I heard a rumor this week that I hoped was going to be just that -- a rumor with no basis. That wasn't the case. I asked Jan to check the rumor out to see if a church in Oregon County really did boycott a small family-owned cafe because they posted the pictures of sex offenders living in Oregon County. After talking with several people, Jan called me and said it really did happen. I was floored, not angry, but very disappointed that a church congregation would do such a thing.
Jan wrote a lengthy article with quotes from owners and employees from the cafe as well as quotes from church members who attend this church. I decided not to run it. It isn't really a "news" article just an unfortunate event that I hope never happens again, anywhere. But, that doesn't mean I'm going to keep quiet about it.
For a church to boycott a business for doing something good for their community is just wrong. By demanding that these pictures be removed they have in effect told the sex offender that the church thinks it's OK to hide their crime and sickness from people living in Oregon County. Why would they protect a sex offender? No one protected the child(ren) he molested and believe me, they are the innocent victims here, not the child molester. A little embarrassment is good; it reminds the sex offender that people are watching.
I have listened to church leaders who tell me they have a sex offender who attends church and has "turned their life around." That may be the case, but only God knows for sure.
People who commit sex crimes against children should never be put in a position where they are alone with children -- period. Church leaders may welcome a "repented" offender, but if they love their children, they better not leave a child alone in his presence. You don't offer alcohol to an alcoholic and you don't "offer" a child to a sex offender. Too many studies have shown that sex offenders do NOT reform, but will repeat their crime if given the chance. Sex offenders are not always the stranger who is just passing through a community. Sex offenders are fathers, grandfathers, teachers, upstanding community leaders and yes, the church member who asks for forgiveness. They are experts at hiding their crime and blending into a community.
People who are in a position of trusted authority, whether it be church elders or school officials, have an obligation to protect the most innocent and most vulnerable -- children.
"Buzz" Busby of Salem has developed a program to help churches do everything humanly possible to protect children in their congregation. This church that "boycotted" this small cafe needs to hear about this program and learn why churches of all sizes need to implement a program of watchful protection. I urge them to contact Busby through the Salem First Baptist Church. A few minutes of a congregation's time could save a child from abuse and prevent a congregation from closing its doors. This congregation needs to hear what he has to say.
I know of schools, churches, ballparks, businesses and law enforcement offices where pictures of sex offenders living in their county are posted on their walls. How many of these schools or sheriff's offices were boycotted for posting this information for all to see? None of them. And, if anyone believes a sex offender is ever cured, they need to talk to law enforcement whose job it is to monitor these people. I guarantee they'll be shocked and scared. It doesn't matter if it's been 20 days or 20 years, the odds of a sex offender repeating his crime are high enough they are required by law to register their address with law enforcement so they can be watched.
Maybe this church's "reformed" member won't be the one who hurts another child, but what about the other 20+ sex offenders who were pictured on that page? This selfish, boycotting action may have enabled one of them to hide their crime a little longer. If this church member has truly repented and reformed, then he should have been the person hanging that page up and saying, "You need to watch these people. They're dangerous and they will hurt another child if given the opportunity. I know. I was one of them and I live with that knowledge and deal with that struggle everyday." That, to me, is an example of a reforming (but not cured) sex offender.
Oregon County is a rural area, as are Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties in Arkansas. Because they are rural, they are the perfect hiding place for sex offenders. Look at those pictures again and note how many of them committed their crimes someplace else and then moved to a small, rural town in one of these counties. They moved here to hide. They moved here because people in this area are family; they trust the stranger; they welcome the stranger into their home; and very rarely do they ask the hard questions.
I know that the majority of Oregon County citizens were glad we published the sex offenders' pictures and names. And, I know that a lot of people in this small congregation do not agree with the "few" who demanded the cafe remove the page of pictures from its bulletin board. I'm just disappointed that anyone thought the business was doing something wrong when in fact they were doing something very, very right.
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