This is the story of how I became a whistle blower at Fairfax Community Church. Back in 2014 while involved I stumbled across information that Rod Stafford’s church concealed a dangerous situation from the congregation. Their Care Director at the time – Eric Nickle – was on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. This post is about how I went public, how I struggled with it, and how coming from a church in Milwaukee – Elmbrook, which had a sexual abuse situation with their youth pastor committing suicide in 1999 compelled me to tip off the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. My conscious is clear and if something happens at Fairfax Community it won’t be because I stayed silent.
“My job is to not take for granted when somebody says, ‘Oh, this is all just a made-up, phony scandal,’ or, ‘What this person did put the U.S. government at risk.'”
“It is the public scandal that offends; to sin in secret is no sin at all.”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6 NIV
Sign for Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, Virginia
This is going to be a difficult post to write. It has been one that I long wanted to write and right now is the time to do so. Its about seeing the scars of a sex abuse scandal in a mega church in Wisconsin and accidentally stumbling into information about another mega church in the Washington, D.C. area being dishonest about an employee sex offender who Virginia classified as being violent. I had to make a choice – a moral choice – because I feared someone getting harmed and having that on my conscious. Plus I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. That said, the reaction and the corruption of Fairfax Community Church took my breath away and was an eye opener. It was another situation that revealed the corruption of evangelical Christianity. Let’s start this post by re-visiting a sex abuse situation at Elmbrook Church in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area.
A Disturbing Sex Abuse Scandal and a Suicide at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee in 1999
Elmbrook Church was pastored by Stuart Briscoe at the time and the largest mega church in Wisconsin. It sits in the town of Brookfield, in Waukesha County. Brookfield is a suburb of Milwaukee. Elmbrook has over 7,000 people who attend their weekly services. I showed up on the scene in the 2001 – 2002 time-frame and got more involved in 2003. Personally I can’t remember a specific date. I saw something at Elmbrook that shocked me and I was baffled. It was a person walking out of the church screaming “They fucking knew!” When I inquired I learned the story of Daniel Varga.
Varga was a Youth Pastor who headed up a ministry of 400 teenagers at Elmbrook. He also was a sexual predator. Varga had engaged in sexual abuse and one of the teenagers told his parent as to what Daniel Varga was doing. In the fall of 1999 the parents, as well as a pastor contacted the police who moved to arrest him. Daniel Varga fled and went to Wisconsin Dells which is a summer resort community in Wisconsin. In a motel room, Varga barricaded the door and took his own life. His suicide was a shock to Elmbrook. You can read more about this in, “How I Learned Evangelical Christianity is Struggling with Child Sex Abuse: An Incident at Milwaukee’s Elmbrook Church in 1999.” In the end at least 10 teenagers were sexually abused by a youth pastor. When I heard this it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea of sexual abuse happening inside an evangelical church. This situation taught me as to why evangelicalism struggles with child sex abuse. But this issue did not only affect me. One of the people I knew was Michelle Van Loon. The suicide of Daniel Varga had affected her as well. Van Loon has written a column for Christianity Today and she told me as to how she was at Elmbrook when the news was received that the youth pastor was dead, and that he took his own life. This situation was also talked about in the Milwaukee theological community. And that was before the Boston Globe broke the story in 2001 about the child sex abuse situation in the Roman Catholic church. So now that I have explained a suicide and child sex abuse situation in 1999 let’s fast forward about 15 years.
Getting Involved in Rod Stafford’s Fairfax Community Church
In 2012 I got re-involved in Fairfax Community Church. Actually what I was doing was testing the water. I was in the midst of a faith crisis and in the course of time I tried to figure out what to do with my life. Should I get involved in a church or stay away? During this time I was thrust into the darkest season of my life. A military officer in the United States Air Force who boasted of his Biblical faith was trying to get me involved in Redeemer Arlington. Redeemer was the last church plant of C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries in the D.C. area before the scandal broke in 2012. Andrew White, which is a pseudonym triggered a false accusation which claimed that I was a threat to his family and that I stalked him. It came out of the blue and turned my world upside down especially as he wanted to have lunch with me often and even invited me into his home. I learned why rape and sexual abuse is a problem in the military through a military officer abusing his power. You can read about the situation in, “How I Managed a False Accusation Given Birth to by a USAF Captain and Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington for 408 Days.” In the midst of a dark night I decided to stay at Fairfax Community Church hoping for stability. Over the course of time I interacted with Andy Gingrich, Rod Stafford, Kathleen Otchy, and many more on staff. In November of 2013 I decided to get baptized as I pulled out of a faith crisis and I referred to Fairfax Community Church as home. I also looked into the Men’s Programs and interacted with Eric Nickle a few times. Eric Nickle led one Men’s Program in a children’s classroom which I sat through.
