NOTE: If you are a church leader and would like further reading, I suggest picking up a copy of “Evil on My Pew: The Hysteria Around Sex Offenders in the Church” by Larry Anderson, available at Amazon at

Derek W. Logue of
POSTED: 2 October 2019


(A disclaimer: This article is NOT about the issue of sexual abuse in churches; this article deals specifically about the debate on allowing people previously convicted of sexual offenses to attend church or to accept leadership roles within the church.)

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ – Matthew 25: 31-40

So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” – Luke 17: 3-4

The Bible, particularly the words of Jesus Christ, tells us to forgive those who do wrong. However, this forgiveness is not absolute; the person asking forgiveness must “repent” (i.e., to vow to stop engaging in the bad behavior) in order to receive forgiveness. Christ did not place create an exclusionary rule on forgiveness other than the requirement for repentance, no matter how much we desire to have exclusions. Christ sat with prostitutes, thieves, tax assessors, and other assorted despised folk of the day. Forgiveness is a major requirement to your own salvation, according to the Good Book.

But admittedly, forgiveness is something humans rarely do naturally, especially in American society. If we were to poll  Americans which group of people were the most reviled, people placed on sex offense registries would be at the top of the list. In 2009, a series of billboards paid for by Jefferson Hills Christian Church in Imperial, MO (near St. Louis) asked whether God or people should forgive a certain list of offenses, including “sex offenders, suicide, cheating on your boyfriend, and little white lies.” KDSK 5 St. Louis interviewed some travelers about the billboards asking their opinions on who they felt could not be forgiven:

“The ‘forgivable’ billboards stimulated conversation among drivers along I-55. One driver, Keith Murphy, was asked if sex offenders and people who commit suicide are forgivable. “It all depends on the situation and what happened, how it all went down,” he said. Another commuter, Erica Downs, said three out of four of the sins in the new billboard campaign are forgivable. Which one is not? ‘The sex offenders,’ she said. So what does Downs think about the campaign? ‘I guess it’s a good one,’ she said. ‘I guess that’s what the Bible says, that you’re supposed to forgive everyone, but I don’t think human nature really goes along with that all the time.’ Benke said it’s important people understand what’s contained in Christian scripture. ‘And then, quite frankly, the church gets that message wrong, as well,’ he said. ‘But the Bible teaches there is no sin that isn’t forgivable in Jesus.’”[1]

The focus here is primarily on Christian Churches. This concern is not unique to Christians, of course, but that is the focus of this report. (The only religion I have ever experienced firsthand is Christianity.)


The debate over whether to allow people convicted of sex offenses to attend church is divisive within the Christian community. A 2010 survey of 2964 respondents published by Christianity Today found the following:

  • About 99% felt someone should be notified when a registered person attends church, though the degree of notification varied greatly. While 90% felt church staff should be made aware, and 78% felt the elders of the church should know; only 18% felt the entire congregation should know.
  • About 80% of respondents felt those convicted of sex offenses should be allowed to attend church under supervision and with appropriate limitations; 5% say the registrant should be embraced without qualifications); only 3% felt those convicted of sexual offenses should be banned from church attendance.
  • For the majority of respondents (52 %), standards for participation are determined in part by the seriousness of the offense committed. The rest of the respondents are evenly split (24%) among those who say the same standard for participation should be applied to anyone convicted of a sex offense and those who say all are welcome at their church regardless of their sinful past.
  • Respondents feel the presence of a registered citizen in the church is more of a problem for their church than to them personally; 45% rank this as a big problem (responding with either a “4” or a “5”) for their church, while 29% rank this as a big problem for them personally.
  • About 4 out of 10 respondents felt a person convicted of a sex offense can be fully rehabilitated; around one in four felt they can never be fully rehabilitated.
  • About 2 of 10 respondents were aware there was a registered person in their church, and 3% were aware at least one church leader had a prior sex offense record. The most common reason a church member was aware of another member’s registry status was because the registrant told the pastor or a church leader (55%).
  • About 36% felt a known ex-offender should be allowed to hold a leadership position within the church, while nearly 40% felt they should not.
  • About 12% of respondents stated their churches were actively determining if any member was convicted of a sexual offense; 39% responded that only those in leadership roles or working with vulnerable populations were screened; 24% stated no.
  • Nearly half of respondents (46%) responded they have not encountered a known registrant in their churches; 37% stated their churches place conditions like a chaperone or attendance agreement; 2% responded registered persons are completely banned from their churches.
  • The top three steps churches take when they learn an attender or member of their church is an offender are: pray about it, talk to elders, and talk to staff.[2]

In the wake of Predator Panic, many churches are struggling with the issue of whether or not to implement their own prohibitions. One church in San Diego (Pilgrim United Church of Christ) illustrated this struggle when a Registered Citizen asked to become a member in 2007. The ensuing discussion was so heated the church asked the registrant not to attend until the church could resolve the issue. The resulting news article offered a number of questions which needed to be addressed: “Should anyone be turned away from a house of worship? How do people of faith balance redemption with risk? What about liability issues?”[3]

Churches are struggling with finding the delicate balance between offering forgiveness and reconciliation to everyone and the need to protect members. Mark Pliska, the registrant who approached the Pilgrim church honestly and divulged the information outright, was met with derision, isolation, and even harassment from both members of the congregation and the community. In a separate church, Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sandpoint, Idaho, the church arranged for a registrant to be chaperoned and only attend certain services. Even so, some members left the congregation, while others who were critical at first asked for the registrant’s forgiveness. Two churches, two different approaches, but in both cases, the offender was the one who brought it to attention. In response to these cases, the reporter mused, “The irony is that barring sex offenders who come forward and identity themselves from attending services may not guarantee a congregation’s safety, since it’s likely there are child molesters in the church anyway–they just aren’t talking about it (or haven’t yet been found out).”[4]

