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.