Former Youth Pastor Responds to Open Letter from Church Leaders Who Mishandled and Failed to Report Child Sex Abuse

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Open Letter from Pastor Steve Wingfield and Elders of First Christian Church of Florissant and Response from Former Youth Pastor

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Earlier this month, I shared a portion of a disturbing story about First Christian Church of Florissant (FCCF) and their pastor, Steve Wingfield. I found this case  especially intriguing because of the similarities with my own former pastor’s failure to report child sex abuse and his lawsuit against me:

  • Pastor Steve Wingfield and church leadership allegedly failed to respond to child known sex abuse allegations
  • Convicted sex offender, Brandon Milburn, eventually plead guilty to seven counts of sodomy with two minors under the age of 12 and was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison.
  • Pastor Steve Wingfield used the civil court system to file a defamation lawsuit in an attempt to control negative public communication by former church members.
  • Pastor Wingfield published a lengthy explanation of why filing a lawsuit against former members was Biblically appropriate, despite the Bible’s clear teaching against it (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).

There’s much more to report, but you now have a quick glimpse of the upheaval occurring in this once largely attended church in Florissant, Missouri.

On June 21, 2015, an Open Letter was widely published and shared via the church website, read from the pulpit, published on the church’s Facebook page, Twitter, and sent by e-mail and snail mail. Apparently, they wanted to reach a very wide audience.

The Open Letter shares the narrative of the pastor (and elders) and their side of the storyHowever, it only shares one side – the side that church leaders want you to hear. It paints those who disagree with them in a negative light and labels them as slanderers, bitter, and accusers.

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Titus and Kari Benton

Pastor Titus Benton has spent the last 4 years as a youth pastor at a church in Texas. Prior to this ministry position, he was on staff at FCCF, first as a part-time intern, later taking a full-time position offered by Pastor Steve Wingfield. He was at FCCF for approximately 10 years, occasionally preaching before the congregation. Benton told me he worked fairly closely with Wingfield until Benton purportedly “took authority [he] had not been given.”

Pastor Benton’s wife, Kari, grew up in the church, and so it was not just a job at any church, FCCF was home to the Benton family. They both care deeply for this church family.

When Titus read the Open Letter, he was moved to respond. He shared his response with me and I asked him if I could share it here. Titus’ voice represents the voice of many current and former members. Titus wrote the entire response to the Open Letter and he also “ran it by the victims’ families to make sure it was accurate.”

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Admin note:The words from FCCF’s Open Letter are in black font and Titus Benton’s words are in green font. I have retained the bolded subheadings as was originally published in the Open Letter. The following is considerably long, so I’ve tried to break it up a bit with screenshots of comments from church supporters.   ~ja

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Open Letter from First Christian Church of Florissant Elders

  • Keith Vehlewald, Chairman of Elders
  • Stanley DuBose, Vice Chairman
  • Bob Dees, Secretary
  • Eugene Storjohann, Treasurer
  • Steve Wingfield, Senior Pastor
  • Bob Farmer, Jr., Executive Pastor

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We’re blessed. First Christian Church of Florissant is an amazing multi-generational, multiethnic family. We joyfully celebrate a 57 year legacy of ministry built on honoring Jesus Christ through compassionately living in the world.

This is true. For fifty years, there were few better examples of Great Commission churches in the United States. So moving was this history that I wrote my Master’s thesis on the rich history. It is one worthy of great honor. I still have one of Charles Wingfield’s ties in my office, a reminder of this legacy.

We have served thousands of families and been recognized nationally for the strength of our diversity. Like every family, our church family has moments when our strength is tested.

This is one of those moments. In January 2014 two former First Christian Church families were told for the first time by their now grown sons that they had been sexually abused in 2007 by Brandon Milburn . . .

Two questions:

1. How do the elders know those families were told in January? They have talked to one of the families sparingly and the other not at all. I know this because I have spoken with both the families.

2. The victims were not abused in 2007 alone, but from 2007-2009. To continue to cite this date inaccurately seemingly minimizes the victims in order to save face, and interfere’s with the victims’ healing process.

. . . then a full time student at St. Louis Christian College and a part-time church employee. These families did the right thing, the difficult thing. They stood strong in their test . . .

They are strong, but I would not say they stood strong. They were crumpled to the floor in agony. They wept. They were broken. They hurt. And again, I’m not sure how the elders would know that they stood strong “in their test,” because there was little-to-no communication between the families and the church.

Also, why should it matter where Brandon Milburn went to school? This is a carefully worded attempt to distract from the fact that abuses happened because of Brandon’s role at the church from at least 2007-2012.

. . . reported this horrible crime to the authorities and sought counseling. A year-long open investigation invited any other victims to come forward and led to a guilty plea and a sentence to 25 years in prison.

The investigation by law enforcement did not last a year. There was no investigation by church leaders (unless a handful of announcements counts as an investigation). At first, there was a not-guilty plea and the defendant minimized his actions. At the last second, when facing trial, Brandon changed his plea to avoid a trial.

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While this abuse did not occur in church facilities or at our programs, we hurt when others do.

There is no doubt in my mind church leaders hurt to learn of Brandon’s betrayal of trust and predatory behavior. I believe that is true. However, this is not the abuse that Steve was confronted about or what the recent controversy is surrounding. For the better part of the last four months, private conversations with Steve and elders attempted to make this clear.