Christian Churches are not alone, of course. A discussion on faith and ethics from 2017 asked ministers of various religions how they would handle “sex offenders” in their churches:

  • Fred Stella, Pracharak of the West MI Hundu temple understands that the term “sex offender” applies to a wide range of behaviors, and that any decisions should be done on an individualized basis.
  • R. Scott Miller, Anabaptist/ Quaker, replied, “With open arms, open eyes and ears, and very firm boundaries that  are just as firmly stated to the offender as they are discussed by elders and others with weighty opinions.”
  • Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., Dominican priest and Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responded, “Sex offenders are welcome in Catholic Churches! That said, one needs to place the text of these words into context. A worshipping community needs to be responsible, which includes not only being aware of the presence of a sex-offender but also the need to develop mentoring programs to help these individuals transform their lives. This outreach must include his/her family, because when one member of a community is guilty of a crime the
    whole community suffers. Likewise, when that person is treated with dignity healing may begin not only with the individual but also his/her family, and the larger community of faith.”[5]
  • Fred Wooden of the Fountain Street Church (a well-known a non-creedal, non-denominational, liberal church in Grand Rapids MI) responded, “We would not announce it, for one. The segregation of sex offenders as an ‘especially heinous’ class is proving to be less certain. The premise behind the registry is questionable – that they are more likely to re-offend – has been shown to be flawed.  But the registry is real and the law is quite firm. Having worked with some congregants on the sex offender registry I know the range of crimes is wide, down to
    public urination in some places. So long as they comply with the law, and know our policies and agree to them, we have no problem. Funny, how no one ever asks about embezzlers or con artists which really have exploited churches.”
  • Rabbi David J.B. Krishef (who wrote the article) added, “I have written previously in this column that I believe that as it is currently written, the law creating a sex offender registry is unethical. Leviticus 19:16 say, ‘You are not to traffic in slander among your kinspeople.’ Jewish ethics cautions us not to share even verifiably true information which might damage someone’s reputation unless we have a compelling reason to do so. The Sex Offender Registry might be ethical if it only listed individuals who have been determined by a professional to constitute a high risk to society. Only a small percentage on the list (pedophiles) have a high recidivism rate. The vast majority, however, have a recidivism rate comparable to or less than that or other crimes. The Sex Offender Registry, as currently constituted, lumps all sex offenders together as if they all pose the same risk. In this Internet era, the reputation of a person on the registry, even one who has served his time, properly repented, and poses no risk, will be forever smirched.”[6]


Churches are not the sole decision-maker in the debate over allowing registrants in the church; some states have passed legislation restricting registrants from attending church services or volunteering for church activities while on supervision, or against all registrants.

North Carolina had passed a “proximity law” in 2008 preventing Registered Persons convicted of “violent” sex offenses or offenses from coming within 300 feet of any place children congregate.[7]  Since churches have nurseries and children’s church, churches can be off limits for registrants depending on the sheriff’s interpretation of the law.

James Nichols and Frank DeMaio were indicted in May 2009 in Chatham County on charges of violating the law by attending Moncure Baptist Church, which has a nursery and regular programs for children. The two men challenged the state law on vagueness and denied them the freedom to choose which church they could attend. Prosecutors maintained that the men could get private counseling from ministers or attend a church that doesn’t have a Sunday school, nursery or youth programs. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour tossed out the indictments in December 2009,
adding, “The state has not closely drawn the statute to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms in achieving its objectives… Additionally, there are a host of protected religious activities abridged by this statute which do not serve the compelling governmental interest.”[8]

In 2015, Graham Co. NC Sheriff Danny Milsaps made headlines for sending letters to ALL registrants in his county banning them from church. In the letter, Millsaps wrote, “I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church. That is why I am letting you know that if you want to go to a church service you are welcome to come to the Graham Co Jail on Sunday’s (sic) to attend church services.”[9]  Sheriff Millsaps told reporters a few weeks later that his letter was misunderstood. “I understand I can’t keep them from going to church… That may have been misunderstood. I’ll be the first one to say I might have made mistakes in the wording of that letter.” He later told a reporter he had no plans to arrest a registrant attending church.[10]  For his efforts, Millsaps was voted “Keystone Kop of the Year” (worst cop in America) by voters for the 2015 Shiitake Awards, the awards show hosted by that spotlights registry abuses.[11]

The North Carolina Proximity Law, particularly as it has related to churches, has been largely invalidated through a series of court rulings, most notably the Doe v Cooper decision from 2016 (discussed below).


“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” — Matthew 10:14

As a registered citizen, you will face ridicule, ostracism, and harassment at some point in your life, even in church. During my personal journey as a registered person for over sixteen years, I can safely say I have not personally had a bad experience with any churches I have visited in the years, including Catholic, non-denominational, and Seventh-Day Adventist Churches in Alabama and Ohio. Many of the housing leads on are from Christian ministries.  Christian people who supposedly my friends would not support this effort to assist registered persons; in fact, they outright discouraged it. As an advocate for registered persons, I have heard personal experiences from individuals who were denied entry to churches. Some were banned without ever stepping foot in the church, while others were asked to leave (or ex-communicated) after attending.

