The pastoral care of men and women who are sexual predators against children...

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Here is a hypothetical situation. The details are likely similar to many situations faced by the pastors and elders of churches around the country, including Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. This is no surprise since the sexual abuse of children is so pervasive in our wicked nation today.

This post is written out of two decades working with children and adults who are victims of these crimes, as well as the criminals who committed the crimes. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to church officers and Titus 2 women who may be wondering what principles to follow in their own congregation.

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Let us assume a case in which an adult man1 who confesses faith in Jesus Christ is found guilty in civil and church courts of multiple acts of predatory sexual violence over several years time against minor children unrelated to him by blood or marriage. Regardless of whether this man confessed Christian faith or appeared to be remorseful and repentant, Christians of sound spiritual judgment would, I believe, not condemn the penal codes of many centuries of Christendom which put such a man under sentence of death. We would agree that capital punishment of this crime against children is just to all concerned, from the sinner himself, to his victims and their families, to the church and her members, and society at large. Our Lord warned...

it would be better for a man to have a millstone hung on his neck and be thrown into the sea than to commit such terrible wickedness:

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.  - Matthew 18:5-10

The sexual corruption of little children is precisely the sort of sin Jesus is warning against here, and He doesn't say anything about repentance or mercy or grace when he recommends cutting off the hand or foot or plucking out the eye out of a commitment to avoid committing such terrible wickedness. This is the reason the civilized world of Christendom in past centuries executed such criminals. The question wasn't whether they could repent and be forgiven; the question was whether repentance and forgiveness, even if judged sincere, constituted a proper reason to commute or suspend the execution of such a man. And in this connection, there are many historical records of the confessions of sin and execution sermons given by criminals and their chosen pastor immediately prior to their execution that provide every indication of sincere repentance and hope in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and yet the historical record provides no hint of resultant leniency or clemency on the part of the civil courts, magistrates, or executioners.

In other words, to cut a man off from the land of the living as punishment for his crime has, in prior centuries within Christendom, never been understood to be cutting him off from repentance, forgiveness, and a certain hope of Heaven. Rather it was the just punishment that matched the awfulness of the crime and no one questioned God's mercy, grace, or justice in light of His command of this punishment. This punishment was accepted by all previous generations of Christians as just and merciful to society and the victim and his family, but also to the criminal himself. He no longer needed to fear committing the crime again. He no longer needed to fear the lusts and temptations that led him to commit the crime in the first place. So it could be said that capital punishment was a mercy to such criminals.

But say a society were to be so very wicked that it ceased executing those who raped children, and instead incarcerated them. What then?

Well, we all know what happens to child abusers who land in prison. These criminals are tortured and often murdered by fellow inmates. As it turns out, there is honor among thieves. When the civil magistrate doesn't execute men found guilty of child rape and sexual torment, very often their fellow prisoners carry out the sentence the civil magistrate refused to pronounce and enforce. I had a close friend who worked as a chaplain in the super-max prison near our home in Wisconsin and he told me of the joy he had participating in the baptism of Jeffrey Dahmer shortly before Jeffrey's death. During his pastoral counselling of Jeffrey leading up to his baptism, Jeffrey told my friend he knew the prisoners were about to kill him, and so they did. But he had repented of his wickedness and been baptized, and I hope I will soon meet him before the throne of God with us both clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

But say a society were to be so very wicked that it ceased executing such criminals, and then ceased imprisoning them. Say it paroled them, releasing them back into society while warning them never to rape little children again. Say that, when released, such a man attended church faithfully always accompanied by a court-ordered supervisor, and there this man met a woman that he desired to have as his wife. Say he spoke to the woman's father, asking for her hand in marriage. Say you or I were her father.

Would we give him permission to take our daughter's hand in marriage?

Maybe you would, but I would not. If I were inclined to do so, though, my wife would quickly bring me to my senses and I would change my answer from "yes" to "absolutely no." No, it would not matter in the least how repentant my dear Christian brother claimed to be, nor how repentant my pastor and elders assured me he was, nor how long his repentance had seemed genuine to anyone and everyone of Christian faith in our community and church. I would never allow my daughter to marry this man, assuming she and he requested my permission and were not determined to marry regardless of whether or not my permission was forthcoming. Why would I never give my permission?

