There Are Spiritual Special Needs Within The Church
Saturday and Sunday, I heard two different pastors at my church preach on Luke 5:12-26. Both of them started out their sermons by clarifying what it meant to have leprosy back in Jesus’ time. They explained what a person had to do if they woke up with a problem with their skin, what happened if the high priest suspected leprosy (be banished by themselves outside the city limits for a week with no human contact), be reexamined by the high priest after that time, and if leprosy was the diagnosis, they banished the person into the leper colony for as long as they had it. These lepers lived in complete isolation from their loved ones, human contact, couldn’t bathe, and on top of all of that, they stunk. As my pastors quoted, “they were living, walking dead men.” Could you imagine?
As I said earlier, the Lord lay childhood sexual abuse on my heart this week, but the Lord brought me to a different side of the issue based primarily on the passage of the leper in Luke 5:12-16. Yesterday, I happened to come across an article on The Christian Post entitled, “Church Conducts ‘Adults Only’ Services for Sex Offenders, Others.” At first, I thought to myself, Ewww….I would NEVER step foot in that service. Yes, I know, very Christian of me.
As I read the article, I was shocked to discover that sex offenders are today’s “living, walking dead men.” The article reminded me that as a registered sex offender, you can’t and shouldn’t be around children for legal and therapeutic reasons. While that makes sense, have you ever thought about the fact that a registered sex offender can’t attend church because children may be present? I can honestly say that thought has never once crossed my mind. Even as perverted as their crimes are, a registered sex offender who has served his prison time cannot go to God’s house during a regular worship service. Wow.
Registered sex offenders are the ones who are forever required to announce to the world what crime(s) they have committed. They have to yell, “unclean, unclean” even if the Lord has made them clean. While I understand that felons also must disclose their criminal record sometimes, it is not made available to the general population. If my neighbor across the street murdered a child but did not sexually abuse a child, I would not know that information. I could even be sitting next to a murderer, tax evader, or thief any given Sunday and not even know it. Sex offenders wear the “scarlet A” forever. It starts early on during their prison time. Upon entrance to the prisons, sex offenders are given a unique numbering system, so the entire prison population (not just the guards) knows they are sex offenders. These sex offenders are not treated very well in prison. There is no wonder the suicide rate among sex offenders in prison is extremely high. I did criminal defense legal work for a few years and saw the results of what happened to our sex offender clients firsthand.
On the flip side, I am also not saying that whatever punishment they receive is not justified. But what I have been thinking about is even if a sex offender has repented of his sins, God has forgiven him, and he has served his prison time, he cannot be wholly integrated back into society. No modern-day high priest can call him clean; psychiatrists can’t fill this role. Instead, they truly are modern day lepers.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we allow sex offenders unlimited access to children. I am armed with a sex offender app on my phone and check it frequently. I even recently discovered that we have not one, but two registered sex offenders (in the same house, but unrelated) living on the block behind me. We do not ride our bikes down that street anymore. And, I often have to control urges to run and tell every family on that street and mine that two registered sex offenders live within feet of their precious children. I am human (and an abuse survivor), and I have strong emotions about protecting innocent children. I am also a mother who never wants her children to suffer this kind of abuse by an adult.
But at the same time, how can I ignore the fact these people are the only class of people in the U.S. who really can’t choose to attend church? This need for this particular church service referenced in the article came out of the church’s prison ministry. How can we truly rehabilitate these sex offenders if we alienate them from the opportunity to corporately worship God for the remainder of their lives on earth? Indeed, this is a unique need which we need to address for many reasons.
While these sex offenders appear to be monsters to most of the world, they are just one example of how Satan ensnarls people in his web. Many of these offenders were themselves victims of childhood sexual abuse or exposed to sexually deviant behavior as a child. Satan planted this perverted seed early on, and when Satan’s seeds are left unattended, they tend to grow wild and out of control. Just the way Satan likes it.