One story found online about a registered citizen’s struggles to find a church was written at Patheos in October 2016. The author of the article was the minister of a church in North Carolina, and had been approached by friend who was the deacon at a different church. The deacon asked what to do A man named Andy, described by the author as “an older man, in his late fifties, with a short beard and horn rimmed glasses. He was well read, knew his Bible and listened with rapt attention in the service.” Andy wanted to join the deacon’s church; Andy “had attended their adult Sunday
School, and everyone liked him.” Andy decided to tell the church about his status before becoming a member. “‘That was when it went south. He told the preacher he was a sex offender, and he wanted to join the church,’ the deacon said.” The denomination’s regional office informed the church they had to reject Andy due to a “safe-child” policy. Thankfully, the church pastored by the author of the article had already experienced –and welcomed—registered persons so Andy was able to attend a church that would accept him.[12]

Another testimony was sent to me from a member of

“My son, at age 16, moved up to live with me near Spokane, Washington in late 1989. His mother had converted to the LDS (Mormon) Church long after our divorce in 1977. She raised Chris in that religion. So when he moved up to be with me, I took him to the local LDS Church which was nearby, hoping to give him some sense of belonging. Eventually I joined too, although I was never much of a participant. They were helpful to us when times were hard, through what they call the “Bishop’s Storehouse,” and I was interested in family genealogy, which the LDS is famous for. After marrying my second wife in March 1994, I rarely if ever attended church. I did not know the local Church, Bishop, or any of the Stake people. They never came by. In January 1997 I was arrested for possession of 20 CP images, and later (thanks to my wife) was hit with a bogus charge of molestation. During the pretrial months, my wife first put my step-daughter in a foster care home where, at 8 years old, she tried to kill herself by hurling into a plate-glass window. The next month, my wife had placed our baby girl, then less than 2-1/2, into another foster care home. The ‘foster mother’ then threw my daughter across the room, breaking her skull, and didn’t report it until the next day, when she was found dead. 

Within two weeks, my child barely in the ground, a group of ‘elders’ from the LDS Church (where I’d never even been) came by and, not even consoling me, told me I was being ‘excommunicated’ based on my crime that ‘went against the teachings of the Church.’ I wasn’t convicted yet! I couldn’t help but thinking of Jesus’ words in John 8:7, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…’ Well Anyway, they told me I could be “re-fellowshipped’ in the future, but they never said when. In 2004, out of prison and in a group home (and in a wheelchair), I went to the Church (in a different county from my arrest), and was treated coldly. I could tell that the Bishop wanted nothing to do with me. Requests to access the Bishop’s Storehouse (food supplies) went unanswered. I never tried to talk to them again. These days I call myself a Christian, but I refuse to belong to any denomination. My relationship with God is my own. From what I’ve seen, most churches are hypocritical when it comes to truly helping the members and community. They love to throw the first stone, and they are NOT without sin!”[13]

The good news is that based upon the survey, many churches are still receptive to ministering to those of us forced to register our names on the sex offense registry. Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23) so let God deal with those churches that reject you. Just kick the dust from your feet and find a church that WILL welcome you.

As with anything else we will deal with while yoked with this registry burden, honesty is the best policy. It is better to be rejected for your honesty than accepted for a lie. We all have the desire to be accepted and loved, but we are also living in a “liability culture.” What that means is every decision from businesses (and churches are businesses) are weighed on a risk-assessment, just as many of you were judged based on perceived risk. Unfortunately, many well-meaning people have created guides for churches using various myths about registered persons and the nature of sexual abuse. Church-goers are human, after all, and are just as prone to fear as those who don’t go to Church at all and spend their days watching Nancy Grace or Law and Order: SVU reruns for their information. Thus, I advise you to check with the church you plan to attend to see if they have any problems with registered persons attending services.

Because we live in a liability culture, you must also consider the fact you could be vulnerable to false accusations and hatred because of your label. Remember, it is not about what you might do but what others THINK you might do. Our society is deeply indoctrinated to hate us on the same level it hates a terrorist or communist, and churches are not immune. Thus, it is important to take appropriate steps to protect yourself in a reasonable (non-reactionary) manner.

Here are a few suggestions if you are looking to self-impose some safety measures:

  • Have your own chaperone: If you have a significant other or trusted friend you attend church with, have that person stick with you at all times. (If you have a friend of the same gender, it would be more helpful to take bathroom breaks together.) It is hard to falsely accuse someone who has a witness.
  • Even if you have kids of your own, avoid children’s areas and functions. Never volunteer to do any activity involving the children, even if your offense did not involve a minor (after all, people assume “sex offender = pedophile”)
  • If you take up a leadership role within the church, minister only to adults, and even then, it is important to not work alone with vulnerable populations. It is important to always have a trusted witness.


If you are the loved one of a Registrant, you may also experience discrimination, even if the registrant isn’t even attending services. Granted, the chances are slim, but it does happen.

Gini Aland wrote for SOSEN that she had attended services at a small town church in a California for well over a decade before she befriended (and eventually dated) a registered citizen in her community. Even though the registered person did not attend any services, Gini began to notice the attitude of many members changed towards her, and she was no longer invited to volunteer for or attend any church events. One day, Gini was ushered into a small room to be asked to leave the church. As Gini described it:

“This all came to a sudden and unexpected end one hot summer morning. Pastor “Frank” had given a very nice sermon on forgiveness reminding us how Jesus Christ forgives everyone and every sin. He told us the story of the woman at the well in the 4th chapter of John and how Christ had told her ‘Go and sin no more.’ He emphasized that no matter who we are, rich or poor, no matter what our social standing God was there for us and had let his only son willingly give his life for all sins and indiscretions.

“Immediately after this service Pastor Frank, “Brian” (the Head Elder), and his wife “Tammy” (the youth director), called me aside and asked to speak with me. The three of them ushered me into the office of the pastor, a small cramped room with three chairs, a large desk, and two floor-to-ceiling book cases. There was no air-conditioning in the room, so the air was stifling. Frank sat behind his desk with his back to the small window, Brian took the chair directly across from him, and Tammy sat next to Brian in the last chair. I was left standing backed into the corner by the bookshelves with Brian and Tammy between the doorway and me.

