"we believe in forgiveness"

I believe in forgiveness, in fact I am captivated by the concept of grace. God is entirely good to me in ways that I simply do not deserve. Having said that, however, it is incredibly disturbing to me that some equate forgiveness with forgetting. While we should openly embrace forgiveness, it is incumbent upon us to recognize that our behavior creates consequences that must be dealt with. One may be forgiven but that does not mean that there are not ramifications for their actions.

This article, concerning a church in the Chicago area who has hired a convicted sex offender to be their pastor, is indicative of the need for more stringent expectations by our churches in regards to their leadership. If you want to simply read the article hear, I’ve reproduced it for you below.

Sex offender back in pulpit

ROMEOVILLE | Despite prison term, preacher welcomed by Baptist congregation

August 20, 2007

A southwest suburban Southern Baptist congregation allowed a convicted child sex offender to preach for the last few years — despite his past, and a warning from his previous church that he might still be dangerous, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

In 1996, Jeff Hannah was sentenced to nine years in prison for having sexual relations with four underage girls — ages 15 to 17 — while a married youth minister at Crossroads Church in Libertyville.

Hannah was paroled in 2001 and joined the First Baptist Church of Romeoville, where his new wife was a member. Soon after, the pastor moved on, and church members — aware of Hannah’s crimes — asked him to step into the pulpit until a replacement was hired, according to church members, Hannah and others.

The First Baptist Church of Romeoville canceled Sunday services in the wake of the resignations including that of convicted sex offender Jeff Hannah.

Hannah served in that role for three years and ever since has been a fill-in preacher, teacher and music minister at the church.

‘We believe in forgiveness’

Authorities say there’s no evidence that Hannah has re-offended — and Hannah insists he has not — but he abruptly resigned his membership in the congregation when a reporter started inquiring about him last week.”In our church, we believe in forgiveness,” said Del Kirkpatrick, one of the deacons who hired Hannah.

In talking to the Sun-Times last week, Hannah, 42, was unapologetic about his crimes, saying his first marriage had been troubled and he’d had “urges.”

“I honestly believe that had I been a college pastor, I’d slept with college girls,” he said. “But I was a youth pastor. It was less about age and more about who I spent all my time with.”

The Rev. Steve Farish, pastor of Crossroads Church, which has relocated to Grayslake, said he considered Hannah so dangerous that he warned the Romeoville church and a regional Southern Baptist official.

‘The husband of one wife’

“We thought he could still potentially be a danger to women and children,” Farish said. “He was never repentant and never told the truth.”Randie Bruno, the prosecutor in Hannah’s case said, “He has the charisma to fool everybody.”

But Hannah led the Romeoville church until February 2006, when the Rev. Charles Hamby, a 54-year-old divorced pastor with financial troubles, was hired. When Hamby remarried a few months later, several church members left, including Kirkpatrick.

“A pastor should be the husband of one wife,” Kirkpatrick said.

Hamby, who also knew of Hannah’s past, allowed him to continue as a preacher and gave him even greater leadership roles. “The man … paid his debt to society,” Hamby said.

Some in the congregation were upset by Hannah’s role, but Hamby’s remarriage was a bigger controversy, according to church officials. The feud bubbled over last week, when Hamby and Hannah abruptly resigned.

“I just want to live my life,” Hannah said.

Activist outraged

The future of the congregation remains uncertain. Sunday worship was canceled.With more than 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Each congregation is autonomous. Under pressure from victims’ groups, the SBC in June pledged to examine the possibility of creating a national database of clergy predators.

Christa Brown, founder of StopBaptistPredators.org, was outraged that Hannah went from prison to the pulpit.

“When Southern Baptists put perpetrators into positions of spiritual trust again, it sends the message that this denomination doesn’t care about victims,” Brown said.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

10 thoughts on “"we believe in forgiveness"

  1. I’m just curious here – please don’t misunderstand – I love your blog regardless of whether we agree on everything 🙂 I do, however, think you may be violating copyright law by reproducing these articles word for word in their entirety. Fair Use doesn’t extend that far, I’m pretty certain. I only mention this due to your fairly high profile – I don’t want someone to cause you any grief over it.

  2. Bernard-

    I’ll have to admit that I’m chuckling over the high profile part, but I’ll seriously consider your recommendation about “Fair Use” and the reproduction of articles. It has never occurred to me that it may be a violation of copyright laws. I appreciate your concern.

  3. Micah,
    I agree with your statement that many “equate forgivness with forgetting” and this is a mistake. If a man disqualifies himself from ministry then he is disqualified regradless if he repents or not. I think you hit it on the nose.


