…Continued from Part 4...
OPPOSING VIEWS ON OFFENDER TRANSFORMATION
If forgiveness, and the abusive teachings surrounding it, make it the Christian F-word to many survivors of trauma and horror, the topic of hope for the offender is hard for many to stomach. For those who are in the thick of deepest trauma, this blog may not be the one to read today. It’s a topic that needs to be addressed, but it is one that — due to the dreadful mishandling of sex crimes by both church and state — is extremely traumatizing for many.
There are several popular streams of thought related to whether there is any hope for offenders at all, either in this life or the next. And the two most popular ones are also the most extreme and not the least bit healthy.
One is that if the offender says “I’m sorry”, he/she should be offered unconditional forgiveness, with no consequences or boundaries. And that is true whether caught in the act or if they come forward on their own. The minute they cry their tears and say their sorry’s, they are embraced with great rejoicing, and anyone who dares to ask questions, speak to the inherent risks with this kind of response, or fails to join in the celebration, is deemed a faltering Christian, at best. A wicked person, playing the devil’s hand, at worst.
The response at the opposite end of the spectrum is “once a child molester, always a child molester”, with no hope of them ever stopping. Some apply this broadly. If a child, pre-teen or teenager is caught (or comes forward after) molesting a child, they are doomed and destined for a lifelong curse of molesting and should be cast from society. Others apply it to adult molesters only. Anyone who believes that offenders who take full and complete ownership with no excuses or justification and humbly accept consequences and accountability, may change, is irresponsible.
I am opposed to both extremes. I believe in God, and I believe He is who He says He is. I believe He is capable of what He says He is capable of. Therefore, He can transform the life of the offender. Absolutely. And when He has, we will know it.
MANIPULATION CAUSES DOUBT TRANSFORMATION IS POSSIBLE
If victims manipulate to survive, predators do it for the thrill, and to protect whatever image they have or think they have. The religious ones will lie on technicalities. They can’t flat out lie, some of them, so they find some loophole to appease the conscience and mislead people.
For example, I sat with an offender last year and asked, “Did you molest ____ in your car?” He looked me full in the face, without flinching, and said, “No.”
This bewildered me. He claimed to be open and transparent, and willing to talk. (Which means nothing, in many cases). He said he had repented and deeply regretted his crimes. I knew he had assaulted the young woman in a very specific vehicle. I paused a moment, puzzled. And then it struck me…
“Did you molest ____ in her car?” Again, he looked me full in the face and with the same ‘honest’ expression said, “Yes.”
I’m pretty good at spotting liars. There are little signs in their body language. Little flickers in the eyes. And that first ‘technical truth’ but still a ‘technical lie’ threw me. He looked as honest with that answer as with the second. Suddenly I remembered that he had given the vehicle to the victim — one of the many thousands of dollars worth of things he gave not only her, but other women too, in his grooming — so he could say no and convince himself he is telling the truth.
There is nothing of that kind of game that speaks to the repentance he and his ‘buddies’ claimed he experienced. He was arrogant, deceptive and all manner of manipulative. That case was a crash course on how to spot the likes of him, and those who cover for them.
Contrary to his claims fo repentance, that was not the ‘fruit of repentance’ shining through. That is a master manipulator and high-risk predator at play. And I say play because it is all but a game to them. The more players they engage, the bigger their ego and the more exciting the game. They are narcissists with no capacity for caring for anyone other than themselves.
This behaviour is common, and it is this group of offenders — the majority of them, based on my experience — that make it difficult for the general population, especially abuse survivors, to believe any can ever be trusted to repent. (Which is different than being trusted to be around the vulnerable unsupervised. That should never happen). And it makes leaders who insist people trust them lose credibility too.
THE BARRIER TO TRUE FREEDOM:
The problem with offenders among us, and the rare event of such open and thorough repentance, is that many Christians — especially leaders — stand in the way of it. The deep shame surrounding the crimes they have committed — which are first sins in the eyes of God and then crimes against the victim and the laws of the land — makes it difficult for offenders to tell the whole truth of what they have done. It takes courage and commitment to sit with them and invite them to ‘tell all’ and then walk with them through the consequences.