Childhood sexual abuse is a real problem. The numbers are high, but likely much higher than we even know because often, the abuse goes unreported. It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, approximately 3,000,000 children are sexually abused every year – about one every 10 seconds. In the five minutes it takes you to read this blog, at least 30 children will have been sexually abused in the U.S. The numbers are even worse abroad. The scary fact is that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Do these numbers make your stomach queasy? They do mine. They also sometimes keep me up at night. I love my children and would give my own life for theirs. This kind of abuse is a real and present danger and the more children you have or the more you have of the same sex, the more likely your family is to have a survivor or future victim living among you. You are at a higher risk if you ignore the situation or do not educate yourself. A minimal number of incidences are stranger-danger incidents. Most abuse is done by someone the victim knows – a stepparent, extended family member, friend’s parent, coach, pastor, teacher, babysitter, neighbor, or boyfriend/girlfriend of a parent. Pay close attention to the people your children are around unattended. And, if your children feel uncomfortable around a particular adult, take notice of that. Like dogs, children have an unusual (God-given) built-in radar that can sense things, people included. Don’t put your own denial, love interest or discomfort before your children.
Many live in silence and never say a word. Some speak up, and the perpetrator is brought to trial. Others seek the help of a counselor or psychiatrist to deal with the pain. Many times when someone opens up for the first time, you will hear him or her say, “I have never shared this with anyone before.” It is unlikely that you will ever see someone wearing a t-shirt bearing the words, “I survived sexual abuse.”
The only person who can “cure” a sex offender or a victim of sexual abuse is Jesus himself. Only He can forgive us of our sins and make us clean. Only He can give us worth and a purpose. And, it is only in His name that the demons flee. I once had a professional who works at a child abuse center tell me, “Unless you have been cleared by a psychiatrist, we do not recommend that you speak in front of a group about your abuse.” I have never received counseling, have never spoken to a psychiatrist, but I have taken it up with the best Counselor of all. He has cleared me, forgiven me and cleaned me – and His time was free – a gift to me.
I pray that churches awaken to the needs of people who have suffered sexual abuse as a child. Therapy is great, but the pain associated with abuse causes many to stumble and fall later in life. Addiction, future abusive relationships, risky behaviors, divorce, trust issues, and homelessness are just a few of the examples of what happens to people who can’t get out from under the pain and sorrow of abuse. We must provide a safety net for those who have suffered abuse and those who have abused. Healing needs to take place. People are not called to judge them as no sin is greater than the next. We have cancer centers that treat cancer with medicine. We have spine institutes that treat back problems with medicine. However, sexual abuse can’t be treated with medicine. It gets into the soul and soul issues must be dealt with in the church with the Healer who heals hearts and souls.
I attend a mega church with 30,000 members. If one conservatively assumes that one out of every ten members is a survivor of, or currently is a victim of, sexual abuse, there would be 3,000 members of my church family alone who have experienced sexual abuse. As I sat in church this past Sunday, I counted three women within a few feet of me who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These aren’t numbers on a page. They are real people – people you probably know. What about your church?
The leper in Luke 5 took a great risk and broke many laws to come to the city to get to Jesus. He said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean” (v. 12). Jesus then did something that was unheard of at that time – he touched the leper, and healed the leper. Sex offenders are a part of society that we do not want to touch. I honestly never thought I would be saying something like this. But for so many reasons, we do need to reach out to them. We need to help them from committing future sins and crimes, we need to help them from harming themselves, and we need to make sure they can get to Jesus to be healed and made clean – just like you and me. I know going to church does not make one saved, but biblical community is so important for our growth and accountability. What would you do if someone said you could never attend church again because of a sin you committed? This is exactly what sex offenders experience. No other criminals suffer this same fate once they leave prison. What would Jesus say?
“Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
Thank u Erin! Powerful display of Love. Was on the phone with Albie and Helen this morning and told Gary and I this is a MUST read. I am overwhelmed with His clarity of understanding and the wisdom of His heart released through your words. I have shared this on my Facebook page~hope that is alright! So appreciate you, Erin. THANKYOU