In more than a decade of research, almost every article I’ve come across addressing sex offenders in church communities reveals pastors and leaders focusing exclusively on the sex offenders—the theological grounds for their presence, the church’s obligation to care for them, how to support them, how to monitor them, how to protect ministries from potential lawsuits due to their presence, and so on—at the expense of the victims/survivors and those who love them.
But offenders are not the only ones in need of a welcome in our churches. Too often when victims/survivors are considered, it is offender focused. Survivors are told they are required to forgive or reconcile with offenders. They are subject to shaming, silencing, and the policing of their emotions and tones by those who feel entitled to advise or rebuke them. Such pressure toward reconciliation is often shortsighted and lacking in compassion.
It is time to move toward balance by shifting focus to the victims/survivors. The reality of sexual abuse dynamics means that if we want safe communities for victims/survivors and healthy communities for recovering sex offenders then we must find true empathy for victims/survivors and how sexual abuse has affected them.