CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Beach pastor John Blanchard is stepping back from his lead pastoral duties at Rock Church International, according to a statement from the church.
The announcement came just days after 8News reported on text messages between Blanchard and undercover detectives posing as a minor, as well as a Chesterfield Police report, which provided new public insight on the accusations against the pastor.
“We’re seeing, I guess, some good forward progress in Rock Church,” Delegate Tim Anderson of Norfolk and Virginia Beach told 8News on Thursday. “In October, [the church] indicated that once the charges here were dismissed, nolle prossed, that Pastor Blanchard here would be returning to full pastoral duties at the church.”
Approximately one year after his October 2021 arrest, along with more than a dozen others who were taken into custody during a sex sting in Chesterfield County, the charges against Blanchard were dropped. The report from the Chesterfield County Police Department (CCPD), noted that Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Davenport cited a “lack of evidence.”
However, the majority of the cases against the other individuals arrested during that 2021 sting are still moving forward.
On Thursday, Anderson obtained court records from Chesterfield County, which detailed the nature of the accusations against five defendants in that undercover operation. He said that those individuals each pled guilty.
“We also know, from looking at the files of these other fives, that the text messages are very similar to what Pastor Blanchard engaged in,” Anderson said. “They’re not identical. I mean, these are conversations, individual conversations. But they’re similar. They’re asking for ‘QVs’ and they’re asking for things that have similar words that Pastor Blanchard knew, and all of these guys ended up at the target hotel where police had their sting operation.”
The text messages that Anderson referenced were reported on by 8News last week. They showed Blanchard responding to an advertisement that authorities said they posted to “well-known prostitution websites.”
He first asked if the prostitute was available in Richmond, to which detectives posing as a 19-year-old responded, “I am baby,” and suggested meeting near a mall in Chesterfield. Later in the conversation, detectives wrote, “What did u want so I know ur bringing the money,” to which Blanchard responded, “Qv please.”
According to notes from authorities in the police report, “QV” is a brief, sexual encounter.
“I’m 17 if thats not cool i get it,” the text from authorities to Blanchard said.
The police report pointed out that after undercover detectives sent a text about being a minor, Blanchard’s response became more guarded. But authorities said the pastor continued on to the meeting location where he was arrested.
“There’s definitely no idea of what a judge or jury would say on guilt or innocence because we never had that opportunity,” Anderson said. “But if 15 other people are going to go through this exercise, then everybody should go through this exercise, and if they’re not, there needs to be a really good reason; not lack of evidence, not they didn’t identify themselves as a minor ’til he [Blanchard] was underway.”
8News reached out to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office last week, upon obtaining the text messages and police report. The office sent a statement Davenport Thursday afternoon:
The conclusion of a case by order of nolle prosequi does not have the same legal effect as a not guilty finding. I am unable to comment on the appropriateness of public statements made by other entities regarding this, or any other, case in which my office is involved. The cases from the Chesterfield Police Department’s October 2021 sting operation, which include this particular case, involved a Chesterfield detective posing as a 17-year-old online. The interaction between the detective and the defendant in each case was different. As a result, the evidence available for use in the prosecution of each case was different, and the outcome of each case was different. Some of the cases had sufficient evidence to support felony convictions, and some did not. As ministers of justice, prosecutors are required to individually evaluate the strength of the evidence provided by the police in each case. The legal standard required for an officer to obtain a warrant for arrest is merely probable cause. A prosecutor must have evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to support a conviction in a court of law and ethically cannot proceed with charges in a case where the evidence does not meet that standard. Although this operation did not involve any actual child victims, we take all such cases very seriously and are always motivated by our mandate to protect the safety of our community.
Following the news of Blanchard’s charges being dismissed last month, Rock Church International released a statement praising his innocence.
“Releasing the police file reveals that there’s something certainly different than innocence,” Anderson said. “The idea that there’s ‘lack of evidence’ is really hard for me to accept as an attorney, accept as a state delegate, accept as a person concerned about his community. There’s certainly evidence, and there was certainly evidence for probable cause.”
Rock Church International sent out an updated statement this week, in the days since the text messages and police report was released publicly:
Rock Church encourages godly lifestyles by all of its members and leaders, in keeping with the tenets of the Bible. The Church condemns sexual immorality of any kind and in any form by its members and leaders and especially holds its leaders to a high standard of accountability on any lifestyle choices that could reflect negatively on the reputation of the Church or disparage the character of the Savior whom it purports to represent.
Rock Church is committed to honestly and integrity in dealing with charges or accusations of sexual misconduct or immorality among its leaders and will support any investigation arising from accusations of violation of this standard among its staff and leaders in an effort to find the truth and to protect its members, church families and their children, at all times.
Under the guidance of our legal counsel, we cannot make a statement or comment concerning the accusations against Rev. John Blanchard at this time. We are all committed to walking in integrity and truth at Rock Church International and will continue tot take steps to do so. Pastor Blanchard has voluntarily stepped back as lead pastor and from all his ministerial duties until this present situation is totally resolved. During this season, Bishop Anne Gimenez will be stepping in as Lead Pastor and sharing the pulpit with Pastor Robin Blanchard.
As followers of Christ, we must remember that redemption, salvation, grace, mercy and healing are all gifts given to the children of God. Although everyone must address their own convictions and consequences, our assignment as believers is not to condemn, but to be agents of God’s love, healing, justice, and reconciliation. (Romans 3:23- “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) If we are to walk in eternity with Christ, our position must be one of truth, love, faith, mercy, justice, and forgiveness.
Thank you for your prayers and support. The outpouring of love has been overwhelming and we appreciated all of those who have reached out to be an encouragement to us! We would ask that the privacy of the Blanchard family be respected as they walk through this difficult journey together.