We talk a lot about the impact of laws on registered persons and their loved ones, but sometimes the negative impact of the public registry reaches us in places we least expect to find. Not even churches are immune to Predator Panic. I found this out the hard way.
In the mid-1990s I became a member of a church in California, where I had been living for several years. I attended this church regularly and helped out with their Sunday school crafts for the children. I became close friends and associated with these people quite often, many of them were also neighbors of mine and my parents who also attended the church. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together, had backyard BBQs, shared recipes and books, many of us also met for coffee or lunch and often went shopping together. These people would also ask me to watch their children when they wanted a few hours away.
Around 2011 I befriended a registered person living in the same small town and began to become more active as an advocate for registered persons; soon I was dating this man. He did not attend any services at this church at all, even after we started dating.
Over the months leading into the summer of 2012, many of the church members began to avoid me and “forgot” to invite me to things or “confused the days” when I invited them for something. They told me they no longer needed anyone to watch their children and the church suddenly did not need any more help with the youth crafts, not even relating to new project ideas and suggestions. In the beginning I was not concerned with this behavior; I simply contributed it to the fact that many people had their minds on the holidays, spending time with their families, and travel. By mid-summer almost all of the church members were avoiding me and had stopped talking to me, many were also starting to shun my parents. When they did speak to me it was only after I started a conversation, responding bluntly with what seemed forced courtesy saying things such as, “Good morning to you too, I hope you have been doing well”, or the old lame excuse of, “I would really love to talk but I don’t have time, you see I’m in a bit of a rush I have to go…”
This all came to a sudden and unexpected end one hot summer morning. Pastor “Frank” had given a very nice sermon on forgiveness reminding us how Jesus Christ forgives everyone and every sin. He told us the story of the woman at the well in the 4th chapter of John and how Christ had told her “Go and sin no more.” He emphasized that no matter who we are, rich or poor, no matter what our social standing God was there for us and had let his only son willingly give his life for all sins and indiscretions.
Immediately after this service Pastor Frank, “Brian” (the Head Elder), and his wife “Tammy” (the youth director), called me aside and asked to speak with me. The three of them ushered me into the office of the pastor, a small cramped room with three chairs, a large desk, and two floor-to-ceiling book cases. There was no air-conditioning in the room, so the air was stifling. Frank sat behind his desk with his back to the small window, Brian took the chair directly across from him, and Tammy sat next to Brian in the last chair. I was left standing backed into the corner by the bookshelves with Brian and Tammy between the doorway and me.
Brian began the conversation telling me I would need to leave the church if I were to continue to befriend, date, and advocate for registered persons and the abolishment of the registry. He said the church could not allow me to stay because as everyone knows, “Birds of a feather flock together so I must be a pedophile also, as it was obvious I condoned such behavior.” He informed me that my association with criminals such as this would only draw more to our community and church putting many innocent women and children in danger. During this entire depressing and uncomfortable lecture both Frank and Tammy sat looking on with unsmiling serious scowls on their faces that seemed almost to border on a smirk. They did not speak but only nodded in agreement with Brian from time to time. I told them I would go by their wishes and no longer attend this church. He closed the conversation by making a statement I felt was threatening in tone; he stated, “Remember, be careful who you associate with. People may think poorly of you and many bad things will happen to you, especially when you associate with known criminals.”
After I stopped attending there were many unexplained vandalism attempts on my parents property. My parents were living in a nice neighborhood across town from me on a quiet street with some of the people from the same congregation as neighbors. My parents’ front porch was egged a couple of times; one time the garage door had been vandalized with spray paint; several times they found nails, screws and such in their tires and scattered across the driveway; my father’s gas tank was emptied one night; and twice the tires on my mother’s van were slashed, with all four tires slashed on one occasion. It seemed strange that none of the neighbors heard or seen anything happening even though the street was well lit and the vandalism was only to my parents’ property. There is no proof of who may have done these things but I for one still have my suspicions.
Of course this nasty demeaning situation left me feeling quite insulted and depressed. I felt that the religious community I had so faithfully befriended and supported for all these years had suddenly turned on me and let me down. I understand that not all people and churches act this way; in fact, only 2% of respondents from a 2010 Christianity Today Poll stated their churches exclude Registrants from services, while 3% have a registered person in a leadership role within their congregation. However, I still get a little wary and nervous whenever I visit a church today. There seems to be a little voice nagging at me and questioning if these people would truly accept me if they were to know what I advocate for and who my friends are. I also can’t help but wonder if they would look down on my boyfriend, the man I love, because he made a mistake many years ago, paid his debt to society but now bears a label as a registered person and assumed to be dangerous.