Sexual Justice

If you stick around, in just a moment I am going to be dealing with the problem created by registered sex offenders attending church. However, before we get there, I want to say something about the cultural context we find ourselves in. And that said, I want to warn you beforehand that the point I am going to draw from that context is probably not what you think I am going to draw, so please hold your wrath until you finish the paragraphs following.

There is no way to pornify a culture the way we have done without making porn far more available to kids than it used to be. And kids obviously learn from what they see, monkey see monkey do. This includes what we call “mainstream” entertainment, and not just the triple-x stuff. We now have young kids who have seen, or who have heard about on the playground, practices that previous generations learned about in their second year of med school. Nobody should be surprised when when some junior high boy tries out some of what he has seen or heard about on his younger sister. When sexual corruption becomes ubiquitous, many more kids are going to get swept up in it. Call it the collateral damage of the sexual revolution.

But I am not saying this in any exculpatory way. Corruption is corruption, and being steeped in corruption from childhood does not remove any personal responsibility. We are a sinful race. So this point has nothing to do with the making of excuses for the perpetrators of sex crimes — while it is true that many victimizers were victims themselves first, that doesn’t make any of it right. Personal responsibility is assigned by the Bible, and not by our experiences.

So why make the point about pornification then? What this is intended to do is point out that those who promote and advance such corruptions in one area ought not to be entrusted with adjudication of crimes and offenses of a sexual nature in another area. Our establishment no longer knows what sex itself is supposed to be, and so cannot know what sexual justice is supposed to be. We therefore ought not to rely on their “wisdom” about sexual justice as it relates to children. They don’t have any wisdom. Our cultural milieu tolerates and teaches courses in our universities (!) which solemnly maintain that all instances of PIV (penis in vagina) are rape by definition,  dogmatically pronounce that TMI sex education for grade schoolers is a moral necessity, say that doing the anal honors should be considered a high privilege, and now with much of the legal resistance to same sex mirage out of the way, has already been preparing to mainstream pedophilia. The last thing in the world Christians should do is join in with any stampeding opinions about any of this from the secularists. They don’t know what sex is for, and they therefore don’t know what sexual justice is.

Here is (just) one example of secularist dogma that Christians are bound to reject. “Sex offenders don’t ever change.” This is not only an error, it is an error which strikes at the heart of the gospel’s efficacy. Now it is quite true that sex offenders don’t ever change themselves, but this is true for the same reason that thieves and adulterers never change themselves. Christ came into the world to save sinners, including the really screwed up ones.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).

The words translated here as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind refer to homosexual behavior, plainly and unambiguously. Anyone who says otherwise is blowing some scholarly smoke at you. And in the ancient world, who does not know that this kind of practice routinely included young boys? But my point in citing this passage is not to prove that this kind of behavior is immoral, as much as that point might be needed in other discussions, but rather to demonstrate that “sex offenders cannot change” is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. Among the Corinthians, do you think there were any converts who had been given over fully to the ancient ways with a whole series of young boys? “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Thus, if a sex offender is kept outside the congregation, and is served communion in a back room, then what you are actually doing is making a liturgical statement that he ought not be served communion at all. If he is vile, and cannot change, then excommunicate him and be done with it. Your justification for such excommunication would then have to be that “such people never change.” But if he can repent, and be brought to the Table, then he must be brought to the Table with all the other forgiven sinners — which perhaps includes the rest of us.

But, of course . . . the fact that a repentant sex offender can repent and can be truly forgiven does not mean that his professed repentance is genuine. We are not required to live in la-la land. Forgiveness and trust are two very different things, and so when a convicted sex offender is brought into fellowship with the rest of the congregation, it must be done in such a way that no parent has any reasonable cause to be worried about what could happen. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that a registered sex offender is made a Sunday School teacher, any more than a convicted embezzler is made the church treasurer. And one of the ways true repentance is manifested is that the person involved is not at all offended by this necessity, and understands completely that although his sin is forgiven, certain consequences necessarily remain. Paul once said that if he had been guilty of anything deserving of death, he did not refuse to die (Acts 25:11). A repentant offender receives the consequences, and, as much as possible, is eager to have the consequences of his crimes fall on himself.

