Ministering to Sex Abusers: What to Do? (Dean Stewart)

If we as Christians believe anything about God it is that He has the power, the ability to transform our lives. Every one of us who have walked with Christ for a period of time can humbly testify that God has changed our lives. The transformation begins suddenly at our new birth and can be drastic at the beginning. We all know people who were instantly, radically changed when they were saved. The difference was stark. However, the sanctification process is not over with that initial change. God does a sanctifying work in our lives.  

  1. He uses other believers. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friends.” Personally, I had two youth ministers impact my life for Jesus. God used these two brothers during my teenage years to transform my life. 
  1. He uses His Word. In our Lord’s High Priestly prayer Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by Your truth, Your Word is truth.” A routine study of God’s Word changes us.
  1. He uses His Spirit. II Corinthians 3:18 reads, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  

In this passage, we see such a great work of God. When we look on Christ through His Word the Spirit works to transform our lives.  

This short list serves as an introduction to an issue we have to deal with in our churches. Consider for a moment how we celebrate the transforming power of the Gospel in our churches. As we look over our congregations, gaze at our choirs, scan our praise teams, we see people serving who have been transformed. There is the lady who had an abortion, there is the former heroin addict who was saved, there is the man who was unfaithful to his wife, there is the young lady who maimed a person while driving drunk, I see the former prostitute singing “My Chains Are Gone”. They all have been changed and we celebrate what God has done for them and how they now serve our great God. The Gospel is awesome.  

Here is the issue, look again, do you see anyone guilty of sexually abusing a child or having been caught with child pornography serving or having their transformed lives held up for celebration? I have had to deal with this issue in a couple of churches I have pastored. I have spoken to several pastors who are struggling with decisions concerning registered sex offenders attending their churches.  

I have taken the position that I must protect my church family, our children will be safe. I can’t imagine a church having more safeguards in place than we do. I personally have visited two child sex offenders to share with them if they come to our church I will have an exodus. Both men agreed and were willing to adhere to tremendous precautions or to simply stay away. However, I know the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation even for the molester. Tears fill our eyes when the former prostitute sings of her love for Jesus while the sex offender is not welcome. Are we guilty of being judges with evil thoughts? No answers, only questions.  

IF YOU READ THIS AS SYMPATHY FOR MOLESTERS YOU ARE BLIND. I DESIRE TO KNOW THE HEART OF JESUS ON THIS MATTER.  

Does your church have any policies for sex offenders?
Would your church welcome a repentant sex offender?
Should sex offenders report to the church office before their initial time with you in worship?
Dean is pastor at LaBelle Haven Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi. 

Response to Baptist Press Article (“Much Prayer, Much Power” after Synagogue Massacre) from Dr. Amy Downey

As a member of a Southern Baptist church and a missionary to the Jewish people (further information about me is available in the bio section below) for the last eighteen years, I have several concerns about what was stated in the Baptist Press article, “Much Prayer, Much Power after Synagogue Massacre” as representing the Jewish evangelism movement. I believe it needs to be rectified as it does not represent myself and many others who call themselves Southern Baptists and evangelists to the Jewish people.

There are two areas of primary concern in this article that I will focus on in this post. The first is the nature of what is and what is not the nature of the Jewish evangelism movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. The second is what steps need to be taken after the tragedy in Pittsburgh.

The Executive Director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, who I do call a friend but who I also disagree with in this article, stated the following:

“Most SBMF members actively worship and partner with synagogues… You have to understand, we’re evangelical Christians. It’s not always welcome, but we have some people who are actually attending orthodox synagogues, and worshipping with them… Basically we worship the same way. The difference is we’re able to show the Christ… When we say those prayers when we’re in a Jewish synagogue, we’re able to show the connection to Christ. They haven’t seen it yet.”

