ask. I’m talking about a convicted pedophile with a record who is on the offender registry. And for whatever reason, they are asking permission to attend your church. Maybe a friend invited them and didn’t know they were a pedophile. Maybe this is a person who had an experience of coming to Christ, and they want to follow Christ in your church. There are all sorts of reasons why they might come. The question is, when you know someone is a pedophile, they’ve been convicted, they’re on the registry, and they want to come to your church, should you allow them to come? This is not a remote question. This happens with some regularity. The reality is if you minister long enough, sooner or later, you’re going to confront this question of what we should do when this happens. Should a convicted pedophile be allowed in our church?
1. God Offers Forgiveness Through Jesus Christ
I think there are several considerations that we need to think through. The first consideration is in our decision of whether to allow this, we want to be sure that we communicate the full and free forgiveness of God for anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. The reality is we are living today in a graceless age. We’re living in a hateful age, where people actually don’t treat people the way they need to be treated. We come up with the scarlet letter sins, whatever it is, and even something as heinous and terrible as sexual abuse, and we look at whatever our favorite sin is that we want to hate on. And we say when you do that, you’re canceled. You’re done. You’re out. Well, God doesn’t have a list of sins like that. We’ve talked on this podcast before about the unforgivable sin, the unpardonable sin, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That’s not what we’re talking about today. But the list of sins for which you can’t be forgiven in the Bible is limited to one, and it isn’t sexual sin. We can actually all thank God for that. We live in a graceless age. As Christians, we are not allowed to participate in that. I want you to listen to the words of Psalm 130:3-4 which says, “If you oh, Lord should mark iniquities, oh, Lord, who could stand? But with you, there is forgiveness.” That’s a wonderful statement. If the Lord were going to mark iniquities, who could stand? None of us. Not the pedophiles, not the faithfully married people, not the celibate people. All of us have sins. All of us stand in front of a holy God, guilty. If he’s going to measure our sins, we’re toast. With the Lord, there’s forgiveness. With the Lord, there is Jesus. Jesus Christ pays for our sins, all of them, and anybody who turns from their sins and trusts in Jesus Christ is fully and freely forgiven. I need that. You need that. Every pedophile needs that. So, we need to be clear that our evaluation of this must talk about and must include the reality of forgiveness.
2. There are Consequences for Sin
There are other realities that we need to think through. Another factor in our decision-making means that we must acknowledge that there are consequences for sin. You can be forgiven, the ultimate penalty of forgiveness can be lifted off of you, and there are still going to be consequences for your sin. A really great biblical example of this is the sexual sin of King David from the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel, you’ll remember that he had lustful desire for Bathsheba. He sent his cronies to go get her. They engaged in a sexual encounter, she got pregnant, and to cover up the crime, David had Uriah the Hittite murdered and then tried to patch it up with a marriage to Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan confronted David and told him he was guilty. David admitted that he was guilty, and he said, I’ve sinned, and he begged the Lord for forgiveness. Nathan said to him, the Lord has heard you, and you are forgiven, but there are consequences. The consequence of your sin is that the child between you and Bathsheba will die. That’s a horrifying reality. That’s a strict sentence. David was forgiven, but there were still strict penalties. This is the way it works in life. Once you decide to sin, you lose the right to determine the consequences of what happens after it. When you sin, you flick the first domino, and you don’t know what’s going to happen a thousand dominoes down the line. But there are consequences for sin. This is true for any sin; you can forgive your kid for lying. But one of the consequences of that sin is you’re going to have to fact-check everything they say for a long time. Same thing with distrust in marriage. The reality is there are consequences for sin. When we might need to limit the access of a pedophile to our congregation, this doesn’t have to be at odds with the first principle. We can be forgiving, grace-filled people and acknowledge that in a fallen world where you sinned, you’re going to have to bear the weight of some of the consequences.
