Your Input Needed On a Touchy Subject

Orginally published on Wednesday, August 30, 2006 at 8:00 AM
by Todd Rhoades

I received an email yesterday from an MMI reader who would like some advice. The subject matter is such that he'd like his name and church kept confidential as to not make this a bigger story than it already is. Here's his church's situation. They've reached out and given a church janitorial job to a registered sex offender. The local newspaper found out about the hiring and wrote a story about it...

Now, we can argue as to whether hiring a registered sex offender is a wise move in showing Christ’s love or not; but that’s not what this post is about; so maybe let’s try to help this church leader out with some advice before we tackle that issue.  (OK!?)

The problem is… the story written by the newspaper left out some key facts; and the wording of the story made the church look rather flippant about the hiring.  Here are some nuggets, rephrased:

--The church thinks they’re doing God’s work

--church thinks even sex offenders get a chance

--it was an easy employment decision for the church

--church calls it a nonevent

--the newspaper points out that the church is close to the city swimming pool that’s filled with kids; and that there are a lot of kids that attend the church

--elders “not concerned” and made a unanimous decision

--the church is known for helping troubled people

--another part time employee is also a registered child molestor

OK… like I said, regardless of whether the hire was appropriate or wise, how would you respond to this newspaper article that makes the church sound carefree and kind of proud of the hire?

Here’s part of the email I received:  “My church is facing a real challenge; pondering a response to an article about our church that appeared in the local paper.  Some might think the response would be a no-brainer, but others would differ.  The paper chose to leave out some important details that were clearly communicated, but I guess that’s what the press does, and they’re good at it.  Anyway, this is the report that hit the streets.  And beyond.  It was picked up by THE [regional] talk radio station and one of our pastors was interviewed on the air during the afternoon drive-time show. My goal would be to gain the insight of other believers as to the best way for our congregation to proceed…

Can you offer any help or advice?  How would you deal with this situation?  Respond, or let it go?



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 TRACKBACKS: (2) There are 31 Comments:

  • Posted by

    I suspect that at the same time I am writing my response, there are several others crafting their own.  If it were me in this situation, I would start by looking at my motives.  I’m going to start by thinking this as a fight. 

    Who will I be fighting? The press, the public my church?

    Who am I fighting for? Christ, the lost, the janitor, my church?

    Why am I fighting? To defend my decision, to see other come to the church, to defend Christ’s love?

    Once I can honestly answer these questions, I think the course of action will reveal itself.  I don’t think Christ ever intended us to fight the press for our pride, or just to defend loving others the way he wants us to.  That really needs no defense.  Just my 2 cents.

  • Posted by

    I think responding is in order, but perhaps first there should be some safeguards in place to which their response could refer.  For example; the employee only works during shifts when children are not participating in church programming, he is closely supervised (and mentored at the same time).

    The response could then fill in some blanks that the article left out, respond to some of the inferences, communicate grace without being defensive or preachy.  Yes, we do believe that even sex offenders deserve a second chance, not to work with children, but to turn his/her life around and learn how to become a contributing citizen.  Our leaders are very concerned, about finding a way to fulfill the mission we believe we’ve been called to, wisely and lovingly.  Making this hire with great caution and safeguards is part of how we believe we’ve done that.

    However, if the paper is going to edit the response, it may only add fuel to the flame.  Perhaps a response via letter to the editor would be better.  Don’t those get printed mostly unedited?


  • Posted by Joel

    This is hard to comment on, since I’m not in the situation.

    I think you should stand by your decision, but responding might not be in your church’s (or the janitor’s) best interest.

    I think that the best way to shield this man (who should be a priority) from the hatred of the community, and to show him the love of Christ, is to love him enough to be above the name calling and judgement of the world.

    Your reputation might be at stake in the short-term, but it will pass. What is really at stake here is your new employees eternity.

    I think that employing this man is a beautiful picture of grace - no wonder there’s persecution! I will be praying that this man recognizes this grace, and that it becomes irrestible to him.