There are several statements in this article that I take issue in these statements. I am not aware of anyone in the SBMF who worships/partners/attends synagogues in the manner that the executive director describes. If he knows of individuals that do, I would suggest that discussions with individuals take place as this reflects to me a type of “camel methodology” that needs to be addressed. Additionally, we do not worship basically in the same way as there are prayers in the synagogue that I could never say, especially the Amidah.

It should be noted that I am a member of the Dallas Holocaust Museum. I regularly attend Jewish Community Center events and any/all events in the Jewish community that I can. However, I go as a Christian and seek to find ways to present my Christian testimony in a loving and overt way. This overtness has opened the door to “seed-planting” opportunities that never would have happened in any other way. Jewish people appreciate and expect Christians to be honest about their faith in Messiah Jesus. We should do it whenever and however we get the chance and this is the primary vehicle that the ministry that I lead do for Christians and churches – teach you how.

My second concern is what the leader of the Messianic congregation in Pittsburgh stated in the Baptist Press article. He stated, “We can’t do anything more than just do the best we can to tell Jewish people, ‘We love you, we care about you, we’re going to overcome this with you… Love is greater than hate. We’re stronger than hate. … And just try to let Yeshua shine through us. We can’t be overtly evangelistic, especially at a time like this. But we have to be, very much, wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

I disagree with this argument. In fact, I told the supporters of Tzedakah Ministries that it was more urgent now more than ever that we bring the truth of Jesus the Messiah to a lost Jewish world because they are hurting and searching for answers. You may disagree with me on this issue; however, would we allow any other people group to not hear the message of Jesus just because a tragedy occurred in their world? We cannot for the physical descendants of Jesus either.

Jewish evangelism is the passion of my life. It might not be your passion but we must have a passion for the lost in this day and age. The world is lost. The world is hurting. The world needs Jesus.

Dr. Amy Downey is a graduate of East Texas Baptist University, two-time graduate of SWBTS and a PhD from Liberty. She is a member of Needham Road Baptist in Conroe, Texas, and the president/director of Tzedakah Ministries. 

Amando a nuestros vecinos inmigrantes (Howard Harden)

Durante años, la reforma migratoria ha sido un tema candente en los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, nunca ha habido un momento en que el tema de la inmigración sea más controvertido. Probables votantes en las elecciones de medio término recientemente declararon que la inmigración es su principal preocupación. La reciente controversia con respecto a la detención de niños en la frontera ha agregado leña al fuego.

Muchos cristianos están preguntando qué dice la Escritura, si es que lo dice, para guiarnos. Nuestra primera pregunta al examinar cualquier problema siempre debería ser: “¿Qué dice la Biblia?”. Por la gracia de Dios, espero compartir con ustedes algunos de esos versículos y principios. Dicho esto, soy un pastor, no un político. Estoy más que dispuesto a hablar sobre cualquier cuestión moral donde la Palabra de Dios habla. Pero no creo que encuentre en la Biblia una política de inmigración clara para el siglo veintiuno. Lo que encontrará son principios que deberían ayudarnos, como cristianos, ver a nuestros vecinos inmigrantes. Políticamente, este es un tema sobre el cual los buenos cristianos estarán en desacuerdo. Espiritualmente, todos podemos estar de acuerdo en lo que es una conducta cristiana apropiada.

Comencemos con esto: Jesús era un inmigrante. Usted escucha esta historia todos los años en Navidad. En Mateo dos, Herodes intentó eliminar al nuevo “rey de los judíos” ordenando la muerte de todos los niños varones menores de dos años en Belén y sus alrededores. José fue advertido en un sueño de huir a Egipto. Huyeron a Egipto porque Dios les instruyó y porque hacer esto cumplió la profecía. Pero al huir a Egipto, la familia de Jesús se convirtió, en el verdadero sentido de la palabra, en “inmigrantes”.