To clarify once again, the recent confrontation was regarding abuses IN ADDITION TO the abuse charges levied against Brandon, and warnings of that abuse that were shared with Steve in 2011 and 2012.

The actions of one had a ripple effect of hurt to many through his violation of trust. Because we are a place of healing, First Christian provides two professional counseling resources available for victims of Milburn’s abuse.

There’s a lot to be said here. First, many were indeed hurt by Brandon’s violation of trust. But, again, that’s not what the recent confrontation has been about. It has been about hurt caused by the elders (including Steve) and the violation of the trust placed in them, beginning with (but not limited to) their inactivity when approached about additional abuse concerns shared with Steve in 2011, and again in 2012. This abuse was not related to the charges against Brandon, but was inflicted upon additional victims.

There is no mention of this in this open letter, and that is deceitful. No one was ever claiming that Steve (or anyone, for that matter) knew about abuse in 2007-2009. However, most readers of this Open Letter surely read recent news stories of first-hand accounts from additional victims saying that they were abused by Brandon in 2011/2012. These are the abuses that Steve was alerted to and failed to report.

Additionally, while First Christian did finally offer counseling, they have never provided any outreach to former members or victims no longer attending to make this known. Elders started this document by granting that the known victims and their families were no longer involved at First Christian. So the counseling they reportedly “offered” was not known by those families, because those families were not in services to hear the announcement – the only place those services were spoken of.

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Disturbing methods. Since the February 2015 sentencing . . .

Brandon Milburn’s sentencing was in late March, not February.

First Christian Church has been harassed and slandered by false claims that church leaders knew of the sexual abuse and criminally failed to report it. This is simply not true.

Actually, it is true. In 2011 and again in 2012, two different individuals told Steve Wingfield of concerns regarding behaviors indicative of abuse. They did this privately. Later, both Doug Lay and I confronted the church – also privately. I am the only one to allege this was a crime, which I shared with Steve and the elders privately on one occasion. This was after hearing about the concerns first hand (in Fall 2014) and doing my own investigation to ensure that they were true before confronting them. I came to the elders and Steve through a private letter in February 2015 that alerted them to that which I had been made aware. Even though I was the only one to allege that it was a crime, it is worth noting that failure to report suspected child abuse (not proven child abuse, but suspected) is a crime.

It is also only fair to admit that it was later included in the case study and received a much wider audience.

“Harassment” and “slander” are two legal terms used to describe a criminal offense that the cited behavior does not rise to the level of. The court of law ruled against the restraining order that asserted that these behaviors were present, so to still describe the behavior “against” the church as harassment and slander is legally untrue.  To use these terms in a piece of communication like this is a poor choice as it does not represent the truth.

These unsubstantiated claims . . .

The claims were not unsubstantiated. They were verified by several people before I ever contacted church leadership.

. . . were repeatedly promoted in the unfiltered platform of social media . . .

This is similar to the elders’ Open Letter of which I’m now commenting.

. . . on fake Facebook accounts, in phone calls and emails sourced through the unauthorized use of church databases, in issuing demands for the resignation of leaders and seeking supporters who might disrupt worship services.

To this day, the elders have offered no evidence of harassing phone calls or e-mails, nor that there were those who had the goal of disrupting worship services.

Critics do share a valuable role suggesting need for improvements. However, some opportunistically choose destructive methods…testing great cities, testing law enforcement, testing best of class organizations, schools, and even effective churches.

To assert that someone was being opportunistic infers that they are seeking selfish gain. Though church leaders have hinted at hidden agendas on the part of whistle-blowers, they have never indicated what these agendas might be. As for the various institutions that have been tested, only First Christian has faced critique and ridicule.

Outside of the crimes of Brandon Milburn (and the mishandling of concerns on the part of church leadership in the wake of his arrest), it is easy to argue that FCCF has not been “effective” in various ministry pursuits in recent years. In other words, the people watching all this and yelling “fire” are not the ones that lit the match. There are bigger problems at FCCF than Brandon Milburn.

A line must be drawn. These methods do not belong in our church family.

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Patient leadership. As elders, we have worked in unity over the last months to protect and clear First Christians name legally and through law enforcement.

Understand this phrase “a line must be drawn.” Who is drawing it? If you do not agree with church leaders, you do not belong in “our church family.”

It has long been assumed by many that protecting First Christian’s name was the leadership’s goal based on how these issues have been handled. While some churches would have preferred to seek the truth, minister to victims, and take substantive steps to correct mistakes and not just save face, their goal  – now stated clearly for all to see and understand – was to clear their name and protect their reputation.

Based on the clear evidence, we’ve sought retractions, not financial penalties.

It’s not “clear evidence” when none has been provided that slander and harassment occurred. Several lawyers have read the lawsuit filed against five defendants in Saint Louis County court: four lawyers representing the defense and at least one additional lawyer giving advice. Each of them have been clear — financial penalties of at least $25,000 were being sought in the lawsuit against the defendants. To assert that the purpose was only to seek retractions and not financial penalties is simply not true.

One does not have to be a lawyer to conclude that financial penalties were being sought. In Count 5 of the lawsuit, “Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress” against all five defendants, the Plaintiff (that’s Steve & First Christian) “demands judgement against Defendant as follows:

  • for compensatory damages in excess of $25,000
  • for punitive damages
  • for their cost of suit, including reasonable attorney’s fees

Then, on page 12 of the same lawsuit, Steve Wingfield signed his name in front of a notary public on the 16th day of April, “swearing that he read the foregoing petition” and understood was contained therein.