Because it would never be right to knowingly place that man in a position to have private access to any little children ever again, and private access to little children is the very essence of fatherhood which is one of the principal goals of God's institution of marriage. By his crimes this man, dear Christian brother, hypocrite, or unbeliever, has forfeited any right to father and raise children. Repentance or not, we cannot take him back to a time and state prior to his corruption and sexual violence against little ones, and thus he will to the end of his life be a man never again to be trusted with children. Forget recidivism rates. Forget forgiveness. Forget repentance. All these things, legitimate as they are of themselves, remain beside the point with this man. He must never again be put in the position of being a stumbling block to our Lord's little ones. Never. He has proven himself unworthy of being trusted with little ones already, both with multiple victims and on multiple occasions. How on earth can anyone in their right mind ever again grant him access to little ones, and what is the giving of a daughter's hand in marriage but the commendation of her to the man to join him in fruitful love and propagate a godly seed.

So no, a godly father with any amount of wisdom or godly counsel from his wife and church would never give his daughter's hand in marriage to a man convicted of the sexual corruption of multiple unrelated children over multiple years. He cannot allow his daughter to place her sons and daughters, his grandsons and grangranddaughters, under the private leadership and jurisdiction of such a man. Never!

But what if a father of the church did give his permission to such a man to marry his daughter and this man and his intended wife were to come to the officers of the church and request they be married in a church ceremony? How should the officers of that church answer that request?

They should cover the foolishness of that father by themselves refusing to preside over the ceremony, or even to allow it. They should have told this man whom the state refused to execute or imprison that he must never have children, and thus must never marry. He must make himself a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Thus we have led here at Clearnote Church, Bloomington, as well as in other churches where the pastors or elders have asked for our counsel and assistance. In two recent cases, we have counseled wives to divorce their husbands because of their husbands' sexual crimes against their own children and the children of others. We have also sent any number of men and women to the police station to confess their crimes, and when that wasn't appropriate, we have gone to the child protective services ourselves. And again, to report the crimes of both men and women.

Finally, it is hard to state the difficulty of knowing the right path in these situations and coping with this difficulty while leading a church and her souls is worthy of another post of its own. People are quick to judge pastors and elders for what they see as bad decisions, but often their criticisms of those pastors and elders' decisions would vanish if they knew the people and circumstances firsthand. This is the reason I am not sympathetic to those who have demonstrated such hatred and bile towards Sovereign Grace and C. J. Mahaney, as well as any number of other pastors and elders hauled into the public limelight by a man seeking a mob to follow him and strengthen the blows he's giving his former pastor/elder/boss out of his bitterness. 

For the past ten years or so, I've been reminding our pastors and elders, as well as pastors and elders of other churches, that no elders, pastors, and sessions ever engage in the discipline of any sin without adding to the pile of sin themselves before their work is over. There is no such thing as a sinless pastor, elder, or Titus 2 woman, just as there is no such thing as a perfectly wise judgment of pastors, elders, and sessions. We are fallen men and women with feet of clay, and yet we are the ones God has called to shepherd His flock. A certain sort of person will never stop punishing us and screaming bloody murder on the internet when we sin and fail, but if we wait to guard the good deposit and seek out the one lost sheep until we believe we can do that work without sin or without error of judgment, we'll never begin our work.

For this reason, Christians not called to be church officers or TItus 2 women should watch themsleves lest they become discouragers of their leaders through their rebellion, bitterness, gossip, petty criticism, or slander. Certainly we want to know our sins and failures and are grateful for the men and women in our church who tell them to us whether those souls are men or women, older or younger. Our wives, as I often say from the pulpit and in person during pastoral counselling sessions, are helpful to us as husbands when they point out our sins and errors, and so are the souls under our care helpful when they point out the sins and failures of their church leaders and officers.

But it should be done with love and affection, as well as some clear demonstration of respect for the office held by the man or woman we are correcting. There should never be glee when our leaders fall, but too often that is the best word to describe the tone and mood of internet forums specializing in fomenting rebellion against authority, both ecclesiastical and familial.

If this is you, repent of it, please. Instead of rejoicing in evil, love and pray for your leaders and support their work in every way possible. Assure them that your love and support is not conditional to them demonstrating perfect righteousness and perfection of judgment. This is true godliness in submission.

Those of us in authority within the church never stop trembling at this warning from God:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.  - James 3:1, 2

Those not in authority within the church should never stop trembling at this warning from God:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.  - Hebrews 13:17, 18

  • 1. Women also commit sexual crimes against children and their crimes are not limited to the near-universal cover up wives provide their husbands. We have commanded and received the confessions of a number of women who have hidden the abuse of their children, but also women who have themselves been the abusers of their own daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers. Anyone who works with sexual predators and their victims and speaks as if sexual predators are always and only men is either uninformed or lying.
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!