One other preliminary point needs to be made, and that has to do with ministerial confidentiality. When I am providing pastoral counseling, I never promise absolute confidentiality. I do promise discretion, but I don’t ever want to say that I “will never tell a soul” and then have somebody tell me where they buried the body. I reserve the full right (and moral responsibility) to call the cops, depending on the circumstances. But it is important to note that ministerial authority means that whether or not I am going to do this is a decision that rests within the church, and not with some bureaucratic functionary who has no understanding of the biblical principles of justice and mercy, and how they relate.

With regard to this topic, we have both been involved in situations where it was necessary to involve the authorities immediately. There are offenders who need to be arrested and prosecuted. But what if it was three or four five-year-olds out behind the barn being naughty? Now what? Do you call Child Protective Services over that? It is important for everyone to remember that there is more than one way to wreck a family.

All this said, here are some key areas where remembering the principles of justice are most necessary. For various reasons, our culture has gotten to the point where we believe that neglect of these principles in matters of sex and children is actually virtuous, and that it somehow displays our moral sensitivity. Christians have unfortunately gotten swept up into some of these errors, with a little help from inflammatory indignation on the Internet.

Accusation is not conviction. One of feminism’s many lies is that women “don’t lie about rape,” and the appropriate response to this is that “women” don’t do anything, but that some women do lie about rape, for the same reason that some men do. Some women will lie about anything. Men, ditto. The fact that she is a woman and the subject is rape is meaningless, and tells us nothing independent of the facts. Potiphar’s wife lied about rape (Gen. 39:14). This same problem is heightened when you are dealing with children who are testifying about something — particularly when the child witness is being “coached” by some expert with a head full of nonsense. However — and this anticipates my third point below — being careful about finding out the truth is not the same thing as not caring about the truth. Make no mistake — it is terrible when a child has to live within range of a sexual predator because the threshold of proof cannot be met. But it is also terrible to have a man who never did anything spend ten years in prison because a child was pressured into a false accusation. The thresholds of proof in the Bible require independent confirmation of guilt (two or three witnesses), which is where we get our “beyond all reasonable doubt” standard. This means that, according to Scripture, in a world in which terrible things happen, the terrible thing of a guilty man going free is to be reluctantly preferred to the terrible thing of an innocent man being convicted. In addition, we find that cultures in rebellion against this standard are soon in the position of inverting other biblical standards as well — as a prelude to leveling accusations against many innocents.

The fact that someone was convicted of a sex offense does not mean that all sex offenses are in the same category of offense. We do need to have the category of statutory rape, and it needs to policed with tough sanctions, but we also need to remember that it is a different kind of offense from the rape of a three-year-old. The latter is the kind of offense that you execute people for, and the former usually is not. It is important to distinguish, in terms of legal consequences, the creep show from the fornicator. But, returning to the point made earlier, even the creep show can be forgiven by Christ, and can be served communion on death row. Sorting this kind of thing out requires true spiritual maturity, and it needs to be done by men who truly fear God. It cannot be done by linking to rants on the Internet.

Once the spirit of accusation has taken root, accusations are often leveled at more than the offender. One thing I have noticed about such meltdowns is that they often occur in churches in such a way as to provide someone with the opportunity to accuse the pastors and elders who are trying to clean up the toxic waste in the aftermath. In our experience, such accusers frequently take the silence of pastors as an admission of complicity, or worse. But these snarls frequently involve many people with varying degrees of complicity, humiliation, shamed innocence, stupidity, and guilt. And it is far better for shepherds to be falsely accused than for shepherds to defend themselves by unnecessarily humiliating the sheep any further. In some situations, everything is out on the table, and a pastor can talk about it freely. But in other situations, there is no way to talk about it, and no way to explain, without doing a lot more damage. To those who say that in doing this, I am “covering up,” I would simply respond that I am a pastor and I cover things up for a living.

This post is going to be incorporated into a book on the principles of justice that I am working on with my friend, Randy Booth, hence the first person plural pronoun. For the time being, some of my previous work on this can be found under the tag A Justice Primer.

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26 thoughts on “Sexual Justice

  1. Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I have had too much negative experience pastoring families around the mine field of “sex crimes”. That industry is rife with poorly written laws, handcuffed judges, incompetent bureaucrats, “justice” that eats up whole families, thieving parole systems, and mandated counseling that exposes a person to more sin. I do not know another area of our society that can grind people down, amid the applause of the crowd. However, grace shines brightly in this environment; and the redemption Christ brings is precious. Thank you once again.