After pursuing options that enabled us to name accusers and present affidavits and evidence that could be substantiated in court . . . 

The elders do not note here that it could NOT be substantiated in court…the restraining order that named the accusers and attached the affidavits and provided the evidence was denied by a court in Saint Louis County.

. . . the eldership decided to voluntarily drop civil actions and enlist assistance from two respected Christian mediators.

This is not true. My wife and I were in the meeting where the elders were asked to drop the lawsuit. They did not do so voluntarily. The “mediators” were arranged by a concerned third-party – they did not come at the invitation of the elders. How is that the elders can now claim to have voluntarily dropped the lawsuit in order to instead enlist assistance from outside mediators when the mediators were brought in first (the meeting set up by a third-party, not at the elder’s invitation) and ended up being the ones who asked them to drop the suit?

Our intent – to give our critics yet additional opportunities to reconcile. Regretfully, those seeking to blame us and incite outrage prefer to continue spreading wholly false accusations.

Following the dropping of the lawsuit, only my wife and I were contacted for further dialogue. This dialogue happened on one occasion and did not include any talk of reconciliation, only a rehashing of past events and arguments as to why they had to be that way. In fact, after forty minutes of this banter, the “mediator” decided he’d heard enough and excused himself to go home. The phone call ended abruptly.

Additionally, as it has already been pointed out, the accusations were not “wholly false.” In fact, in the same meeting where it was requested that the lawsuit be dropped, Steve Wingfield admitted that Dawn Varvil had shared with him in the 2012 meeting that Brandon had bought an iPhone for a young man, been seen spooning with him, and had a key to his apartment.

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Standing strong. Upon the counsel of our mediator, we are persuaded that the best course of action for the First Christian family NOW is to refocus our energies exclusively on moving forward with our ministry and mission.

This is true. The “mediators” did not actually mediate — trying to bring two sides together. Rather, they advised church leaders to make a statement and move on. This statement is the statement following that counsel, and they sincerely have no intention of talking about this any more.

With your support and encouragement, First Christian Church will only intensify our commitment to stand strong, becoming an even more compassionate community resource. We’re thankful that this amazing family continues to grow in faith, welcoming first-time guests and each week celebrating new committed followers of Christ. We began June with more than 500 kids and volunteers in Vacation Bible School. Our Celebrate Recovery is an ongoing ministry of support. While we will always have a tear in our eye for those wronged by heinous actions . . . 

Since Brandon’s arrest, no elder has reportedly been seen with a tear in their eye for any victim. Only after a huge public outcry, several newspaper articles, and a drastic reduction in weekly attendance and financial giving did the church even arrange for counseling for victims — and those details are yet to have been shared with a wider audience they are supposedly meant to serve.

. . . our focus is and will be resolutely on the greater things that bring us together… one faith, in one Lord, and one message of God’s love and grace that can bring healing in any life.

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Better not bitter. First Christian Church of Florissant is listening, learning and loving, determined to be better, not bitter.

In the often-scoffed-at case study entitled “Is it Enough?” the authors provide more than a dozen suggestions at how First Christian could do better at recognizing, reporting, and handling sexual abuse within its family. As of the writing of this response, zero suggestions have been implemented.

Our core values determine that we will go forward, empowered by God’s grace to be a place where Christ comes first, where the lost are found, where the Word is heard, where care is shared, and where our world is changed. In this time of testing, First Christian is standing strong.

Given the turnover in staff, decline in attendance, public outrage, divided congregation, and reported spiritual and physical unhealth of the senior pastor in the face of conflict, it is difficult to believe this assertion.

We invite you to stand with us.

Every piece of evidence I’ve suggested in this response is verifiable by someone other than me. I don’t ask you to stand with me; however, I ask you to look into it, find the truth, and stand with it. The truth is powerful enough to stand on its own, but we would do well to align ourselves with it.  ~Pastor Titus Benton

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49 comments on “Former Youth Pastor Responds to Open Letter from Church Leaders Who Mishandled and Failed to Report Child Sex Abuse

  1. American evangelical Christian preachers all seem to suffer from the same form of delusional religious mania, as if they truly believe God has spoken directly to them in a special way that He speaks to no one else. It’s really bizarre. How many pastors are actually undiagnosed manics with Bipolar disorder?

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  3. Reading about these scummy people at this “church” brings back very dark memories for me. I don’t understand it sometimes but it hits me like a ton of bricks and it all just comes flooding back. I hate these kind of church people with a passion. They are covering for perverts and criminals. How is it that this is still going on within the church world after all these years. It seems like every week it’s a new case somewhere. Dash brings up a question that I often think on.

    American evangelical Christian preacher’s all seem to suffer from the same form of delusional religious mania, as if they truly believe God has spoken directly to them in a special way that He speaks to no one else. It’s really bizarre. How many pastors are actually undiagnosed manics with Bipolar disorder?

    How many ? Well that’s a complicated question. If they call themselves AN independent, Fundamental, BIBLE BELIEVING (like no other church believes the bible) KJV 1611 church, from my experience 70-80%

    If they operate a Christian school with teachers from BOB JONES UNIVERSITY, or Hayles Anderson that are PSYCHOPATHS, child abusing Witches with a capital B (YES THAT MEANS YOU MRS. HAAD, Mrs. Karp, MS. Francis, MRS. JONES, and my favorite MRS. Witch Jaloney ) nearly 99.9%.

