Iowa Church Allows Man Convicted of Child Porn Possession to Preach and Lead Couples’ Ministry

By Rebecca Hopkins
colwell GCF
Michael J. Colwell appears in March 2022 photo on the Iowa Sex Offenders Registry. (Photo: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation)

A man convicted of possessing child porn is now preaching and leading a ministry at an Iowa Christian and Missionary Alliance church—all with the pastor’s full knowledge and blessing.

In 2014, Michael James Colwell pleaded guilty to an aggravated misdemeanor of purchasing or possessing material depicting a minor in a sex act, according to his case records.

Colwell now regularly preaches and leads a couples’ ministry at Grace Community Fellowship (GCF) in Missouri Valley, Iowa. According to GCF’s pastor, Brad Westercamp, Colwell is a changed man.

“There was a drastic conversion, just a change in his life,” Westercamp said in a recorded conversation with TikTok influencer “Clumsy Gemini,” which was obtained by The Roys Report (TRR).  Gemini is a pseudonym the TikToker, who regularly calls out abuse on her channel, says she uses for protection. TRR has verified Gemini’s real identity with online records.

“It didn’t change the consequences to his behavior,” Westercamp added on the recording. “Even to this day, he would never try to minimize what happened and what he did. But the rest of the story—the story that’s developed over the last few years—has been kind of a cool story.”

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Westercamp confirmed in a follow-up email exchange with Gemini last week that he has known of Colwell’s criminal history. However, Westercamp insisted that Colwell’s work at the church doesn’t include supervising children.

“His focus has been on preaching, teaching and counseling couples through crisis,” Westercamp wrote to Gemini. “I cannot and will not, divulge the details of Mike’s personal life, but there was not contact with any minors in his charges. Mike has made restitution with the military, his community, his family, friends and with his God.”

According to a long-time former church member who asked to remain anonymous, GCF has kept some people in the dark about Colwell’s past. The woman, whose identity TRR has confirmed, added that when she brought her concerns to Westercamp, he dismissed them.

GCF grace community fellowship
Grace Community Fellowship in Missouri Valley, Iowa (Photo via social media)

The former member said she was looking through the Iowa sex offender registry and was shocked to find Colwell on the list. She said she then confronted Westercamp with the information. Westercamp reportedly told her that Colwell is in training to become an ordained pastor at GCF.

“I was pissed off, like, why did no one bring this to my attention?” the woman told TRR.

In Gemini’s phone conversation with Westercamp, Gemini asked the pastor if he’d notified the church of Colwell’s history. Westercamp then hung up on her.

Westercamp later emailed Gemini and criticized her approach, quoting a verse Matt 6:9: “Don’t throw your pearls to pigs!”

TRR reached out to both Westercamp and Colwell for comment. Colwell did not respond, and Westercamp declined to comment.

We also contacted Colwell’s attorney, Chad Primmer, but he declined to comment, as well.

A changed man?

Westercamp, who used to work as a military police officer and once served as Colwell’s Army chaplain, said Colwell was “radically saved” eight years ago.

“He immediately confessed his sin before our church and began the process of healing and rebuilding his family,” Westercamp said.

Colwell didn’t serve jail time for his conviction. His two-year prison sentence was suspended, court records show. He was required to serve probation, live in a residential treatment facility, and undergo sex offender treatment.

Colwell was released from supervised probation in 2016, court records show. His discharge papers said he had passed all the treatments, including mental health treatment at a VA hospital, and drug tests and had returned home to live with his family.

Colwell was required to be listed on the Iowa sex offender registry for 10 years. His 10 years on that list will be over in 2024. The testimony and minutes of his case are sealed, which is standard practice regardless of the case type, to keep victim information confidential, said Harrison County clerk Jennifer Mitchell.

colwell GCF
On November 20, 2022, Brian J. Colwell preaches at Grace Community Fellowship in Missouri Valley, Iowa. (Video screengrab)

According to Westercamp, Colwell completed the state rehabilitation program “in record time” and “became accountable to multiple leaders.” Colwell also entered Bible College, finished a four-year residency program at the church, and helped begin a Celebrate Recovery at GCF, Westercamp said.

Westercamp Colwell
Brad Westercamp, pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Missouri Valley, Iowa.

Westercamp said Colwell is not a pastor, though he is performing some pastoral functions.

GCF’s website lists only Westercamp as a pastor. But GCF’s FB page shows Colwell preached at GCF as recently as Nov. 20. The church website doesn’t name Colwell as a pastor, but highlights his many past sermons, and shows him as a couples’ ministry leader with his wife.

