Do Sex Offenders Belong at Church?

gesuHow would you feel if you knew the person sitting next to you in church was a sex offender?

Me, I’d be pretty nervous. And I’m not the only one. Some churches are banning sex offenders from the weekly service, because they offer things like a nursery for children or Sunday school. That puts offenders inc conflict with several states’ laws that require sex offenders to stay a certain distance away from any facility that cares for or serves children.

One ex-offender, James Nichols, is suing the state of North Carolina over its law requiring sex offenders stay 300 feet from any facility that serves children. Sadly, he got arrested when he called police to report a fellow congregant at Moncure Baptist Church fondling a 12-year-old girl. When police checked his record, they found his second-degree attempted rape conviction and took him off to jail.

Nichols credits religion with keeping him on the straight and narrow, and now attends a church which caters to ex-cons like himself and has no children as regular congregants.

This is a tough one. On the one hand, these laws don’t necessarily keep kids safe — the man Nichols called the cops on was an ex-offender himself and shouldn’t have been at the church, either. And my kids are always pretty tightly supervised at church, by adults who are directly related and plenty of others who have known them since they were born. And while I can’t speak to the teaching of other faiths, Christians are supposed to be all about the love and forgiveness. Being part of a church community certainly could help these people to live better.

On the other hand, my mama bear instincts kick in and I think that I don’t want a sex offender to be in the same county as my kids let alone the same pew. While at least in my state some of the things that can land you on the sex offender registry are pretty mild — an 18 year old having consensual sex with a 16-year-old can do it — I think people who do sick things to kids are pretty much always going to be that way, and I don’t want them to have free access to kids no matter how much they have “paid their debt to society.”

Kind of a tough one, really. What do you think?

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patriciadrury/ / CC BY 2.0
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