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Can You Talk To A Criminal?


One thing we are not ready for, in Christian churches, is criminals. Recently, someone pulled out a gun in a church in Texas and started shooting. We all probably know that someone in the church had a gun and shot the shooter almost immediately. The highly skilled church member, with a gun, saved many lives. In most churches that I know, a criminal shooter could kill many people, and escape from the church. I have never seen a retired law enforcement professional with a loaded gun, in church, except in videos from that church in Texas.

I have lived in a small town, and church leaders told me that petty criminals travel from town to town and go to every church they can find. They demand money because they are poor and need help, they claim. Usually they have a story about travelling on the highway, and needing money for gas. They get “gas” money from every church, and move on to the next town, and repeat. Some of them make a good living.

Looking back, I have been close to dangerous criminals because I am a Christian. One time, in that small town, a teenage girl came to our house. She knew us from the church youth group, and she told us she was leaving her foster home. I knew the people who owned the foster home, and when the girl looked at me calmly and said she was never going back, I decided to act.

My best plan was to phone a social worker, but I was just ordered to take her back to the home; and she refused to go. I was stuck, and my best plan was to drive her to a city about an hour away, to a social work office far from our town. She could talk to a social worker there, and they would probably put her in a new home.

The plan worked exactly as planned, and she got a new home. But I left out part of the story; as I drove her to the city, she talked about her life as if I knew about her. I knew almost nothing, but I let her talk to keep her calm. It was clear to me, very quickly, that she had been sexually abused in the foster home in our town, and the people who ran the home were criminals.

I told her to report everything to a social worker, but I should have taken her to a police station. I wasn’t ready for that conversation in the car, and I didn’t know what to do, and I did not make the best decision. That girl was in danger, and so was I. Those abusive people knew where I lived, and they didn’t want to go to prison.

If you are wondering, the girl grew to be a young woman, in the city, and left the child-care system. I didn’t follow her life, but I hope she found her way. Also, the foster home was closed, but I don’t know what happened to the abusers who operated the place. The social workers in the city did their jobs like professionals.

If I had a do-over, I would go to the police immediately. That’s a simple plan, but it is a plan. I had no idea how to respond to that girl, as I drove down the highway.

I don’t think we are ready for a conversation with a criminal, in most churches.

I know Christians who gave large amounts of money to petty criminals who told them a good story. A church in my city was forced to close after they invited an investment specialist to join them, and then they put him on the board. There are rumors that the con artist is now living in Ethiopia, in Africa, with millions of dollars of stolen money. The church in my city closed when their property was seized by the banks.

This is a strange topic, and we don’t like to talk about it. Encounters with criminals, with danger and financial loss, happen all the time among Christians, and these problems happen because we are Christians. Often we don’t hear about this because the Christian victims are embarrassed.

So, what should we do?

I’m not a security expert, but I know there are some good ones who will give advice. Some of the best work with the local police. That’s a good place to start.

I can only give advice from my own experience. My advice is: your worst enemy is yourself. It is easy for a Christian to feel like an expert at doing good. That belief that we are special and that we care more than anyone else, generates a Messiah Complex. It’s easy to be proud and to believe ‘I am special and they need me.’

I was flattered when that girl from a foster home came to me, in her desperate situation. I don’t think I got too proud, I took her to people who could really help her; but I didn’t think it through. Christians and entire churches that lose money, and put themselves in danger, probably have an inflated opinion of themselves. Criminals like that, and find it useful.

This is not a new problem. The first Christians were plagued by criminals, who found those suckers useful:

We are told: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’”

2 Thessalonians 3: 7 to 10

That is clear. They had to identify the problem and take a strong stand. Christians were also told to guard their attitudes. Pride is always dangerous:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter 5: 5 to 9

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