Screenshots of Eric Nickle being on the Virginia sex offender registry and Eric’s role at Fairfax Community Church
Stumbling into Information that Fairfax Community Church Employed a Violent Sex Offender and Concealing it From the Church
At one point in 2014 or so I was researching Fairfax Community Church online and I saw something on social media that baffled me. It was a comment by a mother who explained that Eric Nickle was on the sex offender registry. This mother tried to speak with the church leadership about it but the church came down on her hard. She left a comment on social media where she warned people about the situation. After reading the comment l went to the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and looked up Eric Nickle in the database. And to my shock I saw him listed there. It stunned me…a church employee on the sex offender registry. Worse he was listed as violent and l knew he had a sensitive position at Fairfax Community Church. I went to bed that night with my head spinning and a couple of days later I decided to look up the comments on social media to examine them again. This time I discovered those comments were gone. It was almost as if Fairfax Community Church was scrubbing the internet and working to polish their image. It was very George Orwell like when I realized what had happened. One day the comments were there, and a couple of days later they were gone like they never existed.
The Stress of Knowing Information I Wish I Did Not Know
Learning that the Care Director was on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry bothered me intensely. What also troubled me is that I was certain that others in the church did not know this information. It weighed on my soul. I reflected back on the past situation at Elmbrook in Milwaukee some 16 years prior and I feared a similar situation happening at Fairfax Community Church. I feared hearing about a sex abuse situation either on a radio station like WTOP or in the press such as the Washington Post. It bothered me deeply and I felt responsible for the information. When I went to Fairfax Community I found myself paying more close attention to Eric Nickle. Was there a child around that he was interacting with? Was a child in the process of being groomed? Those were questions that stayed with me. Also I found myself becoming angry at Fairfax Community Church. An attender should not have to deal with such an issue. I was dealing with another spiritual abuse situation and was trying to re-build my life and did not need this in my life either. Rod Stafford as the senior pastor had failed and was not practicing wise leadership. As time went on this weighed on me every time I walked into the building. It was an awkward situation to attend a church of about 2,500 to 2,700 people and be one of the only members in the congregation to know this information.
Leaving Fairfax Community Church and Notifying SNAP
I was running into problems outside of the Eric Nickle situation. One issue that stunned me was how Andy Gingrich a Fairfax pastor responded to me in an over the top authoritarian way. Andy Gingrich’s background is in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Delaware according to what he told me once. When they were putting together small groups a married group wanted to take me in. Andy Gingrich intervened and said no. Later on the person who led the small group spoke with me in the lobby of the church. Andy contacted me and came down like a hammer. He told me I was not to speak, engage or interact with another person from another small group. It was very controlling and shocking. I reached out to the other person and apologized for what happened. The other small group leader was shaken up by Andy Gingrich’s behavior also. Later on I learned that someone in that small group interacted with Andrew White, the small group leader from Redeemer Arlington who triggered a false accusation against me. What Andy Gingrich and Fairfax ultimately did was intervene and blocked a means to get peace in my life. I learned this later on and was shocked. After that situation I went into a small group that was led by Carol Luckett and had some members such as Adam Doyle, Leonard Von Och and others. In time that small group had collapsed. And I made the decision to leave Fairfax Community Church.
But I still struggled with what to do about Eric Nickle. Fairfax Community Church still was misleading people and not telling the congregation that he was on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry. In 2015 I started writing about fundamentalism and my experiences in many of these evangelical Christian churches here at this blog. My mess from Redeemer Arlington was dragging on still, while I also dealt with the problems at Fairfax Community Church. So after much thought I decided to write a post about Eric Nickle at my new blog. I needed a release from holding this information close to my chest. And I wanted people to know the situation so that there would not be a sex abuse situation at Fairfax Community Church. Once was enough in my life. So on July 25, 2015 I wrote about Eric Nickle in the following blog post called, “ Why Does Fairfax Community Church have a Care Director on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry?” I also sent an email off to SNAP the Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests a few days prior on July 21, 2015. I tipped them off to this ongoing situation, SNAP were actually going to have their conference in Washington, D.C. when this happened. And when the Eric Nickle story broke it was almost like a bomb went off in my life. SNAP responded immediately to the situation. It was stressful as this situation took a life of its own. However, when I realized and watched how others reacted it told me that my concerns about Eric Nickle and how Fairfax Community Church handled it were legitimate. It was a relief. Rod Stafford, Andy Gingrich were out in Kenya when this story broke. The mega church was like a deer in the headlight. There would be a protest and the church was forced to cancel its service to address this issue. As the story grew I found myself to be in the center of the storm which frightened me. Standing up to one of the large mega churches in the Washington, D.C. area was not easy.
A Church Scandal Breaks Out and a Washington, D.C. TV Station Wants to Speak With Me
In late July the story of Eric Nickle and Fairfax Community Church took a life of its own. What had happened is that SNAP put out a press statement about Eric Nickle and distributed it to the Washington, D.C. press. One of the news stations picked it up and assigned a reporter to the story. I am not going to reveal the news station, but it you think along the lines of NBC, CBS or ABC your thinking would be correct. This reporter found my blog post about Eric Nickle and wanted to speak with me. At this point I was fearful. I didn’t want to interact with the media and became nervous about doing so. At this point the church was pushing back and using its contacts to try and kill the story. The person handling the public relations for Fairfax Community Church at the time was Loretta Rogers Cooper, who is married to Kyle Cooper the youth pastor at Fairfax. The reporter explained to SNAP that they were coming under intense pressure by the church not to report the story. They re-iterated again they wanted me to go on deep background.
