So, the worshipped DJ, charity fundraising legend Sir Jim’ll Fix It turns out to be a ‘predatory sex offender’ and a ‘sick pervert’. Against the sound of the gathering lynch mob, alleged suspects struggle to retain their anonymity. TV presenters hand over hastily scribbled down lists to the prime minister, while dangling the ducking stool in the other hand. Is it the end of the world as we know it? Is this Paedogeddon?
Hopefully, it is the end of a world that assumed people in particular roles were beyond reproach, the end of shielding abusers because of their celebrity or power or money. But what does it mean for our thinking if the big-hearted charity marathon runner was also a paedophile? I do not mean for a moment that any amount of marathon running and charity donating can excuse, ameliorate or exonerate his crimes. But where many have rushed to cry out ‘he’s pure evil’ or ‘bad to the bone’, I’m not sure I can with Jimmy or with anyone else. Because being human and sexual offending is more complicated than that, does an evil act make someone pure evil?
These recent cases highlight the fact that someone from any walk of life can have this in their history. Sex offenders come from a more diverse demographic than those jailed for many other offences. They usually know the victim, they are people who live on our streets, attend our churches and shop in our supermarkets. Despite their abhorrent acts, Jesus undoubtedly loves them, so what about me?
The press do seem to have stirred up a Paedogeddon of sorts: going into a name and shame meltdown, competing for the most hideous moniker for Savile or those (whoever they actually are) accused of involvement with the abuse case in Wrexham. Jimmy Savile clearly committed hideous crimes against vulnerable young people, but in an attempt to understand someone’s monstrous actions, does calling them a monster move us forward?
Monstering someone and summoning Paedogeddon seems unhelpful to me. It makes people sub-human, that is unlike me, opposite, other; when really this is a profoundly human issue. Jimmy Savile was once revered as a god but is now considered a monster. He was a person. In that person-hood was a complex mix where extraordinary acts of good and unspeakable evil were all held together in the same skin.
I’ve seen the life-changing devastation caused by childhood sexual abuse, both those close to me and also in my work with women in prison, the majority of whom have been abused. I do not say these things lightly or underestimate the lifelong impact of systematic abuse. We are a people called to hope, to life, to love and to engage with a broken world, so alongside walking with victims, we cannot just stand at the side shouting ‘monster’ and feel smug that we aren’t as ‘sick and twisted’ as Jim.
As Jesus-followers we need to ask how we respond to the sex offenders or indeed the potential sex offenders in our midst. What are the early intervention strategies that could prevent more victims? Is it just about safeguarding or is it about loneliness, sexual brokenness and tackling that? Are our churches places where those who might struggle with or have been convicted of these offences, can be loved, supported and accepted to be set free? Can we do this without risking our children’s safety?
These are not easy questions, especially when you consider that NSPCC think almost a quarter of us experience childhood sexual abuse. That’s 25 per cent of my church, my social group, my Twitter followers. The church needs to be a place of acceptance and healing for the abuser and the abused, as well as a place where all our children are treasured and safe. The journey starts with our own reckoning before God, in recognising my crimes, my failings and celebrating the grace that’s been lavished on me. The Bible is mostly written by murderers: Moses, David, Paul; there has to be grace for those who have committed even the most atrocious, life-wrecking crimes, and those crippled by the effects of these crimes, otherwise the cross is a nonsense.
It is time to put the ducking stool, the pedestal and easy labels away, and to grapple more honestly, publicly, with our humanity, with our complexity and brokenness.
For further help with:
Ex-offenders in your church, contact Caring for ex-offenders.
Expert advice on safeguarding and a 24 hour hotline, The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS).
Concerns about your own behaviour or the behaviour of others, contact Stop it now!
Information and resources on protecting children can be found with Parents Protect!