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“Don’t Forgive Us So Quickly!” Part 2

May 31, 2007 — Categories:

Twenty-seven incest offenders gave me this advice when I met with them during a session of their court-mandated treatment program. They were mostly Christians and they kept wanting to talk about their faith, so their therapist called me in.

Twenty-seven incest offenders gave me this advice when I met with them during a session of their court-mandated treatment program. They were mostly Christians and they kept wanting to talk about their faith, so their therapist called me in.

We talked about guilt, repentance, God’s presence, finding Jesus, forgiveness, salvation and on and on. Some pretty weighty issues. I learned a lot that night. But the thing I will always remember was toward the end of our time together. They said, “Whenever you talk with church people, tell them not to forgive us so quickly.”

Of the twenty-seven men who had molested their own children, twenty-five were active Christians. Each one of them said that when he was arrested, he went first to his pastor. Each one had been prayed over by his pastor and sent home “forgiven.” Each said it was the worst thing anyone had done to him. His pastor’s “forgiveness” meant he didn’t have to face what he had done to his own children and be accountable.

The church had abandoned these men with platitudinous prayer and cheap grace. But this court-mandated program, paid for by our tax dollars, gave them the opportunity to do the hard work of repentance and the possibility of change and redemption.

Their witness (“don’t forgive us so quickly”) is what our faith communities need to hear. It is a word of caution that we not lead people to skip over the work that is necessary for real repentance, what the prophet Ezekiel called getting “a new heart and a new mind.” (Ezek. 18:31) It is a reminder that we cannot be naïve: “cure” is not a word generally used about sex offenders; at best, “management” is the goal for any who are released into the community.

Congregations can be part of that “management” and as such contribute significantly to the safety of the community. The overriding goal is the protection of children and youth from potential predators. Congregations who are trained and willing to commit time and resources can be a part of the community accountability necessary for registered sex offenders living among us. As we consider welcoming registered sex offenders into our faith communities, we are invited to accompany them on a path that leads to the necessary work of real repentance.

The hope of a new heart and a new mind—not only good theology but good public policy.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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