“Brian began the conversation telling me I would need to leave the church if I were to continue to befriend, date, and advocate for registered persons and the abolishment of the registry. He said the church could not allow me to stay because as everyone knows, ‘Birds of a feather flock together so I must be a pedophile also, as it was obvious I condoned such behavior.’ He informed me that my association with criminals such as this would only draw more to our community and church putting many innocent women and children in danger. During this entire depressing and uncomfortable lecture both Frank and Tammy sat looking on with unsmiling serious scowls on their faces that seemed almost to border on a smirk. They did not speak but only nodded in agreement with Brian from time to time. I told them I would go by their wishes and no longer attend this church. He closed the conversation by making a statement I felt was threatening in tone; he stated, ‘Remember, be careful who you associate with. People may think poorly of you and many bad things will happen to you, especially when you associate with known criminals.’”

“After I stopped attending there were many unexplained vandalism attempts on my parents property. My parents were living in a nice neighborhood across town from me on a quiet street with some of the people from the same congregation as neighbors. My parents’ front porch was egged a couple of times; one time the garage door had been vandalized with spray paint; several times they found nails, screws and such in their tires and scattered across the driveway; my father’s gas tank was emptied one night; and twice the tires on my mother’s van were slashed, with all four tires slashed on one occasion. It seemed strange that none of the neighbors heard or seen anything happening even though the street was well lit and the vandalism was only to my parents’ property. There is no proof of who may have done these things but I for one still have my suspicions.”

This series of events impacted Gini’s faith in the Church; she writes, “Of course this nasty demeaning situation left me feeling quite insulted and depressed. I felt that the religious community I had so faithfully befriended and supported for all these years had suddenly turned on me and let me down. I understand that not all people and churches act this way… However, I still get a little wary and nervous whenever I visit a church today. There seems to be a little voice nagging at me and questioning if these people would truly accept me if they were to know what I advocate for and who my friends are. I also can’t help but wonder if they would look down on my boyfriend, the man I love, because he made a mistake many years ago, paid his debt to society but now bears a label as a registered person and assumed to be dangerous.”[14]

If you are a loved one of a registrant, remember that you can indeed be impacted by the registry. You can suffer ostracism and discrimination even in a church setting. But you can be a bastion of support and accountability for your loved one. In the event a registered person needs to self-impose a rule out of fear or liability reasons, you can be a trusted chaperone to your loved one. If you are dating a registered person, you may wish to self-impose similar rules listed above for registrants if you are also concerned about false accusations or suspicions.


So what is a church to do when approached by a sex offender wanting to join the congregation? The answer is not easy. On one hand the Church teaches Redemption, Forgiveness, and the Community of Believers, among other things; on the other hand, our society places great emphasis on the Former Sex Offender and protecting children, thus adding the element of fear and liability to the issue. Almost every time a Registered Citizen wishes to attend the church, “there’s a split in the congregation where you have people saying ‘Jesus called us to welcome everyone,’ and others saying ‘if a pedophile comes in, I’m quitting.'” “I wouldn’t be surprised if some people leave if we do decide to include him, but others have said they’d leave if we don’t include him,” another pastor stated.[15]

Ultimately, you have three choices when confronted with the decision of whether or not you will allow a person previously convicted of a sexual offense to attend services (or grant a leadership role in the congregation), but BEFORE you make that choice, it is important that you do your research. Churches have been no less susceptible to misinformation and fearmongering than the secular public. For example, a page on this subject at states the following erroneous claim: “Recent studies suggest a low likelihood that pedophiles can or will change. Without extensive professional treatment, virtually all child sexual offenders will re-offend.”[16]  A statement from AG Financial Solutions (which sells church insurance, claims, “According to an FBI profile, pedophiles are incurable, promiscuous, predatory, and have a high recidivism rate.”[17]  Both statements are obvious both wrong and serve only to incite the reader into a state of panic. Both statements use the term “sex offender” and “pedophile” interchangeably along with the erroneous claim that they are untreatable and doomed to re-offend.

Exacerbating the issue are those who weaponize the Bible to justify discrimination against registered persons. One example is the misuse of Matthew 18:6 as a condemnation against people convicted of sexual offenses. (“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”). The passage concerns all believers, and it concerns scandals and infighting amongst the group of believers, not about sex crimes against children. This passage is followed by the proper way to confront sinners in the congregation and a warning against squandering God’s gift of forgiveness but being unwilling to forgive others.

In reality, sex offense laws are complex, and not every potential threat to your child will be listed on an arbitrary government blacklist. You must be aware that most sex offenses occur in the home by someone known to the child, and the perpetrator will be far more likely to lack a criminal record than to have one. You must also be aware that the sex offense registry includes teens who engage in a variety of mutual sexual behavior with their peers, public urination, prostitution, and even behaviors not considered sexual in nature (such as a man who held a teen drug dealer at gunpoint during a heist or a man who grabbed a teen’s arm to yell at her for jumping out in front of his moving vehicle) right alongside the feared “pedophiles.” Many sex offenses do not involve children. The law makes no distinction between a teen who slept with his 15 year old girl friend and one who forcefully raped a 15 year old girl. Having the right kind of information is important.

The good news is that people convicted of sexual offenses are NOT doomed to reoffend, despite the prevailing myth that they do; in reality, less than 1% of registered persons are reconvicted for a subsequent offense.[18]  Many people making these claims are citing outdated or faulty information. If you are reading this article from the website, you are already at a resource that separates fact from fiction about sex offenses and those forced to register. Still, you may be motivated not so much out of fear a registrant may commit an offense but out of liability concerns or fear of losing members. I cannot promise you taking a bold stand will be painless, but the Bible tells us to conform to Christ, not to the world (Romans 12: 1-2). The world is prone to fear and hatred based out of misinformation. We must be better than that!

