Sunday, August 9, 2015

An open letter to every senior pastor whose church wants to minister to those who pose a risk of harm: guest post by Simon Bass

Simon Bass is the CEO of CCPAS (Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service), the leading independent Christian child protection charity in the UK. CCPAS has been safeguarding children since 1977. In light of my most recent posts on churches' mishandling of pedophiles and registered child sex offenders volunteering and employed in positions of leadership and trust in churches, I have asked Simon to give his expert guidance in context of these "offender-focused" churches. 

The Village Church

Elevation Church

Fairfax Community Church

Simon Bass:  The Christian Social Worker Who Protects Children From Christian Abusers

An open letter to every senior pastor whose church wants to minister to those who pose a risk of harm

It is commendable that your church wants to support sexual offenders in being part of your worshipping community, after all the gospel is for the ‘whosoever’. It is not meant to be critical in pointing out that as a pastor you are likely to have an optimistic view of people borne out of the Christian doctrine that no one is beyond God’s redemption; we are all sinners, but our sins are redeemed by God’s saving action in Jesus Christ. We are unworthy and undeserving by ourselves but God’s grace is poured out for the redemption of all who believe. Sometimes it is difficult to see beyond this, to have a critical understanding of the nature of perpetrators of sexual harm.

As shepherds you have a duty of care towards your flock, and especially those who are vulnerable; those children and adults in your congregation. As a good steward it is vital that before contemplating ministering to anyone who has committed sexual offences such an undertaking is not done so naively – the risk of harm to children is just too great. I say this based on the recidivism rates for sexual offenders, which sadly includes those who profess a faith in Jesus Christ. If we have learned anything from the clerical abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church and other major denominations it is that professing faith does not mean we become sinless. Those who have sexually molested children will always pose a future risk to them. This is not to deny the transforming work of Jesus Christ but recognition of the addictive nature of sexual crimes.

In every fellowship there will be survivors of sexual abuse (based on national and international statistics of the number who have been victims of abuse in childhood). Many look to the church as a place of sanctuary and struggle when churches have sympathy and mobilise resources for perpetrators of abuse, whilst the pain and safety needs of victims are ignored.

How you as a pastor respond to perpetrators who have molested children must always have as a starting point the safety of children. Then you should give due consideration to the needs of survivors, and the affect ministering to perpetrators of abuse can have on them. If you appear to be one-sided you will alienate many in the church, and especially those who have been harmed. Survivors of abuse will only ever have confidence in your church if their voice is heard when you are working with those who have committed sexual violence against them.

I would urge you as pastors to use appropriate language when talking about sexual offenders, and by this I am talking about those who have molested and raped children, and filmed then shared these abusive acts. Don’t describe sexual offenders simply as offenders, nor describe them as ex-offenders, as it can be perceived that there is a denial of their offence and ignoring that they will always be a risk, and it consigns the abuse to the past. Certainly don’t describe their behavior as being about mistakes in the past, which is just too dismissive.

Ensuring your church is a safe and welcoming environment requires that you have a child protection policy in place, and that all your leaders have been trained in child safety, including safer recruitment, that you have clear working practices including what to do where abuse is disclosed or suspected. This would also include how you address the pastoral and counseling needs of those who have been affected by abuse. With this in place you will be better equipped to minister to sexual offenders, remember they will look for acceptance, and the church is often the only place where this can be found. It is understandable why sex offenders are drawn to church.

Some manipulative sex offenders will target churches, professing faith and using language and acting in ways suggestive that they are repentant, knowing they will be accepted, in order to gain contact with children in order to abuse them. Other sex offenders who truly want to turn away from the crimes they have committed will show fruit in keeping with repentance. One clear way is for the sex offender to agree to never working with children or wanting to have any position or authority within the church which would give rise to a child believing them to be trustworthy. This requires wisdom in considering what roles and titles you give to sex offenders to ensure they are not seen as a person in a position of trust.

Children are trusting, and if they believe a person is safe to be around because that is the impression you give at church, they are not going to be weary when approached outside of church. It is imperative that you engage in a covenant contract with the sex offender, outlining the boundaries they are expected to keep and how the church may be able to support in their rehabilitation to prevent the likelihood of them re-offending. Living with the consequence of the crime isn’t denying redemption. This should be written drawing on a professional risk assessment from their probation or law enforcement officer, or others involved in their aftercare. It should clearly state the crime they committed, and any sanctions or restrictions they are under, and what sex offender management plan that may be in place. Key leaders in the church need to be aware of this contract. Don’t assume that members of the church will refer to the sex offender register.