  2. And one of the ways true repentance is manifested is that the person involved is not at all offended by this necessity, and understands completely that although his sin is forgiven, certain consequences necessarily remain.

    Worth the price of admission.

  3. Glad to chime in before it goes inevitably south. Tough subject, no doubt. For parents within the church. Even more so for the violated child. The line between forgiveness and trust can, and possibly should be, bold. I mean come on! We’re talking about our children here!
    But, we’re also talking about the transformative power of our risen Lord and the gospel He taught. I don’t pretend to have any answers here, but I think it’s helpful to set legitimate parameters for the conversation. If we are going to say “these people” are beyond redemption……..

  4. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Searching the scriptures to try and understand how the church (and when I say “church” I am not just thinking of the leadership) can better respond to these situations. One thing I have been upset by is the general fear of sounding “secular” or “liberal” in educating ourselves on different forms of abuse. I keep thinking about the sexual justice laws in Exodus particularly dealing with rape and can’t help but wonder if the emotional abuse which normally proceeds sexual abuse can be thought of as rape “in the wilderness”. If a woman is told over and over that “no one loves her the way this man does”, “she cannot trust anyone besides him”, “don’t tell anyone or you will destroy everyone’s life”, I can’t help but see that as an emotional wilderness. And by saying “emotional” before wilderness I feel that I’ve killed any credibility of my argument for the reasons I mentioned before about the fear of the secular. All to say this topic is one I would love to see deepened and broadened and really studied by Christians. I am very happy that the internet is blowing up with articles dealing with this topic because it’s something we really need to seek wisdom and clarity on. Sorry about the run ons, my kids need ‘ttention. Blessings

  5. Are you suggesting that the ultimate human authority over crimes is vested in the Church, to decide who should be prosecuted and which evidences should be hidden and which revealed? Does Lev 5:1 mean that we should bring knowledge of crimes to the pastor and let him decide what the civil magistrate can know and what we will permit him to adjudicate? Does the punishment and supervision of convicted sex offenders also belong, as a matter of jurisdiction, primarily to the Church?

    It would be right to say that those outside the Church are evil and inclined to evil. But I’m not convinced that it’s right to conclude that the Church is free, under the banner of Her own confidence, to usurp the authority of the civil magistrate. Does all authority under Heaven belong to the Church, with the Church free to parcel it out, a little here and a little there, as She sees fit?

  6. Doug, this article is an outstanding tour de force of Scripturally applied pastoral wisdom – and a startlingly clear Christian rebuke to the shrill din that often rings in our ears with regard to the subject.

  7. Valerie, no, not exactly. In areas where Scripture gives the magistrate clear jurisdiction — chasing a murderer — I don’t have the authority to grant sanctuary in the church. But in cases of conscience, uncovered in the course of pastoral counseling, pastoral judgment is a necessity.

  8. The distinction between youthful indiscretions due to a “pornified” society, and a predator who rapes children, is very welcome. But in the case of child rape and other crimes which are biblically capital offenses, it would seem that the jurisdictional authority is clear. Investigating allegations of such crimes is not possible for the church to do (forensic evidence, careful interviews of children and the accused). The prevalence of this kind of abuse is staggering, according to Department of Justice statistics. It behooves pastors and other church leaders to learn more about the behavior of abusers and the effects of the abuse on children who have been molested. I am glad this discussion is happening. I know of many believers who do trust God yet still struggle with the effects of childhood abuse many, many years later. God does heal and He does forgive, but knowing how to deal with this does require a lot of wisdom and understanding.

  9. A while back, someone asked you about Pastor Jimmy Hinton’s article regarding sexual offenders in churches. Since then, I have been reading his blog and his mother, Clara Hinton’s blog. Finding a healing place. A reminder for those who weren’t reading at the time. Jimmy Hinton is a pastor of the Somerset Church of Christ in Somerset Pennsylvania. He is a second generation pastor. Three years ago, he and his mother learned that his father had been molesting children since his father was 14. The father, John Hinton, is doing life. Since then, both Jimmy and Clara have studied up on the psychology of this particular sin. Clara’s blog focuses on the red flags of her marriage as a warning for others. On 4th of July, a British celebrity named Rolf Harris, kind of a British version of Captain Kangaroo, was sentenced for pedophelia. When I read the news articles on Harris, it was like reading the Hinton Blogs. I am not saying that Doug is wrong. I am saying, if we are to protect children, the leadership needs to know how this looks compared to other sexual sins. We are talking about preadolescent children, not teens.

