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Forgiveness and Rehabilitation

Because the safeguarding of children must always be paramount, we take the view that anyone who has committed any kind of sexual offence against a child in the past should not normally be permitted to hold any position of trust with children or young people in the life of the church. Some find this view a challenge to the Christian gospel of forgiveness and the offer of new life which we find in Jesus.
  • Are we denying the Christian gospel of forgiveness?

  • Are we calling into question the power of Jesus to transform a person’s heart?

These are challenging questions which need to be taken seriously. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the Christian church has used the language of forgiveness and ‘second chance’ somewhat lightly in the past and has effectively colluded with those who have used their positions of trust in the church to gain the opportunity to harm and abuse children. Experience has taught us that the perversion that leads to the sexual abuse of children is deeply ingrained into the personality of the abuser. There is an addictive character to such behaviour. In the light of this the following reflections can be made.
  • The experience of being forgiven and restored by God is for all of us an on-going process. For all of us there are areas of our lives that are more impervious to the influence of the gospel than others. In living out the prayer ‘lead us not into temptation’ we will all have particular areas of our lives where we know that we need to avoid being in situations that will lead to the kind of temptation that is a particular weakness for us.

  • For those who have harmed children in the past it is wise for them not to put themselves into situations where their weakness can be exploited. The journey towards wholeness will not be helped by being placed in positions of responsibility and trust for children.

  • The gospel of redemption and forgiveness is always lived out in the context of a world that remains broken. Sin has damaging effects that endure in people’s lives. When people are hurt by our sinful actions their pain may endure long after we have discovered the assurance of God’s forgiveness in our lives. The process of being forgiven will involve facing up to the seriousness of our sin and recognising the impact that it has had on others. All of us have to learn to live with the consequences of our sinfulness, and some of those consequences are long term. For those who have abused children and young people one of the consequences will be the discipline of not working with children and young people in the future in recognition of the continuing pain that others have to carry into their future because of the abuse perpetrated in the past.

  • The way of forgiveness always entails risk. When we restore a relationship with someone who has broken trust in the past, we do so at the risk that they will break that trust again in the future, with all of the consequent pain. The risks are taken in order to open out the transforming possibilities of reconciliation. However, to take the risk of placing those who have offended against children in the past in positions of responsibility and care for children in the present is a risk that we do not have the right to take. We have the right to take the adventurous risk of forgiveness when we ourselves will bear the cost of its failure. We do not have the right to take such risks when the cost of failure will be borne not by ourselves, but by those who are vulnerable and for whom the potential cost is incalculable.

  • While we should not call into question the power of God to transform a person’s heart by the power of the Spirit, such that the heart of a child abuser can be transformed and made whole, we must always be cautious about our own ability to discern when such a transformation is genuine and when it is not. At the very core of the personality of a person who abuses children is the ability to deceive both adults and children – the ability to play the part of someone with genuine concern for children and of a person who can be trusted. It will always be difficult for us to discern when a person’s repentance and healing is authentic. What is more, the person who has been genuinely transformed will recognise that deception has been part of their pattern of behaviour in the past and will accept the need for the church to be cautious and not place children at risk.

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