A Fine Balance: Creating a Safe Space for All While Welcoming a Sexual Offender

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A Christian Reformed Church in Ontario, Canada, was informed of a congregant being charged with the possession of child pornography and child abuse. While awaiting trial, the alleged offender wanted to attend church with his family, as he had always done.

Many questions arose on how to balance a need to deal with this offender in a pastoral manner, with a need to keep the church a safe place, especially for its children, youth, and vulnerable members. 

After many concerns were voiced and much discussion, the member was asked to withdraw himself from church attendance, and was provided with a small group of members who met with him regularly for Bible study, worship, accountability, and spiritual support. The member was eventually convicted and given a prison term of several years.

The church was now ready to review its own actions that followed since the situation first came to light. Although a Safe Church Ministry Team was in place and a Safe Church Policy spelled out how to respond to sexual abuse, the church leadership still did not feel fully prepared to deal with this particular situation. In addition, they did not feel fully prepared to respond to any instance of sexual abuse, or the possibility that a sexual offender may be attending or wants to attend or participate in the life of the church.

They wanted to be proactive in the name of Christ: seeking to minister in the name of Christ, called to be inclusive of those who may be stigmatized or rejected by society while providing for the protection of children and other vulnerable groups, and caring for those who may be survivors of sexual crimes or survivors of sexual traumatic experiences.

You must be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16 NIV).

A Committee for Protection, Integration, and Inclusion was struck with the mandate: To put a missionally focused documented guideline in place outlining steps for the church to integrate and minister effectively in a safe environment to all persons who have experienced the negative forces of abuse and also to minister to persons who have committed sexual offenses, albeit with clear agreements and boundaries with the goal of growing the church as a safe and healing community where all are invited. 

The Committee proceeded to develop a document titled Protocols for the Protection of Sexual Abuse Victims and the Integration and Inclusion of Sexual Offenders (PPSAVIISO). This document provides for the congregation to be made aware of allegations, offenses and court-issued orders, probation, and sex offender registry terms and conditions for a sexual offender, thus ensuring that secrecy about abuse will not be encouraged; transparency makes everyone safer.

The PPSAVIISO offers relevant information including coverage for insurance liability issues, protocols for the various situations which might arise, and a number of helpful resources. A Covenant template is included in this document (to be customized for every case) explaining the terms, conditions, and guidelines that a sexual offender must abide by for the protection of children, young persons, vulnerable persons, and church members. The PPSAVIISO has been approved by the affected Church Board and its legal counsel.  

Sexual abuse in the general community and churches of all denominations is an ongoing concern and the PPSAVIISO addresses this challenge. This document is a tool which can be utilized for possible future and known sexual offenders who desire to be part of the body of the church. 

Safe Church Ministry appreciates all the work that went into the creation of this protocol by the Committee for Protection, Integration, and Inclusion of the church. However, as with all documents that we post on our blog, please use it as a template only. Each church should review policies and protocols in relation to their own specific church communities and develop documents accordingly and with additional insight from recognized professionals.

Click here to access more information on protocols and policies that have been developed by this church. 

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Thank-you for sharing this document.
Much work and care has gone into it.
May all churches follow this example of thoughtful care.