    1. A pedophile is a control freak.

    2. Most pedophiles will take the time to groom the parent as well as the child. They come off as the nicest, godliest person in the church. They will help you with anything. They seem to have an innate sense to know when they have your confidence. If a child does say something, they are usually disbelieved.

    3. This is the one that really surprised me. They like to molest as much as possible IN PUBLIC IN FRONT OF YOU! Harris did it on national television and no one caught him.

    4. In their own self deception, they believe children come on to them.

    That is enough for now. I was molested as a kid and yes, Christ has healed me. I am more sensitive to the issue of it and Doug is spot on regarding false allegations. Anyone who lives in the NW and is 35 or older remembers what happened with the Wenatchee Sex Ring. Scripture says we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Though I don’t agree with all of the conclusions in the Hinton blogs, they are worth reading so you have an idea what to be looking out for in your churches.

  10. The church frequently has to deal with the same sins/crimes that the state does. Our roles overlap and yet have distinctly different objectives. Ideally, the church and the state work together. I am glad to report that I have had some excellent experiences with the courts in this regard. It is a legitimate role for the state to protect all its citizens from criminals. While the state’s primary objective is justice, the church’s primary objective is redemption. These are not mutually exclusive concepts but rather, complementary. True redemption always involves justice.

    The church should be informed as well aggressive in its protection of the innocent. We should be cautious, skeptical and do our homework as all kinds of people come our way. Nevertheless, sexual crimes are also sexual sins. Sexual crimes must be dealt with justly by the criminal courts; sexual sins must be dealt with by the blood of Jesus Christ. The gospel is good news for criminals, as the thief on the cross can testify. He knew that he deserved to die and that he still wanted to live. He was brought back into communion that very day.

    The state’s job is to provide justice. The church’s job is more complicated: justice and mercy. The state’s job is to protect the innocent. The church’s job is to protect the innocent and to provide salvation for the guilty. We may not choose one over the other.

  11. My church teaches that a priest must accept death rather than violate the seal of the confessional, no matter how horrendous the sins and crimes confided to him. It is true that the penitent should not receive absolution until he has confessed to the civil authorities, but the priest has no ability to compel this. So I understand Pastor Wilson’s inability to call the local sheriff every time he learns from a penitent of sexual sin that person committed against a child. However, the privilege should not extend to what a pastor is told by another person, whether victim or witness. If Sister Superior tells the pastor in charge her reasons to believe that Father Shenanigan is abusing the altar boys, I think this is always a matter for the civil authorities.

    I can’t accept the argument that because we live in a fallen and sexually twisted culture, the secular world has nothing to contribute to our understanding of child abuse and its prevention. Nor can I believe that the priests and parish council at my church are, because they are Christian, more likely to deal effectively with child abuse than the atheists over at CPS. At worst, the former have a lot more at stake and more to hide.

    If a parishioner were found murdered in the chancel, we wouldn’t try to deal with it in-house on the grounds that the detective division is riddled with deeply immoral people. Nor would we say that minus the two or three witnesses required by the Bible, we are powerless to act. It is a terrible thing to destroy an innocent person’s reputation. It is true that women and children lie. But look what those two assumptions did to generations of Catholic children.

  12. I can’t accept the argument that because we live in a fallen and sexually twisted culture, the secular world has nothing to contribute to our understanding of child abuse and its prevention.

    Regrettably, many very loud parts of the secular world are working on calling for the normalization and, quite likely celebration, of this kind of child abuse.

    That they rightly (in the sense of a stopped clock) condemn child abuse is merely a silencing tactic that they will use to castigate the church for for condemning their eventual celebration of the vile practice.

  13. Doug, you give the court system too much credit. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is not the same thing as “two or three witnesses.” A great number of child abuse convictions come with one witness. Very often, it is a dubious witness. And we certainly don’t make the witness cast the first stone. Nor do we impose any effective deterrent whatsoever for perjury.

    Further, I can’t figure out why you said we should have statutory rape laws, when the Bible does not advocate them.

