Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.
I once consulted with a church where a deacon was caught sexually molesting a little girl in the children’s department. He was the only adult (1st mistake) in a children’s Sunday School room with no windows (2nd mistake) and the church had never run any kind of background check on him (or any of their other volunteer workers…3rd mistake). The man fully confessed to the authorities and to the parents of the little girl, and then even more fully confessed to both a problem and a history in this area. He stood before his church and confessed as well. There was actually reconciliation between him and the injured family and there was spiritual restoration of this brother. It was a pretty extraordinary situation in that regard. All of this happened before the church ended up calling me for mediation.
Why then the need for mediation if there was reconciliation all the way around? It was because of what happened in his criminal prosecution and what happened in the church after his release from prison.
A dispute arose in the church about whether the injured family, who said they had fully forgiven him, should have nonetheless testified in the criminal prosecution. Another dispute arose after that, when the man asked to return to work in the children’s Sunday School department, but this time under strict supervision. There was a dispute about how to respond to this request. The argument in both instances centered around the meaning of forgiveness. “If we have forgiven him, shouldn’t we forego testifying at his trial and shouldn’t we trust him again with our children?” Eventually, the church concluded (rightly, I believe) that the correct answer to these questions is “no” and “no”.
Even when forgiveness is fully extended and received, there are often consequences to our offenses. Just because I am forgiven does not mean there will be no consequences. Anybody who has embraced God’s forgiveness for the sin in their own life can testify to this truth…there are still consequences. That the consequences come does not mean God has not forgiven me. Indeed, the consequences may well be the best evidence of His continued love for me (“God disciplines those He loves”).
In the instance I described above, it would be so wrong for the church to put that gentleman (with a confessed problem in this area) back into the same situation only to be tempted again. It would be wrong to the children, to their parents, and especially to that man. Even if this is the man’s only ministry, the consequences of his actions are that he now must find a new and different ministry…one that does not involve being with children. As for the testimony of the family in the criminal prosecution, I suppose it depends on their hearts. If their reason for testifying is to exact punishment out of some sense of retribution, then their motives are poor and are contrary to forgiveness. But if their motives are simply to do their civic duty and tell the truth about what they know (perhaps even with a sense that it will help this man in the long run) then that is not at all inconsistent with forgiveness, because forgiveness does not mean foregoing the consequences.
ONE LAST CAVEAT. In matters where you have an opportunity to “administer the consequences”, be very careful to discern whether that is really your job or not. I’m reminded of Joseph and his decision NOT to “administer consequences” to his brothers who sold him into slavery, though nobody could have blamed him if he had. He simply chose forgiveness and left the consequences to God. I suspect that is our best choice more times than not.
© Blake Coffee
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