Even after you do our research, there are many things to consider. Christianity Today states, “Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Experts recommend that staff members proactively address this question by developing a sex offender policy. Kristen Blanford, partner at Hermes Sargent Bates law firm in Dallas, Texas… recommends that leadership teams consider a few critical questions when developing a sex offender policy for their congregation:”

  • “What are the core beliefs of the organization? Do you support including everyone, or do you specify who is able to attend or become a member of your congregation?
  • Do you have established ministries for urban communities or walk-in traffic? Do you already have a prison ministry or an urban community outreach program that might attract convicted sex offenders?
  • What will your congregation tolerate? Will your congregation react positively or negatively to opening your doors to sex offenders?
  • What are the risks to the congregation? Will allowing the offender to participate in the organization put any current members at risk?”[19]

We shall examine the three choices the church has for dealing with the knowledge of a registered person has joined the congregation, including the pros and cons of each. (On the upside, the aforementioned AG Financial Solutions report states that “[A] church has not been held liable for unknowingly allowing a registered sex offender to attend services.”

Option #1: Treating the Registrant the same as anyone else (No Restrictions)

The Christianity Today survey found that 5% of churches stated they have not/ would not place any restrictions on registered citizens; taking into account 46% stated they have not encountered a known registrant in their church, then about one of every 10 churches that have encountered a registrant will welcome a registered citizen unconditionally. While this is the most Christ-like thing to do, doing so come at a cost.

As stated above, Pilgrim United Church of Christ welcomed Mark Pliska unconditionally, and in return, Pliska faced harassment and condemnation from some of the members; some even left the church. Over time, some who condemned Pliska asked for forgiveness.

Churches could face condemnation from influences outside the church. For example, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (a conservative coalition) voted in April 2019 to withdraw fellowship from a church pastored by a registered person. As reported in the Baptist News:

“The path to New Spirit’s eventual ejection was opened in March when, the Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper reported, the SBTC executive board approved a policy denying affiliation to any church whose senior pastor has been convicted of sexual abuse of a child. That vote followed a series of articles by the Houston Chronicle and (San Antonio) Express News detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers. After meeting with officials from SBTC, New Spirit decided to retain (Pastor Erbey) Valdez, the Baptist
publication reported. The board responded with a May 1 letter informing the church of its decision.”[20]  The Convention behaved in a reactionary manner to a media report, not unlike those who do not attend church at all.

AG Financial Solutions offers this ominous warning to those who “do nothing”: “Unfortunately, this is often the approach taken by many churches. This response is not recommended due to its associated legal risks, which include the following: risk that the offender may molest a minor, liability to the church if the person will be working with minors, punitive damages for reckless or gross negligence, liability for board members who failed to implement appropriate safeguards, negative media publicity, and the risk of a potentially uninsured claim (intentional or criminal misconduct is not an insurable risk). Bottom line: in choosing to do nothing, you carry a high risk of harm to minors and of being sued for negligence.”[21]

There is one other important factor to the game plan. “Restrictions are a good security tool for churches — as long as they’re accompanied by support, said Steve Vann, who helps run Keeping Kids Safe Ministries, based in Tennessee… ‘When you ignore it, abandon or shut off these people, it makes it more likely for them to reoffend,’ Vann said.”[22]

As a registered person and anti-registry activist, I would feel most comfortable in a church where I was not treated like an outcast just for attending.

Option #2: Banishment/ Exclusion/ Excommunication from the Church

Based on the answers from the Christianity Today poll, 2% of churches completely exclude registrants from attending; taking into account that 46% of respondents stated they had no experience with a registrant in their churches, then that means one out of every 25 churches that have experienced a registered person bans them from their congregation.

The misguided advice of AG Financial Solutions states that “Although it may appear harsh and unforgiving, this is a valid option that depends on the severity of the person’s crimes… If you have someone who’s a Tier 3 offender, the best response is to exclude them from attending. Even if the crime(s) occurred decades ago, consider the age of the victim (s); if the incident(s) involved pre-pubescent or early-pubescent children, it should not matter how long ago it occurred, since such a person may be a pedophile (someone with a sexual preference for prepubescent or early pubescent minors). According to an FBI profile, pedophiles are incurable, promiscuous, predatory, and have a high recidivism rate. From a liability standpoint, the risk to minors and to your church in allowing a pedophile to attend may be too high. In addition, exclusion may be the proper response in cases where the victim(s) of the sex offender’s crimes attend the same church.”[23]

The AG Financial Solutions advice is bad because it is based upon assumptions. First, it falls back upon the myth of high recidivism rates and the assumption of “sex offender” equals “pedophile.” Second, the Tier system varies by state, and at least eight states have mandatory lifetime reporting no matter the severity of offense. Furthermore, the Tier system itself is arbitrarily determined; some states use a risk-assessment system (i.e., a barrage of psychological tests, sometimes relying on pseudoscience like polygraphs or plethysmographs), which some states have adopted an offense-based classification scheme (most are states that have adopted the federal Adam Walsh Act). Under offense-based systems, you will have a higher number of people classified as a “Tier 3.” Under the federal Adam Walsh Act (AWA), a teen caught having relations with another teen, by virtue of age, places that person at a Tier 2 at minimum. That is not to say that a risk assessment would necessarily be more accurate; this same teen automatically scores a 2 (moderate-low risk) on the Static-99 (the most common risk assessment test) since that teen is under age 25 and likely has not lived with a significant other for two years. That is why heavy reliance on registry information is a folly.

As a registered person, I condemn any church with a policy of full expulsion of all registrants; I will kick the dust from my feet as I attend a more welcoming congregation.

Option #3: The Game Plan – Varying Degrees of Restrictions

The most common method for addressing registrants in the church is a plan for some degree of restriction within the church, like having a chaperone or not allowing the registrant into the children’s wing. In the Christianity Today poll, 37% of respondents state their church had this policy (taking into account 46% stated they had no experience with a registered person, then roughly three-fourths of churches with prior experience with a registered person has some kind of restrictive policy in place.

