It is estimated that half of registered sex offenders are churchgoers. So when the convicted finish serving time in jail, they want to head back to the pews. A lot of churches, however, are not ready to open their doors to the former criminals.
"I believe churchgoers are fearful and confused. Most churchgoers would agree that Jesus saves all sinners including sex offenders, but fear the offenders attending their church," said Greg Sporer, co-founder of Keeping Kids Safe Ministries. "Churches are not prepared for offenders."
Sporer serves as a prison therapist working in sex offender treatment programs and studying research. His specialization: church sex offenders.
Seventy churches a week report sexual abuse allegations, according to Christian Ministries Resources. Most of the allegations involve members of the congregation and not church staff. About a third of juveniles Sporer has treated attended church before being caught and over 50 percent planned to attend church after leaving treatment.
While concerns are raised over registered offenders, there are people already in the pews who are in secret sexual sin with a teen or child or struggling with a sexual problem.
A lot of times, non-convicted sex offenders turn to spiritual help rather than seeking professional help which could lead to a report to the authorities. Non-convicted offenders present a high risk to church kids since their sexual sin is secret. And it is difficult for them to stop offending as long as the secret is hidden.
For those involved in the church and struggling with a secret sexual sin, these "church sex offenders" deal with their sin by increasing religiosity. After each offense, church sex offenders would have intense self-loathing and increase Bible reading, prayer and participation in the church, according to Sporer, speaking from experience. Although more involved in church life and praying for God to take their sin away so they don't go to jail, church sex offenders are prevented from "true repentance and change" by the secrecy of the sin.
And most church offenders do not stop until they are caught, the ministry noted. Once convicted, however, many replace religiosity with a true relationship with Christ.
"Sex offenders are turning to God and attending churches for spiritual reasons," stated a report by Keeping Kids Safe Ministries. Steve Vann, co-founder of the ministry, says a quiet spiritual revival was taking place in prisons and jails across the country in the late 1990s with thousands of sex offenders making decisions for Christ.
"When church offenders go to jail, they usually find God," said Sporer. "Offenders in treatment often use spirituality as part of their recovery. Many of the sex offenders were churchgoers before they were convicted and rededicate their lives to God once they are released from jail or while they are on probation."
More registered sex offenders are attending church today. Churches are an attractive alternative for offenders, the ministry states, since offenders are often rejected by the community and find it difficult to find a job or keep relationships. Congregations welcome sinners.
But some churches are hesitant to accept the formerly convicted sex offender. The acceptance of a sex offender could mean the loss of some congregants or even a church split. Sporer's ministry helps congregations deal with registered offenders by preparing the church into a safe environment.
Of course, if a registered offender is violating church rules and expectations, they may need to be excluded, says Sporer, who also provides a guide to dealing with high risk offenders. But in other cases, churches are encouraged to provide a safe environment for kids and a place of healing and change for offenders.