  • Posted by

    I think a letter to the editor of the paper would be appropriate.  Those letters are not edited, unless of course they include profanity, etc.  Now, the paper has the right to not print the letter, but my guess is that they would seeing as how it’s a controversial subject.  I definitely think the letter should be written, proofread and prayed over by the pastor and elders of the church to ensure that they do have the right motives for it in the first place and that it’s a response that reflects the church’s position on the subject, as well as not attacking the original author of the article.

    But I say all of the above with the knowledge that no matter what the church states as it’s position, there are going to be people that believe the “truths” of the original article and will bash the church without thought.  The community as a whole may do well though to understand the REAL reasons behind the church’s decision and maybe even give hope to some who thought they would be ostracized by going to church because of their own sins.

  • Posted by

    Please excuse the anonymous post, but I read here regularly and post comments occasionally.  There is usually more to stories like this than the media airs, the media will distort things to either make the church look bad or look good depending on their agenda.

    What were the sprcific circumstances of the guys “sex” conviction?  Was it with children?  How long ago was it?  Does he have any contact with children at the church, or does he only perfom janitorial duties when no one is there?

    I’m sure the media has or could have found out all these facts, but they chose not to air them.  Probably because they mitigate the claims against the church.

    I say this because I was convicted of a “sex” offense.  Would you consider hiring me?

    When I was quite young I was engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with a consenting adult in a secluded, although public, area.  We thought we were quite alone and no one would discover us.  We were wrong and were arrested and convicted of “public lewdnes”.  Today, a couple of dozen years later, I have to put that conviction on any application I make and hope to have a chance to explain the circumstances.  If I don’t get a call in response to the application I have to ponder whether it is due to lack of qualification or due to a teenage indiscretion.

    So again, would you consider hiring me?  Most wouldn’t.

    I love children and would never do anything to harm a child, but I strictly avoid any contact with the child care facility at our church.  Specifically to avoid putting my church in the position of having to defend itself against such accusations.

    Do I think this church should respond?  That depends on facts not in evidence, what are the circumstances of the man’s conviction?  If in retrospect the decision was a sound one?  IF so, then they should defend it. To not defend it is to leave this man hanging and to allow the media to tarnish the reputation of the church.

  • Posted by kent

    I believe a proactive approach would be the most beneficial. The church prayerfully considered the issue and made an informed decision. They most likely have safe guards in place to protect the children, community and congregation. There is going to be a high level of reactivity from the community because these stories are given a lot of play and they also play on the fears of the parents.

    I will would send a letter to the community that surrounds them, another to the membership of the church and I would take an ad in the paper and write an open letter. If this is a decision they are not embarrassed by, then stand and explain yourself. I would not go into the man’s conviction, but state clearly what, why and how - what the processes was and safe guards are, why you did it, and how you will work with the community. They did nothing illegal, or immoral. They touched the life of a person whom the community considers the least of these. Lift pu the gospel of forgivneness and hope. They also have a track record of dealing with this type of offender. They know what to do.

    Respond unapologetically and clearly.

  • Posted by Bill A

    I agree with the above comments by everyone. I would recommend a letter to the editor. Short and sweet.

    I would also recommend having a more lenghty letter ready if someone (concerned citizen, neighbor, etc) contact the church with concerns. But I would keep those letters just for the people who personally contacted the church. No sense in making the story bigger than it is.

  • Posted by

    A letter of response is fine… but could be chosen to be excluded from press… I think if the church as a whole is up to defending it’s leadership’s decision, then they could write the letters.  Multiple ones… expressing their own trust in the hiring process. 

    I am assuming that their actually is aprocess of investigating the offense and managing the risks (as their needs to be with EVERY employee).  This is an unfortunate conflict between the church and the world’s media, but we shoulod all expect it.

    To anonymous… sin’s consequences follow us all.  God does not disquailfy us due to past sin.  (King David, the adulterer = man after GOd’s own heart)… I have found that my own brutal honesty about my past failures has allowed me to be ‘disqualified’ from serving only in places where I would not have enjoyed being anyway! 

