By MARY KLAUS
When sexual offenders seek church, synagogue, mosque or temple membership, faith communities need to balance protecting victims and members in the congregation with providing the offender a chance to worship, an Atlanta minister and attorney said Monday in Camp Hill.
When clergy use pornography, congregation members and leaders need to report it to denomination officials and police.
When faith communities don’t have “safe sanctuary” policies, they need to get them now, the Rev. Joy Melton told about 125 people Monday at a “Faithful Response to Burning Issues in the Church” seminar.
“I don’t say if the situation of sexual offenders wanting to be in your congregation will happen,” Melton, a nationally recognized leader in development of ministry protection and abuse prevention policies, said at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church. “I say when.”
Sponsored by the Ecumenical Task Force for Training on Sexuality Issues, the seminar attracted clergy and church leaders from several denominations. Melton, a recognized national leader in development of ministry protection and abuse prevention policies, said that up to 20,000 convicted sex offenders are released from jail annually.
Although some tell pastors that “they found Jesus Christ in jail” or “I served my sentence,” that’s not reason enough to incorporate them into the congregation, she said.
“You need to plan ahead for these situations,” she said. “It costs a lot more for your congregation to settle a lawsuit than it does to learn how to have safe sanctuary policies and procedures.”