Be very clear as to what offences have been acknowledged, and dealt with by the courts, as further admissions can lead to you as pastors needing to mandatorily contact law enforcement. A situational risk assessment should also be undertaken to ascertain if you are able to provide the level of support and supervision needed to ensure the sex offender can be monitored sufficiently so as not to put children at risk. Churches don’t just operate in one building but include meeting in homes for bible studies and as a church family there will be offers of hospitality. These need to be included in the contract, which should be constantly reviewed, and remain in force indefinitely.

Other considerations
I have known sex offenders who have said the church should cease the contract such as at the time of the end of their probation. The risk they posed though had not changed so the contract should remain. Certainly don’t give public ministry to sex offenders or opportunity for them to share their testimony. It is grossly offensive to survivors of abuse, for some it is an opportunity to groom a congregation and other sexual offenders will get sexual gratification from re-telling their story. It is unfair to their victims, not least because it risks identifying them.

I believe that sex offenders can be part of church but because of the nature of the offence there are many aspects of ministry that they should not be involved in, starting with not having any role where they are in any position of trust. Many churches provide pastoral support and recovery programs but again this is not something a sex offender should be involved in. Due to the predisposition to sexually abuse a child, this is a matter for long term intense therapeutic intervention; this disqualifies sexual offenders from acting as facilitators within certain recovery programs, for example where providing care or counsel to anyone dealing with addiction, especially sex addictions or pornography. This is simply foolhardy. I have known sex offenders who began viewing pornography and then downloaded child abuse images. Some victims of sexual abuse have become addicted to alcohol or drugs in order to cope with that abuse. For these reasons it is therefore totally inappropriate to have a sex offender involved in these ministries.

Churches should always be a place of acceptance and refuge and welcome, so let’s first ensure that survivors of abuse believe this first. Working with sex offenders require you as pastors to recognize that this is a specialist area where you should be working collaboratively with appropriate professionals and their agencies.  It’s therefore vital to work with law enforcement and get support from organizations such as G.R.A.C.E. and Stop it Now!,  and survivor advocacy organizations such as SNAP.

Simon Bass
Chief Executive, CCPAS

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Convicted child sex offender listed as violent on VA state registry is "Care Director" pastor at Fairfax Community Church

It's come to this: as I told my husband a few days ago when I was alerted to this story, we now must caution parents and church members/attendees to search for church pastors and staff on sex offender registries.

Child sex offenders "hiding" in plain sight, elevated to positions of spiritual authority and trust? Alarmingly, yes.

How would the public react to news that a violent registered sex offender worked at a school with kids? Daycare? Coach? Counselor?

Church? Yes, a church: Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

Eric Nickle is the Care Director at Fairfax Community Church. The senior pastor of FCC is Rod Stafford.

Eric Nickle is on the Virginia sex offender registry. He is listed as violent.

Eric Nickle was convicted on October 13, 2000 for Indecent Liberties with a Child by Custodian. VA law code 18.2-370.1 is listed on Nickle's sex offender registry. His initial registration was on July 17, 2000 and renewed on July 20, 2015. 

§ 18.2-370.1. Taking indecent liberties with child by person in custodial or supervisory relationship; penalties.

A. Any person 18 years of age or older who, except as provided in § 18.2-370, maintains a custodial or supervisory relationship over a child under the age of 18 and is not legally married to such child and such child is not emancipated who, with lascivious intent, knowingly and intentionally (i) proposes that any such child feel or fondle the sexual or genital parts of such person or that such person feel or handle the sexual or genital parts of the child; or (ii) proposes to such child the performance of an act of sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, or anilingus or any act constituting an offense under § 18.2-361; or (iii) exposes his or her sexual or genital parts to such child; or (iv) proposes that any such child expose his or her sexual or genital parts to such person; or (v) proposes to the child that the child engage in sexual intercourse, sodomy or fondling of sexual or genital parts with another person; or (vi) sexually abuses the child as defined in subdivision 6 of §18.2-67.10 is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
B. Any person who is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this section is guilty of a Class 5 felony, provided that (i) the offenses were not part of a common act, transaction or scheme; (ii) the accused was at liberty as defined in § 53.1-151 between each conviction; and (iii) it is admitted, or found by the jury or judge before whom the person is tried, that the accused was previously convicted of a violation of this section.
1982, c. 521; 1986, c. 503; 1991, c. 517; 2001, c. 840; 2005, c. 185; 2014, c. 794
Is the senior pastor aware that Nickle is a registered child sex offender listed as violent? Are church members and attendees aware of this information?

Elevating a child sex offender to a position of trust and authority does not create a safe environment for kids and abuse survivors.

The light of truth and knowledge is our greatest tool to protect kids.

