The leadership of a US megachurch is asking its congregation to forgive its pastor, Rev John Blanchard, after he was arrested for soliciting the services of a prostitute in 2021.
In a statement, the Rock Church International's top leaders cited Romans 3:23 as they urged the congregation to extend their forgiveness.
It read: "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," they added.
The leadership team also announced Rev John is "stepping back from all his ministerial duties" until "the present situation is totally resolved".
In the autumn of 2021, Rev John was one of 17 men accused of using an online platform to solicit prostitutes, some of them under age, as part of a sting operation by police.
He was arrested at a hotel where he was supposed to meet at 17-year-old girl but instead met with a detective who was posing as her - at the time he argued he had intended just to talk.
Almost a year after the arrest, the church announced the charges against the preacher had been withdrawn.
"The prosecutor in a statement to the Court indicated that due to new information coming to light and lack of evidence, they will no longer be pursuing charges against Blanchard. This exoneration comes after nearly 11 months of delays and continuances. The defense attorney stated Tuesday that he was pleased with the outcome," the church said.
But recent documents brought to court have reopened Rev John's case which ultimately led him to step back from his ministerial duties.
In their most recent statement, the church said: "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 honesty 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."
Rev John Blanchard has led the Rock International Church since 2013 and is not to be confused with renowned British-born apologist John Blanchard.