One example of a church that has utilized this option successfully is Sonrise Church of Hillsboro, Oregon, which has ministered to registered citizens for well over a decade. Sonrise runs a separate Sunday afternoon service called “Light My Way” since 2004 for registered persons, people recovering from substance abuse, the homeless, and others typically shunned by society and has not experienced any allegations of abuse at the church from members. No one under 18 attends this service. In addition, the Church operates a “Safe Campus” policy; the details are as follows:

“Sonrise Church has several “safe” policies. Our SafeKids policy provides children and youth with safe guidelines for both participants and leaders. All leaders and workers in our children and youth ministry have passed a police background check. Our SafeAdults policy provides adults working in ministry situations with safe guidelines for ministering to others. Our SafeCampus provides a safe place for people attending our weekend worship services.”

“For the Light My Way service we employ our SafeCampus policies and add the following:

  • We provide a separate entrance and exit for people attending Light My Way.
  • We provide separate restrooms for people attending Light My Way.
  • We clearly post which portion of the building is being used by Light My Way.
  • We either lock appropriate doors or provide other dividers to clearly identify which part of the building is closed to those under the age of 18.
  • We have security personal that monitor the entire campus (both inside and out) that are in communication with the security team leader.
  • The Light My Way ministry is clearly identified with signs that signal our activities (both inside and outside the facility). We identify Light My Way on our church calendar for those wishing to use the facility on Sunday afternoon.
  • Due to the number of activities that occur at Sonrise church, there are times when people under the age of 18 will be in different parts of the building or outside on the property but they will not be allowed in the portion of the facility set aside as a safe campus.”[24]

As reported by The Oregonian in 2015, “The Light My Way afternoon service for sex offenders, former convicts, homeless people and drug addicts has caused some unrest in the surrounding neighborhood, but Kelly reports Sonrise pastor Rocky Wing said the ministry is modeled after Jesus’s life. ‘A lot of people put on a mask when they step outside,’ Rocky Wing told The Oregonian/OregonLive Monday. Wing is the Sonrise pastor currently overseeing the Light My Way program. ‘But here are people who have hit the bottom and have no more pretending.’ The service is part of what drew Wing, a worship pastor, to Sonrise two and a half years ago, he said. Jesus hung out with the lowest of the low, Wing said.”[25]

The AG Financial Solutions page states, “This is sometimes viewed as a more merciful response. Worded properly, this can put the church in a position to be viewed as having acted reasonably under the circumstances, which means that it may not be considered negligent. However, a couple things must be kept in mind if this course is chosen. First, this document must be drafted by an attorney and comply with any requirements under state law. Second, careful thought must be given as to the conditions stated in the policy… It is also recommended that churches adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy for violation of a conditional attendance agreement.”[26]  This company writes from a strict legal liability standpoint. However, the last statement fails to take into account that humans make mistakes. For example, a person needing to use the bathroom may not have the chaperone follow him into the bathroom for various reasons, so the breaking of an escort rule could be the result of error on the part of the escort.

As a registered person, I make it a point to not enter certain areas, not because I have an uncontrollable urge, but because there are many uneducated people who believe I do because of a label. There have been times where people felt I was being unnecessarily self-restricting, but as a registrant, I’m also aware of liability issues.

False allegations are a real threat to registrants and non-registrants alike. Mere accusations make people assume guilt. Thus, I feel it is recommended that certain policies should be extended to everyone. After all, not every potential threat to children is on the government blacklist. (According to a 2008 New York study, about 95% of sex crime arrests in the state over a 20 year period were of first time offenders, meaning no prior record.)[27]

Accepting a Registered Citizen as a Church Leader

If accepting a Registered Citizen as a member of the congregation is difficult, I can only imagine the difficulties faced when deciding whether or not to allow a Registered Person to lead a congregation.

Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church of Jacksonville, FL made headlines in 2012 for allowing a Registered Citizen to minister to their small population following his release from prison. Within days, this decision was met with fierce backlash.

The New Black Panther Party (a group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a virulently racist and antisemitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers”)[28]  protested in unity with George Harvey, pastor at nearby Mt. Charity Baptist Church. Ironically, Harvey was known for ministering to prisoners and other people shunned by society. The NBPP vowed to protest every Sunday until the registrant was removed as pastor of the small church.[29]  The protests did not last; Harvey died of a heart attack in May 2012,[30]  and the head of the Jacksonville chapter of the NBPP was arrested on charges of false imprisonment and resisting an officer without violence in May 2013.[31]

The church made bigger headlines for deciding to ban children from services (the registrant was on probation at the time and could not have contact with minors). “Somehow I will prove that life isn’t over when one has committed a crime for which he receives this heinous label,” Pastor Darrell Gilyard told a reporter through text message. “You don’t have to languish on the fringes of society.” Attendance for this church reportedly grew from about 10 members to between 150 and 200 as this new story aired.[32]  The Jacksonville Baptist Association asked the church to resign from their membership.[33]

But over time, the media blitz subsided somewhat, and the condition banning the registrant from allowing minors to attend his services was lifted in 2014.[34]  In his first interview with the media, Pastor Gilyard stated, “”Right now I’m doing well,” said Gilyard, “I have this label as a leper of society, but that label is not in me…Of course I believe I have changed, but time will tell everyone if I have change…I’m a believer in when you do something wrong you pay the price, but do you pay the price forever?”[35]  The church still receives the occasional burst of negative reviews on social media and the Houston Chronicle drudged up a 1991 complaint against the pastor as part of the paper’s salacious series on sexual misconduct among Southern Baptist churches.[36]

On a related note, a Houston area church also withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention in defense of allowing a registered person to accept a role as pastor. The Houston Chronicle took credit for forcing the Houston Church to resign from the SBC, adding, “Jones’ church voluntarily withdrew from the Baptist convention after the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published “Abuse of Faith,” a series of stories that detailed how 700 people — most of them children — had been sexually abused by pastors, employees and volunteers at Southern Baptist churches across the U.S. since 1998.” [37]  This suggests the resignation was a reactionary response to bad publicity.