UPDATE: July 30, 2015

A grand deception: The successful response of sex offenders

When the Church prefers perpetrators

A careful grace: Accountability for sex offenders in the church
A church should not ask a sex offender to be part of the public platform.
Fairfax Community Church: Why you should check the sex offender registry before joining a church

UPDATE: 8/4/15
Last Saturday, I was in the DC area attending and speaking at our annual SNAP conference. A group of SNAP members and leaders held an awareness event outside Fairfax Community Church about convicted child sex offender and FCC pastor Eric Nickle.

We handed out leaflets to church congregants as they left the worship service.
SNAP believes that church officials are being reckless by employing Nickle and telling only some congregants about his past. 
Fairfax staff say they’re restricting Nickle’s activities at the church, but SNAP is skeptical.
“It’s dreadfully risky for church staff to claim or try to monitor shrewd sex offenders,” said Amy Smith of SNAP. “The outcome is often more child sex crimes surfacing years later.”
The group also challenges the church’s notion of “forgiveness.”
“We can forgive a drunk driver but shouldn’t give him school bus keys. We can forgive someone who commits violence but shouldn’t give him a gun,” said Becky Ianni of Burke VA. “We can forgive someone who abuses kids but shouldn’t give him any role in a position of trust and authority.”
“Putting a child sex offender in a position of trust and authority endangers innocent kids and hurts abuse victims,” said Smith. “Why take this avoidable risk with the most vulnerable among us?”
Shortly after we arrived, Loretta Cooper, spokesperson for FCC, came out to meet us. She gave us copies of the 2nd Fairfax Community Church statement in a week on Eric Nickle.

We spoke for a few minutes with Loretta Cooper. When I expressed concern that a convicted pedophile would be given a position of trust and authority as a Care Director, Loretta informed me that I am inflating his job responsibilities as Eric "mostly just carries boxes."

I assumed since Loretta was sent to deliver the official church statement that she is on staff. She said she's not on staff, does not speak on behalf of the church, and that she is just a member.

Loretta is married to Kyle Cooper, FCC youth pastor. I discovered that the senior pastor Rod Stafford has designated Loretta as the spokesperson on Eric Nickle.

Giving title Care Director sends wrong message! Hope church takes advice recognising perpetrators shouldn't be given positions of trust. ~ Simon Bass, chief executive of the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service

We ended our conversation with me asking Loretta Cooper if she or the church had contacted Boz Tchividjian of  G.R.A.C.E to get his input. She said they had not done so, but she promised that she would.

We have heard that senior pastor Rod Stafford addressed the situation regarding Eric Nickle in his sermon in the worship services last weekend in detail, even going into the specifics of Nickle's child sex crime conviction and discussing the identity of his victim. 
I went to the service yesterday at 5PM. It is not going to be streaming, nor put up on the internet. These are a few points, questions, and comments I got out of last night.
– There still seems to be a discussion surrounding the limitations and restrictions put on Mr. Nickle, yet those topics of discussion seem to have been addressed in the response Mr. Stafford sent out, or were they not addressed to the level that you feel is appropriate? (I ask that seriously and not in a sarcastic tone).
– Mr. Nickle’s dad was a swinger and his mom was sexually molested by a pastor before he was born. His parents thought having a child would keep their marriage together but, instead, they got divorced when Eric was 1 year old. As he was raised, he was exposed to pornography at a very young age.
– The victim was Mr. Nickle’s daughter. When she was 12 – 14 (I forget the exact age), upon her falling asleep he would come in and touch her (first through her clothing and then underneath it). The first time he touched her underneath her clothes she awoke and immediately told her mom (Eric’s wife).
– The sermon stated that, according to Virginia law, all crimes committed in such a way (even though no physical violence (in the traditional sense of striking, etc.) was caused, the term “violent” is still attached). @LawProf: This is your area of expertise so your words regarding whether this is true or not may help further elucidate the matter.
– Many years have passed and they have both gone through a tremendous amount of counseling (both on their own and together) to the point where they meet (in public) and Mr. Nickle gets to spend time with his daughter and grandson/granddaughter (I forget if it’s a boy or a girl but it was stated in the sermon).
– A second story was told about a woman who works at the church and is the supervisor of Mr. Nickle. She was a victim of molestation at the hands of a pastor when she was younger. I am refraining from using her name because of this. She has been Mr. Nickle’s supervisor for the entirety of his employment at FCC.
– Upon leaving the church, a few SNAP members were standing at the entrance to the church and offering pamphlets to drivers. Upon declining to receive the literature, the woman said, “That’s alright, thank you anyways”. I write this because I was “happy” to see that no animosity of any kind seemed to be outwardly demonstrated.

