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.
Who R the Megachurch Leaders Who Decide @ElevationChurch's @StevenFurtick's 'Secret' Salary, Influence His Ministry? http://t.co/aD6Rw9YTjK— The Christian Post (@ChristianPost) October 30, 2013
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.
Megachurch pastor tells his congregation his newly built 16,000-square-foot house is gift from God
|Norman W. Vigue|
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.)
HERO OF THE DAY
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!
THAT KIND OF CHURCH
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:Norm,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.
MISTAKE INTO A MIRACLE
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.
Lauren Book was sexually abused for 6 yrs by her nanny. Now she's trying to save all our kids http://t.co/55DQJtV9Wm pic.twitter.com/TeTARsjz4x— Newsweek (@Newsweek) June 23, 2015
Lauren Book's powerful survival story & mission to protect kids from sexual abuse is featured on cover of @Newsweek. https://t.co/9EygassOTz— Lauren Book (@LaurensKids) June 23, 2015
“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
How Good Parents Miss Child Sexual Abuse and 5 Questions to Change That
FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston
@a_la_branscum Chris whoever it is just has a pathetic existence attempting to smear's Steven's reputation. Best bet is to ignore!— Matt Furtick (@MattFurtick) July 5, 2015
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.