The devil you know

A letter from an insurance company to a local church demanding that it strictly limit the participation of known sex offenders among its members says more about the insurance industry than about the congregation. The insurance company is within its rights to make whatever demands it pleases, but the congregation has every right to take its business elsewhere, and perhaps it should.

The issue arose when Set Free Christian Fellowship told its insurance carrier, Church Mutual, that there were known sex offenders in its congregation. Church Mutual told the fellowship that it must disclose to its congregation the identities of any and all sex offenders, limit their attendance to a single service each week, and require them to check in and be assigned an escort.

If the insurance company wanted to drive every sex offender out of the congregation, it could hardly have picked a more effective method.

The presence of convicted sex offenders, especially those who abused children, should be a concern of any religious organization. Reasonable precautions should be taken, such as conducting background checks on every person who has contact with children as an employee or a volunteer.

But congregational leaders can take precautions only concerning offenders they know are present. Chances are, an offender who willingly discloses his past to a religious leader is there for the right reasons.

An offender who does not disclose his record is far more dangerous — and the church cannot be expected to check the background of every person who walks through the door.

That certainly does not mean the church should assume an individual who does disclose is not a threat. Reasonable precautions still must be taken to ensure the safety of children and others in the congregation.

Disclosing offenders' identities — if they are known — to the rest of the congregation is a reasonable step. But for an insurance company to demand that offenders be limited to one predetermined service and assigned an escort goes too far.

Chad McComas, pastor of Set Free Christian Fellowship, says he fears such drastic measures would discourage offenders from disclosing their identities and drive them underground.

That would be far more dangerous than welcoming them to worship.

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