This case is an extreme example, at least in part because this case received plenty of media attention. But 3% of respondents in the 2010 Christianity Today survey were aware a leader within their church had a sex offense conviction. Standing by someone who has committed sins in the past is hard to do, but that is what is expected of all true believers. After all, Christ dined with and let follow people considered the pariahs of society in His day. If Christ was alive today, He would likely allow registered persons among His disciples.

One last but very important note for churches—most sex crimes occur in the home by someone the victim knowd, and most sex crimes involve someone with no prior record. If you have a deep concern for child safety, then policies should be constructed in a way that covers all people rather than focusing on the small number of congregants that are listed on the government blacklist. It is your duty to separate the wheat from the chaff, or in this instance, the fact from fiction. Thankfully, you are already at a website that separates wheat and chaff. Perusing the articles at is a good place to start your research.


Most legal rulings have involved government attempts at restricting registrants from attending church services rather than suing individual churches for banning registrants from churches.

State of NH v Perfetto, No. 2009-647 (NH Sup Ct, 17 Sept 2010)

In State of NH v Perfetto, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that prevented Jonathan Perfetto from having any contact with minors under age 17. In the lower court, Perfetto moved to amend the conditions of his suspended sentences so that he could attend meetings at the Manchester South Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses while being supervised by an elder member of the congregation. The congregation is family-oriented, and children are regularly present at the worship meetings. The defendant also requested that he be allowed to converse among the entire congregation both before and after the meetings.

He argues that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Part I, Article 5 of the New Hampshire Constitution require that when those rights are limited, the government must utilize the “least restrictive alternative.” The defendant contends that the prohibition on contact with minors impinges on his constitutional rights and that the trial court erred by not tailoring the condition to satisfy the least restrictive alternative test. He also claims that his due process rights under the New Hampshire Constitution were violated when the trial court did not hold a hearing on his motion.

The State countered that conditions of probation need only bear a reasonable relationship to the rehabilitation of the probationer and protection of the public.

The Court determined, “We note that the condition in this case does not directly infringe on the defendant’s free exercise of his religion: it is instead facially neutral and applies to the defendant’s conduct regardless of whether he is in a church or elsewhere. Under these circumstances, we see no reason to require the State to show a compelling
government interest…Here, the defendant’s freedom of belief has not been restricted. He may still practice his religion in ways that do not violate the condition of his sentences, including the use of books and video and audio recordings. He may also arrange bible study with elders from his congregation and attend meetings at a congregation where minors are not present. While the defendant may prefer to attend the congregation of his choosing, as a result of his suspended sentences, he “properly [is] subject to limitations from which ordinary persons are free.”

“While the defendant may now point to issues that could have been explored at a hearing, we do not conclude that under these circumstances, due process required a hearing. Furthermore, the defendant has not demonstrated that a hearing would have established his entitlement to relief. The sentencing judge is accorded broad discretion in imposing conditions of probation or suspension so long as those conditions are reasonably related to the rehabilitation and supervision of the defendant.”

Doe v. Cooper, 842 F.3d 833 (4th Cir. 2016)

In Doe v Cooper, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a federal district court’s judgment that portions of the North Carolina proximity statute were unconstitutional. John Does #1 through #5 (collectively, the “Does”) challenged these statutory restrictions as either overbroad, under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or unconstitutionally vague, under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Specifically, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.18(a)(2) and (a)(3) made it a felony for those convicted of a “violent” sex offense or an offense involving a minor “within 300 feet of any location intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors when the place is located on premises that are not intended primarily for the use, care, or supervision of minors, including, but not limited to, places described in subdivision (1) of this subsection that are located in malls, shopping centers, or other property open to the general public.

While this lawsuit was not solely related to church attendance bans, church bans were part of the lawsuit. John Doe #1 was arrested because the church had a child care center within 300 feet of the main congregation hall. The local district attorney initially charged John Doe #1 with a violation of section 14-208.18(a), but the charge was dropped. Afterward, John Doe #1 was allowed to continue attending church subject to a number of restrictions set by the district attorney. Those restrictions included a prohibition on “assisting” with worship services and engaging in any church activities outside of the main worship service.

Doe v. Boone Co Prosecutor, No. 06A01-1612-PL-2741, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind. Ct. App., Oct. 24, 2017)

In Doe v Boone Co. Prosecutor, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined that the Indiana Code section 35-31.5-2-285 definition of “school property” did not extend to Children’s church services. The Boone County Sheriff sent a letter to registrants informing them of the passage of Indiana’s “serious sex offender” law in 2015 (Indiana Code section 35-31.5-2-285). Relevant to the facts of this case, “school property” is defined as a “federal, state, local, or nonprofit program or service operated to serve, assist, or otherwise benefit children who are at least three (3) years of age and not yet
enrolled in kindergarten…”

“The question before this court is whether Appellants’ churches, which offer Sunday school and/or child care services for children in the relevant age group, meet the statutory definition of “school property.” Appellants argue they do not fit within this definition because the “plain text of the statute and a common sense understanding of a ‘school’ speaks in terms of distinct educational entities . . . [and] does not become a school simply because it offers ‘some program or service’ oriented towards children.” By contrast, the State argues a church offering Sunday school for children of the relevant age group falls squarely within the statute’s definition and our legislature’s intent; the State alleges a church operates without the goal of profiting and Sunday school is plainly operated “to serve . . . or otherwise benefit” children. Further, at oral argument, the State argued that nurseries or babysitting services operated by the churches are “developmental child care program[s]” because children are learning to socialize. The State further argued the only way Appellants can attend church is if no children are present at a church’s service. We disagree with the broad interpretation of ‘school property’ advocated by the State.