Anonymous said...
I've attended the church for 2 1/2 years. I attend almost every Sunday. I volunteer in the nursery and as a greeter. I was never told. Should I have asked?

I am highly offended that you think that touching his daughter is not violent. ANY unwanted sexual content is violent. That is why VA law requires this label.

Mr. Nelson may be a sex addict, addicted to porn or addicted to substances. The real issue is that he is a pedophile. Pedophiles should NOT be employed by churches.

Pastor Rod's sermon made me, as a survivor, no longer feel safe at FCC.
 Not sure if people who are attending this church are aware that Eric Nickle is on the sexual registry list for taking liberties with a minor. Since I am a mother of four children who have interacted with Eric I have notified the church staff several times. They wrote me off. I think the church has a responsibility to let its members know that Eric Nickles is on the sexual registry list. Look up the zip code of the church 22030 on the fairfax sexual offenders list and you will see a picture of him.

I will no longer take my family to this church.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Elevation Church "appears in denial" about a convicted child sex offender called a "hero" by Steven Furtick

This is a follow up post to my post: Steven Furtick and Elevation Church publicly support, celebrate, and elevate a convicted child sex offender before, during and after federal prison: registered sex offender Norman Vigue now leads Elevation Church Bible study

I am featuring an excellent comment that child protection expert Simon Bass left on my original post on Elevation Church and Norman Vigue. Simon Bass is the CEO of CCPASChurches’ Child Protection Advisory Service:
CCPAS is the only independent Christian charity providing professional advice, support, training and resources in all areas of safeguarding children, vulnerable adults and for those affected by abuse.
We exist to safeguard both children and vulnerable adults throughout the UK. We also work to help those who are, or have been, affected by child abuse and similar issues.
CCPAS is consulted and used by places of worship and groups across the church spectrum. We also assist other faith groups and a wide variety of statutory agencies and non-faith organisations keen to benefit from our resources and expertise.
We regularly give advice to government, Safeguarding Boards, Children's Social Care, Adult Social Services, the Police, the Probation Service, Health, voluntary bodies and other agencies across the UK.
Here is Simon Bass' full comment:
Elevation church appear[s] in denial about Norman Vigue, so the concern has to be for the safety of all children in the church. 
God is a God of the second chance, ( Luke 15:11-32) God wants us to be restored to him, but that right relationship is conditional on our willingness to repent and seek his forgiveness. God’s grace through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ makes a way for all who have sinned regardless of what that sin is (Ephesians 2:8). 
 We know that sex offenders often have multiple victims some liken it to an addition. Vigue served time for the offence of possession of child abuse images. I prefer not to use ‘child pornography’ as it can distort some peoples understanding with the word pornography. What we are talking about is not just naked pictures of children but the recording of the sexual abuse of children. This shows that Vigue has a sexual interest in children, and whilst undertaking treatment and therapy is helpful he will always remain a danger to children. He will not be helped if he is part of a church that is in denial about his crimes (calling them mistakes is a denial, suggesting that mistakes lead to miracles is just a dangerous statement, as it infers that the miracles is removing that sexual attraction to children, leading to the question how this can be tested?)

For the truly repentant sex offender there is never an issue about having any form of public ministry in the church. They will welcome a contract outlining the boundaries they must keep. This should include conduct in the church and in the wider church family. This will have been written following a risk assessment of the church (can the church safety accommodate the sex offender, or would say another church with no children’s ministry be a better church) and informed by risk assessment from law enforcement, etc. Importantly it should be recognised that the principle aim of the contract is not the integration of the sex offender into the church but the protection of children who are part of the church family. Children are trusting, particularly in churches so we must never place sex offenders in positions of trust and responsibility which tells children that they are safe to be around. Why risk sex offenders targeting children away from the church building. Children may be reluctant to talk to a stranger but show less concern talking to someone they believe is a trusted adult. 

We don’t judge, true repentance is demonstrated by their fruits the journey they are on (Matthew 7:16-20). Viewing child abuse images is not a victimless crime, they are thousands of victims who have not only been sexually abused but continue to be re-victimized by the sharing of those images. 

I have no issue with churches who welcome the modern day lepers that is sexual offenders into their community. I have issue if this is done without careful grace, and this starts with recognizing that our churches have victims of abuse within them. Let us care for survivors of abuse, have our leaders and workers trained in child protection with clear policies and procedures in child safety. Then our churches will be better equipped to care for sex offenders. 

