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.


Kathi said…
As I started reading this, my first question was if Elevation ever told the congregation through all of the celebrating what crime Vigue has been convicted of. Well, you confirmed that. I hope that members of this church see this and WW's post and are disgusted by the hiding of the truth.
Anonymous said…
Amy...have agreed with ALL your observations and you are an excellent advocate for the abused. I am rather curious though...and this is asking your opinion for someone that discerns the abusers as manipulative. Is there a point...or a time frame in which a church might consider allowing a "past" abuser to serve in some type of capacity? Without a Church elevating a person for recognition as Furtick has done...just abuser does come to the saving grace of Christ and does repent, and does live out a life that indicates "change"...can a Church still find a way to allow that person to serve? Or to close that door completely and just allow that person to attend only? Whereas you past statistics indicate a very low percentage of abusers can reform/repent from their past...what about those whom do? Appreciate your take...and respectfully honor your opinions.
Anonymous said…
I can't say whether Norm has truly repented. However, I was absolutely sickened to read one Elevation member say that he had an "amazing history." Um, no. There is nothing amazing about a history of looking at kiddie porn, even if the repentance was genuine. Yikes, yikes, yikes.
Anonymous said…
I'm so tired of hearing professing Christians refer to egregious sexual crimes against minors and other victims as "mistakes." A "mistake" is accidentally locking your keys in your car. Predatory sexual crimes against minors and others are just that... crimes.
Dee Parsons said…
The first thing that a person who accesses child sex abuse must do it admit to his crime, thoroughly and specifically. Then, the pastor must inform the church in order for them to both be safe and to provide accountability for the offender. The problem with this sort of crime is that it goes on behind closed doors and there is little folks can do in the way of proving that the behavior is ongoing. One must always suspicious.

I believe that such a person has forfeited their rights to be a leader in the church. But, true leaders are to be servants anyway. So, an outwardly repentant person should participate in activities that show a servant's love to others within a group dynamic. They could go with a group to build a house for Habitat for Humanity. They could, with a group, to help paint a widow's home. They could, with a group, to visit a nursing home or prison and minister to the people there.

They must never ask to serve or be around minor children, even with a group. They forfeited that right when they committed their crime. They may repent but that doesn't mean that life goes on as before. There are consequences and any person involved in child sex crimes should be willing to admit it and accept the consequences. If they don't, they have probably not repented fully for their actions.That may mean that their activity my be ongoing.
Sharon said…,458692,598110,1026817,580025,1053475,735891

Norm's class now shows as meeting at a private home.

Anonymous said…
Elevation church appear 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
Anonymous said…
Absolutely disgusting analysis.
The reason why Elevation Church is flourishing and much needed is present in this article.
God loves everyone. Everyone sins.
It's like the "investigators" keep asking themselves one simple question:
"Does he deserve a 2nd chance?"
You don't get to decide that.
Elevation Church is for everyone, but it's not for everyone.
Jesus shut down all the pretentious "religious" leaders many years ago, and the people of this article are acting just like them - that you get to decide, that you get to judge, that you get to limit and declare what he can do (lead a worship group).
He is a different person. Sins are forgiven. Your opinion of his transformation being legit and continuous have no baring.
It is EXACTLY what this world needs is how Elevation Church has open arms for the sinners.
Did I mention we are all sinners?
There is no this sin is worse than this sin, therefore you are loved by God still.
He loves everyone.
Man creates this hierarchy of what he thinks God decides is a sin too far of forgiveness.
God's love is much larger.
Great, let me ask you this and answer honestly. Would you allow YOUR children to be taught by Norm? Would you let him lead a youth study in your home? Be honest!!
Anonymous said…
I recently have been attending an extension of Elevation Church in NC. I have always had a gnawing feeling that something was very off about the organization. After attending for a year, I am still not "on board" with the methods they present. After reading this blogpost I am just sick to my stomach that they would promote NV to hero status! This definately confirms that I need to distance myself from this organization.

After doing a bit of research myself....NV is still hosting small groups in EC has not distanced themselves too much from this predator.

Men's Bible/Book Study eGroup: Crash the Chatterbox (Vigue)
Campus: Ballantyne Campus Next meeting : Wed. January 10, 2018 • 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Description This eGroup is for men who are interested in growing in their faith thru God's vision,whether we are facing relationship challenges, job/financial issues, challenges with sexual sin or dealing with the every day challenges, we use Biblical-based discussion & regular accountability thru Pastor's sermons. We should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong. We are meeting weekly, but rebuilding the walls daily.
Gender Male
Marital status Married or Single
Meets on every Wednesday effective 3/6/2012 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Time zone (GMT-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Location Charlotte, NC 28277
Leader Profile
Norm Vigue
Norm Vigue

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