I work a lot with survivors of sexual violence. In college I went through a training called Sexual Violence Awareness Advocacy (SVAA) in order to work with Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project. I was blessed to work with amazing men and women who taught me a lot about how abuse happens and how to be a compassionate listener for those who have survived such abuses. And working with survivors really became a part of my call. Advocacy and stopping abuse became a key component for me and ultimately when I recognized my call, this was a part of it.
In ministry, there have been times when I focus on the other parts of my call (race issues, LGBT advocacy, immigrant rights) and times when I focus on working with survivors. There isn't a rhyme or reason for why I do what I do when I do it, only that those issues present themselves more prominently at different times with different people.
I have been blessed to have the trust and confidence of survivors from very early stages of our relationships and have been privileged to walk with them as they heal from the violence (physical, sexual, spiritual, and psychological) that was inflicted on them. As a part of this ministry, I often do the Safe Sanctuary training that the denomination requires for those who work with minors. In my opinion, we don't do it often enough and there are far too few children and youth workers who know the policy and how to work with children to protect them, both from abuses that have happened and abuses that could happen. So when I do a training for my church (we have about 20 folks trained now), I also open it up to the district and/or conference for anyone else that needs training.
That's the long way of getting to this:
In talking with a survivor, she asked if I thought pedophiles could change and if they should be forgiven.
I had to be honest, that's a tough one for me. As a pastor, as a believer, as someone who is whole-heartedly devoted to God's message and offering of grace, yes, I believe someone can change and that they should be forgiven (though I definitely do NOT associate forgiveness with putting oneself in a dangerous/abusive situation again...). And at the same time, forgiveness for abusers is one of the hardest areas for me. I know of someone in my parish who was/is a pedophile (I don't know of recent abuses, only abuses that happened decades ago) and quite honestly, I struggle, especially on communion Sundays. I have to be very cautious because I am very easily prone to judgment and wonder if he has truly repented of what he did. I know it is not mine to know or to judge, but it's tough for me. Especially as someone who sees the life-long effects of abuse on the survivor, who sees how he/she as the victim never really gets to forget what happened and move on, one can only pray they heal from what has happened. So when I see how lasting the pain is, I struggle to believe he/she should receive such pardon and grace so easily. What I believe in my heart and think in my head are very much at odds on this issue.
I know of others in my church who have committed adultery, who have spent all the family savings, who have killed, who have been violent, who have embezzled money, who are perpetual liars and oddly I don't struggle to see and offer them grace as I do with those who have sexually abused someone (male or female, please let's not forget, men/boys are abused too).
Ultimately, because of my faith in Christ, I believe that grace and forgiveness win out--EVERY TIME. I know that other Christians might not go that far, they would put certain standards or requirements in place first, but grace is one of those areas where I think God is far more abundant in God's generosity than most of us would like to think. I think the power of God's love can prevail over even the hardest of hearts. But there are definitely those individuals and those persons who give me pause and make me reevaluate that belief. I pray for them, and for their victims, that the power of God's love would truly prevail to change the hearts of those who abuse and heal the lives of those who have been hurt by them.