Should Your Church Hire a Sex Offender?
A small Kentucky church recently did. What are the implications?

A church in Louisville, Kentucky, generated local and national media attention earlier this month, not because it allowed a convicted sex offender to attend its services, but because the church pastor decided to hire and ordain one.

WHAS-TV, a local television station, as well as CNN and newspaper wire services, covered the story when it first emerged. On Wednesday, the story picked up new steam when the Associated Press wrote its second piece about the situation (it was picked up here by MSNBC.com). During the past week, I've left three voice mails for Pastor Randy Meadows on the church's main phone line, hoping to learn more about his decision, and the circumstances surrounding it. My calls haven't been returned.

We know the following facts:

• The City of Refuge Worship Center, a small, independent congregation based in downtown Louisville, ordained Mark Hourigan on September 13. The church's website shows he is the music minister and leader of the church's "Pride Committee."

• Hourigan, 41, is listed on the Kentucky State Police's Sex Offender Registry. The site lists Hourigan's offense as "Sexual Abuse 1st Degree," and also notes he faced two counts. His victim was an 11-year-old boy, according to the site.

• Media reports indicate the abuse took place in 1993 and 1994. The AP's first story, quoting an interview between Hourigan and CNN, said Hourigan told the cable network he completed a sex offender treatment program and was upfront with Meadows regarding his criminal past.

• According to the AP, " ‘I don't take anything lightly when it comes to someone's past,' Meadows told CNN. But he added, ‘God gives everyone a second and a third and fourth chance.' " Meadows also told the network that Hourigan will sign an agreement not to minister to children.

• The ordination drew protests from at least one abuse victims group, and the departure of at least one church deacon, who disagreed with the decision, according to media reports.

Undoubtedly, a church faces numerous challenges when a sex offender begins to attend. In ChurchSafety.com's "Dealing with Dangerous People," an electronic training resource, the tension that arises with a sex offender's attendance at a church is best summed up in this way:

• A church can't allow the person to stay unconditionally and hope that nothing happens;

• But to ask the offender to leave will raise tough questions about the church's position on forgiveness;

• If the offender is repentant, the church needs to overcome members' objections and protect the vulnerable, which potentially can be accomplished through:

o A covenant with the offender;

o An accountability partner for the offender;

o Restrictions on the offender's involvement in church life activities (including restricted contact with children);

o Possible ongoing counseling;

o Open communication with the congregation.

In other words, with a lot of work and supervision, a church can make it possible for a sex offender to attend. As the resource says, that's a "tall order." Nevertheless, it's possible.

But in the case of churches like City of Refuge Worship Center, the tension grows only stronger with the hiring of a sex offender onto the staff. The "Leader's Guide" for Reducing the Risk, a comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention program, explains the three risk factors that a church must address in order to minimize the odds of an offense and to limit its liability:

• Isolation

• Accountability

• Power

Despite the best efforts of churches to ensure that clergy and staff do not end up in isolated situations, such as one-on-one counseling, and to maintain good accountability with staff and congregants, many churches fall short of implementing best practices in these areas. Isolation and accountability remain significant risks when considering whether to bring an offender into the fold, much less onto a staff.

But it's the third risk—power—that makes hiring an offender to serve as a ministry leader especially problematic. Because of the offender's prominence on the church staff, he or she gains a level of stature, implicitly and explicitly, among other staff members, congregational members, visitors, and community members. As a respected leader within a faith community, an offender has tipped the balance of power in his or her favor, and unfortunately, this power can be wielded in dangerous ways.

Underlying all of this tension is one basic question: What if an offender commits another offense in the future? Some believe the rate for a reoffense is high. A Wall Street Journal blog post from 2008 collects some of those positions here and the AP's story on Wednesday cites Keith F. Durkin, a criminologist at Ohio Northern University who says the recidivism rate increases when the crimes involve prepubescent children.

A U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study, Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994, however, suggests the likelihood of reoffending is much lower than what's commonly assumed. Since the truth probably lies somewhere in between, and often depends on the circumstances of the offender and the offense involved, a church can't predict for certain what level of risk they're facing.

For church leaders who potentially face this question in the future, they have to ask themselves whether it's really worth any risk. With so many needed protocols and precautions, and so many variables that are far too difficult to predict, the answer, it seems, is simply no.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations

Comments

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Remigio Rodriguez

May 08, 2014  7:59pm

I had been doing the custodian job at my church where I'm a member but I got fired because I'm a sex offender is there anything that I can do legally? I had been doing the work for almost a year and my case was back in 2003

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Mike P

January 31, 2012  9:49am

I am reading about this issue because I am a sex offender who recently applied for membership at a church. They told me that I must comply with their church policy and sign a covenant, agreeing to a mentor, monitor, and full-disclosure. I John 1 says, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus will cleanse us". Jesus also said, if anyone wants to worship God, he must worship Him in spirit and in truth. I cannot worship God, unless I reckon with the truth about myself. As long as I continue to remember that "whatever you have done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops", I will embrace the truth about my moral failure to myself and others. This will keep me in the light of truth, and find mercy.(Whoso covereth his sin will not prosper. Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sin will find mercy").I, therefore gladly accept the conditions of this covenant, knowing that "there is safety in the multitude of counselors".