    If they send a bus to Bill Gothard events……

    P.S. I heard you follow this blog as I talk to someone in your home group almost weekly. You can’t help yourself can you. Have to be out there seeing what the “lost sheep” are saying about your buddy BILLY. Long time since you tortured little children with your nails and monster grip at VBS. I know it was a sexual thing for you when you came into the boys shower with that switch when we were at camp K. I know now you were aroused by beating defenseless little boys who were doing nothing wrong but enjoying our time at camp. I also heard about your divorce and the church split. Big shock, the idiot finally figured out that he married a child rapist. Congratulations to him and what a bonus for you. Plenty of pity from people who don’t really know you and what a creature you are.

    I always wanted to tell you I seriously considered killing my self while in your 9th grade class. I bought a 38 from a guy in the neighborhood. It only came with 3 bullets. I couldn’t decide which of you two monsters to pop first before killing myself and as fate would have it I was rescued from your clutches. Three of my classmates had to kill themselves for me to get away from you. I hope you think about that, I do every day of my life. I still have nightmares about what you did to me. I feel extreme guilt for not going to the police or my folks when I found out you were having sex with my best friend. You are a monster, a monster that haunts me to this day. If it hadn’t ended when it did you would not be alive today. Neither would I. You missed it by a few days.

    I thank God you aren’t still teaching or around children. If you haven’t figured out who I am yet, remember when dragged me into the janitors closet you put your hand down my pants and squeezed me after hitting me with a paddle 5 times for not having a book cover on my science book ? Opps, I guess that doesn’t narrow it down huh ? How about the time you had your little fit of psycho rage and threw a cup of coffee on me and JP ? Getting warmer ? Not as warm as hell when you bust it wide open you bogus Christian & child rapist.

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  4. Scott,

    What a terrible experience you had at the hands of these evil women. Bravo to you for speaking up and calling them out. Bravo to you for turning the spotlight on their bad behavior. I hope you have contacted the authorities.

    I believe your story and hope you are surrounded by others who do. Keep speaking out so that your perpetrators…and others like them…are stopped. Maybe they will find their comeuppance in the court system, maybe not, but at least you are letting the world know that bad behavior lurks behind the smiling faces of pedophiles, whether men or women.

    Hang in there and keep telling others. Find a support group.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scott,

    What was done to you breaks my heart, I believe you. I am sorry that you were violated by so many wicked people. I was sexually abused, beaten & screamed at as a child and I still wear the scars emotionally today, however, my abusers were atheists. I don’t know if I would be alive today if I was abused in Jesus name. I tried to take myself out years ago. It staggers my mind that the witches that did this to you had the audacity to call themselves christian. How awful for you. I love that you shared and called them out.

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  6. Amen, Gail. I have been corresponding with Titus and his wife, Kari for the last couple of months. They are great people with hearts of gold. They are very brave to be speaking out publicly.

    I hope others from FCCF will join in the conversation. They’ve gone through a lot and have had their voices squelched for quite some time. It’s time for their voices to be heard, freely.

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  7. Titus – Thank you for sharing your open letter with us. My heart sank when I read about what happened at FCCF and the lawsuit. My heart sinks further knowing that the full truth was not revealed by the leadership.

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  8. FCCF is a great church. Was married there, kids dedicated there, it’s where my wife met Jesus and we met a lot of great people. Lots of friendships there, still. This horrible mishandling has tried the congregations patience. Many have left. Truthfully, that’s probably good for them…it’s traumatic for many to even enter the building any more (and some are legally not permitted to do so). As for our involvement, our courage and bravery pales in comparison to the courage and bravery of the young men who have stepped up, told their families and the newspapers what has happened to them. For that to be brushed aside as if not reporting it were a communication error or a misunderstanding is unacceptable and the genesis of our initial confrontation. Now, for those who have called foul on the church to be treated as they have been is nothing short of spiritual abuse. I’m not cool with that.

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  9. Titus, thanks for your comment. You’re right. the silencing tactics are deplorable – and especially in light of the fact that they (leaders) failed and abandoned the sexual abuse survivors. To have experienced sexual abuse by someone in a position of trust at the church and then have the church leaders ALSO turn their backs on the survivors??? I’m pretty sure the millstone verse would apply here. It’s appalling that these men remain in a position of leadership and trust and “shepherd” souls. God surely must be grieved.

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  10. Scott, I read your comment and sat here with my mouth wide open, not even knowing what to say. Brother, your anger is justified and I am so glad you are still around. I am so sorry to read what was done to you. I can’t imagine that kind of pain. hugs to you, friend!

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  11. My husband and I were members of this church for nearly 30 years. We left 3 years ago (the church was handed over to Steve Wingfield about 7-8 years ago). Those last years were filled increasing amounts of spiritual abuse. It began with great (junior) ministers being forced out without cause, volunteers treated like slaves, bylaws and governance changed – giving all power to the senior pastor, weak sermons. Thankfully our children were grown before these overt leadership changes started. Unfortunately, it has only gotten worse since we left. This latest mishandling of sexual abuse is just one more horrendous example of why this leadership must be removed.
    That building is not a safe place for children or adults!