In considering the structure of the statute and viewing it as a whole, we cannot say the legislature intended to prohibit Appellants or other ‘serious sex offenders’ from entering church property if that church offers Sunday school or child care services for children in the relevant age group… Appellants’ churches are not ‘school property’ and they do not become “school property” by virtue of conducting Sunday school or offering child care services for children who are three years old but not yet enrolled in kindergarten.”


The church should be the last place a registered citizen should feel ostracized or face vigilante action, but it has happened. In addition, some lawmakers have attempted to ban registered persons from churches. Unfortunately, churches are not immune to fearmongering and liability concerns. Those of us on the registry should not have to settle for exclusion from practicing our religion. At the same time, we must recognize that even churches are bombarded with false teachings about registered citizens.

Because registered persons can be easily accused of wrongdoing, it may be wise to self-impose a couple of simple rules even if your church does not do that, particularly avoiding children’s areas and events and having a chaperone (a witness). This will minimize any possibilities of false allegations or suspicions of wrongdoing. If a church won’t accept you, there are plenty of churches who will accept you.


  1. Alex Fees. “Imperial church billboards ask, ‘What’s forgivable?’” KSDK St Louis. 25 Aug 2009.  Accessed 25 Aug 2009 at
  2. Cynia Solver. “Sex Offenders in the Church Survey Executive Report.” Christianity Today International. April 2010.
  3. Sandi Dolbee. “Sex offender looking for acceptance, forgiveness.” San DiegoUnion-Tribune. 17 Mar. 2007, Accessed 13 Dec. 2008 at
  4. Eilene Zimmerman. “Churches slam doors on sex offenders,”, 26 Apr 2007. Accessed 13 Dec. 2008 at
  5. The priest also referred to the Catholic plan on the criminal justice system entitled “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (2000) found at
  6. Rabbi David JB Krishef. “Ethics and Religion Talk: Should congregations welcome sexual offenders?” The Rapidian. 9 Oct 2017. Accessed 20 Sept 2019 at
  7. Ruth Sheehan, “Sex-offender law gets tougher.” Charlotte Observer, 1 Dec. 2008. Accessed 2 Dec. 2008 at
  8. “Judge overturns part of state sex offender law.” 17 Dec. 2009. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019 at
  9. A copy of this letter was posted on 9 Mar. 2015 at
  10. Jessica Chasmar. “Danny Millsaps, N.C. sheriff, tries to ban sex offenders from churches.” Washington Times. 13 March 2015. Accessed 19 Sept. 20199= at
  11. See
  12. Hugh Hollowell. “When Jesus looks Like a Sex Offender.” Patheos. 6 Oct 2016. Accessed 20 Sept 2019 at
  13. Private Message to Derek Logue at, Sept. 2019
  14. Gini Aland. “Go and Sin No More… Or, if you’re a Registrant, Just Go!” 2 Oct. 2019. Accessed 2 Oct. 2019 at
  15. Adam Gorlick. “Course helps churches handle sex offenders.”  Associated Press (published in USA Today). Aug. 2007. Accessed 13 Dec. 2008 at
  16. “Church Participation by a Registered Child Sex Offender.” Accessed 19 Sept. 2019 at
  17. “CHURCH LIABILITY AND REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS.” AG Financial Solutions. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019 at
  18. Covered extensively at
  19. “When a Sex Offender Wants to Attend Church.” Christianity Today. 18 Oct 2012. Accessed 19 Sept 2019 at
  20. Jeff Brumley. “SBTC’s ouster of church ‘unbliblical,’ its sex-offender pastor says.” Baptist News Global. 21 May 2019. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019 at
  21. Supra, AG Financial Solutions.
  22. Laura Bauer. “With open arms and open eyes, churches minister to sex offenders.” Kansas City Star. 31 July 2010. Accessed 31 July 2010.
  23. Ibid.
  24. “Frequently Asked Questions about the Sonrise Church Light My Way Service.” Sonrise Church. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019 at
  25. Melissa Binder. “This Oregon church welcomes sex offenders.” Oregon Live. 23 Mar 2015. Accessed 19 Sept 2019 at
  26. Supra, AG Financial Solutions
  27. Sandler, Jeffrey & Freeman, Naomi & Socia, Kelly. (2008). Does a Watched Pot Boil? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. 14. 284-302. 10.1037/a0013881.
  28. “New Black Panther Party.” Southern Poverty Law Center. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  29. “Disagreement over sex offender protests.” News 4 Jax, 13 Feb. 2012. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  30. Sandy Strickland. “Jacksonville reverend dies at age 59 of apparent heart attack.” Florida Times-Union. 16 May 2012. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  31. Dan Scanlan. “Head of local New Black Panther Party arrested by Jacksonville police.” Florida Times-Union. 22 May 2013. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  32. Kyle Munzenrieder. “Jacksonville Church Hires Registered Sex Offender as Pastor, Bans Children from Service.” Miami New Times. 21 Feb. 2012. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019. At
  33. James A Smith Sr. “Assoc. asks church with sex-offender to resign.” Baptist Press. 8 Mar. 2012. Accessed 1 Oct.2019 at
  34. Bob Allen. “Probation terms altered to permit sex offender pastor to minister to children.” Baptist News Global. 25 Apr. 2014. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  35. “Pastor Darrell Gilyard breaks silence on his fall from grace.” FirstCoast News. 7 July 2014. Accessed 1 Oct. 2014 at
  36. See Robert Downen. “Exclusive videos show confrontation of Baptist pastor accused of sexual misconduct.” Houston Chronicle. 22 Aug. 2019. Accessed 1 Oct. 2019 at
  37. John Tedesco. “Houston church with sex-offender pastor withdraws from Southern Baptist Convention.” Houston Chronicle. 29 Mar. 2019. Accessed 2 Oct. at