    Our legal system is ungodly. Don’t legitimize it. To the person who quoted Leviticus 5, that is referring to a case already in progress. And I would further point you to 1 Corinthians 6.

    “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?”

  14. The simple fact that we are saved by Grace Alone while we are still sinners – BEFORE we Repent means that we will encounter Christians at various stages of overcoming…

    Some Christians are not truly overcoming – still trying to rely on their own strength or righteousness… Some Christians are in the process of overcoming…. It’s the true reality of a Church full of Sinners seeking God…. but no one wants to say it out loud…

    It’s pretty hard and humbling to finally wrap your brain around the fact that God is the one who grants Repentance…. We cannot do it by our own strength, ability, or wisdom… Doesn’t work that way.. Doesn’t last… Doesn’t hold… Try as we might – all we prove is that we have no power to Overcome through our own power or merit….

    The thing is… The counselor we need may well be the one who fights tooth and nail.. The guy stained with blood and guts… Who leans hard on God’s power and sovereign will daily…. Who fights his own flesh and fights the desires of the world daily… Two steps forward and one step back…. That guy may be able to coach others on overcoming – because he has to employ every single inch of the Armor of God to do it…. but we won’t ever get him to open up – because the church would destroy the fellow…. Run him out of town and make his life hell….

  15. Arwen, while grasping that you don’t want to accept anything they may say as morally authoritative, I find the reasoning a little convoluted. If the church does not loudly condemn the sexual abuse of children right now (and with actions that follow its words), who will believe us when we attempt to condemn it at some later date? If we refuse to jump on the bandwagon of condemning child sexual abuse because we don’t believe their motives are sincere, are we left by default appearing to defend child sexual abuse? If these abominations happen in our churches–and they do–how do we defend our inaction on the grounds of some later abstract good? How do we say that we failed to protect the children because we were not prepared to compromise our Christian testimony in the here and now? Have I perhaps misunderstood you?

  16. Drew, I thought the scripture you quoted meant that Christians should not be suing one another civilly in the courts. I agree that there have been monstrously unfair child abuse prosecutions. There have also been child abuse cases for which monstrous is too trivial word. Surely the answer is in tightening the rules of evidence rather than in abandoning the courts. I am puzzled by your remark that statutory rape is not a crime addressed by the Bible. Well, neither is the production and distribution of child pornography. There are crimes that the church is simply not qualified to adjudicate. A 19 year old and a 17 year old having sex? This is a crime in California, and I personally think it is something the church and the parents could handle. A 30 year old having sex with a 13 year old? I see no way that a church could try to handle this in-house without putting the child and the entire community at risk. As I said earlier, we grasp that we don’t have the resources or the special skills to solve homicides. Why would we think we can handle something that is not only equally heinous–in my view–but which also requires expert knowledge?

  17. Seems a bit far-fetched to say we “shouldn’t be surprised” by boys attempting to have sex with their younger sisters, but then again, incest far predates “pornification” of this or any other culture, dating back to biblical “history,” so why indeed should anyone be surprised by anything? A bit late to start blaming Hollywood, eh?

  18. Jill, who (in this conversation) is refusing to loudly and clearly condemn the sexual abuse of children? Saying that its prosecution must nonetheless be done within the confines of justice is not refusing to condemn it.

  19. The problem with reformed men is they abuse and lord over women – rape, hit, slap, kill women. This has many bad side effects, including women leaving the church, women choosing abortion, and much deeper sins. I was raised and educated in a Classical school and now I am PROUD abortionist, helping women murder their reformed children. Women need to choose abortion . Kids don’t need to be born to hateful men.

  20. First of all, I agree with your analysis and the wisdom you show concerning how to handle “sex offenders”. I am a probation officer and have long objected to the tenant that all sex offenders are the same, from the 18 year old who fornicates with his 16 year old girlfriend to the 50 year old child predator. In the 1980′s there was an apparent epidemic in which several charismatic, non-denom churches became havens for sex offenders abusing children in the church and the pastors naively covered and facilitated the abuse. Our church at the time allowed a convicted, paroled child molester to work in the church nursery without telling of the families of their decision. This type of action is what led to many in child protective services taking a very low opinion of the church. In our case the man did go on to molest other children. Nevertheless, justice is critical and it is imperative that we not judge the sins of others by our own strengths. I look forward to your book!