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  12. s/b “Open Letter from First CHRISTIAN Church of Florissant Pastor/Dictator and his Sock Puppets”

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  13. (If this is too long, please feel free to delete)

    Sometimes you get so close to the forest you can no longer see the trees. It’s easy to write comments calling leaders evil, and feel good about it, but it doesn’t help you to understand how easy it is for normal well intentioned people to fall prey to it. It’s also easier to oversimplify and generalize, but those don’t get to the truth either. 

    I am a former elder at FCCF and I resigned over issues which are now manifesting themselves there. I served as an elder during the time that Titus was on staff, and I was witness to the treatment he received there. There was a time when I didn’t see things as clearly as I do now. The elders were “trained” by Steve Wingfield that their main role in spiritual oversite of the church was to support the lead minister (Steve) and pray for him and his family… to “have his back”. I was among a few other elders who fought to have Steve held accountable for his actions, but our concerns at that time had nothing to do with the sexual abuse by Brandon Milburn – none of that had yet come up on anyone’s radar. The actions we were concerned with were related to Steve’s abusive management of staff and volunteers.

    The light started to come on for me following the departure of Micheal Frost, the first of the staff casualties. I was chosen by the elders to stand in front of the congregation and read the letter from the elders about what had happened (as far as we had been told) with Michael and why he left. Immediately following that morning’s services I began to be approached by a flood of people who wanted to tell me about what was really going on, and those conversations went on for weeks. There were numerous phone calls, conversations over coffee etc, and I was listening.

    What I began to see was that Steve had been treating his staff and volunteers very abusively, and people had had enough. Other staff members were on the verge of leaving, and were miserable in their work. I was convinced that Steve was simply unaware of his behavior, and would certainly respond once he was told about how the people he worked with felt. I was sorely wrong in that assumption. When I spoke with him, I experienced the same thing that many others have – the complete redirection of the issue and the blame, and left that meeting so confused it took days for my mind to process all of what Steve said. I was very wrong in thinking that he would respond appropriately. I was sent away with a scolding for talking to staff members and others about Steve – for listening to them. I was the one who was wrong.

    There is a point to these comments, I promise.

    Following the above events, I engaged, along with a couple of other elders in an effort to bring these concerns before the eldership as a whole, so that Steve could receive proper biblical support and help from the elders in addressing these issues. This effort was opposed at all turns. We attempted to communicate with the elders as a group about what we were hearing, but we were unsuccessful because Steve would not allow the elders to meet without him being present. During this time, the elders were being told that they shouldn’t talk to any staff without Steve present, and the staff were forbidden from talking to any elder.

    When it became clear to Steve that we were not giving up, he began his efforts to take control away from the elders. A specialist was brought in to teach us about a new “governance model” that was supposed to position us for mega-church growth. The real effect was to get the elders out of the way. This new model, based on the Carver Policy Governance model, would put the senior minister in total control of the staff, and take the elders officially out of the picture. The elders’ role would be to provide the spiritual oversight, project the vision for the ministry and supervise the senior minister. The senior minister would be “the CEO” and the elders would be “the board of directors”. The main thing was that the elders would have NO interaction or involvement with staff, other than Steve. In addition, he took steps to institute new selection criteria for incoming elders to ensure they were already in agreement with him, and took steps to oust the elders already on the board who were standing in his way. I ultimately resigned when I saw that this was the course of action the elders as a group were going to go along with. I could not be a part of allowing this to happen.

    As I said at the start, the abuse by Brandon Milburn was not even on our radar at the time, but it is my firm belief that the issues we WERE wrestling with are at the center of Steve Wingfield’s and the elders’ response to it. Steve demonstrated to me a complete unwillingness to look at his own actions, and a pattern of intentionally and methodically attacking his opposition. Even so, I believe that the elders believe they are doing God’s will in supporting Steve, and defending the church as they see it. I also believe that Steve believes he is doing God’s will and is trying to defend the church in doing so. But in Steve’s case, I think he has a very hard time separating what is good for the church from what is good for himself. 

    Ultimately a man of integrity has to look at himself and honestly ask if what so many people are saying might be true… If what tried and true long time church members and supporters are saying is really true. If HE might actually be the problem.  

    I no longer believe Steve has it within himself to take responsibility for his actions, and the elders have long ago forgotten how to lead him to see it. I hope you will all look hard at the real issues here and not take the easy route of generalizing. Jesus Christ and the real church are not evil and abusive. People can be, for sure. As believers we must never forget that we are flawed and broken people, yet forgiven because of what He did for us. As unbelievers, it’s my hope that you too will see that you are flawed and broken, and need the same saving grace.

    Titus and those who are speaking up have shown integrity and the kind of humility that grace brings. Though I was not personally witness to the events, meetings and confrontations being discussed, everything I see in the church’s reaction is consistent with the pattern of abusive behavior that I did see over and over again.

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  14. Welcome, Steve, and thank you for sharing your personal experience. You were in a really difficult situation and it must have been so frustrating to run into brick walls. I can’t imagine that kind of spiritual/emotional weight to carry.

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  15. I’m a touch off topic, but it strikes me that we can glean a bit of wisdom out of this sad story–really something of a protocol to follow when you get allegations, a check list of “is the interaction recorded with time and date?”, “are authorities notified if the allegations might reasonably described as criminal?”, and the like. It appears that the church does not have that in this case, but if they did, they would have been able to respond to the claims simply by releasing whatever data they could reasonably have released.

