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Reform Magazine | November 29, 2023

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Editorial: The sex offender

steve_tomkinsWhat is the difference between me and a sex offender? Like the Pharisee in the parable, I’m thankful that I am not like such people, that I’m not on a register and don’t carry that weight of shame and guilt. But recently I read an article in The Independent by “Tom”, a married father of three in his 40s who was convicted of downloading underage pornography, and as he described how it started and what went through his mind, it made me ask myself what the difference was, morally, between us.

He did it in private. It seemed easy to conceal. He regretted it, because he was caught and shamed. Part of him disliked what he was doing, but another part dived in. He broke the law, but in a way he felt was generally tolerated. He started when he was feeling stressed and depressed, and curious. He had moral boundaries – but they turned out not to be where he thought they were. What was once out of bounds became a habit. It felt acceptable. Others did the same thing. He stopped, but slipped back into it.

Every single moral decision or process he described is utterly familiar from my own life, and, if you’ll pardon the leap to conclusions, yours as well. Our preferences and weaknesses may (or may not) be different from his, and the details of the damage done may vary tremendously, but if we have made fundamentally the same kind of decisions, are we not fundamentally the same kind of people? We are all both victim and perpetrator of the universal human habit of breaking.

For me this is the central wisdom of the Gospel. No one is good except God, and yet we all bear God’s image. How reassuring it would be if we could stick a label on the evil people to differentiate them from ourselves, put them all in a boat and send them off to some other place. But there is only one boat, and we’re all in it.


And talking of the human propensity to foul things up, thank you for all your feedback on the new design of Reform. It’s been overwhelmingly positive, which is nice, but several of you have found the text harder to read. We’ve changed our ways and made it a little bigger this month. Do let us know if it does the trick.

This article was published in the September 2013 edition of  Reform.

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