Being careful as to what role you give a convicted sex offender is not about denying God’s power to work miracles and to restore the sinner. It is about enacting Galatians 6:10 in doing good to everyone as we have opportunity. Being a good steward in church is not only about finance it is about conduct. We should not place a convicted sex offender in a place of temptation. I know of no church who would give a convicted embezzler the job of the church treasurer, and our children’s welfare is more important than our finances.

It is not about time scale. In what we know about grooming and how some sex offenders manipulate circumstances it is worth noting that, no sex offender is any safer because they have been part of the church for a particular period of time. Be wise as Matthew 10:16.
Last Friday, I began a Twitter conversation with Geoff Schutlz, the lead Motion Graphics Designer on staff at Elevation Church asking a question about registered child sex offender Norman Vigue who is in public leadership roles at Elevation Church.

We have heard from some concerned people that Norm has been greeting people at Elevation Church and oversees guest resources in addition to the class he leads.

Several others joined in on the Twitter conversation and for a while on Friday night, Geoff Schultz responded. In his last tweet on the matter on Friday night, he said he would read the federal criminal court documents, USA vs. Norman Vigue. The next morning I noticed that Geoff had deleted all his tweets about Norm Vigue. He had also blocked me and several others.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Steven Furtick and Elevation Church publicly support, celebrate, and elevate a convicted child sex offender before, during and after federal prison: registered sex offender Norman Vigue now leads Elevation Church Bible study

This is a post in collaboration with Dee Parsons at The Wartburg Watch.

Elevation Church, with lead pastor Steven Furtick, is a Southern Baptist mega-church in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to the The Charlotte Observer, "in nine years, Charlotte’s Elevation Church has grown from the 121 worshippers at its first service to the more than 17,000 who now show up every weekend at its 13 locations." 
Overall, the magazine also said, Elevation is the country’s 15th largest Protestant church – and the youngest church on the “largest” list.
“These young clergy (like Furtick) are learning from the experiences of their elders and are often being directly mentored by them,” Thumma said.
Elevation is governed not by a board of church members, but by Furtick and a group of four out-of-town pastors who lead their own megachurches. Some of them, including Perry Noble of 15-year-old NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., have been among Furtick’s mentors.
Experts have said this lack of oversight by those who attend the church, and the transparency that usually comes with that, sets Elevation apart from other Southern Baptist churches and even other megachurches. But there are few signs that this has become an issue with most of those who attend Elevation.

In a November 2013 post Numbers, not souls: a culture ripe for abuse I wrote:

One of the megachurch leaders that serves on the Elevation Church board of elders is Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Graham is accused of covering up child sex abuse by a former staff minister, John Langworthy, now a convicted child sex offender in Mississippi. According to this story in the Christian Post, Graham, along with 4 other megachurch pastors on the elder board, helps decide Furtick's salary and influences his ministry. 

What kind of influence is Jack Graham passing along to Steven Furtick? From what I have personally experienced in speaking out about abuse at Prestonwood, the message seems to be that people are numbers, not souls. And the more numbers these megachurch pastors have to brag about, the less value each individual has. The perceived greater good of protecting the image of the institution becomes paramount. 

  • Ed Young Jr: Fellowship Church, Dallas/Grapevine, TX
  • Perry Noble: NewSpring Church, Anderson, SC
  • Stovall Weems : Celebration Church, Jacksonville, FL
  • Kevin Gerald : Champions Center, Seattle, WA
  • Jack Graham Prestonwood Baptist, Dallas/Plano,TX
Megachurch pastor tells his congregation his newly built 16,000-square-foot house is gift from God

Norman W. Vigue 

Norman Wilfred Vigue- registered sex offender in North Carolina

Over two months after Norman's arrest on federal charges of possession of child pornography, Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, dedicated a blog post to Norm. (The archived link is here, just in case.)

December 29th, 2006
My hero of the day is in the office right now, working in the conference room.
His name is Norm Vigue.
In a bizarre twist, I can’t tell you right now why he’s my hero of the day just yet.
Because I’m going to bring him up on the stage and share a part of his story on Sunday morning, and you’ll all get to meet him for yourselves.
Then he will be signing autographs in the back, at the resource table, where he works every single week.
Love ya Norm!
See you Sunday!