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  16. BB, I am not convinced that the church wanted any part of reporting to authorities. There are usually good reasons (not appropriate reasons, just reasons that benefit them) why church leaders fail to report. I also think they hoped this “problem” would just go away.

    We saw this similar pattern at Sovereign Grace Ministries. If SGM pastors were to report Nathaniel Morales, it would have meant they needed to report their own pastors, too. So it’s just easier to avoid the issue altogether and claim ignorance – – – until you have to testify in court and tell the truth. Oopsy!

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  17. Well written Steve. I was one of those Elders along with Steve that was trying to bring the issues we discovered with Steve Wingfield’s leadership regarding the staff to the rest of the board. They would not even listen to us nor did they have any interest in speaking with the staff for themselves. The reason, Steve Wingfield did not want Elders talking to staff. Sounds crazy doesn’t it ? That’s what I thought too.

    We got blasted in meetings for talking to HIS staff. At no point did he ever take responsibility for any of the problems going on. He does nothing but deflect , defend , and turn things back around on others. If you disagree with him , you are being divisive. As Steve said in the previous comment , we knew nothing of the child abuse issue but we sure knew all about the lack of leadership from Steve Wingfield and the Elders who simply do what he tells them to do. It is truly sad what is happening their right now but it is a direct result of the lack of leadership. The problems there willl continue until there is a complete replacement of leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. As a very recently departed member, my heart is still in shreds from all this. My family (along with many other families) have invested much in FCCF. For years, we have seen red flags and been dismissed with our concerns. We have had 1 foot out the door while also trying to give the benefit of the doubt. We had an idea thing were bad… we were naïve to how bad. Just 4 months ago, we were ministry leaders in a variety of areas, today we cannot even walk in the building without our stomach churching. The lies, cover-up and handling of issues is deplorable. Steve Wingfield is an evil man and the elders protect him at all costs.

    For a number of years, my husband and I naively thought leadership had our best interests at heart. We now realize, we have been taken advantage of, used and tossed aside the minute we questioned leadership. If you do not agree with Steve Wingfield, you are divisive, a liar and then cease to exist. Him and his supporters insult and accuse anyone who stands in their way. This open letter is insulting to the victims, it belittles what they have been through. It is insulting to members, asking them to stand with the elders… we should be standing with God alone.

    This letter makes broad false accusations of those who chose to stand what is right. As Titus stated, there are lies throughout. I will not stand with the elders and I will not stand with FCCF, to even suggest this is shameful. My family prays for those who have been wounded, abused and scattered. We pray for those that will be wounded and abused in the future; we understand the pain when your eyes are finally opened. My heart aches for all of us, most of all for the victims and their families who in their roughest hour were not ministered to properly.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I drank the kool aide @FCCF! I’ve preached nearly twenty times this year. I’ve stepped in and preached twice on Sunday mornings, all the while thinking what a great place, i’m getting all this opportunity to use my gifts!
    In the beginning, I found myself angry at Titus and Kari for leveling the claim, I guess my eyes were not open yet! Fortunately, I’ve never had a confrontation with Steve, however, I started doing my own research on the Brandon Milburn ordeal. I’ve read the “is it enough” document”. After a meeting with Steve, the whistle-blower in the document leaves confused, like maybe she’s the problem, then I read the post by Steve, stating the same reaction after his conversation with Mr. Wingfield. My eyes are open now! WOW, such power, such entitlement, all in the name of Jesus. Sad………so very sad.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Will echo sentiments of members of FCCF. I have a son that is the same age of the victims and had to ask him on several occasions if he was a victim as well. I say that because to this day no one from “my church” has ever contacted me about this. There are probably dozens of now 19-22 year old men that could be victims and their parents have never been notified. At the time a lot of kids were dropped off on Wednesday evenings without parents staying and/or not being members of church. The only minimal announcements the church has made was to the congregation so if you don’t happen to be there that week, you never know what has occurred. Until a concerted effort is made to reach out to all possible victims, I cannot leave it alone.

    Like

  21. Good for you, Kevin. Thanks for sharing your experience with the church leaders. Their non-response is deeply disturbing.

    BTW, we have a lot of traffic and new visitors today. Welcome! If you are a first-time commenter, the first comment is moderated and then you will be able to comment freely. I’m surprised at how much traffic this post is getting considering this is a Friday and the Supreme Court ruling is buzzing social media. It tells me that a lot of people are very concerned about this church. The community at SSB stands with you!