Few leaders are willing to offer that, it seems, based on what I have seen. Some are willing to an extent, but when push comes to shove, they abandon the process at the consequences part and protect the offender. I’ve seen this up close. My theory is that they can’t follow through because they have their own history of molesting children, often in their teens, and they feel guilty standing by the consequences when they got off scot free. (Most often still having their own story hidden, or partly hidden).
I have seen this in cases that are not well known. And I’ve seen it in cases that got the spotlight. It is a common pattern that seriously needs to be addressed. If a leader groped breasts and grabbed buttocks in his youth, how is he to stand by consequences for the man who is caught doing the same thing? When a leader downplays breast-groping as not being abuse because of his own history, how will the offender trying to take ownership be helped? How will consequences be taken seriously?
IS THERE HOPE FOR CHANGE AND HOW CAN WE KNOW REPENTANCE IS REAL?
Yes, there is still hope. It is up to those of us who are aware to insist on accountability. If leaders refuse to do their part to protect the vulnerable and hold offenders accountable, the congregation needs to address it. It shouldn’t ever be only the leaders’ responsibility in the first place. But if they actively protect and defend offenders, they are standing in the way of their freedom and are no longer serving the kingdom of God effectively. It is the duty of the congregation to intervene.
Jesus says you will know them by the fruit they produce. That doesn’t mean you give them a chance to be with children so they can prove they have changed. That’s absurd. (And, yes, I’ve heard such arguments. Sheer ignorance, that is). That’s way past ‘watching for fruit’. That’s giving them opportunity to plant and sow rotten seeds. The fruit appears long before that.
Don’t mistake fake meekness for repentance. The same dude that said he didn’t molest the girl in her car — lying on a technicality — also meekly said he is willing to go back to the one person he remembered saying something in appropriate to, when I first confronted him. In reality there was a long list, and the assault victim besides.
Beware of the offender who is quick to admit and then throws in the disclaimer that there is one victim, but only one, and is super anxious for your to tell the name of that victim so he can ‘make it right’. This urgency is part of controlling the narrative to ensure the public does not find out the truth.
When offenders are truly repentant, they won’t be asking you for the names of victims. They will know and offer names, and seek to make amends — as much as one can make amends for such horrific crimes — and will do so without excuse. They will make no demands. Not even for forgiveness. Or should I say, especially not for forgiveness. They long for it, of course, but recognize that imposing such a request on their victim is not fair and serves only to serve self. They recognize that forgiveness comes from God, and not humans, and draw their strength from that. They don’t speak out of both sides of their mouth — repentance on the one hand, and blaming the victim on the other.
TRUE REPENTANCE BEARS FRUIT
In contrast to lying on a technicality, the repentant offender comes forward on his own, turns himself over to the church for discipline and the law for whatever criminal consequences he may face. If shame has held him back, when the crimes come to light he humbly acknowledges his wrong and brings himself under leadership and the law, accepting consequences. I insert this part about shame holding offenders back because I have been involved in cases where offenders responded with repentance when confronted. No excuses. No blame. One wrote years ago and shared his story and how relieved he was when it came to light, and how long he had wished he had the courage to bring it to light, but feared the victim would not remember and therefore he would impose trauma on her. While not as ideal as coming forward, if it is true repentance, it will be revealed shortly.
A repentant offender offers his remorse to the victim(s) without demanding forgiveness, admitting he does not deserve it. He is concerned for what the victims’ needs are, and respects their boundaries. If they attended the same church, he offers to go elsewhere and inform the new congregation of his past and places himself under accountability. He does not seek any positions that place him in authority over the vulnerable, and even declines them when asked. He recognizes that it is a small price to pay in comparison to what his victims have to carry for life, with the scars and pain he imposed on them.
That is true repentance. It is rare. It is unmistakably genuine. It invites trust, but also sets its own boundaries so trust will not be broken, and accepts additional boundaries, if requested. Such a repentant offender understands he/she has broken trust completely, and does not demand that people get over it, or demand silence. Their victims are free to speak without accusation, blame or shame.
