Under The Ban: Steven Sitler Solution
© 11.02.2015 By D. Eric Williams
I have written elsewhere about the situation at Christ Church in Moscow Idaho and how the problems surrounding Steven Sitler might have been avoided. For my readers who are not familiar with the ongoing tragedy in Moscow, I reproduce a portion of my earlier article here:
I don't know the whole story because I wasn't there and I have nothing to do with Wilson or his church. However, this much is clear: while attending Christ Church in Moscow, Sitler was revealed as a serial pedophile, was eventually tried, found guilty and sentenced to prison. He was released on parole and resumed his participation in Christ Church. While on parole he met, courted and married a young woman who was also a member of Christ Church. Doug Wilson presided at the wedding and reportedly encouraged the young newlyweds to have children and raise their offspring in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Mr. and Mrs. Sitler did just that - conceived a child I mean. Yet, it does not appear the child has been brought forth into a godly household. It has recently been revealed that Stephen Sitler has been accused of inappropriate behavior toward his own son. Thus the firestorm of criticism directed at the right Rev. Wilson. (entire article here)
The question asked of me in light of these events was, "Can people really change?" In other words, "Is the gospel message of a new creation in Jesus Christ true? If so, why has Steven Sitler continued his wicked behavior?"
In the first place I emphatically affirm that wicked human beings are truly changed when they experience the new birth. To repent and turn to Christ is to die and rise again. Everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord and believes in their heart that God has raised him from the dead can say along with Paul, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
This does not mean we will never sin again. Although I am a new creation, the old man has left trash behind that I must remove from my newly redeemed home. The problem is, I sometimes trip over the trash (fall into old sinful habits) or spend time picking through the garbage (giving into temptation and wilfully practicing sin), soiling my hands in the process.
The key to change is in making the decision to obey God's word and labor daily to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. You must put off the old man and put on the new. This is a process of breaking old habits and replacing them with new behaviors. For instance, Paul says, Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need (Ephesians 4:28). The truth is, everyone who is born again is capable of change, for, His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3). Every Believer has the Holy Spirit and the word and is fully equipped to put off the old man and put on the new. None of us can say sinful behavior is beyond our capability to change. Growth in Christlikeness is simply a matter of making the decision to stop doing one thing and start doing another - then get to work in the strength of the Lord.
When we do sin, we must ask forgiveness (from the Lord and those we offend), and get back to the process of working out our salvation. Brothers and sisters within our sphere have a Christian duty to help us change just as we have a responsibility to support them in their Christian maturation process. Our mutual responsibility is summed up in the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we love, we will not attack our neighbor when they sin, but will react in a godly fashion. We will admonish them to repent and continue to cultivate Christlikeness. We will live in the light of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
Nevertheless not every pilgrim on the kingdom path should be treated in exactly the same. Some people are dead men walking and our loving behavior toward them must acknowledge this fact. This brings us back to Steven Sitler and Christ Church in Moscow Idaho. As I wrote in the earlier article, I suggest Steven Sitler be counseled to live a life of celibacy devoted to the service of God in a capacity that [will] keep him away from children. I advise the leadership of Christ Church to acknowledge both the power of God to bring forth a new creation and the imbalance in our world because that same God's law is ignored. I say these things because according to God's word, Mr. Sitler has committed a capital crime. To overpower another, forcing them to perform some act for sexual gratification is the biblical definition of rape (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). This case is just like one in which a man attacks his neighbor and murders him (Deuteronomy 22:26). Apparently some of Mr. Sitler's victims were male and some were female. He is guilty of rape if he penetrated them vaginally or rectally and he is guilty of rape if penetration did not take place. In whatever way he gratified his lust with the children he molested, he used his age, size, strength and presence to overpower and get what he wanted from those children. Therefore, it doesn't matter if the state of Idaho calls his crime(s) rape or "just" lewd and lascivious conduct. According to the Bible, Steven Sitler is guilty of rape. Thus Steven Sitler should be put to death.
However, we live in a world in which God's law is ignored. This is why Mr. Sitler was not executed but sentenced to prison for a short period of time with lifelong parole. The sword has been entrusted to the State alone so there is no alternate court to enforce the death penalty (placing Steven Sitler on lifetime parole is an acknowledgment by the State that God's law is just, coupled with an admission by the State that it is unwilling to relinquish to God what is God's). However, the Church can confess that Mr. Sitler should have been transferred to God's court in the way it treats him. Thus, Mr. Sitler and others like him should be placed under the ban.