    Like

  22. My husband and I met at FCCF over 13 years ago. We got married there, dedicated our babies there. Our family was there, our church family was there. We loved the church. Looking back there were red flags to Steve’s poor leadership and abusive nature. So many things. Good staff members like Titus, Michael, Chris and many more leaving. Hearing Steve scold people from the pulpit, indirectly of course. But many knew who and what he was talking about. Sermons that weren’t Biblically based. Arrogance. Such arrogance. Then being told if we don’t like it, we are welcome to leave. Leaving was so hard. Like a divorce. I don’t remember what Steve said but I remember sitting in service and looking at my husband and saying out loud, “We have to leave.” It took a while but we eventually left. The Lord was so good to us and blessed us with such a wonderful church family. More than we could have thought to have asked for. That was almost 3 years ago. All this brings it all back. All the pain, the heartbreak. All because of one man. I don’t even know how to pray for this anymore… Lord, not my will but yours be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I have 25 questions for Steve Wingfield that to my knowledge to date, have not been addressed by Steve. Rather, he has ignored, redirected, denied, or deflected these questions from being answered.
    Background: Steve Wingfield was told in 2012 about allegations of sexual misconduct between Brandon and 6 minors.
    1) Why did Steve W. belittle the parent who told him of the allegations?
    2) Why did Steve W. not report the allegations immediately as a mandatory reporter? 3) Why did Steve W. not tell the elders about the allegations for nearly three years? 4) Why did Steve W. not visit or minister to the two victims who did come forward?
    5) Why did Steve W. have a staff member and his wife “take care of” Brandon while he was in jail for over a year?
    6) Why did Steve W refuse to investigate the allegations when they were presented to him in a case study, “Is It Enough”?
    7) Why did Steve W. not meet with Kari and me when we met with the elders to discuss the case study and the victims?
    8) Why did Steve W. file a legal motion for a temporary restraining order when any lawyer would have known that he would lose?
    9) Why did Steve W. attach a lawsuit asking for 25,000 and punitive damages to the temporary restraining order?
    10) Why did Steve W. include the church in the lawsuit?
    11) Why did Steve W. wait two months to finally met with me in a mediation meeting with our lawyers?
    12) Why did Steve W. say he would drop the lawsuit if I would retract what I had written in the case study, even though this was one of the items asked for in the lawsuit?
    13) Why did Steve W. break the agreement to not talk about the mediation meeting when he met later with Titus, Kari, and two church pastors?
    14) Why did Steve W. say in the mediation with our lawyers that one of the conditions to drop the law suit was if I was not allowed access to the legal funds?
    15) Why did Steve W. first deny ever having a meeting with the parent about the allegations, then a week later said he met with her but not about Brandon, then a week later said he met with her about Brandon but not about sexual allegations, and then several weeks later said in a meeting with Titus, Kari, and two pastors that he did met with the parent and she did tell him about Brandon spooning with a minor, and buying gifts for him?
    16) Why did Steve W. say in a public meeting with church workers that I wrote the case study because as a former victim I was still projecting unforgiveness towards the church and Steve?
    17) Why did Steve W. say in a public meeting with church workers that the parent made up these allegations because she must have been sexually molested herself? 18) Why did Steve W. report to the press in 2014 that Brandon had not been living in MO when he really had been employed at an area church hired by his son-in-law?
    19) Why did Steve W. tell the congregation one week after Brandon was arrested that Brandon had been in California when in reality Brandon continued to attend Wednesday night youth services, Sunday night late church, and even worked as a leader at VBS five months after Steve said Brandon was not living in Mo?
    20) Why did Steve W. say in the mediation meeting with Titus, Kari, and the two pastors that he did not intend to carry out the lawsuit, something that is illegal?
    21) Why did Steve W. say in the mediation meeting with Titus, Kari, and the two pastors that I had agreed earlier to retracting my statements and then the next day changed my mind when this never happened?
    22) Why did Steve W. say the no trespass order given to me to not set foot on the church property was not intended to prevent me from participating in SLCC’s graduation at the church building but then tied my participation at graduation to me recanting what I had written in the case study?
    23) Why did Steve W. say that he dropped the law suit out of good faith yet 48 hours later the law suit was very likely to have been dropped because of a petition to drop the law suit filed by me?
    24) Why did Steve W. give a no trespass order to set foot on the church property to six people?
    25) Why did Steve W. release an open letter from the elders reporting a number of things that are false, or greatly exaggerated, or twisted from their original meaning, and declaring that they were gong to move on?
    I will stop at 25 for now. But these 25 questions lay the foundation for this question:
    26) Why has Steve Wingfield ignored, refused, redirected, and denied answering these 25 questions related to allegation of sexual misconduct between a former employee and at least six male minors? Why?
    I will keep asking these questions until the truth is revealed.

    Liked by 6 people

  24. Welcome, Douglas. I apologize that your comment was stuck in moderation.

    You raise some very good and serious questions that deserve answers. Thank you for speaking out. The handling of this case is horrific.

    Liked by 4 people

  25. My faith in people who profess Christ is more hopeful as I have been reading the comments of these brave church members. You are truely speaking out for victims and against the travesty shown by this so called man of God. Thank you all for choosing Jesus over an institution!!

    Liked by 7 people

  26. Douglas –

    Having been on the board of elders of a church run by one whom in retrospect I sincerely believe to have been a sociopath, I believe the answer to your questions is that Steve is most likely a sociopath and cares nothing about the truth except that he genuinely hates it–as he most likely hates anyone who stands for the truth. I do not know this for a fact, but Steve shows every sign of this.