Personally, I know only of three cases that were handled even close to this. (I do not doubt there are more, but I haven’t met them yet).
IS THERE A PLACE IN GOD”S KINGDOM FOR OFFENDERS?
Successfully integrating the truly repentant offenders is a community responsibility. If they were in a church with the victims, they should attend elsewhere out of respect for those they have traumatized. I would suggest this to be the ideal in all situations where victims are minors. Where they are adults, the victims’ should be consulted.
They should be accompanied by one or two individuals when in church or where there are children, if they are going to be there at all. Laws vary from region to region on this. And churches are subject to those laws. This means it is not always possible to prohibit someone from attending, even if they have a criminal record, but there are no laws preventing accountability.
They should not be placed in church leadership, or any kind of leadership with access to minors and the vulnerable, or authority over them. If we have such a shortfall of men who have not molested, that we have to put men in leadership over the vulnerable who have committed crimes, we have a bigger problem.
Families should be made aware of the individual’s history of molesting. Parents cannot protect their children if they are not informed and those who have molested – even repentant offenders — are free to roam ‘among us’ without supervision. Due to high rates of manipulation and reoffending, anything less is irresponsible.
A team should be formed to give leadership, and to ensure the social, emotional and spiritual needs of these individuals are met. The more connected they are to community with boundaries and accountability — and without access to minors or the vulnerable, the less likely they are to revert to abusing. Isolation and loneliness contribute to crime, addictions, and delinquent behaviours in general.
To counteract that, we do well to find some way to protect our children while also reducing the likelihood of repeat offences. You’ve heard it said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This, while ensuring no access to vulnerable and minors is critical. Never should children or minors be placed at risk in this process. If there are women willing to be part of social interactions with male offenders, this is healthy. (I am comfortable in such interactions as long as I know there are no minors/vulnerable at risk). It gives them opportunity to learn healthy interactions. And visa versa. But, again, with boundaries and never putting anyone at risk.
There is a place for repentant offenders. Jesus died for all, and invites all to be saved. So there is not a question surrounding grace and forgiveness. However, practically speaking, that place should never invade, disrupt or threaten the safety or space of the victimized, the vulnerable, or children.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger 2019
ANONYMOUS SEXUAL ABUSE SURVEY BY ANABAPTIST MEDICAL DOCTOR
Some time ago, a friend told me of a medical doctor (Anabaptist) who is doing research into sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. To take his survey visit:
Anabaptist Medical Matters
JASON GRAY CONCERT:
NOVEMBER 2, 2019
Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster PA
CONCERT TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC: Here
NOTE: Due to the concert being the celebration for survivors of abuse,
we ask that any who have sexually abused as adults not attend out of respect
November 2, 2019: THE GATHERING, held at Lancaster Bible College, is a place where survivors of sexual assault, together with our support person(s), collectively invite God into our grief. It is exclusively for Anabaptist survivors of sexual abuse and trusted support persons to gather for a day of acknowledging the generations of suffering and sexual violence among us. We will cry out to God, together. Come as you are in your raw brokenness, if that’s where you’re at, or in your healed togetherness. We welcome you! The itinerary is simple. It isn’t about ‘who’ or ‘how’; it is about Jesus and a safe place to meet, to grieve and heal another layer, together.
NOTE: Anyone over 18 who sexually assaulted someone – whether child or other adult – is not welcome. This does not mean they are not forgiven if they have repented. It means victims should not fear being confronted with the source of their trauma on such a vulnerable day. Security guards will be present to remove any who show up and are identified as offenders by the victims.
Until August 1, 2019, registration for the day’s events includes lunch and attendance to the evening concert with Jason Gray, whose music had brought hope and healing to countless victims. Songs like “The Wound is Where the Light Gets In“, “A Way to See in the Dark“, Sparrows“, “Nothing is Wasted“, and many more speak a language we understand.
NOTE: After August 1 concert is included dependant on availability. Once concert tickets are sold out, registrations will continue until October 1 and include lunch only.
If you are able to contribute to Generations Unleashed and our work with and for victims, you may donate via PayPal or e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit Generations Unleashed Donate.