According to Scripture, something or someone under the ban (a devoted thing) is irrevocably turned over to God for his use in this realm or for the purpose of delivering one to his heavenly court due to some offense deemed outside the jurisdiction of human magistrates (Exodus 22:20, Leviticus 27:29, Numbers 18:14). This is not to say human judges are prohibited from determining guilt or innocence in capital cases; it means they are required to turn the guilty party over to God so God may levy appropriate punishment (Revelation 22:11-12). In other criminal cases, human courts decide guilt or innocence and determine the severity of applicable penalties. They look at the evidence and determine if a thief is required to pay double, four times or five. They decide if a malefactor should receive ten lashes or twenty. But with capital crimes, the judge does not have the authority to determine appropriate punishment. The job of the court is to determine guilt or innocence and if found guilty send the offender to the court of God by putting him to death. No doubt, the death penalty is punishment. But it is a sentence especially acknowledging God as the supreme judge. The refusal of the State to execute criminals for capital crimes is symptomatic of the impulse of ungodly men to overreach their authority.
Since the State of Idaho has improperly placed itself in the place of God, the Church needs to determine what it will do when people like Steven Sitler come under her care.
As Scripture says, Surely anything which a man permanently dedicates [devotes] to the LORD from all that belongs to him, whether from people, animals, or his landed property, must be neither sold nor redeemed; anything permanently dedicated [devoted] is most holy to the LORD. Any human being who is permanently dedicated [devoted] must not be ransomed; such a person must be put to death (Leviticus 27:28-29, brackets added). In the old covenant era, persons were devoted or placed under the ban in one of two ways; as one consecrated to the Lord's work until death or as one sentenced to death for their rebellion against God, such as the Amalekites, the people of Jericho or an Israelite who sacrificed to other gods (Exodus 22:20).1 Neither category could be ransomed.
The first thing we must do is consider people convicted of capital crimes (as defined by the Bible) yet whom the State refuses to execute, as being under the ban. The Bible does not define death for capital crimes like murder or rape as a form of the ban; we place them in that category because although they have been turned over to the State the State has refused to carry out their responsibility. Since God has entrusted the sword to the institution of the State, there is no other earthly court we may turn to for justice. Thus we appeal to the Judge of all the earth and transfer the case to his court, effectively placing offenders worthy of capital punishment under the ban. They are in God's net (see The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon Of The Bible) and it is only the sinfulness of the State that prevents them from being gathered in to the court of God. It is in the Church's recognition of this ungodly state of affairs that offenders worthy of death are devoted to God. If they are born again and in fellowship with the Church, they should be required to live in recognition of their special condition until the day comes that they are transferred to Yahweh's court.
Any person guilty of a capital crime that repents and confesses Jesus as Lord, believing that God raised him from the dead, is saved. Their sins have been washed away and they can be confident that when they stand before God, he will accept them as his child. Yet as followers of Christ who are under the ban, they must be willing to live a life apart from normal society. They must live as dead men walking. They should not take a spouse, nor should they engage in pursuits typical of their peers. Instead they must dedicate themselves fully to God's service. The Church can facilitate this by establishing (Protestant) monasteries and convents dedicated to discipling men and women who are under the ban. The details of how this will work can be determined later but the first step is to admit a need. The need is present because rapists and murderers who turn to Christ will find it difficult to change - to grow in Christlikeness - if they refuse to acknowledge the validity of God's law. Commission of a capital crime coupled with the demand to live a normal life is a refusal to concede the authority of God's law. It is a refusal to allow that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. When that happens, the Steven Sitlers of the world throw the body of Christ into confusion. In short, the Church must compensate for things being out of kilter.
Christ Church in Moscow Idaho is enduring the consequences visited upon a church unwilling to obey God in this matter. Innocents have been harmed (Mr. Sitler's own infant son) and the church is receiving criticism that might have been avoided.
Since church leaders are accountable before God for crimes committed against others under their care when a devoted one is welcomed into the Body without restrictions, I heartily recommend the leadership of Christ Church rectify this oversight as quickly as possible and develop a means of discipling people in their church who are under the ban. Good may yet come out of this if they are willing to pioneer the practice for the modern church.
Practical theologian D. Eric Williams is ordained with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and is a chaplain at SJRMC in Lewiston Idaho.
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