By Josh Harvison
LAWRENCE COUNTY (KAIT) – It's a question that delivers quite a bit of controversy in the church setting. Should sex offenders be allowed in the church? If so, what capacity can they serve?
According to most Christian leaders, the answer is that these offenders should be allowed in the church; however, they should be closely monitored. According to Christianity Today, 80% of 3,000 church leaders surveyed stated sex offenders should be allowed in church. However, some disagree on how sex offenders should serve. Click here to read about the study.
"People make bad decisions and do some very bad things. They are involved in wickedness and immorality and evilness because they don't know Christ or they're not followers of Christ. He died on the cross so that people could have forgiveness," said Dr. Archie Mason, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro.
Mason is among the majority of pastors who believe sex offenders should be allowed in church to worship.
"As believers, the bible teaches us to be as wise as a serpent, but as gentle as a dove. We are to have wisdom. We're not to be naive about things," said Mason. "This is probably a volatile issue where people have different opinions about what should take place. All I can always say is let's go to scripture. Let's see what Christ says. Let's see how he would respond."
"I say go to the gospel, and the message of the gospel is that God has forgiven us and the result of that is we ought to forgive others," said Jason Noel, senior pastor at East Side Baptist Church in Paragould. "We start with that basic point of the gospel. You have been forgiven of that entire debt of your sin. As a result, you should be willing to forgive those who sin against you."
Noel said he's worked with sex offenders at other churches. In his 15 years of ministering, he's only worked with three registered sex offenders. He said he's never worked personally with a sex offender in Paragould.
"What is forgiveness? When we define forgiveness as I'm going to act like that what you did didn't really happen? That's not forgiveness. That's denial," said Noel. "Forgiveness is saying, I'm not going to hold you hostage to this anymore, and I'm going to process through this. I'm going to go on and as far as possible, we'll continue in relationship, but sometimes that's not possible."
Noel said while most Christians understand forgiveness, it's difficult for them to practice it. He said some crimes and sins are so egregious; a person can't forgive the offender.
"If we're talking about someone who does something that's relatively minor, most of us are good at forgiving, but the more personal it gets and egregious it gets, the more difficult it gets to forgive," said Noel.
Region 8 News found a registered level three sex offender living in Lawrence County, who agreed to talk to us only if we hid his identity. For the sake of this story, we'll call him "Bill." Bill did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation against his church.
Bill was arrested in 1990 on charges of sexual assault against a 40-year old woman. He was sentenced to spend seven years in prison for the crime, which he claims he didn't do.
"As far as anything that happened, nothing happened. I have no problem with her. I have no hard feelings against her. I've prayed for her all the time," said Bill. "She has told the people that nothing happened, which God has blessed me through this whole ordeal."