El hecho de que nuestro Salvador fue una vez un inmigrante debería hacernos mirar el problema desde un punto de vista diferente. Imagine, por un momento, si Jesús nació en 2018 y su familia se vio obligada a huir, no a Egipto, sino a los Estados Unidos. Pregúntate a ti mismo: “¿Cómo querrías que Jesús fuera tratado?” De la manera en que responde esa pregunta, así es como debe tratar a sus vecinos inmigrantes, aquellos que vinieron legalmente y aquellos que no lo hicieron. Debemos tratarlos como hechos a la imagen de Dios. Debemos tratarlos como pecadores por quienes Jesús murió. Debemos tratarlos como dignos de respeto. Deuteronomio 10: 18-19 dice que Dios “…hace justicia al huérfano y a la viuda; que ama también al extranjero dándole pan y vestido. Amaréis, pues, al extranjero; porque extranjeros fuisteis en la tierra de Egipto.” ¡Ama al extranjero!

Aunque no soy partidario de la política de Jorge Ramos, me he beneficiado de sus ideas sobre la difícil situación de la mayoría de los inmigrantes. Por ejemplo, Ramos dijo en su último libro, “Los emigrantes no se van porque quieren. Son casi obligados a convertirse en extranjeros en una tierra nueva. … ¿Quién va a querer dejar a sus papás, hermanos y amigos? Lo ideal sería crecer, trabajar y vivir con los que te quieren. Pero no siempre se puede.” Ciertamente hay excepciones a lo que declaró Ramos. Sí, algunos que entran ilegalmente a los Estados Unidos lo hacen por razones nefastas. La mayoría, sin embargo, vino porque se vieron obligados a separarse de una situación peligrosa o precaria.

Yo aprendí español mientras ministraba a trabajadores migrantes mexicanos en Carolina del Norte. Estos hombres soportaron trabajos terriblemente difíciles, sabiendo que no estarían mejor por eso … pero sus hijos lo harían. No querían estar en los Estados Unidos. Le aseguro que cada uno de ellos hubiera preferido quedarse en México y poder alimentar a sus familias. Para estos hombres, esa no era una opción.

¿Cómo se gustaría ser tratado si estuviera en esa situación? Jesús dijo en Mateo 7:12, “Todas las cosas que queráis que los hombres hagan con vosotros, así también haced vosotros con ellos.” Esto se conoce como la “Regla de oro”. En ese momento, había un dicho popular que decía: “Lo que sea daño que no quieres que te hagan a ti, no hagas a los demás.” Jesús convirtió lo negativo en algo positivo. Cualquier cosa buena que quisiera que alguien hiciera por usted, hazlo por ellos. ¿Cómo se gustaría ser tratado si fuera un inmigrante? ¿Qué bien se gustaría que le hicieran? ¿Qué bendiciones querría que otros coloquen sobre usted? Así es como debe tratar a sus vecinos inmigrantes.

Según Jesús, la forma en que tratamos a los más vulnerables es cómo lo hemos tratado a Él y es un reflejo de si realmente lo conocemos. En Mateo 25, Jesús enseñó lo que se llama “La parábola de las ovejas y las cabras”. En esa parábola, repetidamente dijo que cuando se preocupa por ” mis hermanos más pequeños”, lo hace por él. Hablando a las ovejas en los versículos 35-36, Él dijo: “Porque tuve hambre, y me disteis de comer; tuve sed, y me disteis de beber; fui forastero, y me recogisteis; estuve desnudo, y me cubristeis; enfermo, y me visitasteis; en la cárcel, y vinisteis a mí.” Observe en el medio de esta lista, Jesús dijo: “fui forastero, y me recogisteis.” “Forastero” también se puede traducir “inmigrante” o “extranjero.” Significa alguien del exterior que es desconocido para nosotros. Cuando los recibimos, hay un sentido en el que recibimos a Jesús.

