Virginia pastor John Blanchard was arrested in Virginia Beach following a prostitution sting last week, local authorities announced Monday.
Chesterfield County Police Special Victims Unit in a statement that Blanchard was among 17 men taken into custody, after allegedly soliciting sex for money through social media platforms.
The pastor was charged with solicitation of prositution from a minor aged 16 or older, and with use of a vehicle to promote prostitution — both felonies under Virginia law.
Police said Blanchard was arrested Friday and released shortly after on bond.
Police: Pastor John Blanchard Solicited Underage Prostitutes
“During the two-day operation, detectives intercepted suspects who believed they were soliciting sex from minors,” said police in a statment.
Authorities said that when the men went to meet the “minors” to engage in sex acts, detectives were waiting to take them into custody.
“For many of them, they got the surprise of their life,” said Chesterfield County Police Major Mike Louth. “Anyone that tries to prey on the innocence of a child or a minor here in Chesterfield County, we’re going to hold you accountable.”
WAVY reported that the 17 men arrested ranged in age from 24 to 51 years old. One man was a Maryland resident, but the rest were from Virginia — including pastor John Blanchard.
Blanchard, 51, had been working as a senior pastor at the Rock Church in Virginia Beach since 2013, along with his wife, pastor Robin Blanchard, according to the church’s website.
Blanchard was arrested and charged on Friday, but he and his wife still spoke briefly during church services on Sunday, as shown in a live stream uploaded to YouTube.
Neither made mention of the arrest, which authorities announced the following day.
Virginia Pastor ‘Voluntarily Stepping Down’
After the charges were made public on Monday, church officials declined to give a statement to reporters.
“At this time we do not have enough information to make a comment!” Rock Church founder Anne Gimenez told WAVY.
On Tuesday, the church told reporters who stopped by that it would release a comment “soon.”
But on Wednesday, church leaders finally addressed the charges in a statement on their Facebook page, writing that Blanchard had “voluntarily stepped down” from his church duties “until this present situation is totally resolved.” Gimenez will reportedly serve as the parish’s new lead pastor.
Church leaders said they could make no specific comment on the prostitution charges at this time.
“As followers of Christ, we must remember that redemption, salvation, grace, mercy and healing are all gifts given to the children of God,” the statement continued. “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.”
The Facebook page linked to the Rock Church website has since been deactivated.
In a post on the church website which has not been taken down as of Wednesday, John Blanchard is said to have traveled the world as a pastor.
“Coming from a background in atheism and a dysfunctional childhood, John’s heart is to reach a generation with a message of hope through the healing and delivering power of Jesus Christ,” reads the post. “This message has taken his ministry to dozens of countries all over the world and the USA and to procure a Masters of Divinity Degree from Oral Roberts University.”
According to the website, John and Robin Blanchard have two daughters who live with them in Virginia Beach.
WAVY reported that Robin Blanchard will remain with the church as a senior pastor.
Neighbors ‘Shocked’ By Allegations
Jim Booker, a neighbor of the Blanchards, told WTKR he was stunned to hear of the charges.
“This is a shock to me, because I know him fairly well, and he’s never given me any indication over the years that I’ve known him that he would be mixed up in anything like this,” Booker said.