Allyn Walker, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, is creating controversy across the internet with the publication of her book, A Long Dark Shadow: Minor Attracted People and Their Pursuit of Dignity.

Both in the book and in a subsequent interview, argues for the term “Minor Attracted People” (MAPs) for those sexually attracted to children and teens – what most of us would call pedophiles or pedophilia. Despite headlines to the contrary, Walker says that she does not advocate for pedophilia to be accepted. In a recent interview with Prostasia (more about that organization in a bit, she stated, “And I want to be extremely clear that child sexual abuse is never ever okay.”

But at the same time, she wants those with attractions to minors – who don’t act on those attractions – to experience less stigma and shame, including the shame brought on by words like “pedophile.” She sometimes uses the phrase “non-offending MAPs” t0 distinguish those who don’t act on their attraction to minors from those who sexually abuse children and teens.

Walker, who was born female and named Allyson when she wrote her dissertation, “Understanding Resilience Strategies Among Minor-Attracted Individuals,” identifies as non-binary and describes herself on Twitter as “Queer criminologist & abolitionist. Deeply anxious. Terrible at Twitter. All views my own.” She’s an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion.

Walker conducted a study with 41 “non-offending MAPs” which became the basis for her book, her dissertation, and other research on the topic. She told Prostasia, “But having an attraction to minors as long as it isn’t acted on, doesn’t mean that the person who has those attractions is doing something wrong. I think we have a tendency to want to categorize people with these attractions as evil or morally corrupt. But when we’re talking about non-offending MAPS, these are people who have an attraction that they didn’t ask for. And one that frequently they would do anything to change.”

In her book, she writes that it’s a misconception to believe that “all pedophiles are offenders.” Walker believes that pedophiles and sex offenders are “two entirely distinct groups.” She makes a distinction between the attraction and the behavior and wants to help those with the attraction find freedom from stigma and shame, which she says leads them to think “they’re destined to commit an offense against a child.”

Walker worked as a social worker with victims of sexual abuse, and she wants to prevent sexual abuse, and believes stigma about attractions to children prevent individuals from getting the help they need. She also discusses the idea that pedophilia might be a sexual orientation – akin to homosexuality, bisexuality or heterosexuality.

Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher writes, “Allyn Walker is playing with fire. Surely there must be some way to get these suffering people the help they need without moving towards considering pedophilia just one more ‘sexual orientation.’”

“Because if it ever should become that,” he adds, “We are halfway to legalizing it, following the same path that standard homosexuality took. If sexual desire is the equivalent of identity, and if to sexually desire minors is at the core of one’s identity, then how can we stigmatize or otherwise suppress pedophiles if we recognize that other kinds of sexual minorities have civil rights?”

Dreher argues, “Anybody who has lived through the last twenty years knows that sexual identity and the law is a slippery slope. This needs to be crushed right now, without apology.”

The Prostasia Foundation, the San Francisco-based group that interviewed Walker, is a non-profit that bills itself as “a new kind of child protection organization.” At the same time, the organization also advocates for “kink awareness,” and “sex worker rights” and says it has a “commitment to human rights and sex positivity.”

One of its team members, Meagan Ingerman, is described as a “childcare and child development specialist and kink educator.” The website says, “Within the organized kink community she has been an event organizer, presenter, and volunteer. She has presented on subjects such as safety in kink, kink/BDSM for beginners, and has helped to facilitate discussions about consent and consent violations.

According to the website, from technologist, researcher and writer Ayden Férdeline, The U.S. government does not recognize Prostasia as a child protection organization.

He explains, “‍Prostasia centers its work around safeguarding the civil liberties of adults. This differs radically from the positions espoused by other recognized, professional child protection organizations, which defer to the precautionary principle when it comes to child protection, even where doing so may infringe upon the rights of an adult (his emphasis).”

“Prostasia advocates for the lawful possession and sale of child-like sex dolls, supports the ‘sexual depiction of minors in drawings and cartoons,’ argues that ‘sex offense registries do almost nothing to protect children from abuse,’ and has published a blog post where a ‘kinky person’ mentions fantasizing about being touched non-consensually while pretending to be a child,” Férdeline writes, offering documentation for each point.

Walker either was misinformed or did not do her research to find out more about Prostasia, which seems more geared toward aberrant sexual practices (BDSM for healing? Really?) than it does toward protecting children.

So how should Christians respond to this? Focus on the Family has long been an advocate for children – from the womb onward. Child sexual abuse is abhorrent, and we’ve provided resources, including broadcasts, books, resources and counseling consultations, to help people deal with this trauma.

But what is our response to those who are attracted to children? Like Dreher, we would agree that Walker is on a slippery slope toward the normalization of sexual attraction toward children. And we also agree with him, “Surely there must be some way to get these suffering people the help they need without moving towards considering pedophilia just one more ‘sexual orientation.’”

Surely Christians can offer a better way. We must take a different route than Walker.

Believers must continue to work to protect children and to proclaim – and live out – God’s design for sexuality. We must stand against the normalization of sexual attractions for children.

The Bible clearly condemns sexual sin. And the stigma of sexual sin, the shame and guilt, should drive us to the cross, not toward promoting sexual sin as just another “sexual orientation.”

At the same time, we also proclaim God’s grace for the sexually broken, including those struggling with unwanted attractions to children. This this will be difficult for some readers to stomach, I know. Heck, it was difficult for me to write that sentence.

But then I remembered: I know men who went to prison for pedophilic activity, but then they came to Christ through repentance and faith. And God offered them healing and forgiveness. I also know some in the church who minister to sexual offenders who have been released from prison, offering God’s grace to them. I don’t comprehend the depth of His love for both the abused and the abuser.

And I remember my own sins. We should approach this issue humbly, one sinner pointing another toward hope and healing. My sins led to Jesus’ sacrificial death. “It was my sin that held him there,” as the song “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” proclaims.

Betsie ten Boom said it this way to her sister Corrie, “There is no pit so deep God’s love is not deeper still.” God can bring forgiveness and transformation to those with attractions to children and teens and to sexual offenders.

Focus on the Family’s Counseling Consultation and Referrals offers help from licensed and pastoral counselors for people struggling with these issues:

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