This was the email SNAP sent requesting me to give a statement and it also explained how Rod Stafford’s church was simultaneously trying to kill the story.
“Talked to a reporter. They’re getting major pushback from FCC trying to keep the story off the air. He said it’s more pushback than he’s ever gotten on a story. He asked if I could help by asking David or any others who are members or former members would talk to him about your concerns and you can remain anonymous.”
I was stunned when I realized a mega church was bullying a Washington, D.C. television station to stay quiet on this situation. Equally upsetting is that the reporter said that he never encountered this kind of resistance and that is here in the Washington, D.C. area which is the hub of the federal government and more. That frightened me that a church would act this way. SNAP had requested that I put together a statement for the news station. I was in knots but knowing how a child could be threatened I agreed to do it and worked with SNAP. I put together the following statement which was given to SNAP who then passed it onto the television news station.
“I was baptized at FCC, attended and was deeply involved. I stumbled across the information about Eric Nickle one night online while researching my church home. I also saw how FCC tried to scrub the internet and lacked transparency and withhold vital information from families, teenagers, and parents with young children. This was a heavy burden to carry. This combined with the fact that FCC has individuals who used to attend Sovereign Grace Fairfax which was plagued by child sex abuse problems is deeply concerning to me. It also bothers me that FCC is being disingenuous about the situation. Christians like myself are called to be Bereans, search the scriptures and test the fruit. Why is FCC being dishonest by trying to hide this information? What Rod Stafford and FCC need to understand is that preaching the Gospel is a privilege and not a right. This is the third evangelical church I have been involved in that has struggled with either child sex abuse or how to treat a sex offender. I would suggest that evangelical Christianity is in a state of crisis due to how child sex abuse or sex crime issues plague it. All Christians should be concerned by the behavior of their church and the lack of common sense in placing a known sex offender in a position of trust.”
After that statement the reporter wanted to speak with me and I discussed the situation with him on a telephone call. He thanked me for going on the record with him and said that he was caught in a difficult situation. He wanted to proceed but Fairfax Community Church was using a lot of different means to kill the story. This reporter told me he had never seen an organization act like they did. The reporter asked me about Loretta Rogers Cooper and I told him I knew who Kyle Cooper was. The entire situation was unnerving. In the end Fairfax Community Church successfully bullied a television station to kill the story.
Who is Loretta Rogers Cooper and Did She Use Her Contacts to Bully and Silence a DC TV Station?
Loretta Rogers Cooper is married to Kyle Cooper. When I think of the Coopers and their work behind the scenes at Fairfax Community Church I think of them as a theological version of Bonnie and Clyde. Loretta Cooper went to Georgetown for one year and graduated from Anderson University. Anderson is affiliated with the Church of God denomination in Anderson Indiana. Then Loretta went to George Mason University here in the D.C. area and took some further classes at Georgetown. Rogers worked for ABC News as a correspondent from 1992 until March of 2006. Afterward she became involved with the Clarity Communications Group and was the Principal with that organization. In 2012 she became the senior communications consultant for the Wheelhouse Group.
As to how or what way Fairfax Community Church silenced a D.C. television station this blog does not know how that was done in the end. Did Loretta Cooper speak to a few businessmen at FCC and asked them to call this news station and threaten to cancel their companies advertising if the story aired? Was the station worried about loss of advertising revenue? Since Loretta worked in the news business did she use her contacts to pressure people not to run the story? This blog does not know in the end.
As I wind this post down this is one that has been on my mind for the past couple of years. It was a hard and difficult situation but I did what I did and have no regrets about blowing the whistle. Today people are still leaving Fairfax Community Church over Eric Nickle. And today the church is still scrubbing the internet and erasing reviews. I saw a comment made about Eric Nickle in Google and I meant to grab a screen shot and it disappeared. Rod Stafford’s efforts in being that dishonest tells me a couple of things. One FCC is a business that is out to make money. Second it is not a solid or sound institution that lacks transparency. Healthy organizations do not act like this at all. I am about four years out from this mess and I can say the following with peace. I did what I had to do and my conscious is clear. If Eric Nickle had abused someone and I knew about it and stayed silent I would have a hard time going forward. In this situation the onus is on the church. If something happens and a child is abused the responsibility has shifted over to Fairfax Community Church and people like Kyle Cooper, Loretta Cooper, Rod Stafford and others. They know the risk and they continue to support the unhealthy system that leaves children vulnerable. This issue rests with them. My efforts to notify the community worked in the end. My time in Fairfax Community Church was a waste. The anger that this church would act this way still bothers me though. After seeing how Elmbrook in Milwaukee lived with scars now I can say that I did what I did to make sure that a similar situation would not happen. But in the end I have peace and I rode the storm and endured. You should also know that Eric Nickle is still on staff.