Founder's Note: Men and women convicted of sexual crimes constitute a significant and quickly growing percentage of the prison population. The church as a whole has not yet responded by learning how to minister the love and grace of Christ to these most despised members of our society, and this issue is close to our hearts at The Cell Church. The following exhortation (presented here in three parts) is much needed, and we are grateful to God and to Mr. Hardy for providing it.
I thank God for grace, and for the extraordinary opportunities to serve and minister in this place. In spite of my own sinful past and my present circumstances, I thank God for bringing me to prison - where His mercy and grace abound. We serve an amazing and wonderful God.
I thank God for those who minister outside of these walls, as I am given grace to minister within this prison. Although we have differing ministries and various gifts, and are entrusted with different flocks, we bring glory and honor to God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when we are "of the same mind, maintain the same love, are united in spirit and intent on one purpose" (Phil. 2:2).
I am writing in sorrow concerning one of our brothers - a servant of God and a pastor-shepherd of a large southeast valley fellowship - who fell to temptation and sin arising out of his "own desires." I am not writing to condemn, but to offer comfort and consolation to all those whose lives have been affected by this sin, especially to our brother (whom I have not met) and his family, and the women with whom he committed this sin. I pray for an abundance of mercy and a continual outpouring of God's healing grace, and a full and complete confession of sin; for only in such confession does healing and forgiveness flow (Jam. 5:13-16; Ps. 66:18; 51:17). May mercy and grace abound.
I am also writing to use this opportunity of sorrow to seek your partnership in ministering to many of our brothers who have also been guilty of sexual sin, but who are also labeled by the state as having committed a sexual "offense." This is the flock I am among - and I too am one of them - and the flock God has given me to help shepherd. Thank God for His mercy and grace!
As our brother's adultery (sexual sin) was revealed, the church appropriately and biblically accepted his resignation (1 Tim. 3:2-7). Church leaders stated, "We are committed to helping (him) rebuild his marriage and we have offered all of the mercy and counseling resources of our church to help him and his family through this time. In addition, we have offered the same resources to the women involved. Our priority right now is helping all of those involved, including the people of our church, to heal from this." One church member noted, "(This is) a reminder anyone is capable of anything, regardless of position, status, or religious preference. (He) is accountable for his actions...(and) my family will continue to love and support his family any way we can...(the church) has not lost focus on its vision to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly (with our God)" (Micah 6:8).
This response is very encouraging and gives me hope; however, one question remains: Are church leaders and members also willing to extend such mercy and grace to a brother whose sexual sin has been labeled by the state as a "sexual offense?" If so, when does such mercy and grace begin? If not, why not?
The authority and responsibility of the state is confined to the laws written by men; while the authority and responsibility of the church is the Bible - the Holy Word of God, written by God. When the state acts outside of the authority given by the law, it is dangerous and corrupt. When the church leaders act outside of, or contrary to, the Holy Scriptures, good is overcome by evil, rather than evil being overcome by good. The founder of Prison Fellowship, the late Chuck Colson, describes true Christianity as "sacrificial love, concern for all people, forgiveness and reconciliation, and evil overcome by good." In light of this definition of Christianity, what are the respective roles and responsibilities of the state and the church in the event of a sexual sin, which is also labeled by the state as a sexual "offense?"
The law (state) does not condemn sexual sin which is not labeled as a sexual offense; in fact, it condones, encourages, and protects such sin. The state allows divorce without infidelity and other adulteries, cohabitation of consenting partners, free fornication, and homosexuality. When the church accepts and tolerates the practice of sexual sins by those who profess to be disciples, is the church conforming to the Word of God or to the whims of the world?
The Scriptures - the authority of the church - do not differentiate between a sexual sin and a sexual "offense;" nor do the Scriptures change. Which, then, is a more reliable standard for the church in considering how to respond to a sexual sin, even that which the state labels as a sexual offense: the law of the state, or the Word of God? This is not merely a rhetorical question, since how it is answered determines how the church ministers to those who have been condemned by the world ("sex offenders"), and who are called by many church leaders "pariahs, outcasts, modern day lepers," and are even described by one "Christian" publication as "The Monsters Among Us."
How shall the church, the body of Christ, respond to a person who has committed a sexual offense? The very same way it ministers to a person who has committed sexual sin: by understanding that "anyone is capable of anything, regardless of position, social status, or religious preference." The "offender" must be held accountable for his or her actions, both by the state and by the church. However, unlike the state, which judges and condemns by the law, the church must obey the Word of God and continue to love and support the offender and his family in any way they can, and to do that which God requires: "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8). Sadly, the American church is a long way from such obedience and love.
Coming Up: In Part Two, Mr. Hardy examines how the response of the church to sexual sinners who are not labeled "sexual offenders" differs from our response to those who are.