Algunos han citado erróneamente este versículo para afirmar que Estados Unidos está obligado a “aceptar” a toda persona que desee venir. Ese no es el caso. Jesús no estaba proponiendo una política de inmigración para el Imperio Romano. Hablaba de cómo nosotros, como cristianos, tratamos a los “extranjeros entre nosotros”. Los tomamos al cuidarlos cuando son vulnerables y al satisfacer las necesidades en un momento en que no pueden hacerlo por sí mismos.

Recientemente tuve la oportunidad de ver esto en acción. Una miembra de mi iglesia que es una maestra de escuela llamó nuestra atención a una niña de su clase cuya familia acababa de llegar a los Estados Unidos. No tenían nada excepto la ropa que llevaban puesta. Esta maestra trabajó duro para proporcionar camas para que duerman y ropa para que se pongan. Nuestra iglesia cumplió con algunas necesidades físicas importantes y personalmente compartí el evangelio con ellos. La generosidad de la iglesia tuvo un tremendo impacto en ellos y solo puedo esperar que las semillas que plantamos den como resultado el fruto de la salvación.

En otro ejemplo, uno de nuestros maestros de escuela dominical me llamó hace unos años y me pidió un par de horas de mi tiempo. Dios había puesto en el corazón de este hermano comprar un camión lleno de comida y visitar una parte de Florida City donde los hombres de Centroamérica se reúnen por las mañanas con la esperanza de trabajar. Al ver que no hablaba español, me preguntó si podía acompañarlo para ayudar a repartir la comida y distribuir biblias. Pensé para mí mismo después: “Este muchacho lo entiende”.

Lamentablemente, no todos los cristianos reaccionan así. Cuando era pastor en Carolina del Norte, una vez escuché a una de mis miembros decir que debería haber una ley que prohíba hablar en público cualquier idioma, excepto el inglés. Trate de imaginar que ha sido expulsado de su patria en contra de su voluntad. ¡Ahora imagina a una mujer (y cristiana profesante) diciendo que debe ser ilegal preguntarle a tu esposa si necesitas recoger un galón de leche en Walmart porque todavía no tienes la capacidad de hacerlo en inglés! Tal actitud es increíblemente cruel y tal crueldad debería ser inexistente en la iglesia de Dios.

Más que cualquier otra cosa, cuando pensamos en el tema de la inmigración, debemos pensar como misioneros. Regularmente enfatizamos la importancia de la Gran Comisión. Y, sin embargo, si la misma persona a la que queremos llegar en un país diferente, se muda a su ciudad, ¿no debería ver eso como una oportunidad para ser un testigo? ¿Realmente sacrificaría su dinero para enviar un misionero a predicar en Irán y no testificaría ante un vecino iraní al otro lado de la calle? Lo que sea que usted crea acerca de la reforma migratoria, una cosa es clara: Dios nos trae las naciones y es nuestra responsabilidad compartir el evangelio con ellas. No es muy importante si está de acuerdo o en desacuerdo con una política de inmigración en particular. Sin embargo, es supremamente importante si obedece la Gran Comisión.

Si es cristiano, su lealtad es al Reino de Dios. Puede ondear la bandera, citar a los padres fundadores, cantar el himno nacional, citar el juramento de lealtad, comer barbacoa y amar a América. (¡Lo hago!) Y sin embargo, por mucho que ame a su país, debe amar más el reino de Dios. Y amar el Reino de Dios significa ver oportunidades para compartir el Evangelio con todos, incluso con sus vecinos inmigrantes.

Tengo una idea. En lugar de dedicar cinco minutos más a participar en debates en línea infructuosos sobre la inmigración, bendiga a un vecino inmigrante. ¡Hay mucho de dónde escoger! Y déjame contarte un pequeño secreto. Muchos de nuestros vecinos indocumentados temen asistir a una iglesia establecida. Temen la exposición. Temen que una oficina de policía pueda asistir a esa iglesia, descubrirla y entregarla. Solo hay una manera en que podemos combatir eso: amando a nuestros vecinos. Conócelos. Exprese un genuino interés en ellos. Cuida de sus necesidades. Muéstrales el amor de Cristo. Gana su confianza.

