Dealing with Sex Offenders Who Attend Church

(Editor's note: Since this post first published, Christianity Today International completed "Sex Offenders in the Church," a comprehensive research project exploring the attitudes and beliefs among church leaders regarding integrating sex offenders into the faith community.)

Question posted through "Ask the Experts" on ChurchSafety.com:

There is a female, registered sex offender who wants to attend our Sunday services. We want her to attend, but what guidelines should we have in place to safeguard our children?

Answer by Richard Hammar:

When the senior pastor, or any member of the church board, is informed that a registered sex offender is attending the church, there are steps that can be taken to manage risk. These include the following:

1. Obtain a record of the sex offender's prior criminal convictions by conducting a national criminal records check. The church must be fully informed regarding the sex offender's criminal background.

2. If the sex offender is on probation, identify his or her probation officer and ascertain the conditions that have been imposed. In some cases, sex offenders are not even allowed to attend church. If the probation officer says that the offender is free to attend church, ask the officer if he or she would recommend that the offender be allowed to attend church, and if so, under what conditions. Obtain this information in writing, or, if that is not possible, make a detailed written account of the officer's response.

3. Condition the sex offender's right to attend church services and activities on his or her signing a "conditional attendance agreement" that imposes the following conditions:

• The sex offender will not work with minors in any capacity in the church.

• The sex offender will not transport minors to or from church, or any church activity.

• The sex offender will not attend any youth or children's functions while on church property, except for those involving his or her own child or children, and only if in the presence of a chaperone (see below).

• The sex offender will always be in the presence of a designated chaperone while on church property. This includes religious services, educational classes, activities, and restroom breaks. The chaperone will meet the sex offender at the entrance of the church, and accompany the sex offender on church premises until returned to his or her vehicle.

• A single violation of these conditions will result in an immediate termination of the sex offender's privilege to attend the church.

• The conditional attendance agreement option will not be available unless the church's insurer is informed and confirms that coverage will not be affected.

4. In some cases, exclusion of the offender from church is the only viable option. This option is advisable if (1) for any reason the conditional attendance option is not feasible or enforceable; or (2) if the offender's crimes are so frequent or heinous that exclusion is the only appropriate option; or (3) one or more of the offender's victims attends the church. This will be a judgment call made by the pastor and board.

5. It is often desirable to draft a short policy addressing the church's response to registered sex offenders attending the church, and have it adopted by the congregation during an annual or special business meeting. This would allow the membership to discuss this issue in a rational manner.

6. Seek legal counsel in formulating the church's response.

For additional information on handling registered sex offenders, see volume four in Richard Hammar's four-book set, Pastor, Church & Law (4th ed., 2008, Christianity Today International).

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 1–5 of 5 comments

Jim

January 25, 2013  3:07pm

To Robert. The issue concerning churches who have sex offenders attending services is more the issue of trust. Trusting and forgiving are not the same. Forgiveness is between the individual and God and with the person who the crime was committed against Trust is earned and that takes time, especially when trust has already been violated. There has to be shown patterns of trust that takes time with people who don't know the offender What some may find as offensive in churches when disclosure is needed is really what a church's insurance requires them to do. If not, then they are liable for lawsuits. I do know one sex offender who attends a church who has openly said he is angry with Megan's Law....the point being that he doesn't anyone to know of his past. Hes sees this kind of disclosure as a punishment when its meant to protect the public as well as himself. People with criminal pasts often seek out churches because they are lonely and might be seeing peace with God, but that can only come through a certain degree of openness and transparency especially when trust has already been violated. To hide one's past within the walls of church is to question why one wants to attend there in the first place.

Report Abuse

Robert

October 29, 2010  4:26pm

It's a sad state of affairs when a murderer or drug dealer is forgiven and accepted upon repentance, but a convicted sex offender isn't. It's the motive that matters most here. Is it really to protect the congregation or prevent liability? Remember what a Convicted sex offender must go through after conviction(probation, therapy, jail time and registration). A (s)Ex-offender that goes to church and seeks God should be commended not harassed. The Lord did not call the righteous he called the sinner. Just a note: The highest rate of sex offenses committed are by those without histories and most are level I and II offenses not involving children. I would decide to go to or staying at a church based on their policies of forgiveness and acceptance. The Lord doesn't have a lot of patience for misuse of his house of worship and prayer. Remember what he did to the merchants in the church by making his house a den of thieves rather than a house of prayer!

Report Abuse

Linda J. Pitzer

April 22, 2010  5:33pm

Thank you so much for your insight and sharing your knowledge on this critical issue. Even the best child protection policy cannot 100% protect our children, youth or ministry workers. Reading your comments energizes me to continue working to improve our policy at our church. Thank you!

Report Abuse

Linda Stoll

April 21, 2010  8:03am

Thank you for these helpful guidelines. Sad to say that they are much needed ... and their need will only increase in the years ahead. Christ has come to free the captive, but we have people to protect and nuture. We need great wisdom and discernment as we walk through this minefield.

Report Abuse

Jim Beckwith

April 20, 2010  9:40am

(1) Can you provide a sample "short policy"? #5 in your list (2) How do we find appropriate legal counsel for this specific issue? #6 in your list (3) What will the church be able/required to do to exclude someone, if need be? #4 in your list ... It's hard for us to imagine policing our entrance doors. Thank you for addressing this concern – it is important for churches to face into ... both as a community of redeeming grace and also as a place that must be a safe sanctuary for children and youth and for those who have suffered abuse.

Report Abuse
Recent Posts
Subscribe to Church, Law & Tax

Resources

Essentials for Screening Childrens Workers

Essentials for Screening Childrens Workers

Are the children in your church safe?
Insuring Your Church Staff

Insuring Your Church Staff

Increase your awareness of the extended insurance coverage every church needs.