Norm pleaded guilty on October 25, 2006.  His sentencing is dated June 19, 2007. Furtick dedicated another blog post to Norm on July 2, 2007 in which Furtick refers to Norm as a key volunteer and would probably win the award for “most loved Elevator.” (The archived link is here , just in case.)
 July 2nd, 2007
One of my favorite people at Elevation Church is a guy named Norm.
He gave his life to Christ during our first month as a church. We baptized him a few weeks later. Now he’s a key volunteer and would probably win the award for “most loved Elevator”, if there were such an award. Lori, work on that.
A few months ago, Norm came into my office and asked me if we were going to kick him out of the church. It turns out that before he received Christ, Norm committed some crimes and he was facing at least a few years in jail.
The hearings would take a few months, and in the meantime his question was:
Is this the kind of church that can forgive a guy like me?
When I told him that not only were we going to forgive him, we were going to have the entire church pray for him, support him, and prepare him for whatever may happen to him during the sentencing, he cried like a baby.
 I called him up on stage in January and told his story.
He said that if he hadn’t given his life to Christ at Elevation a year ago, he wouldn’t have been able to survive the pressure of these charges. He would have killed himself. But now, with Christ, his small group, and his volunteer team behind him, he was ready to follow Christ no matter what happened next.
Because thousands of people watch and listen to our messages online, people all over the country have been asking me: “Whatever happened to Norm? Is he going to have to go to jail?”
Here’s the email Norm sent me a week and a half ago. Sadly, it’s not good news. But Norm’s response will challenge and bless you. He said I could share it.
Good Morning Pastor,
Well the case is finished, I will begin serving my sentence in approx. 3 months. In the meantime, I will continue to serve Elevation Church and with the leadership’s help, prepare to serve God in my new journey. Elevation Church has changed my life immensely and the outpouring of support from all corners has been of great comfort and allowed me to face my punishment with great strength. I owe God and Elevation my life and will strive to represent both with dignity and spirituality. Your leadership and example along with the awesome staff will make a difference in Charlotte and NC and I hope to remain a part of that growth even while serving my sentence. I look forward to returning in 4 years with a buff bod that will challenge yours, Chunks’ and Larry’s and a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ in our lives. In the meantime I will continue to be available to you to use my experience as you need. God bless you and your family, Norm.
And here’s the email that Norm’s attorney sent about all the emails that were flooding her inbox the morning of Norm’s sentencing, and how you guys supported him through it all:
These are blowing me away… the fax machine has not stopped all morning. The support and admiration people have for you is such a testament to what a wonderful human being you are. I have never seen anything like this.
Thank you, Elevation, for being that kind of church. The kind of church where a guy like Norm can find hope, forgiveness, and purpose in Jesus Christ, even in the face of five years in prison for a crime he admits that he committed.
I asked Norm just before his sentencing what he wanted me to pray for him.
He didn’t ask that I pray that he wouldn’t go to jail.
Just that God would place him where he could tell the most people about Christ.
If that was prison, so be it.
Elevation, pray for Norm.
And keep being that kind of church.

In his 2010 book Sun Stand Still, Steven Furtick writes an entire chapter on Norman titled, "Mistake into Miracle.In 2010, Norman was still in prison. He was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison in Texas on June 18, 2007. He was released from prison on July 20, 2011 and returned to North Carolina. Norman Vigue registered as a sex offender upon his release from prison on July 20, 2011 and must register for a minimum of 10 years.

One week after Norm Vigue was released from prison, Steven Furtick dedicated another blog post to him which includes a video from the Elevation Church worship service that Vigue attended just a few days after his release from prison. Furtick forgoes the planned message to praise Norm and bring him up on the stage to the applause of the congregation. This blog post is archived here in case the live link somehow disappears.
 July 27th, 2011
 I wrote about Norm in Sun Stand Still. A lot of you have been asking about him. How he’s doing. What became of him.
 If you have forgotten some of the details of Norm’s story or haven’t read the book, Norm is one of the greatest examples I’ve ever seen of how God can turn our mistakes into miracles. Before Norm came to Elevation, he had been involved in some illegal activities and his life was a wreck. But then he accepted Christ and everything changed.
Still, eventually Norm’s past legal mistakes caught up with him. When they did, Norm refused to lie about what he’d done, so he pleaded guilty to all the charges. At the sentencing, the judge dropped the hammer on him. Norm was sentenced to serve the full forty-eight months in a federal prison.
 Norm could have been devastated and felt sorry for himself. Instead, he decided to believe there was a purpose in his prison. His response to his sentencing was inspiring:
I need this church to train me. I need you to teach me how to tell people in the prison about Jesus. I want to go in there and make a difference for God. I want to take what I’ve experienced here at Elevation and start an Elevation in the prison. Will you teach me how to do that?
 We did and we’ve been supporting Norm in every way possible ever since. And God showed up powerfully. In the four years Norm was in prison, several inmates gave their lives to Christ.
I say was, because as of this past weekend, Norm finally came home to Elevation! Here is the rest of his story that couldn’t be told in Sun Stand Still because it wasn’t finished yet. I hope it encourages you that you don’t have to let your past failures define your future. If God could turn Norm’s mistakes into a miracle, he can do the same for yours, too.
 Mistake into a Miracle
Update July 2: As of yesterday morning, this video has been removed, but it is still available here on Steven Furtick's website. This is the video of Furtick bringing Norm Vigue up on stage at the Elevation Church services immediately after Norm was released from federal prison in TX upon his return to North Carolina.

