The following is the Open Letter from the elders of First Christian Church of Florissant, 6-23-15.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We’re blessed. First Christian Church of Florissant is an amazing multi-generational, multi-ethnic family. We joyfully celebrate a 57 year legacy of ministry built on honoring Jesus Christ through compassionately living in the world. 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, 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, reported this horrible crime to 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. While this abuse did not occur in Church facilities or at our programs, we hurt when others do. 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.
Disturbing methods. Since the February, 2015 sentencing, 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. These unsubstantiated claims were repeatedly promoted in the unfiltered platform of social media, 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. Critics do share a valuable role suggesting the 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. A line must be drawn. These methods do not belong in our Church family.
Patient leadership. As elders, we have worked in unity over the last months to protect and clear First Christian’s name legally and through law enforcement. Based on the clear evidence, we’ve sought retractions, not financial penalties. After pursuing options that enabled us to name accusers and present affidavits and evidence that could be substantiated in court, the eldership decided to voluntarily drop civil actions and enlist assistance from two respected Christian mediators. 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.
Standing strong. Upon the counsel of our mediator, we are persuaded that the best course of action for the First Christian Church family NOW is to refocus our energies exclusively on moving forward with our ministry and mission. 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, 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.
Better not bitter. First Christian Church of Florissant is listening, learning and loving, determined to be better, not bitter. 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.
We invite you to stand with us.
The Eldership of First Christian Church of Florissant
Keith Vehlewald, chairman of elders
Stanley DuBose, vice chairman
Bob Dees, secretary
Eugene Storjohann, treasurer
Steve Wingfield, Senior Pastor
Bob Farmer, Jr. Executive Pastor