POTSDAM — Nearly 15 former members of the Christian Fellowship Center rallied outside the CFC in Potsdam on Sunday to protest alleged systemic abuses within the church and to advocate for the passage of the CARE Act, which would make clergy mandated to report child abuse or abuse.
“We are gathered here to support the CARE Act, and the purpose of this bill is to add clergy to the list of mandated journalists,” said Abigail Nye, former CFC member and founder of CFCtoo, which aims to educate the wider community. about abuse and help anyone who wants to leave the church.
“CFCtoo formed at the end of May this year in response to news that [Sean M. Ferguson] had been arrested for paedophilia,” Ms Nye said.
“When it became clear to us that CFC management had known about his abuse since 2017 and had not reported it, it was really disturbing and concerning for us, and we decided to do something about it. , that’s how CFCtoo was born,” she says.
Ms Nye said she was born in the church in 1986 and was a member until 2005. Her parents are still part of the church and her father came out at some point during the protest to try to talk to him, but he quickly came back inside. . She said they chose the church over her.
“Our short-term goal is to pass the CARE Act, but we see ourselves existing to support CFC survivors more broadly,” Ms Nye said of the purpose of the rally.
“As long as we need to support survivors, we will be here to give people a safe place to share their stories and seek to educate communities about their abuses.”
“As a mother, wife and Christian, I believe our calling is to care for the least of them,” said Britny D. Harmer, another former CFC member, referring to the children. “And I don’t think hiding the abuse does that.”
“It’s horrible to me that the leaders knew children were being abused and allowed the abusers to come to the services and no one was told,” she said. “The children were not safe.”
Former CFC member Michelle Wilbur said she and her children were abused and the church did nothing about it.
“I was a CFC member for about 20 years until my ex-husband molested our children,” she said. “Not only did the church not report it, but they told me I had no biblical reason to divorce my husband.”
Her ex-husband, Gerardo D. Perez, was charged by state police in 2016 with two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and two counts of misdemeanor endangering the well-being of a child. The charges were dismissed after the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office failed to prosecute him in a timely manner.
“The church was well aware of what was going on,” Ms Wilbur said. She said she reported it to Ben Levendusky, who is currently a pastor at CFC Madrid.
“When we decided to leave, they accused my eldest daughter and I of having demons,” Ms Wilbur said. They finally left in 2015.
The CARE law is personal to him.
“Passing the CARE Act is extremely important to me because pastors should not be allowed to know that children are being abused and not report it,” she said.
She said the cases of child sexual abuse in the church are not isolated incidents.
“Pastor [Rick Sinclair’s] stepfather molested one of their children and touched one of my children as well,” she said.
“It’s absolutely systemic,” Ms. Wilbur said.
Ms. Nye agreed. “There are probably 20 cases of abuse,” she said.
Rick Sinclair’s son-in-law, Benjamin E. Hull, is a deacon at CFC and is currently running to represent Madrid on the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators. Ms Nye said it is ‘deeply dangerous to elect a CFC member to a position of political power’.
At the rally, members of the public who have never been affiliated with the CFC came out to support those speaking out.
“I want to see CFC fall,” said SUNY Potsdam senior Toki Mukai. “I am for freedom of expression, but against these oppressions perpetuated by the church.”
“I think it’s crucial that we as a society protect our children,” said former member Emma G. Massa. She said she left the church after graduating from college because the abuse she reported had been “grossly mishandled and covered up”.
“Church is supposed to be a safe place for children or anyone else to go,” she said. “From a congregation that says God hates abuse so much, and for them to turn a blind eye and not report it, it’s almost irredeemable and villainous.”
James Harmer, another former member who was once all-in, said he left before sexual abuse accusations came to light due to the excessive authority the church sought to impose on the life of its members, including the clothes they were allowed to wear and what political beliefs they were allowed to express.
“As a former cult leader who was all-in, lack of accountability is not acceptable,” he said.
Leaders at CFC Potsdam at the time of the rally declined to comment on the protest. Members inside waited for the protesters to dissipate to leave the service.
After the Potsdam rally, protesters moved to Canton Village Park around noon to demonstrate briefly there, hoping to catch the attention of some members leaving services in Canton.