Norm's Story: March 26, 2013

The following statement appears in the court document embedded below: The video ordered by Mr. Vigue was described as follows: "This video has two young cheerleaders and two young football players, all about 12 or 13 years old." 

Note also that this document states that, "In 2004, Norman Vigue found his faith." Furtick claims that Vigue committed these crimes before he became a Christian.
A few months ago, Norm came into my office and asked me if we were going to kick him out of the church. It turns out that before he received Christ, Norm committed some crimes and he was facing at least a few years in jail.
The indictment record of Vigue states that, "Between January 14, 2005 and February 24, 2005, in the Western District of North Carolina and elsewhere, Norman Wilfred Vigue did knowingly receive, and did knowingly attempt to receive, child pornography..."

I can find no documentation that Steven Furtick and Elevation Church have ever mentioned that Vigue's "legal mistakes" are child sex crimes. Crimes are not mistakes. Vigue made a choice to commit the child sex crimes to which he pleaded guilty and for which he was sentenced to federal prison.

I found a 2007 blog post about Norm Vigue by an Elevation Church member, Learn a Lesson.
Last night I attended a “celebration” party for Norm Vigue.  He has an incredible story about how his life was changed.  
Last night was awesome.  I helped get some of the food ready at someone’s catering business and once there, had a good chance to talk to several people and have a few conversations with Norm.  He has such a good heart and is very much ready for the next step in his journey. 
It was interesting to hear him speak about where he was heading.  God is totally up to something because apparently inmates usually go to a prison within 100 miles or so of where they live.  Norm is going 1100 miles away to Texas.  In his words, “Apparently Texas is in need of something.”  He totally sees it as a mission field.  It’s incredible.  He’s going to a minimum-low security prison that tries to rehab inmates and their goal is to get them out as soon as possible.  His sentence is for 40-48 months right now, but it could drop and I don’t doubt that it will.  He said they won’t have bars on their doors or windows, it’ll be similar to dorm style living.  They have common areas with tvs (usually 10-13 he said!).  They have a game room.  Cafeteria style eating.  There is a fence around the facility, but nothing like you picture a prison in the movies.  He says state and federal prisons are very different.  Federal prisons have a goal of rehab and getting you out.  State can keep you as long as they want and are usually the ones where inmate abuse occurs.  He’ll be up around 6am and start working about 7:30am.  There are Christian ministries he can get involved in.  They can take educational courses and use the intranet to take online courses.  No INTERnet.  He can get mail, of course.  He has to make a set list of 10 visitors and that’s all he can allow in, but he CAN change who is on the list every so often.  I love that he said he wants to see if he can hook up with the chaplain or some of the Christian ministries to see if they can get the podcast or online sermons available for inmates to listen to.  He said, “The first time it might be just me and the chaplain, but that’s ok.”  He really wants to keep up with the sermons and says they might need some “hard preaching” in Texas.  That’s something he’s really been praying can work out because it might be hard due to the necessity of the internet to stream the sermons.  I’m sure it can somehow work out and it’s something I’m praying for for him and those he’ll be with.  He’s so calm and at peace about all of what is going on.  I’m incredibly proud of him and I really think something amazing is going to happen during his time there. 
If anyone wants an address to send Norm well wishes from wherever you are…I’ve got it.
I think everyone could take a lesson from Norm and how he’s dealing with something that others would cower in fear about.  Like PF says, “Feel the fear, DO IT ANYWAY.”  Norm has surely felt the fear.  He felt it when he went to the church office that day.  But he’s dealing with it and is ready to go.  We all have scary things that happen to us and the unknown is sometimes frightening.  I don’t like change, but I learn to deal with it and do what I have to do anyway.   Be open to opportunities.  Don’t look at things as if they are obligations, they are opportunities to breathe life into various places and people.

“This is the most manipulative crowd on the planet,” says Kristin Kanner, director of the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Sexually Violent Predator Program.
“Listen to what they say with a grain of salt. Most psychopaths are very charming. You want to like them.”

