Ministering to Pedophiles

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Pastor Douglas Wilson, defending a pedophile

Recently, there have been several scandals involving high-profile pastors who have welcomed convicted pedophiles into their churches. These pastors have argued that all people, no matter how broken or how egregious their sin, should receive God’s grace. The problem is, these pastors are being deceived by men who aren’t really repentant and, therefore, pose a grave danger to others in the church. Today, I want to address the pedophile’s deception and show what true repentance and ministry to them should look like.

A Pretense to Repentance

One thing pastors should know is that true repentance is extremely rare for pedophiles. It takes a profound sense of entitlement and a profound lack of empathy to sexually violate a child. Many have spent years charming and manipulating people to gain access to victims. These are people whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2). They purposely prey on the weak and vulnerable. It takes a serious shock to the system for these offenders to own the pain they have caused.

When it appears that the law may be closing in, the pedophile begins seeking allies who will shelter and defend him. Because the Church offers grace for those who repent, that is often the first place a pedophile will go. He will strategically choose a church that is in another city, county or state–someplace where his crimes and victims are not yet known. Often, he will join the church as a newcomer and begin ingratiating himself among the unsuspecting members. He may announce to the church that he was once “a wretched sinner,” but has recently given his life to Christ. He may hint that his sins were “really bad,” but he is now “living a new life.”

Only when it appears that his crimes won’t remain hidden does the pedophile then privately approach the pastor and confess. To the pastor, who is not yet aware of any legal action, it may seem that the pedophile is confessing out of genuine remorse. That is almost never the case. The pedophile is aware of the charges being filed against him and is seeking to usurp the narrative. He will say such things as,

  • “It was a misunderstanding.”
  • “I made a mistake.”
  • “I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
  • “Things got out of hand.”
  • “I let the devil control me.”
  • “I really cared about the child.”
  • “It was terrible for me.”

The pedophile will only reveal as much as he needs to sell his story. A little truth makes the lie go down smooth. He may even sob and appear emotionally distraught. He will often claim that he got on this path because he, too, was victimized as a child.

A gullible pastor will be moved by this performance. He will buy the pedophile’s claim that he wants to turn from wickedness and live a new life. There is just one problem: his victims are seeking to put him away for life. How will he pursue his new God-given purpose if he’s forever sitting in prison?

As the scandal unfolds, the spin continues. As new details of the crimes are revealed, the pedophile will insist that he’s very, very repentant and can’t understand why his victims continue to be so hurt. He just wants to live his new life. To “prove” it, he will agree to ongoing counseling with the pastor. After a while, he will suggest, ever so subtly, that his victims are making the crimes out to be worse than they actually were. He may tell the pastor that, at the time of the molestation, his victims didn’t complain and even appeared to want it. The pedophile is now the one being “victimized.” The ongoing legal battle is simply a “vengeful attack” on his “good character.”

At this point, the gullible pastor is fully invested in the pedophile’s narrative. Because the pastor may not know the victims or have ever spoken to them, he does not know how serious the violations actually were. Because the pedophile seemed so contrite at his first confession, he has no reason to doubt that the pedophile was anything but totally forthright. When he accompanies the pedophile to court and sees a composed, humiliated man on one side and hurt, angry victims on the other, it only solidifies the image of the pedophile as the one under attack.

Seeing Through the False Narrative

The easiest way to see through the pedophile’s spin is to notice how he speaks about himself. An unrepentant pedophile keeps the narrative focused on himself. It’s all about how terrible the experience was for him. It’s about how sorry he is. It’s about how hurt he feels by the legal process. It’s about how much he wants to move on. He will say things like, “I know I did wrong. I feel so bad.”

What he doesn’t say is how bad his victims feel. When talking about his crimes, he avoids describing them in detail. When he is forced by circumstance to name his actions, he minimizes them or speaks as if they were beyond his control. “I touched her. It was a mistake.” “I suddenly found myself in her room.” “She was just so sweet, I couldn’t help it.”

In all of his “confessing,” the pedophile never takes responsibility for his actions or talks about the damage he has caused.