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Grace

January 10, 2010  1:42pm

This issue touches me very deeply. I was not only abused sexually, but my abusing parent was a pedophile who abused many, many children while I was growing up, and long afterward. He moved to another state after spending 2 years in a state treatment facility, where he admitted they did not help him. This happened in the 60's before there were laws about offender notification. Also, my father was a deputy in the sheriffs office in the state he moved to. He eventually died 6 weeks after receiving Christ as his savior at the age of 70; and I am thrilled and thankful for this long awaited answer to years of prayering for him. But as a child or as the parent/grandparent of a child I would not want him in my church without constant monitoring. Grace, yes! But stupidity, no! We are to be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves. A little wisdom goes a long way, and knowledge of the difficulty that anyone who struggles with abhorrent behavior has is very important. People often need to be saved from themselves. If they are not able or even capable of restricting bad behavior, others in the body of Christ must come along side them to protect not only themselves, but others from further harm. My father was diagnosed a psychopathic personality, meaning that he did not have the ability to empathize with his victims, or even to control his behavior, which had been happening since he was 12 years old, according to family members. I am 60 years old and still healing from not only the traumas I suffered, but the ptsd from watching others suffer also. But I have been given hope, the only hope that there truly is for victims or abusers, Jesus. Jesus is in the church, but He is also outside the church building. Maybe we need a different place for offenders to gather where they can find healing and grace without the distraction of triggers? It's a difficult question, but I'm very glad for the discussion on this very sensitive issue.

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Children's Ministry

January 07, 2010  7:13am

First. The CHILDREN are our greater moral responsibility. Adults make choices that have ramifications. Being forgiven does not mean those ramifications go away. A child trusts the adults to look out for their safety. It is inexcusable for a church to willfully put any child in potential danger with the rationale that they are forgiving a sex offender. The safety of the children must come first. Second. There is no way to screen sincerity. You can only hope they are sincere. And sincerity does not guarantee future behavior. Unfortunately people lie. "I have changed, I am a Jesus follower now..." does not guarantee that person is not setting up a situation to be in a position of trust. The only way to screen is through background checks. To ignore a background check because we are to "forgive" is willful negligence. I find it very alarming that people in positions of church leadership are even discussing this. Those who post that we do not understand "them" concern me the most.

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Kim Cole

December 10, 2009  11:10am

What about the 11 year old who was abused? How do you think he feels and his parents? Yes, we are called to forgive and I hear all your other points and scripture references. We like to pretend as Christians that we are so non-judgemental. Or we like to justify situations. Did the person actually do it? Give me a break. Wake up to the facts about sexual abuse. It is real, it is serious and it has lifetime ramifications. What is it were your child? Or YOU?

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Virgil

December 03, 2009  6:24pm

Scripture is very plain about forgiveness, as well as why Christ came: TO SAVE THE LOST, NOT THOSE WHO ARE ALREADY RIGHTEOUS. Scripture is also very clear about judging others. I find nowhere in scripture are we to judge one group of people over another, including sex offenders. The church is filled with adulterers, liers, murders, drunkards, and all kinds of sinners. The exception is if they call themselves brother and are still practicing their sins, we are to have nothing to do with them. We are to put them out of the church. ONE WHO SPEAKS FROM EXPERIANCE.

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Barbara

October 02, 2009  10:20pm

A local teacher was accused of innapropriate contact with a student. After a year of legal expenses, he/she pled guilty to a lesser charge. The accuser was a disturbed child who had made the accusations about other people before. This person finally accepted the plea for the sake of the welfare of his/her family. I have two points to make. First, sometimes the accusations are not true. There are troubled teens out there who live in an atmosphere of fantasy. Mental illness strikes the young as well as others who are older. I believe we should take all accusations seriously. However, some are not true. How are we to know? We cannot. We were not given the privilege of judging others. That is God's job, not ours. Does that mean we turn them loose on our children? We keep a watchful eye. My second point is this; where do sinners belong? In the church is my opinion. Jesus can forgive all sins except the sin of unbelief. Can a predator be rehabilitated? What if it is a false accusation? Do we know for sure? We were not there. That doesn't mean we have to be blind. What if you are wrong? The fact that a person agreed to a lesser plea does not necessarily mean that he or she is guilty. Sometimes there are issues of money, the cost of lawyers, of litigation. We might say that we would never plead guilty if we were innocent. Are you sure? If you were in danger of losing your house, or the ability to feed your family, are you certain that you would come down on the side of truth, justice and the American way? Especially if there is no guarantee of the outcome? The truth is, you cannot know. You can only give your best guess as to the justice that should be meted out in this, or any, case. You are not omniscient, only God is. I suggest you submit this issue to prayer. If you believe you have a personal relationship with Him, He will quiet your heart. Every situation is different. Many are true predators who will do anything they can to place themselves in the midst of their potential victims. There are a few who are, themselves, victims of troubled minds. It does happen. You cannot know. God will lead the way of truth. He loves the sinner, and that includes you, my friend, as well as me.

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Mark Simmons

October 02, 2009  2:28pm

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (New International Version) 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. "And that is what some of you were." Seems the church has been full of all kinds of people with a bad past. I seem to remember a guy that was even a serial murderer of Christians that was let into the church and even became an Apostle. "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." While there are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed, God's Word is clear that God finds a way to include in His church people with all kinds of wretched backgrounds, starting with the transforming power of Jesus who washes, sanctifies and justifies us.

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