 The light of truth and knowledge is our greatest tool to protect kids.
People who want to support a convicted and admitted predator should do so privately, not publicly. To hold rallies for a convicted and admitted predator endangers kids by making it harder for those who see, suspect and suffer child sex crimes from speaking up. 
 Those who believe Kelley is innocent should visit him, pray for him, write to him and help his family. But they should do so in ways that do not scare other victims of other predators into staying silent.
By mounting public displays of support for a convicted and admitted predator, these misguided individuals are rubbing even more salt into the already - deep and still - fresh wounds of abuse victims and making it harder for police, prosecutors and employers to catch and oust child molesters. 
Adults must learn to accept a disturbing truth: child molesters don't have forked tongues or devil’s tails or horns on their heads. They are usually not "creepy" people who give us "the willies" or seem socially inept. They are usually charming and charismatic and outgoing. That is often how they are able to gain the trust of children and adults.
So we must overcome the dangerous temptation to believe an accused sex offender is innocent just because he's likeable or talented or devout. Discrediting victims and publicly supporting predators, especially convicted ones, not only hurts the innocent victims who have already suffered too much, but it also hurts other victims who suffer in silence and self-blame.
It creates a hostile environment and does not encourage victims to speak up and help protect other innocent people.
Baptist News Global: Evangelicals behind Catholics on abuse
Amy Smith, a SNAP representative in Houston, said the Southern Baptist Convention has a long history of ignoring abuse and enabling perpetrators by “continuing to elevate and place them in public positions of leadership and trust.”
“Predators are master manipulators and use these positions of trust, particularly spiritual trust, to groom kids and gain the trust of parents, preying upon the vulnerable,” Smith said.
In her own experience of exposing decades-old abuse that resulted in former Southern Baptist music minister John Langworthy pleading guilty in January to five felony counts of gratification of lust in Jackson, Miss., Smith said she was rejected by her own parents and chastised by a pastor in her church.
“It is the light of truth and knowledge that is our greatest tool to protect kids,” Smith said. “Silence and secrecy only help child predators. It is past time for evangelicals to open their eyes to see the evil within their midst.”
Recently Smith reported on her blog that a former staff member at several high-profile Southern Baptist mega churches investigated in 2009 for stalking a minor is now assisting in leadership in the worship ministry at a well-known Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas.
How Good Parents Miss Child Sexual Abuse and 5 Questions to Change That
Perhaps you may want to consider asking these questions the next time that your child is in someone else’s care. I asked my son privately whether or not he enjoyed himself.
  1. How did you spend your time?
  2. What was your favorite part of the party?
  3. What was the least favorite part?
  4. Did you feel safe?
  5. Was there anything else that you wanted to share?
FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Norman Vigue, registered child sex offender, is currently leading an Elevation Church men's bible study every Tuesday night from 7 pm to 9 pm. 

Update 7/7/15: late last week an Elevation Church member mentioned to me on Twitter that Norm Vigue's study meets at a Chick Fil A. After doing a Google search for "Norman Vigue Elevation Church," I called the location listed here on the Elevation Church website. I have spoken with both the manager and owner of that Chick Fil A location who both attend Elevation Church. After I called and spoke with the manager, the owner called me and left a voicemail asking me to call him back. He wanted to know what information I had. I called him back and we spoke at length last Friday morning. He thanked me for reaching out to them with the information and said he would look into it.

The next evening, I received a text from the owner telling me that Norm's class does not and has never met at his Chick Fil A location. He wanted to know how I had found the link and information. I replied with the link and screenshot showing how I had found the information after an Elevation Church member had informed me that Norm meets at Chick Fil A. 

Yesterday morning in an effort to clarify that the information listing Norm's class location is incorrect, I texted the owner asking about Norm's class and the location of the weekly meeting. 

He told me via text that this is a mistake, and Elevation Church will fix it (the location of Norm's class listed as meeting at Chick Fil A). The owner says he was told that Norm's class meets at the Elevation Church Blakeney campus

A few hours later on Monday evening, he texted me accusing me of a conspiracy:
I reiterated how I had found the information and again sent the link. He told me I needed to clear this up, because Norm doesn't meet at his Chick Fil A. I replied that it is Elevation Church that needs to clear this up, since the church had apparently told the owner earlier in the day that this was a mistake and would fix it. I had accepted the owner's word that this is a mistake. Why did he accuse me of a conspiracy? Does he really think I am making this up?

  Elevation Church - Screen Shot July 6 2015 by watchkeep

This eGroup exists to help us further understand God's vision for us as men of purity. This is for men who are interested in growing in their faith, whether renewing a commitment or making a commitment for the first time. The life of Nehemiah is a perfect place to start. If you are seeking the freedom from sexual immorality, this group will provide Biblically-based topical discussion & regular accountability. We are meeting weekly, but rebuilding the walls daily.