Para algunos de ustedes, este artículo será profundamente insatisfactorio. Prefieres el debate político a la discusión espiritual que deberíamos tener. Si honestamente creía que nuestros mayores problemas eran políticos, dedicaría mi vida a la política. Pero mientras creo que nuestros mayores problemas son espirituales, he dedicado mi vida al Evangelio. Espero que también lo hagas.

Howard Harden received his BA at Samford, his MDIV and DMIN at Southeastern. He pastors FBC, Homestead, the oldest remaining SBC church in the Miami Baptist Association which has over 400 churches. He preaches four times a Sunday, three times in English and one time in Spanish. The church also has a worship service in Creole (Haitian mission).

Loving Our Immigrant Neighbors (Howard Harden)

(This is a translation of the Spanish language post published above.)

For years, immigration reform has been a hot-button issue in the United States. There has never been a time, however, when the topic of immigration was more controversial. Likely voters in the mid-term elections recently stated that immigration is their top concern. The recent controversy regarding the detainment of children at the border has added fuel to the fire.

Many Christians are asking what, if anything, Scripture says to guide us. Our first question when examining any issue should always be, “What does the Bible say?” By God’s grace, I hope to share some of those verses and principles with you. That being said, I am a pastor, not a politician. While I am more than willing to speak out on any moral issue the Word of God addresses, I do not believe you will find in the Bible a clear immigration policy for the twenty-first century. What you will find are principles that should shape how we, as Christians, view our immigrant neighbors. Politically, this is an issue on which good Christians will disagree. Spiritually, we can all agree on what is proper Christian conduct.

Let’s start with this: Jesus was an immigrant. You hear this story every year at Christmas. In Matthew 2, Herod attempted to eliminate the new “king of the Jews” by ordering the deaths of all male children in and near Bethlehem under two years of age. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. They fled to Egypt because God instructed them to and because doing so fulfilled prophecy. But by fleeing to Egypt, Jesus’ family became, in the truest sense of the word, “immigrants.”

The fact that our Savior was once an immigrant should cause us to look at the issue from a different standpoint. Imagine, for a moment, if Jesus had been born in 2018 and his family was forced to flee, not to Egypt, but to the United States. Ask yourself this: “How would you want Jesus to be treated?” However you answer that question, that is how you should treat your immigrant neighbors, those who came legally and those who did not. We must treat them as made in the image of God. We must treat them as sinners in need of a Savior. We must treat them as worthy of respect. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing. You also must love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Love the foreigner!

Although I am not a fan of Jorge Ramos’ politics, I have benefitted from his insights into the plight of most immigrants. For example, Ramos said in his most recent book (my translation), “Immigrants do not go because they want to. They are almost obligated to become immigrants in another land…Who wants to leave their parents, brothers, and friends? The ideal would be to grow, work, and live with those who love you. But that’s not always possible.” There are certainly exceptions to what Ramos stated. Yes, some who illegally enter the United States do so for nefarious reasons. The majority, however, came because they were forced to separate themselves from a dangerous or precarious situation.

I learned Spanish while ministering to Mexican migrant workers in North Carolina. These men endured what can only be called hard labor, knowing that they would not be any better off because of it…but their children would. They did not want to be in the United States. I assure you that every one of them would have preferred staying in Mexico and being able to feed their families. For these men, that was not an option.

How would you want to be treated if you were in that situation? Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.” This is known as the “Golden Rule.” At the time, there was a popular saying that stated, “Whatever harm you do not want done to you, do not do unto others.” Jesus turned the negative into a positive. Whatever good things you would want someone to do for you, do for them. How would you want to be treated if you were an immigrant? What good would you want done unto you? What blessings would you want others to bestow on you? That is how you should treat your immigrant neighbors.

