Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forgiving the Seriously Fallen

Two matters came my way today that both made me stop, think, and wonder.  The first was a question from a friend who knows a Christian man (former church worker and teacher) who is facing serious jail time for molesting underage boys--repeatedly.  Much like the Jerry Sandusky case, it has generated a lot of hatred and recrimination, and it has devastated his wife.  He expresses repentance, remorse, regret, sorrow--you name it.  He will be punished for his crimes, and should be.  But Christians, including some that my friend talked to, hold out no hope of this man ever being changed, or even worthy of redemption.  Society and mental health professionals tend to agree that he is hopeless.  Christians join others in saying they hope there is a special place in hell for such people.  But will he be in hell?  Could he be truly saved and that messed up?  The question that I was asked: has this become the unpardonable sin--perhaps not to God, but to us?  Do we just let such people be locked away and forget about them?

The second was an article I'd actually seen when it popped up in my email in a newsletter I read.  I saw the title Going to Hell with Ted Haggard, and wasn't sure I'd be interested.  Then I saw it was the most-read article of any week that this long-time Christian publication has been on the web, so I thought I would read it.  It was convicting.  I'd urge you to click on the linked title and go read it.  Now.  I'll wait.

OK, welcome back.  Interesting to contemplate, isn't it, especially the statement by the atheist that the thing that keeps him from ever becoming a Christian is that we say that God accepts you just as you are, but when one of us in the church falls publicly, we tend to "eat our own."

As a church with multiple children's and youth ministries, we take protection of children seriously.  And as believers in the high and holy calling of a pastor/overseer/elder, we know that the public sins of leaders can have far-reaching consequences inside and outside the church.  Yet, does the gospel of grace extend to repentant child molesters, and if so, is it grace strong enough to make them a functioning part of a local assembly?  And does God's grace ever forgive and restore fallen leaders to any usefulness beyond sitting quietly in the shadows?

I guess I have another question to wrestle with in my "No Easy Answers" series.