    His grace is enough for me.

  • Posted by Rick

    I’ve got to agree with the one who said no response might be the best response. Arguing “our side” is pointless mostly - my argument is better than your argument doesn’t make it right. If it’s right, it’ll work out - just be sure it’s right.

    I would think they’re doing the right thing from what little we know. Be confident in that, and just live life together as a church committed more to changing lives than to “being right”.

  • Posted by

    Agree with previous posts.  Proceed with a wise response.

    Also, don’t be afraid to quote the Word of God in your response (remember, there’s power from the heart of God through His Word.) And think of this situation, not as a crisis, but an opportunity; an opportunity to not only show this man Jesus through your words and deeds, but to also reflect the love and grace of God through Jesus to your community. I don’t remember the exact address, but I believe Jesus said something to the effect, “If I be lifted up, I’ll draw men unto myself.”

  • Posted by

    Just as a matter of caution.  Check with your insurance company to see if by hiring this man you put the church in danger of not being covered in case of a lawsuit. For some insurance companies if use a volunteer or hire a person whom you know to have been convicted of a sex crime, you void any insurance coverage you may have if a lawsuit develops in relationship to the actions of that person.  Just a caution.  It is sad that it is that way when you are trying to help the man turn his life around but a lawsuit could take the church under financially.

  • Posted by

    From what I’ve read here and in the past...I think I would be Shadowette’s friend if I ever met her...fantastic and Godly advice given on the very first comment to this article.  Your 2 cents are great.

  • Posted by

    I have worked with offenders for seven years. I applaud congregations to help ex offenders transition back to the community. I work with a faith based group that does inprison reentry programming and follow guys to the streets for a year. This is our advice for a church where a sex offender wants to go: Make sure the leadership team knows that he is a sex offender. The offender in question should always have a “buddy” accompany him to the church building and every where he goes. That is for his protection as well as any one else.
    I would never advise a church to hire a sex offender for a janitorial position that would put him potential private contact with a child. That is dangerous for all parties involved.

  • Posted by Kirk Longhofer

    As a crisis public relations practitioner for more than 20 years…

    You can’t unring this bell.  The original response was not well handled, and unless you have professional help, you will likely make things worse by continuing the dialogue in the press.

    Instead, you need to concentrate on communicating with your stakeholders.  They would include your members, key leadership, other churches you are affiliated with, and any other group you think would have been impacted by the annoucement.

    Communicate your message clearly to these groups.  The media will be done with it in 24 hours.  By writing a letter to the editor, you will extend the story into the next news cycle… and the next… and the next…

    If you would like some assistance, please feel free to contact me.


  • Posted by

    Leave it to the professional to provide the most level headed, unemotional advice.  Thanks Kirk. 

    Can’t speak for the rest of today’s advisors, but I am wired to always want to say something . . . anything . . . which (I think) will make things better somehow . . . but I’m sure sometimes make things worse (yes, I admit to being a dead horse beater too often).

    The comment about stakeholders is good advice for some less-than-crisis situations too. 


  • Posted by Kirk Longhofer

    If you would like to see an example of a similar situation that was, from all accounts, very well handled, take a look at this story.


    The difference here is that the response came to the community involved.  Media was not the primary focus.  They came, and were dealt with well, but the church worked first to deal with their own members, and the neighborhood involved.


  • I do not know the details to offer much advice, nor do I want to get into whether the hiring was a good or bad thing, but I can say this: if you believe that the press is purposely misrepresenting you, and they will not print letters to the editor, you may have to bite the bullet and buy an ad in the paper.

  • Posted by

    My Friend,

    You don’t hire a sex offender in a place where children are or will be -period.  There are plenty of jobs out there that a recovering sex offender can work… the church, a school, camp, etc is not the location.

