Of Witches, and Witch Burnings [by Guy Hamilton-Smith]

[littlereddots.substack.com – 8/22/20 – Guy Hamilton-Smith]

Note: this piece is adapted from a forthcoming article in the Southwestern Law Review

Several years ago, a debate raged in my local paper’s opinion section. Should sex offenders be allowed in church?, or something of the like. I wasn’t a churchgoer, but I had a spiritual experience that I didn’t know what to do with. I asked one of my friends in law school who I knew was religious, and who knew my story, if she would take me to hers. She took me.

I went to a service with her, and afterwards, I asked the priest to lunch, so that I could tell him my whole story. So that I could ask if I could attend.

Over burgers and fries at one of those restaurants that doesn’t stay the same thing for more than a year or two, I told him about my conviction, and my spiritual experience, and how I’d like to start attending church. I expected that I was going to leave disappointed.

He looked at me with a “so what?” kind of expression on his face. He seemed annoyed. He kept chewing.

Well, I’m just wondering if you’ll allow me to attend.

Why wouldn’t I?  

Because, I’m a sex offender.

Without missing a beat, you’re no different than anyone else. He then let roar this belly laugh where, improbably, despite the fact that you could hear it from rooms away, he laughed mostly with his eyes. He put me at ease.

Read the full essay


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That did NOT HAPPEN in my Church !!!!
It was the OPPOSITE !!!
Bye …

I’ll admit I’m jealous. My experience with church has been horrendous. I spent 16 years since my teens serving ministries, people, communities. I’ve help build Christian shops, churches, and apartments for the homeless. I sat daily with the homeless. I spent years helping in a work release program helping offenders get jobs. I walked my parish. I knew everyone. I was there to when they fell from the grace of God. I believed Jesus died for the abusers, not just the abused. He died for sinners. He died for the rapist King David, for the Sex traffickers Abraham and Isaac. He died for the genocidal maniac Paul. Well that was dandy till it was my turn. Me and my wife committed 2 years to a church in N.C. I feel into depression and got a porn addiction, that lead to a possession charge. I admitted my sin and saught treatment(multiple ones) and wanted help. Well the pastor of that church decided to make me confess publicly and than kicked me and my innocent wife out soon after. It broke our hearts. We tried one more church. The pastor and elders knew my sin. They accepted us. A year in a half went by. We gave it our all. Than the paper published my charge and within a week I was banned from coming back. I spent years in repentance. Going to 3 different treatments. Serving God intensely( i secretly always wanted to be a pastor) and doing my best to turn my life around . I felt horrible for what I did. But the church made it worst. The 2nd church had an ex sex trafficker by the way. He never got into legal trouble. He was part of a gang that he left. That was his repentance. He was allowed to serve in daycare. Mine was a non contact offense. The judge ruled no harm to minors, and that I wasn’t a danger to minors. I played it safe and never allowed myself to be alone with kids and always in the public of the church. Well then the local paper published my charges and my church dropped me the same week banning me from all services. The few who said they’d stay by us, dropped us eventually as well. They grilled my wife asking if I had abused her and made really bad accusations against me. The first church encouraged her to leave me. We where broken. She forgave me, her family embraced me, and we have a daughter together. But this was the 2nd church that shunned us. For a past sin I committed and a sin that I own. I try my best not to walk in shame but repentance. Shame leads to death, guilt leads to redemption. But it’s the so called Christians that remind me of shame. We are so alone and isolated. I wish my wife just had one friend… but they all dropped her cause of her affiliation with me. And me I tried to have friends in my recovery but of course my P.O. Won’t let me. We try to make the best of things, but deep down we are miserable, alone, and without community. Why? Because of so called Christians. 16 years of my life I committed to the church with all of its flaws. My one flaw which I asked for help on, and my family was cast out like lepers. I’m a leper.

I went to my pastor and told him of my status for a few different reasons: wanted to know of he already knew (said he didn’t) considered sending my kids to their well-ranked school and participate in their education, wondered if I was in violation for attending a church which shares its campus with a school and just to get it off my chest.
I told him of my 30+ year old rape conviction. He was unphased and said “it’s not like you molested your 8 year old niece.” This gave me pause; clearly there were lines of forgiveness for this Christian leader.
His attitude toward me did not change and he’s always on me to attend church and bible study, these days through Zoom. I never really get into the church the way I want to and enjoy that fellowship or social outlet. I show up, sing the songs, pray, tithe and split, but I digress…
I’m so sorry for those of you who had a bad experience with their church and I’ll paraphrase a recent comment from someone embroiled in a church sex scandal, it’s too bad so many “Christians” aren’t as forgiving as Christ.