    Do not hold your breath for repentance or an epiphany from him. You will wear yourself out wishing for this–give him over to God, Who knows exactly what he is and exactly what to do with him.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. How much effort does it take to do background checks on employees and youth ministry volunteers, make sure no one child is alone with one adult (three or more persons at all times) whether in church or home groups? Even the Boy Scouts do that now.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. It doesn’t take much effort to put safety measures in place to protect kids. One of the universal problems I have seen is the blind trust people have in church. There seems to be the thought that since Christians adhere to a higher moral code, their children are far safer at church than anywhere else. It is precisely that thinking that pedophiles love churches. All you have to do is paint some Christianese on yourself and you will pass and be a trusted individual. I have never allowed my boys to go to any restroom by themselves, especially at church. Yet, I see lots of parents let their children freely roam the church, go to the restroom, etc. Churches are as safe for children as public parks when it comes to sexual abuse. That’s my opinion having a missionary and long-time pedophile in our extended family.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. JA –

    I’ve had this one thrust on me before, this notion we ought to automatically trust those with whom we’re in fellowship, particularly our self-appointed leaders (I suppose based upon nothing more than their bare assertions that they are fellows in Christ). Had a painfully young neocalvinist man who publicly took me to task for opining that I didn’t think it wise to blindly trust others in a church environment, that that took time. But the young man acted like I was in some kind of sin for expressing it and thought it fitting to “set me straight”. It was this sort of thinking that put Paul on tilt and inspired him to write some really harsh words to the church in Corinth about how stupid they’d been to put blind trust in the superapostles.

    But blind trust was a common theme at the neocalvinist church where I was first an elder, then persona non grata, then gone. I remember a video they once showed from youtube during the Sunday service in which those who advocated “holding back” and waiting to see how people proved themselves over time, not giving themselves quickly and completely to the program at church, were literally compared with Satan. It was slickly produced and at first blush compelling, but it was just a flat out lie intended to inspire blind trust not in Jesus but in leadership.

    The people who push this “trust me” mantra are almost invariably the last ones you should trust.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Cathryn, you ask a great question about background checks. Here’s what I know from circa 2000 data;

    1. about 2/3 of pedophiles have a felony record and would be “caught” by a background check if it is performed correctly with their real name and SSN. Obviously a couple of “ifs” there. So it’s nice but not a panacea, as I’m sure you guessed.

    2. Barriers to implementing it are cost ($30-$100/check if I remember), member acceptance (it does take persuasion), and the legal issues of keeping those records private.

    Regarding the last bit, when I was doing background checks, I was “sexist” and did the men first (mine was the first, actually) to keep the costs down (men commit most of these crimes, not all), and we had a system where the application and check results were kept in sealed envelopes in case there was any legal action. Then they would have come out to demonstrate we did some due diligence to keep sickos out of children’s ministry.

    One other thing I did was to simplify the rules–if you have 25 pages of rules, nobody remembers them. Regrettably lots of churches don’t rein in the lawyers and you get…you guessed it…25 pages of rules. We got it down to seven basic principles people could work from–men don’t change diapers, two adult rule of which one must be female, no corporal discipline, that sort of thing. It still seems pretty comprehensive to me…

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  31. BB, do you have info on 2/3 of pedophiles have felonies? I’d like to read more. I was always under the impression that more pedophiles were under the wire with no record.

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  32. JA, see page 22. It doesn’t break things out super clearly, but between 55% and 65% of those convicted of the various forms of sexual assault appear to have prior convictions.

    http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/SOO.PDF

    (And if you thought to yourself, “he probably had to Google that”, you would be correct.)

    That said, it supports the idea that background checks can be an effective deterrent, but it does absolutely not support the idea that they are a panacea for the problem of child molestation. The biggest thing is probably that they let prospective abusers know that people are willing to put a little bit of money and effort into coming between them and their prospective victims.

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  33. Thank you for publishing this. It seems the longer the battle goes the tighter the grip on power. There is no indication that this is a man that believes he should repent of anything; not the least of which is handling this very very badly. He makes a general statement that is designed to hit Christians where it hurts..”grace.” ” We all make mistakes.” “Determined to be better…” But there has been no personal ownership of anything as far as I know. And you can’t be better unless changes are made. Personally, I think there is justification for the authorities to be involved. I’ve never seen anyone work this hard to not answer questions. They are just questions. Instead the advocates for the victims are met with hostility and false accusations of harassment. The advocates have been kicked out of the church. All questions of any substance have been met with silence. Actually, even the simple questions have been met with silence! If we ask on social media the questions are deleted. All appearances indicate that things are hidden that should and will be brought to light. If this had been brought to light in the first place instead of going into protective mode….we would not be having this discussion.

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  34. Joanie,

    Thank you for your comment. The more I read/listen/learn about Steve Wingfield, I am seeing the same patterns that I’ve seen in other churches where abuse was covered up. It might work better for him if he’d try to be a little more original.

    I am not impressed with his responses and his lack of appropriate responses. I would not be bringing my children to this church. Until a church can be transparent, knowingly admit when they make mistakes, I would not trust Wingfield or the leadership at FCCF.

    Like

  35. Exactly, the same patterns where they cover it up. Shortly they will announce they have retained David Gibbs z second to conduct a thouragh and complete WHITEWASH and cover up. That of course is out of overwhelming concern for & the benefit of the victims who where all “seducers” seeking publicity.

    You know after a few years you start thinking Julie Anne already wrote about this case. Then you get that sinking feeling, NOPE this is ANOTHER ONE OF THESE GUYS.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Scott, regarding Gibbs Jr. , it’s worth noting that he was the guy who did the report on Bill Gothard and got him fired. So while he’s certainly got an axe to grind, it does not seem to completely blind him.

    So if that’s what really happened–as opposed to Gothard going to the chopping block because he’d become inconvenient for some reason or other–I would heartily discourage those who want to push things under the rug from hiring Gibbs. He’s associated with some things that many people on this forum despise, to be sure, but there is at least one example of how he got it right. No?

    Like

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