Joplin Church Volunteer Sentenced for Distributing Child Pornography
A federal judge has sentenced a church volunteer in Joplin, Missouri, to six years in federal prison without parole for two counts of distributing child pornography.
Court records state that between December 2021 and Jan 2021, Nicholas Lane Stephens, 25, “employed, used, persuaded, induced, enticed, and coerced” a minor into sexually explicit conduct. He also captured inappropriate images of the minor and distributed them.
Police launched an investigation after a tip to the Children’s Division said that Stephens, a volunteer at the church, was involved in inappropriate relationships with minor females associated with the church. One of the relationships included a 17-year-old victim identified in court documents as “Jane Doe.”
Doe told investigators that in December 2019, she sent nude images to Stephens via Snapchat. Stephens also shared several pornographic photos of himself and pornographic FaceTime videos with Doe.
Examiners discovered a dozen images and one video of child pornography of Doe on Stephens’s cell phone. The phone also held numerous messages between the two.
The Missouri State Department of Justice said Stephens was formerly the youth minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church’s Joplin campus.
MinistryWatch reached out to St. Paul’s Lead Pastor, Britton Fields, who shared with us a letter to subscribers of the church newsletter.
The letter said Stephens had not been a minister or on staff at Saint Paul’s, but was a volunteer with the youth worship team.
Fields said the church screens all volunteers with a background check, personal referrals, and a conversation with the church ministry staff. The letter said volunteers also work in pairs to provide increased accountability.
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“The intent of this statement is not to assume a posture of defense on behalf of the church. People are of much greater value than an institution. The gospel message is one that frees people from sin, that includes the way people have been sinned against,” the letter continued.
Fields closed the statement by expressing sorrow for any hurt and said, “When the church plays a role in harming others, it must be dealt with fully and with as much transparency as possible.”
The letter expressed concern for the victims and their families and offered the team’s help with any further questions in the church.
In addition to serving his six-year sentence, Stephens will submit to supervision and monitoring for 15 years.