Culture At Large

Would your church welcome a convicted child molester?

Andy Rau

There's a fascinating piece in the NYT this week about a church that is grappling with a tough moral question:

In late January, Mark Pliska, 53, told the congregation here that he had been in prison for molesting children but that he sought a place to worship and liked the atmosphere at Pilgrim.

Mr. Pliska’s request has plunged the close-knit congregation into a painful discussion about applying faith in a difficult real-world situation. Congregants now wonder, are all truly welcome? If they are, how do you ensure the safety of children and the healing of adult survivors of sexual abuse? Can an offender who accepts Christ truly change?

I think most of us would agree that the church should be open to most anyone, regardless of their history--especially when they are open about their past and seek help. But that commendable sentiment doesn't seem quite so simple when this sort of situation arrives at your church's doorstep. The church in question is trying to find a solution that both welcomes Priska as a fellow believer and makes sure that nobody in the church is endangered by his presence.

A few questions to ponder:

  • How would this situation play out in your church if it were to come up right this week? If this situation has come up already in your church community, how was it resolved?
  • Pliska has expressed willingness to undergo extra oversight to put fears at ease (and perhaps to keep himself well away from even the slightest hint of temptation): he'd always be accompanied by an adult and would not go near children at church. Is this a reasonable level of oversight? Is it enough? Is it uncharitable to ask a repentant Pliska to put up with this, or does the nature of his crime make it necessary?
  • A hypothetical question: if Pliska were 100% "cured" of whatever impulses drove him to molest children, could he be welcomed into the community without concern--or would the horrific nature of past actions still require some form of special oversight?
  • If welcoming a former sex offender would cause others--nervous parents, perhaps, or adults who were abused themselves as children--to feel unwelcome or unsafe, should that be a factor in the church's decision?
  • Is your church already doing what it can to prevent any form of sexual abuse from taking place within its walls? Not every sex offender, reformed or otherwise, is likely to step forward publically as Pliska has done. If you haven't already, see Kim's recent post about preventing sexual violence in the church.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, News & Politics, Justice