How to Minister to a Pedophile

Pastors who wish to minister to pedophiles must demand genuine repentance. Here is what a repentant pedophile would do:

  • Confess his crimes before the congregation. He would let everyone in the church know exactly what he did and how serious it was.
  • He would focus his narrative on his victims–their pain, their suffering, and their need for justice–while protecting their identities.
  • He would renounce his right to be around children. He would ask the congregation to be vigilant in keeping children away from him.
  • He would refuse positions of ministry and trust in the church. (He’s not biblically qualified for them anyway.)
  • He would willingly submit himself to the care of a licensed mental health professional and the oversight of a law officer.
  • He would fully cooperate with all authorities, confess his crimes to the court, and willingly serve any recommended prison sentence.
  • He would offer restitution to his victims.
  • He would give his victims proper space to heal, offering to leave the church or move away if necessary.
  • He would let others in the community know that he is a registered sex offender.

A pedophile who refuses to do these things is not repentant and should be put out of the church immediately.

The pastor must also make it clear that any ministry the pedophile receives shall not come at the expense of his victims. Just as salvation comes first to the Jew, then to the gentile (Romans 1:16), the victims receive their ministry first. A pastor should never sit on the pedophile’s side of the courtroom while there are victims from his community on the other side. A repentant pedophile would understand this position and encourage the pastor to hold it.

I believe that churches and pastors who agree to minister to sex offenders are undertaking an incredibly difficult, commendable, grace-filled challenge. However, such churches need to be educated on what genuine repentance looks like. Getting it wrong only endangers the church’s most vulnerable members.

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57 responses to “Ministering to Pedophiles

  1. I am jumping into this discussion cold, but I am amazed that no one has cited the Westminster Larger Catechism questions Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God? and Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others? (with extensive Scriptural proof texts). These are classic statements of some of the issues being discussed here, along with Larger Catechism questions 149 and 152 and Shorter Catechism questions 82-85 with their Scriptural basis. I am in agreement with the idea that this is not a Calvinist/Arminian argument.

  2. Hi April,

    I’m reading your article with much interest, as a prison chaplain at an institution with many sex offenders. I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you in person at some point (not with an agenda, but for mutual edification). If you are willing to talk, please reply to this note and I will reply with some general contact info that is public knowledge.

    Thank you.
    Chaplain

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  4. Be good for Pastor Wilson to read this, if he hasn’t already. Be more victim-centric, or at least victim-sensitive, tho without being victimolatrous or victimcratic (victims are in charge). You might expand on what restitution to victims may mean–ask forgiveness? pay for counseling?? I gather Mr Sitler has done or approximated most of the 9 things you specify for repentant pedophiles. Mr Wright/Wight seems more likely to have feigned repentance and manipulated people–Pastor Leithart admitted this. If there’s one thing I’d ask you to rethink, it might be barring pastors from sitting with offenders in court, tho I’d happily encourage them to have the church represented, perhaps more heavily, with the victims as well–We’re not taking sides, we both need God’s grace and He offers it to both.

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  7. This article misses an extremely important point. The victims of pederasts usually grow up to be pederasts themselves. The trauma crosses the wires the kids brains, and often leads to them compulsively having the desire to do the same to other kids that was done to them.

    It is all well and good for this lady to say that pederasts never repent, and should therefore never be trusted, etc. But how do you know that? Have you taken a survey?

    People who were molested as children are just as savable by Christ as people who were not. They can repent and turn away from their sin just like people who suffer from other sins like drug abuse and alcoholism.

    You should not condemn the victims of pederasty to eternal alienation. Most of them struggle with the impulse to repeat the crime that was committed against them. Mr. Wilson offered Christ’s grace to one of those victims who himself had become an abuser. I don’t see how that can be wrong.

    • Are you saying that Jamin Wight was a victim of child sex abuse? How do you know?

      You forget that the author of this article (me) is also a victim of child sex abuse. I’m going on 33 years old and have never abused a child, nor have I desired to. I serve in my church’s nursery and have two young children of my own. Yes, SOME child molesters were abused as children. But some were not. And women are molested at a far greater rate than men, yet the vast majority of child molesters (about 92%) are men. Is it possible, then, that previous victimization is more of a correlation and not causation of pedophilia?

      Even if Jamin was a prior victim, that does not excuse what he did to Natalie. It is possible to hold abusers accountable, place limits on their behavior, and still minister to the part of them that’s wounded. You don’t bring an abused pit bull home from the pound and leave it in a room with your kids. You keep the wounded animal behind a fence and attend to it until it consistently demonstrates a change in reaction and temperament. Then, you slowly reintroduce it to the community–cautiously and with vigilant oversight.

