Now here's a radical idea. The state maintains a sex offenders list, or at least it is supposed to. On it are supposed to be listed all those who have molested children or have committed other aggravated sexual crimes. I am all in favor of that list being kept and of its contents being made as public as necessary to protect both children and women from brutal sexual predators. But what about churches maintaining a list of immoral characters whose crimes do not earn them a place on the state list? What about churches placing the names of preachers who have had extra-marital affairs or who have got into adulterous relationships on a list that congregations may consult before accepting the services of a new minister?
Anglicans in Australia are enforcing a stricter code of conduct with a proposal for its national church database of child abusers to include ministers accused of extra-marital affairs. Some critics argue that marital infidelity should not be included alongside child abuse in the register. Others fear that in an age of political correctness complaints could be made on the basis of a misinterpreted wink. Having entered that caveat I am all in favor of ministers and church workers being vetted as thoroughly as possible. There is no place in the ministry for adulterers. I say, identify them and exclude them. And I would add homosexuals to the list. But, you say, cannot God forgive them. Praise God He can. However, that is between them and the Lord. Any man whose moral character is suspect must never wittingly be let loose in congregations where he may all too easily find fresh targets for his lust. Adulterers and abusers should never think that they can gain unhindered access to positions of leadership in churches. They should not be allowed to hide under the anonymity of a policy of non-disclosure. Some sins cast long shadows. As far as the ministry is concerned, ministerial sexual abuse or infidelity should never emerge from those shadows. The sin may be forgiven. The trust that allows a man into the ministry can never be restored in such cases.
I must say that the Australian idea is not a bad one, though it has some possible inbuilt legal and moral difficulties. The register will be based on complaints and include accused church workers even if the accusations against them are unproven. Only if the accused is completely cleared of the allegation will the minister or church worker's name come off the list. This is a little foggy, even dangerous, for all it would take to destroy a man's reputation would be an accusation from one person without any corroborative evidence. There have been cases where such accusations have been made and have been widely publicized. I recall a case of a prominent radio personality here in the Upstate of South Carolina being accused by two young teenagers. His name was blasted all over the press. Only one major radio personality was willing to step out on a limb and tell the public that as one who knew the man he rejected the story as a fabrication. And it was a fabrication through and through and the girls later admitted to making up the entire story. But in many cases liars will stick to a story. Particularly in cases where there is only one accuser with no corroboration it seems a little unfair, even unscriptural, to condemn a man who is vulnerable to wild accusations from people he has crossed in some other way.