Erasure for members that pose a threat

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Caroline, Dec 1, 2014.

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  1. Caroline

    Caroline Puritan Board Sophomore

    A question on church discipline policy...

    When reading the OPC BCO, I see provisions for trials and also for erasures of people who have left the church, cannot be found, etc.

    But suppose there is a person in the church who poses a serious threat to church members. Let's say for the sake of discussion that a man rapes a woman in the congregation. The case goes to authorities, the guy goes to jail for two years, but in the process of investigation, the church learns that the guy has a long history of lewd behavior toward young girls, even some in the congregation. They have reason to believe that he assaulted other women in the past as well, although he denies it.

    But the guy insists that he has repented and turned over a new leaf, and as soon as he is out of jail, he is right back at the church again, sitting directly behind the woman that he assaulted two years before.

    There doesn't seem to be any point in having a trial--he already had one and confessed himself guilty of the assault in question, which is all anyone has proof of. Is the church obligated to keep him on as a church member if he claims repentance?

    A follow-up question: If the elders ask him to transfer to another church, are they required to transfer him as a member in good standing if he claims repentance? Is there a provision for the next place down the line being warned about him? (I think of the Roman Catholic church that kept transferring abusive priests and often keeping confidential the reasons for their transfer...)
     
  2. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    First, laws vary by state. So any general principles stated here should be discussed with a lawyer licensed in that jurisdiction, and this should not be considered legal advice. And certainly, the practical options available in New York might differ from those available in some of the southern states.

    Second, the woman in question should obtain a restraining order against the man. The session and deacons, with their responsibility for the flock, should assist her in the process.

    Third, if the church leaders pass him off to another congregation with a clean letter, they may incur civil liability for themselves and the congregation if he victimizes someone at the new church. Since his misconduct is probably of public record, they might raise that as a defense, but it is poor stewardship to risk that sort of liability.

    Finally, I would take his continued harassment of his victim as clear evidence of lack of remorse, and a failure of the church officers to recognize that shows, at best, nativity.

    I am accepting your hypothetical at face value, and ignoring the current feminist efforts to re-define rape to include remorse.
     
  3. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Erasure is a form of discipline - indirectly. I just looked that the OPC BCO (hadn't looked at it in a while) and realize how short it is.

    Anyway, erasure is not a light matter. In keeping with the idea that, outside the visible Church, there is no ordinary means of salvation, erasure is essentially erasing someone from the Church's roll and saying, essentially, that the person is not in the visible Kingdom of God.

    I don't want to get into the legalities. I don't think it would be wise for a Session to allow a man to attend the same local congregation at which he raped a woman but i also think that local Churches need to make provision for sinners - even those who were convicted of sexual crimes. This does not mean unsupervised access to the congregation. Sessions ought to think through these hypotheticals because I know of sister congregations where this is not hypothetical. Things like making sure there's some mature man with them the whole time to supervise them while they're at Church is one example.

    On a personal note, a young child with severe mental problems did some things to some kids at a sister Church and it became necessary for him to be pretty much with his mother any time he was in the Church.

    I'm not trying to be prescriptive here but only pointing out that, even in the hypothetical, it would be foolish to let a once convicted rapist to simply "sit behind" the woman he was convicted of raping. At the same time there needs to be a place for sinners to repent and that's not outside a local congregation but within one.
     
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