According to Jesus, how we treat the most vulnerable is how we have treated Him and a reflection of whether we truly know Him. In Matthew 25, Jesus taught what is called “The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.” In that parable, He repeatedly said that when you care for “the least of these,” you do so for Him. Speaking to the sheep in verses 35-36, He said, “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 took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me.’” Notice in the middle of this list, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” “Stranger” can also mean “immigrant,” or “sojourner.” It means someone from the outside who is unknown to us. When we take them in, we take in Jesus.

Some have misquoted this verse to state that the United States is obligated to “take in” every person who desires to come. That is not the case. Jesus was not proposing an immigration policy for the Roman Empire. He was talking about how we, as Christians, treat the “strangers among us.” We take them in by caring for them when they are vulnerable, and meeting needs at a time when they are unable to do so for themselves.

I recently had the opportunity to see this in action. A member of my church who is a school teacher brought to our attention a little girl in her class whose family had just arrived in the United States. They did not own a thing except for the clothes on their backs. This teacher worked hard to provide beds for them to sleep on and clothes for them to wear. Our church met some important physical needs and I personally shared the gospel with them. The generosity of the church made a tremendous impact on them and I can only hope that the seeds we planted will result in the fruit of salvation.

In another example, one of our Sunday School teachers called me up a few years ago and asked for a couple hours of my time. God had put it on this brother’s heart to purchase a truckload of food and visit a part of town where central American men gather in the mornings in hope of work. Seeing he did not speak Spanish, he asked if I would accompany him to help give away the food and to distribute Bibles. I thought to myself afterward, “This guy gets it.”

Unfortunately, this is not how all Christians react. When I was a pastor in North Carolina, I once overheard one of my members say that there should be a law banning the speaking of any language but English in public. Try to imagine that you have been forced out of your homeland against your will. Now imagine a woman (and professing Christian) saying you should not be allowed to ask your wife whether you need to pick up a gallon of milk at Walmart because you lack the ability to do so in English! Such an attitude is unbelievably cruel and such cruelty should be nonexistent in the church of God.

More than anything else, when we think of the immigration issue, we should think like missionaries. We regularly emphasize the importance of the Great Commission. And yet, if the same person we want so badly to reach in a different countryhappens to move to your town, should you not see that as an opportunity to witness? Would you really sacrifice your money to send a missionary to witness in Iran and not witness to an Iranian neighbor across the street? Whatever you believe about immigration reform, one thing is clear: God is bringing the nations to us and it is our job to share the gospel with them. Whether you agree or disagree with a particular immigration policy matters little. Whether you seize the opportunity to practice the Great Commission at home matters greatly.

If you are a born-again Christian, your allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. You can be a flag-waving, founding fathers citing, anthem-singing, pledge-quoting, barbeque-eating, America-loving patriot. (I am!) And yet, however much you love your country, you must love God’s kingdom more. And loving God’s Kingdom means seeing opportunities to share the gospel with everyone, including your immigrant neighbors.

I have an idea. Rather than spend five more minutes engaging in fruitless online debates about immigration, bless an immigrant neighbor. There are plenty to choose from! And let me let you in on a little secret. Many of our undocumented neighbors are afraid to attend an established church. They are afraid of the exposure. They are afraid that a police officer might attend that church, find out, and turn them in. There is only one way we can combat that: by loving our neighbors. Get to know them. Express genuine interest in them. Care about their needs. Show them the love of Christ. Earn their trust.

To some of you, this article will be deeply unsatisfying. You prefer the political debate to the spiritual discussion we should be having. If I honestly believed that our greatest problems were political, I would devote my life to politics. But whereas I believe our greatest problems are spiritual, I have devoted my life to the gospel. I hope you will as well.

Howard Harden received his BA at Samford, his MDIV and DMIN at Southeastern. He pastors FBC, Homestead, the oldest remaining SBC church in the Miami Baptist Association which has over 400 churches. He preaches four times a Sunday, three times in English and one time in Spanish. The church also has a worship service in Creole (Haitian mission).