In 2019 I invited Mr. G. Hamilton-Smith to attend my last FTR case here in Rock County, WI.
He turned my down. Too bad cause he would have learned how to win a dismissal by prosecutors motion. Se la vie.

Thank you for this piece, Guy. I’m generally quite jaded and skeptical of media reports designed to be evocative, but I find this story compelling. I believe it and I find it inspiring.

I get the sense from your story that you attended a relatively liberal (maybe mainline Protestant) congregation. I’ve had a good experience with the pastor of a relatively conservative, although urban, church. I think things really can’t be easily put into boxes, but what probably makes or breaks a registrant’s experience with a church is the leadership of the church, not its politics, not its specific brand of theology.

One takeaway I’m getting from reading about experiences around the country, both related to the registries and otherwise, is that many people really just don’t have the experience to really evaluate people in any meaningful way, whether that’s whether someone is lying, whether someone is a threat, whether someone’s life choices are truly exceptional or not. I’m not sure how you get that experience–good pastors seem to have it via seminar training or, more likely, just having interacted with so many people for so many years. But for many of us, reality is filtered through the media and we really don’t have as much experience interacting with the world as we think, and we end up relying on group think, banal fear, and, despite our better intentions, we turn into misanthropes. Churches can help with this tendency, regardless of where you are in life, spiritually. God knows I have no idea where I’m at–I let my wife take spiritual leadership in my family, as I personally have little faith. But this piece you wrote Guy, it really affected me. Thank you.

When I was released from prison on supervised release, I had the strong desire to go to church. I gave my life back to Christ in prison. Under the rules of probation, I needed to get permission from the pastor. I called and made an appointment at the largest church in this area whom I had heard the teaching before of the pastor. He was an EXCELLENT bible teacher.

During the meeting he was very kind and heard my testimony. I laid it all on the line and was totally truthful of what I had done. When I was finished he smiled and simply said, “So, I’ll see you this Sunday?” He told me that through the salvation of Christ that the past is the past and we all have fallen short of the glory of God. He reminded me that King David committed adultery then murder to cover it up. The apostle Paul (who wrote much of the NT texts) had hunted down, arrested, jailed, and even supported the killings of many Christians before his conversion. He said everyone is granted forgiveness without condition for the asking.

He did ask me to stay away from the childrens section of the church building, but other than that, I was free to attend any service, class or function that the church offers. Within 6 months I was a full time usher during my service. Then 3 years ago the church awarded me with a sizable scholarship to attend a local 4 year bible college to work on a Christian Psychology degree.

I question the biblical foundation of ANY church that denies a former SO from attending. One read through the bible and a case study of almost every person of note that was used extensively by God to further the kingdom would show that they ALL had issues, sins, and even crimes in their past.

I have been attending the same church for 7 years now and have NEVER had one single issue. Many know my past (all the staff that I work closely with do) and no one has ever treated me any differently. I also know that there are more than a handful of ex felons attending, many who are SO’s.

God loves to use the least of us to do the most for him.

Any religious organization that bans anyone including people forced to register should lose their tax exempt status and invest in mirrors. To many hypocrites in places where all should be welcome and not shunned.

I like churches that don’t require you to believe in god. That’s why the Unitarian Universalist Church would be the only one I would consider, were any in consideration.

I also do know, from a friend who wanted to join them and who is a registrant and, at that time, on parole, did let him in after discussion with the leader although I believe there were some stipulations about events with kids.

” We all fear the darkness within ourselves.” Sam Loomis aka Donald Plesance Halloween 2 1981

Sad a fictional character has more sense than real people.

Went to church today and the pastor said, “When he was younger he always used the love the sinner hate the sin when people would speak about their story. After people would hear that they would tell him what that message means to them: you love me, but you reject me. Now he cringes Of love the sinner hate the sin and says it should be love the person period.” That’s the way it should be because none of us are perfect and if you believe in God you should be an ambassador of his at all times even when it’s not popular in our culture.