There are many policies that a church needs, but does not consider until a crisis strikes. In a previous post, I drafted a policy for how a church should be prepared to respond in the event that an allegation of sexual abuse is made against a pastor or church volunteer. That policy seeks to ensure that a church:
- Cooperates fully with all needed mandated reporting requirements, and
- Provides the various forms of care needed for the various crises prompted by this kind of event.
In this post, I have drafted a policy for how a church would think through the attendance and membership stipulations for someone who is under Registered Sex Offender (RSO) status.
The enactment of this policy assumes that both:
(a) the sexual abuse episode has been reported and
(b) that the legal process has concluded resulting in RSO status as the verdict; meaning the individual under RSO status has paid, or is currently paying their debt to society.
When a church is considering adopting a policy of this nature, several things need to be understood.
1. State-by-state, there are differences in how levels of offense are designated. The first step in vetting a policy of this nature for your church is to have it reviewed by a lawyer in your state and ask for your state’s levels-of-offense for RSO’s. You do not want to adopt a policy that is not aligned with your state’s legal code.
2. There will be differences of opinion. Some will value being a forgiveness-oriented church that does not “grade sins” and emphasizes restoration. Others will value being a place where the safety of the most vulnerable is prioritized. No one wants to neglect either safety or restoration. If you wait until a specific person (existing member or guest requesting membership) forces the conversation, then this tension will only be more difficult to manage because it will be more personal.
3. The church needs to be prepared to care for everyone affected by this issue.The perpetrator likely has a spouse, children, and parents who are members of the church. They are the unseen victims who often receive the least care. If 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual abuse, we have many members who will be highly unsettled by the presence of an RSO. We have parents, regardless of whether they have experienced abuse, who want peace of mind about the safety of their children at church. The individual under RSO status, who has had their abuse prosecuted and accepted the punishments, needs a place to worship God and fellowship with other believers.
4. Unless we are highly intentional, these various needs will not accidentally balance themselves. The sample policy below is meant to help a church balance these various needs by initiating the direct, uncomfortable conversations necessary for the church to be prepared.
This draft is not being posted as the one-size-fits-all policy for all churches. It does not address all the care needs involved. It only seeks to discuss how the question of church attendance by someone with RSO status can be navigated in a way that seeks to balance the needs-fears-safety of everyone at church.
If this draft policy gives church leaders (pastors, elders, deacons, parents, etc.) a prompt to discuss how to care well for everyone affected when someone under RSO status begins to attend their church before there is a name and face to go with the issue, it will have served its purpose.
Here is a sample policy your church can use to think through key elements of drafting a comparable policy that fits your church.
- Sample Policy: Registered Sex Offender Attendance Policy (you will notice the policy is written as a letter to the individual under RSO status in order to assist in the conversation about what will be expected in cooperation with this policy)
As you think through pastoral care in light of various forms of abuse, here are several other resources you may find helpful.
- Article or Blog Resources
- Mandated Reporting Summary: Guidelines for Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
- Manipulative Repentance: 8 Red Flag Phrases
- How to Develop a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence
- Four Principles for Thinking Well about Boundaries
- We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic.
- Unhealthy Forgiveness: Why We Should Not Forgive Misinterpretations
- Why We Should Always Teach Romans 13 with Romans 12
If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.