Churches Grapple with Whether to Welcome Convicted Sex Offenders

Dear Engaged Bystander: I recently read an article in the Washington Post, "Churches Grapple with Whether to Accept Convicted Sex Offenders."

The article begins with the following:

"All are welcome" is a common phrase on many a church sign and Web site. But what happens when a convicted sex offender is at the door?

Church officials and legal advocates are grappling with how -- and whether -- people who have been convicted of sex crimes should be included in U.S. congregations, especially when children are present:

The entire article focuses on this question of how to accept (or refuse) known sex offenders who want to enter the church. Some great points are made and it conveys the complexity of the issue well whatever decision is made. For example,

Steve Vann, co-founder of Keeping Kids Safe Ministries in Ashland City, Tenn., said that children's safety must be paramount but that giving convicted abusers social support could help reduce additional offenses.

But the article does not look at the fact that most cases of sexual abuse are never reported. Therefore most of the sexual abuse within the congregation is not known and not out in the open. The reason this is so important is that how the congregation deals with the known offender, will affect the families dealing with sexual abuse in their everyday lives.

Some of the congregations talked about the need to create family safety plans and within the church, accountability structures for the offender. Some talked about having a buddy system for the offender to ensure his safety and ensure the safety of others in the congregation. Another describe his response:

"We talk about covenant partners," he said, using his ministry's phrase for chaperones. "They're not just there to watch what the person does. They're there to assist the person in spiritual growth."

When the church can break the silence around this issue and model how to hold an abuser accountable, I believe that all of the families will benefit from the church looking closely at what can be done.

PS If you have not seen the policy and online course developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association, you can see the policy document at: You can also view the online course. And for full disclosure, I work with NEARI and helped to develop the online course.