Would your church welcome someone who did time for sex offences against minors?

“As part of my probation conditions, I have to stay away from places where there are families,” says Joe Patterson, “so that made finding a church hard.” It didn’t help that when he was released from prison, a local newspaper printed a full-page photo of Patterson along with his record of sexual offences against minors. The comment sections of news websites teemed with vitriol at the report of his re-entry into society.

Sitting at the kitchen table of his modest Winnipeg apartment, Patterson speaks without pretension, like someone who does not take for granted a second chance at life. His partner — who attends a United Church — sits on the couch nearby, typing on a laptop.

Having worked hard at rehabilitation while in prison, Patterson was eager to start over. But after his release, venturing into public, including to church, made him nervous. “Part of the challenge in reintegrating is facing the fear that no one is going to want to have anything to do with me,” he says.

Society is primed to revile and fear people with histories of criminal offence, particularly those convicted of sex crimes against children. Most communities react with concern — or outright hostility — when they learn that a pedophile has moved into the neighbourhood. But fear left to fester serves no one, except perhaps politicians, who hope their tough-on-crime resolve will turn the dark sentiments of voters into their political gain. In Ottawa, the federal government is currently upping the toughness ante with a proposed crime bill that will make laws harsher, sentences longer and, presumably, public sentiment toward offenders more hostile.

Within faith communities, the presence of someone who has transgressed against society’s most vulnerable can test the bounds of acceptance and inclusivity. And yet, some churches are choosing courage over fear and responding in a way that is both more merciful and more effective. They offer people with histories of criminal offence another chance, while still taking seriously the realities of evil.

“We’re not here to judge or condemn anyone,” says Pastor John Woodman of Grace Community Chapel . . . .

Read the full article on the Observer website.

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  1. I currently serve in an evangelical church as the student ministry pastor. I know that we have at least one known ‘sex offender’ attending our church. He maintains he’s innocent, but served time for having sex with an under-age girl. Compounding things, he was a youth pastor at the time of his arrest and the girl was in his youth group.
    As a father of two daughters and as a student ministry pastor I feel the need to make sure children and young people in our congregations are provided with a safe and non-threatening environment in which they can individuate. However, as a student ministry pastor who daily struggles to live out the gospel in a way that is theologically consistent with the ministry and life of Jesus, I desire to be a part of community that is inclusive, forgiving, compassionate and restorative.
    The reality is that we choose not to think theologically about many things and when we do it’s usually about things that are convenient or easy for us. Sadly, what we say about who we understand Jesus to be is often inconsistent with our praxis. We teach our young people and Jesus that all are equal his eyes, neither male nor female, Greek or Jew, black or white…and then our actions teach that those categories don’t included convicted felons, sex offenders and even the homeless.
    I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out…I’m just stumbling forward one step at a time on my knees towards a life that looks more like the life Jesus lived…and those skinned knees hurt sometimes.

    Kris November 28th, 2011 6:43pm

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