      I never said that pederasts never repent–just that repentance is rare. If Wilson thought he was ministering to Jamin by reducing his prison sentence, sending him on missions trips, and releasing him back into the community with no oversight or restrictions, he’s delusional. Ignoring the problem is not ministry.

      • Of course, not every victim of sexual abuse become abuser; but a significant percentage do. http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/179/6/482
        My point was that you need to take into account the full picture of the life cycle of abuse. You don’t know what the two men named above were subjected to in their childhood. It doesn’t excuse them, but dealing with victims of childhood abuse is necessary to prevent future abuse. Wilson didn’t release anybody “back into the community,” the civil magistrate did. I’d be fine with them having been executed by the judge, but that wasn’t the sentence he handed out. In both cases your wrath is better directed at the judge.

        • In both cases, Wilson was instrumental in influencing the judge’s decision. He wrote letters asking for leniency. The judge made his sentencing decisions largely on those letters. So pardon me while I continue to lay this at Wilson’s feet.

          Second, I’m not sure you actually read the abstract you linked to. It says that while there is a positive correlation between victimization and perpetration of abuse, it only occurs in 35% (or about 1 in 3) cases. In other words, it’s not statistically significant enough to label a cause. Correlation is not causation. It is just as likely that these men would have become abusers even if they had not been abused.

          Also, it is pointless to speculate about Wight or Sitler’s status as victims, as it has zero bearing on the facts at hand. Regardless of any prior victim status, child sex offenders are dangerous and require accountability for their crimes. You don’t cure perversion with a “get out of jail free” card. Even IF Wight and Sitler were victims and Wilson advocated for reduced sentences in order to increase his counsel for their victimization, Wilson is not medically qualified to offer the kind of counseling required in these circumstances. And if he were, he could have just as easily minister to them (or arranged a ministry for them) at the jail.

          I think if Wilson were truly concerned about preventing the cycle of abuse, he would have requested harsher sentences for Wight and Sitler, and treated Natalie better.

  8. Very interesting topic for discussion. The bottom line of it all is Forgiveness. Without forgiveness, salvation would not be made possible unto us. I perform within a prison and jailhouse ministry. The term “jailhouse religion” is a growing problem inside the institutions. Amongst ALL inmates. Conviction somes from worldly sorrow. Repentance comes from Godly sorrow. Without repentance, there is no salvation. So, how do we measure what is “within” the heart of the believer?
    Where is the spiritual dipstick located? If a tree is known by it’s fruit, isn’t it possible that even a blind man can identify an apple from an orange?
    Inside jail and prison is the opportunity for the inmate to evaluate their spiritual condition. Many men and women do not want to face their own shame and guilt. THAT is necessary for Godly sorrow. We can live everyday with a worldly sorrow. Newspaper headlines prove that point. BUT Godly sorrow can only be evidenced in the works. If the offender will invite another to look inside his heart, then he can turn conviction unto repentance. But they must be led by the Spirit that will be invoked by the Word Of God. Send in the preacher. This is not a task for the average church go’er. It does take training to recognize the measure within. We become to focused on the agenda of justification. Only God is Just for this purpose. Look at the thief on the cross? he sought mercy and forgiveness was given. But he was still crucified for his crime. We who are the “functioning” members of the Body of Christ must encourage and exhort the weaker members. These members did not come unto the Body by church doctrine and/or membership. WHY would ANY church be “exclusive”?
    I personally have spoken with a local church minister about a new released inmate, who is a sex offender, attending his church? this preacher said that his church considers the jailhouse ministry to be a “liability”? This is sad.
    No one is without sin. God doesn’t measure sin, HE only measures our Faith. WE are to encourage greater Faith. No exclusions. I do agree that there needs to be a mission in place to give more “one on one” support in certain situations. Sometimes, we become overwhelmed by the nature of the sin instead of the origin of sin. It comes from the heart. Is it sin or is it iniquity? A personal and in-depth involvement of the believer will reveal more than the appearance offers. I pray for the blessings of God’s Grace to increase with the Work of Forgiveness. AND Acceptance. That is Agape Love of God. Under these two conditions, WE WILL attain greater understanding.