Sex abuse in the church; some clarifications...

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A couple things as the discussion of pastoral care for child abusers and their victims in the church continues.

First, Pastor Toby Sumpter wrote a helpful post in which he disagrees with me on...

the capital punishment of serial predatory child sex abusers. Thing is, I don't believe we disagree, but only that I wrote in such a way as to easily be misunderstood. Read his post, "We Do Not Lose Heart," and then this comment (still awaiting moderation) I left beneath his post:

Excellent response to my substance, Toby, although I also appreciate your recognition that my trust in the pastors and elders of Christ Church is not in play in the slightest despite my obvious disagreement on the matter of the wisdom of officiating at, or allowing, the marriage of a serial predatory child sex abuser. Whether my own fellow pastors and elders here at Clearnote, Bloomington agree with me on that, though, is a further question that I do not know the answer to.

But to the point of capital punishment, obviously I didn’t express myself well since I do not believe what it seems you think I believe; namely, that all serial predatory child sex abusers should be executed. I do not believe that. What I was trying to say was two-fold: first, that it was not wrong for centuries of Christendom to have that penalty in their code; and second, that the reason it is not in our code or carried out today in these United States is the wickedness of our country. And there is where I am easily misunderstood. My point isn’t that the faiilure to execute all these individuals is wickedness, but that the rejection of capital punishment itself is wickedness. So no, I do not believe Scripture requires the execution of all serial predatory child sex abusers without exception. And yes, I do believe Scriptural principles require we not perform or allow their marriage.

Hope this clarifies my thoughts, dear brother. I’ve written more to clarify them in a long comment under the post, and I hope you’ll read that.

With love,

Second, here's a comment I posted earlier today that I don't want to get lost in the hurricane. As a clarification of what I wrote in the post, "The pastoral care of men and women who are sexual predators against children...," it's important:

OK, it's a new day and I'll try to clarify a couple things.

First, my remark about Sovereign Grace and CJ was not meant to call into question the hard testimony and facts concerning the child abuse there. What I am calling smelly is the hardcore attacks on CJ and other men who are not accused of child abuse. For years it was (and likely still is) a feeding frenzy, and it was led by a man anyone with half a wit should have been able to see was consumed by bitterness and, therefore, avoided like the plague. Hope that clarifies.

Second, about that little phrase Steve has found problematic, "unrelated to him by blood and by marriage," this was intended to be just a hint in the direction of the distinction between predatory and opportunistic abuse. Generally speaking, family abuse is opportunistic more than predatory, and therefore in cases where this is so, I think a different approach is called for in the future lives of the man or woman who committed the abuse. This is all I meant to indicate. I know that family abuse can be predatory and out of the family abuse can be opportunistic, also, but speaking generally, I do not think the research supports as severe parameters for the rest of the life of opportunistic abusers as for predatory abusers.

So this little phrase was only meant to be a hint in the direction of this distinction and of the different response it calls for, What I did NOT mean to do was indicate in any way that sexual abuse in the home is less destructive or wicked than sexual abuse outside the home. I'm sorry for not being clear about that. We have done much counseling and much work of exposure of sex abuse in the home, as well as incest between siblings of the same and radically different ages (often homeschoolers) and I don't want those we have counselled to think my comments about the hypothetical (which I constructed in a way that I hoped would make it clear I was talking about a serial predatory abuser) means they too should never be able to marry.

Third, I likely ought not to have put in the statement "forget recidivism rates." We have to look at recidivism rates, particularly where they differ in this and that circumstance with this and that abuser. We cannot be ignorant clinically and provide pastoral care in these situations (and I include church discipline in "pastoral care"). These rates are variable, study by study, but the general truths stand out and should be in the minds of pastors, elders, and Titus 2 women as we work with the souls of the church. We must read. We must study. We must be capable of giving wise counsel, particularly when the civil magistrate abdicates his authority and is careless about protecting the victims and potential future victims (which we've found is quite often). And this bears on matters like church attendance and living situations and marriage, etc.

Concerning marriage, I don't believe it's right for a woman or man who has proven herself or himself to be a serial sexual predator against children ever to marry. That's a key point and here's why: I believe marriage must always be between a man and woman who both are capable of having sex with their intended. If for some reason, they are incapable, it precludes Christian marriage regardless of whether or not their intended knows about it and is willing to live with it. Marrriage without one-body oneness is not and cannot be marriage. In the same way, one-body oneness in which the agreement or requirement prior to marriage is that it can never issue in children is, again, a marriage I believe to be Biblically unlawful. God's Word says He makes us one for "the propagation of a godly seed" and so we must be open to that in order to marry Biblically. Historically, the Protestant and Reformed church has always listed this as one of the three purposes of marriage and we cannot accede to a marriage which removes this purpose, whether by choice or decree of courts. I know others will disagree with me on this, and yet it is my own firm conviction.

What then are we to do when the civil magistrate releases serial predatory abusers into the common population and they are burning and would seem to be the perfect candidates for the Apostle Paul's injunction "it's better to marry than to burn?"

I don't know what to do in that situation, but I do know what NOT to do, and that is marry her or him. It must not be done. Some other solution must be found. A Christian institutionalization? Banishment to northern Montana far from civilization in an all-male environment? Estrogen therapy? I don't know, and I don't want to appear callous in saying I don't know; but I do not have to have a solution in order to rule out one of the options as unbiblical.

Finally, from before writing this post, I've had one constant thought that my fellow pastors tried to get me to put in the original text above, and that is the Old Testament law concerning the man whose ox gored once and then gores again, having not been fenced in. This is the situation with serial predatory sex abusers. If we provide church discipline and pastoral care that allows them access to more victims and more victims are created by our foolishness, we are not simply dumb. We are responsible for that sin and that's a horrible thing. A terrible thing. Really, a wicked thing. So here's the Scripture to bear in mind as we work with child sexual abuse, although it applies to much of our pastoral work in other areas as well:

"If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death"  (Exodus 21:2829).

Do I believe in the power of the Gospel for change? For healing? Do I believe "such were [past tense] some of you?" Do I depend on the power of the Holy Spirit for all my pastoral work, from preaching to counselling to church discipline? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. But being wise as serpents is no denial of being innocent as doves. Or, as President Reagan would put it, "trust, but verify." Or , as the entire book of Proverbs shouts, naivete is sin! We must not hide our naivete, complacency, laziness, fear, timidity, and so on behind cheap talk of God's grace when it comes to serial predatory child sex abusers. Such souls must never have access to children again and that is absolutely not any slightest denial of the finished work of Jesus Christ. They've had two legs amputated and must not be commanded to have faith and walk.

Hope these comments clarify some things. Thanks for your patience.


Hope these clarifications are helpful.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!