    Sorry but your laps of judgment created a situation where the “world” has had to confront you on your decision to hire this person.  The paper was right to print the article even though they might have got some things wrong – the bottom line is, is that a sex offender was hired by a church and the John Q. Public, who might attend that church, has a right to know.  I am a parent who would want to know.


  • Posted by Rick

    [sarcasm]Perhaps since this is the unforgiveable sin, the one that God cannot and will not change the heart of the offender, .....[/sarcasm]

    As a parent, I would want to know, too. But as a human being, I’ve got no real problem with the hiring in good faith with guidelines for his and our protection, as someone else has pointed out.

  • This discussion is going amuck.

    Please note two things:

    (1) We were asked not to comment as to whether the hire was a wise move or not.

    (2) There is a big distinction between forgiveness and credibility; we can forgive someone and, in many instances, give them opportunities to re-establish credibility. But some sins/beahaviors are so dangerous that we (wisely) withhold the opportunity to establish complete credibiliy, even though we have completely forgiven.

  • Posted by

    HI folks, maybe it’s time for more details.  I am the source of the article.  This is happening in my church.  Thanks to Todd for placing it on MMI.  I really appreciate the input and wisdom MMI readers provide.  I am a regular reader and occasional poster, but am posting under a different email address to maintain some confidentiality.

    I appreciate everyone’s initial comments.  Now here’s “The Rest Of The Story.”

    Much has happened since the article was published.  But first some background:
    The individual mentioned as a “part-time employee who is also a registered child molester” was not an employee of the church but was doing some custodial work as part of a “work-fare” program administered by the county.  It seems the county has a “Don’t ask/don’t tell” policy regarding such things and makes no attempt to notify those to whom their clients are referred.  We found out about her conviction by checking a sex offence registry website.  After the article came out, the county asked us to certify in writing that she would have absolutely no contact with children.  While she was closely supervised, we didn’t feel we could go that far, so we asked the county to reassign her. 

    The other individual is a life-long member of the congregation, now in his mid 40’s.  He has always been active in areas of volunteer ministry in the church, mostly in the adult music programs.  He is well-known and greatly loved in the church.  About 8 years ago a situation arose which resulted in him being convicted of “annoying a minor.” It was based primarily on inappropriate Internet material that was seen by students in his middle-school classroom.  The family of one of the kids in the class pushed this through the courts.  The prosecution portrayed him as a sexual predator and asked for a 2 year prison tem.  The judge disagreed and sentenced him to 36 months probation, citing the fact that no children were touched and that no effort was made to be alone with children.  The individual completed probation with no problems, and this is the only violation of any kind on his record.  Because of his status as a low-risk offender and the successful completion of probation, he is not required to be listed on sex-offender websites. 

    He was being considered for the “Facility Manager” position and people generally felt really good about having him on staff.  He was told he had been chosen for the job, at which point he gave 2 weeks notice to his employer.  On his last day at his old job, the article came out.  At about the same time, the church became aware of insurance questions.  In light of that, the job offer was retracted.  Of course, he and his family are devastated and feel that the wounds of the whole trial and conviction have been ripped open so that salt could be rubbed in.  And he is unemployed.

    Initial investigations indicate that hiring him could result in the church’s liability insurance being dropped.  The company that issued the church policy specializes in insuring churches and is the main insurer for our denomination.  That company’s underwriter (Lloyd’s of London) has a “zero-tolerance” approach to convicted sex offenders regardless of high-risk or low-risk status.  However there is some uncertainty over whether the church policy specifically makes such a statement.  It’s being looked at.  It would seem to me that if the policy does not specifically exclude such a category, the company could not deny coverage.

    We are not in a good place right now.  There is still strong support for hiring the individual, but the insurance issue is a sticking point.  The general opinion is that we know this individual well enough to think risk is no greater than with any other candidate.  I suspect a few might disagree, but they’re not speaking up.  Others think we need a blanket policy excluding anyone ever convicted of any sex offence from employment so that the community will see us as safe.  Of course that would exclude one of our own who already quit his job because of our offer of employment.