3. Evaluate What is Good for the Church
Here’s another factor that we need to think through. In our decision, we can’t just evaluate what is good for the offender. We want to evaluate what’s good for the offender, we want to evaluate what’s good for the pedophile. If a pedophile is turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus Christ. We want them to grow up into Christ. We want them to have discipleship opportunities. We want them to hear the preaching of the Word and sing the songs, and do all the things. We want that, but we can’t just evaluate what is good for them. We have to evaluate what is good for other families. There’s a passage that’s not exactly about the same specific issue, it’s actually about money, but it’s in 2 Corinthians 8:21. The apostle Paul is talking about how they’re picking up a collection for Jerusalem Christians. And he’s talking about companions who are traveling with him to deliver the money because he wants some accountability when he’s got all this money in his hands. And he says, “We aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” He’s saying we’ve got to be above reproach; we’ve got to have a clean record. We can’t have statements going around about us that we’re playing fast and loose with money. In the same way, we cannot have statements going around about us that we’re playing fast and loose with kids in our congregation. We can’t have statements going around about us that we’re being sloppy in how we’re caring for and protecting families. Any church leader doesn’t have the right to only think about what’s good for the offender. You’ve got to think about what’s good for families. The reality is pedophilia has a huge rate of repeat offense. The fancy word there is recidivism. Pedophiles find it very difficult to change. Jesus can change anybody. I’m not talking about Jesus; I’m talking about the sin. And we just have to own the fact that a person who has been guilty of pedophilia, a person who is interested in that kind of deep and dark sin, is going to find it very difficult to change. And quite frankly, it’s too much to ask families with young kids to test the repentance of a pedophile in the midst of their kid. It’s just too much to ask.
Another factor here and what’s good for everybody is parole. A lot of these guys are going to have parole officers, and many of them have agreements that they’re not allowed to be within several hundred feet of children. At First Baptist Church, we have hundreds of children all over our property. There’s no possible way that a person who’s not allowed within so many feet of children could be in any of our buildings at any time that we’re having service because there are kids everywhere. That is just going to bump up against not just the requirements of parole but the comfort of parents. I’m not going to ask the parents of young children to trust that this person is going to be okay. I hope they will. I pray they will. They might be. But we can’t ask parents to do that. We’ve got to consider not just what’s good for the offender but what’s good for other families.
4. Other Options
Here’s the final thing I’ll say. In our decision, we need to remember that there are other churches that this person can attend. If this person loves Jesus, if they want to grow in Jesus, they don’t need to come to your church to do it. I know there are dozens of churches in our area that are predominantly senior adult churches. And that is a safer place for folks. I actually used to pastor a church where the only family with kids was mine. It was a predominantly older congregation. There were empty nesters and senior adults, and that kind of church is a better place for a sex offender. Honestly, it’s not just good for the churches that have kids for that person to go there. The Bible says that we are supposed to remove temptation. And if you came to a church like mine that is crawling with kids. It’s just not going to be good for that person.
And so, should you let a pedophile come to your church? The answer is if you have kids in your church, the answer’s no. It’s not that somebody’s not forgiven. It’s not that your church isn’t opening and welcoming to broken people. It’s that sin has consequences. It’s that the children in our congregation are a special and beautiful privilege to be able to minister to them. I think of the beautiful faces in our congregation at First Baptist Church. And one of the most precious privileges we have is to protect those people and let them know that when they come to hear about Jesus and sing about Jesus and meet their friends, that they are safe, and we are not going to do anything to damage that opportunity. Our church is stacked up with security cameras and police officers and undercover police officers and security and strict protocols. Not because we want to fail to forgive people who have sinned in their past, but because we have to have a church that is safe. And we have to have a church that is secure. And we understand that there are penalties for sin, even forgiven sin in a fallen world, and we will even work to pray for and help somebody find a church that’s more appropriate for them. But it can’t be ours. And if you have kids at your church, I don’t think it can be yours either.