Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Church Has Its Doors Open to Everyone -- Except Convicted Sex Offenders

Remember this United Church of Christ ad?

Ironically, another UCC congregation is struggling to welcome someone: a convicted sex offender:

And that opened a firestorm of emotion, dredging up memories of child abuse from several adult members and creating a debate over safety versus inclusiveness. Suddenly, a liberal, progressive church that prided itself on being welcoming to all people was struggling with what that really meant.


Tears welled up as the pastor recounted the conversation. “Nothing in my almost 30 years of ministry has prepared me to turn somebody away,” he said.

When the church's preschool heard about Pliska, both from the service and later from a letter from the church, one of the parents was so outraged that she began a petition drive in protest.

“It's not appropriate to have him there,” said Jessica Muehlhausen of Vista. It doesn't matter to Muehlhausen that the preschool isn't open on Sundays or that her family does not attend the church. What matters to her is the risk.

“Mark Pliska has a right to worship,” she said. “He just needs to find an appropriate church that isn't attached to a children's center.”

Shockley said Pliska has since been evicted from his home and lost his job as a mechanic.

The pastor blames publicity and has stopped using his name. Muehlhausen blames Pliska. “People who commit crimes like this against children have this coming to them,” she said.

Emphasis added. This woman is obviously wrong. The Church cannot deny the Word and the sacraments to any repentant sinner. A colleague of mine at Asbury is associate pastor at a church with a similar member. He has very strict guidelines and when and where he can go and is held accountable for them. It's worked well, although some members of the church would prefer that he drop off the face of the earth.

What about you readers? Have you ever had to deal with issues of safety and welcoming for ex-convicts?

Hat tip: Christianity Today blog. But now I can't find the permalink anymore. Anyway, it was there.


DannyG said...

Tough question. If it's a large church there may be a service which is strictally adult. But, the problem begins when you have someone who becomes familiar within the church. One would be afraid that a child might seek him out for help, thinking anyone at the church would be safe. Of course, there are many molesters who have not been caught or identified, and no doubt many are regular members of churches, flying under the radar. A perfect solution would be worship at a monistary where there only adults were present, but I don't know how to work out the eccumenical aspects of that arrangement. I guess that I would have to come down on the side of the safety of the innocents. Maybe an enterprising pastor could work with the dept. of corrections to develop an approved program for sex offenders as a mission project, away from the regular church community.

Michael said...

From all I've read, child molesters (I assume this is what we are talking about specifically and not ex-convicts in general) cannot be easily rehabilitated. This does not mean that the Body cannot minister to him in another way that would not endanger innocent children.

Dan Trabue said...

As an inner city church that opens our doors to the mentally ill and homeless and ex-cons, we definitely have to deal with it. We have found out after the fact that some of the fellas we've befriended are, indeed, convicted sex offenders.

We have a monthly coffee house where our beloved children act as servers to our beloved homeless and mentally ill friends. There are our children, wandering in and out of tables, charming everyone with their smiles and youth.

Believe me, we have dealt with it.

What do we do? We're cautious. We have rules in place. Children don't go anywhere alone. We keep our eyes peeled.

Sometimes, when someone's mental illness or cantankerousness gets the best of them, they're asked to leave. Restraining orders have been put in place in one case, where threats were uttered.

Horrible? No, not really. We get nervous sometimes, but for the most part we find great joy, great humor, great love, even great safety in our ministry with our challenged friends.

Anonymous said...

I am not a pastor. I am an over protective mom of three kids. I was molested as a child. I really wish I hadn't read this post before going to bed. I know thoughts will keep me awake. The man has a right to worship, and the parents in the congregation should be thankful he was honest. What is scariest to me is the person you never suspect! Maybe this man in their midst is a wake up call to all!

I was also attacked in college. By a member of the faculty, no one believed my story of such a "fine upstanding man". I married and stayed in this college town. That man sat in church every Sunday, he had the nerve to come up to me and my family and chit chat. Even said to me once"I hope you have no hard feeling about what happened." I held my head up when I replied "Someday you will get what you deserve." He died a few years ago, I thought I would be glad when he was gone. But instead I felt guilty and beat myself up. not only for hating him for so long, but for letting him get away with it. I often wondered how many other students he attacked.

So child molestors and sex offenders are everywhere. We not only have to protect our children, we have to teach them!

~c. said...

I believe the UMC's Safe Sanctuary program actually deals with this. Basically, the offender is welcomed as long as s/he agrees to an escort (even when going to the bathroom, etc.) And, of course, is not allowed to be involved in children's or youth ministries.

Gary Aknos said... is covering this pretty deeply and there's a great deal of discussion on their message board about this.

This is not an open and closed case of accepting someone in your church. This pedophile wants more than just to go to church, he wants a personal makeover:

From the San Diego Tribune:

He also wanted the congregation at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad to “know that I'm not this monster that the press keeps portraying sex offenders as. There are those of us who are trying to change and put our lives together and be acceptable members of society.”

He believes the Lord has forgiven him. He wants the church to forgive him, too.

John said...

Almighty God, we ask for your healing grace to descend upon the anonymous commentor -- to touch her wounded soul with your wonderous rejuvenating power and protect all other people in your world from such horrible crimes. Amen.

John said...

Gary, thanks for the info. That adds a whole new light on this particular case.

Anonymous said...

thanks John. After I posted that I decided I probably should not have. This is not the place for the "skeletons" in my closet and my inability to deal with them, even after all these years.

I just wanted people to know, when it comes to our children and ourselves, we need to ALWAYS be on guard.

John said...

Would you like for me to delete the comment?

gavin richardson said...

anonymous, it is more than okay to share. in accepting the people who do harm, we commit to openly love and care for those that are harmed. john, thanks for the prayer

Bluebird said...

It's a difficult situation. No matter how many precautions a church takes, some families might leave if they know there's a sex offender in the congregation. In a church like the one I attend, where there are more members over seventy than under twenty, it would be a tough call.