    The pastors and church leadership are looking for options on how to proceed, including the possibility of other insurance.

    Any thoughts?

  • Posted by Derek

    Thanks for the additional information.  This is my first post here - having been referred from churchmarketingsucks.com.  Even with this additional insight, shadowette’s wisdom still applies and seems a good basis for guiding our prayers on this matter.

    It seems as though you have decided to not pursue this publicly - i.e. not sending a letter to the editor.  Working in PR I’m always skeptical of letters to the editor on things that fall short of outright deception or clearly unfair attacks on me or my client.  Certainly, the case you’ve made here should be the framework for such a letter.  But letters to the editor generally come across as very defensive unless carefully worded and complemented by some other pro-active steps to communicate your position. 

    One such step could be to hold a community town hall with the church’s immediate neighbors.  The pro’s of this would be to air your case with those most “at risk” (sorry, couldn’t think of a better term) and clearly articulate what it means to love someone who messed up (as we all have, though most in different ways).  It also allows the community to air their concerns and positions the church as a forum for community discussion (as long as you are open to facilitating a heated discussion and approach it with love, grace, and humility). 

    Another proactive step on the PR front could be to partner with other churches, organizations, and government agencies in the area (like this county program) to develop a “protocol” or something on how to develop a just, yet appropriately difficult, way of living next to those convicted of sex crimes.  Develop ways to protect kids and ideas for how to help these folks deal with what I can only call a sickness that few of us understand.  Another idea might be to solicit advice from therapists in the area or offer counseling services to parents worried for their kids safety.  Again, all with an eye towards making the church a community leader and central to facing difficult issues in a proactive manner - there are few that I think are more difficult for a community to face.

    As to the insurance questions, that’s above my pay grade.  However, it seems like an issue Prison Fellowship might be able to offer some wisdom on. 

    No matter what you all decide, we share your burden of seeking to love those in our midst no matter their past and defending that love - the love of Christ himself - to the rest of the world.  Our prayers are with you.

  • Posted by

    My first response is “What Would Jesus Do?” I know this saying is used way too much in our world, but how did Jesus “hire” his disciples?  Do you think he was concerned about what the community said?  My goodness, he “hired” a tax collector of all things!  smile “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12 Jesus’ first concern was God’s will.  If God was guiding him, then he knew that God would provide.  What is the church’s purpose?  Is it to do what the world wants us to do?  Is it to do what the insurance companies tell us to do?  No, it is to do God’s will and to share the Gospel to the nations.  I know this sounds simple and your church is in a sticky situation.  However, if you and your staff have prayed and you know that it is God’s will to hire this man, then do it!  I think I would rather face God knowing that I had done what He asked than worry about what the community or the media says.

    Psalm 64 is my favorite and maybe you can share it with this poor man faced again with judgement from the world.  I can’t even imagine what he and his family must be feeling at this moment.  The “sex offender” cases these days are like the modern witch trials.  I am so amazed by the world and how they attack even those that are falsely accused, but then again why should I be amazed by what the world does.  There seems to be no justice or trying to find the truth when it comes to the world.

    “Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from that noisy crowd of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows. They shoot from ambush at the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly, without fear. They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, “Who will see them?” They plot injustice and say, “We have devised a perfect plan!” Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning. But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down. He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn. All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done. Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!” Psalm 64

  • Posted by jenn

    Interesting discussion. Our church went through (and in some respects is still going through) a similar, but not identical PR crisis. The one thing I haven’t seen mentioned in the above comments is the value of communicating via your church’s website. Our coverage in the media was less than fair, so we turned to our church’s site as a way to communicate our side to the public, to our congregants and to media. Is some cases, the media included our “official statement” in their coverage. The most important help for us was using the site to communicate to the congregation. Rumors and division within the church are far more destructive than the passing negative news coverage. Furthermore, by using your site as a vehicle for message delivery, you can control the information.

  • Posted by

    Well, your church HAS to have its insurance… This is the best example of being between a rock and a hard place I’ve seen in a LONG time…

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