  4. The people said that the pastor should be the husband of just one wife, yet hires someone who has done a grievous offense against children and said this?

    In talking to the Sun-Times last week, Hannah, 42, was unapologetic about his crimes, saying his first marriage had been troubled and he’d had “urges.”

    “I honestly believe that had I been a college pastor, I’d slept with college girls,” he said. “But I was a youth pastor. It was less about age and more about who I spent all my time with.”

    I am speechless and upset by this totally unBiblical off the wall thinking.

  5. I’m with Debbie. That is a horrible thing to admit. He was sinning whether the affair was with a 14 year old or a 44 year old. Urges? We all have them. That is what I Corinthians 10:13 is for.

  6. Micah,
    Interesting article to say the least. While I am definitely against the sin of pedophilia, I think we are still stuck with the nagging question, what do we do then with those who are repentant, serve their time and then are released? While not dealing with the particular instance at hand, in our community, a deacon was arrested and is serving time for attempted contact with a minor. I praise God he was caught before anything further happened. And yet, once he gets out, what is to be done with him? I do not know if his church went so far as to “bar/excommunicate” him from their assembly but in his communication with me, he understands that he is less than welcome back to the church. And I point out that I understand their concerns. And yet, what is to be done with people like them who have done such? David, caught in adultery and murder was not removed from kingship and in fact, Solomon, his son by Bathsheba is now in the lineage of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This intimates to me that the mercy of God reaches far and covers much. But back to my own question of myself and for others as well, do we really have a plan or a course of action to include the repentant back into the fellowship? Taking the qualifications that are put forth in Titus, the pastor must be “blameless” would seem to eliminate such as referred to in the article from future service as a pastor. As well, I also believe that it makes a huge difference whether such was committed by a professing Christian verses lost person in darkness.

    I agree with your ultimate conclusion that sins have ramifications. Also, as this type of sin becomes more prominent as it appears to be doing, we must wrestle with the “what do we do with the repentant?”

    It is indeed a delicate place to be when we should not expect MORE than the Lord would require but in the same breath, we should not settle for LESS than the Lord would require as well.

    I appreciate your thoughts in bringing forth this issue with which we must too often face.

  7. Luke-

    This is an important one to me. We have had to deal with a situation eerily similiar to the one you speak of you in your church. Our church welcomed the individual back into our fellowship and he is an active part of our congregation. I tell our folks that I desire for every drug dealer, prostitute, etc. in the community to be in our church. For them to be there would represent change occurring in their lives. If we aren’t reaching radical sinners with the gospel, we are failing in our responsibility.

    Having said that, the individual in question in our fellowship understands that there are limitations that must exist due to his past. He doesn’t have a position of public leadership, he doesn’t work with children, etc.

    So, I think the answer to your question is to welcome them with open arms – if they are repentant – but to do so understanding that there are still ramifications for their activities.

  8. It’s not a matter of forgiving them. It’s a matter of not putting them in situations where they could fail in a similar fashion and cause irreparable harm. As churches, we simply cannot do that. Don’t give someone with admitted kleptomaniac tendencies the key to the soundroom.

  9. Forgivness cannot mean that we eliminate the boundaries necessary for helathy human interaction. Forgeness does not eliminate the crop one reaps from what one sows. Forgiveness after repentence allows a person to be restored to fellowship in the Kingdom Of God, not necessiarily restored to the position which he had had in that fellowship. Ministry needs credibility and trust. We, as sinning humans, cannot do what only God can do – restore trust and credibility to a person. Miroslav Volf suggests that we leave that “Messianic problem” in God’s hands; we should not beat ourselves up for not trusting one who has violated our trust or for not believing one who has destroyed his credibility. Volf, the theologian, wrote: “Merely by trying to accomplish the messianic task”, we have already ”done too much work of the antichrist.”

  10. What a mess!

    But what a gospel. The beauty of the gospel is that the repentant sex offender (I Cor 5) can be restored into fellowship with the body of Christ (2 Cor 2).

    But into the pastorate? No way (1 Tim 3; Titus 1; 1 Tim 5)

    The problem is that we have so professionalized the pastorate that we feel that if we don’t hire the man he will have no vocation. Let him sell cars, sell insurance, something. That way, he can be the recipient of healing and encouragement from the body (what he really needs) instead of the bestower of such ministry (which is not qualified to do nor, I maintian, is he able in his condition).

    It saddens me that congregations are so numb to the emotional and spiritual needs of their pastors that they would hire this guy. They should have welcomed him with open arms, but to minister to him, not to sit under his teaching.

    May we be more sensitive to hurt sex offenders and hurting sex offense victims (especially homosexuals and prostitutes).

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