Iowa law prohibits registered sex offenders from entering or working at schools, day care facilities, and libraries. They also may not loiter within 300 feet of an elementary or secondary school, childcare facility, library, or children’s play area. The law, however, does not prohibit sex offenders from entering, volunteering, or working at churches.

How should the church treat sex offenders?

Allowing registered sex offenders to attend church and serve in ministry has become a topic of public debate in recent years. A related issue is whether a congregation should be informed about the involvement of registered sex offenders in church life.

Last week, Church of the Resurrection—an Anglican church in Illinois embroiled in controversy for alleged mishandling of sexual abuse—came under fire for allowing a sex offender to worship there without notifying church members.

Some Christians believe welcoming sex offenders back into fellowship is a necessary part of Christian grace and forgiveness. However, trauma expert Diane Langberg strongly urges against doing so, even with strict safeguards in place.

“They want to put a pedophile back in the church service and we’re going to have all these people around him, so he’s not ever going to do that again,” she told TRR in 2020. “He’s going to do it in his head, with your children while you’re singing. And you’re putting him in a place where he can continue to feed and deceive himself, even though the actions can’t occur.”

The situation with Colwell takes the issue to another level—of whether sex offenders should be allowed to serve in ministry and leadership positions.

Logo for Christian & Missionary Alliance (Courtesy image)

Colwell is listed as a ministry worker in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination database, but he isn’t a licensed or ordained minister, said Peter Burgo, C&MA’s director for messaging and media relations. C&MA headquarters “had not been aware” that Colwell specifically was preaching and leading a couples ministry, which wouldn’t be allowed. Colwell can, with the approval of the CM&A district office, work as a groundskeeper or in a role where he’d have no contact with children or vulnerable adults, Burgo said.

Burgo added that Colwell isn’t in training to become a pastor and would be prohibited from becoming ordained pastor at any point due to his criminal history. Burgo noted that the denomination’s 2022 manual doesn’t allow workers found guilty of sexual abuse of a child to receive ministry credentials.

“In the case of an official worker found guilty of sexual abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, by either a Discipline Committee or a court of law, there will be no possibility of regaining credentials for ministry in the C&MA,” the C&MA’s manual states.

The former church member who spoke with TRR said she tried to call the C&MA denomination’s main headquarters number three times last week and told a live person that she wanted to file a complaint about a registered sex offender in the church. All three times, she said the person forwarded her call to a voice mailbox that was full, so she couldn’t leave a message.

The woman also left a message on C&MA’s Instagram account. She then received a response requesting her to send a direct message (DM), so she left a DM on Tuesday. This DM was unanswered until moments after TRR contacted the C&MA denomination for comment. At that point, the C&MA said their legal counsel would reach out to her.

When asked about the woman’s call, Burgo said, “Without knowing how that call was routed, it’s not possible to know how the response was handled—and should not be misconstrued as a failure on the part of the National Office to address the issue. This issue is of vital importance to the C&MA, and there would have been absolutely no desire of our leaders to dodge an issue of this magnitude.”

Burgo added that the woman should have contacted the C&MA’s district office, which has direct oversight over this Iowa church. He said the C&MA headquarters has now contacted the district C&MA office about the matter. But he didn’t have an update to give TRR before publication.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.



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32 thoughts on “Iowa Church Allows Man Convicted of Child Porn Possession to Preach and Lead Couples’ Ministry”

  1. Another “pastor” take the books of Timothy and Titus and throws it into the garbage while he does his own thing. You cannot, must not ever place anyone with a bad reputation into any place of leadership, anywhere, anytime. Period. This kind of thing is getting very old to me. In most places we call churches there is someone(s) who should not obviously be there. Convicted sex offenders are on the top of that list. Doing that is just plain stupid. I would not go anywhere near this obviously antiChrist church.

  2. It’s an interesting issue – which past sins are palatable and which sins aren’t? I know of a divorced man that is a small-church pastor for a denomination that years ago would never have had a pastor with a divorce in his history – it was flat out impossible.

    What if the Seven Deadly Sins were a standard . . . would really overweight clergy be banned because of gluttony? How about clergy that exercise extravagant tastes, big houses, expensive cars and so on. Would they be barred from giving sermons and leading couples activities?

    Or is it just sins that are also felonies that should disqualify someone?

    1. Richard, your dangerous attempt at sin leveling is unbiblical and destructive. And it’s extraordinarily naive, and ignores everything we know about pedophiles and sexual offenders. Your attitude is exactly why children are being molested in churches by men whose offenses are known by pastors, but hidden from parishioners.

      1. John, the problem with your position is that Paul was a murderer prior to his conversion. Surely this man’s crime’s aren’t higher than murder. Any time we make absolute statements that the Bible doesn’t make, we are on shaky ground.

    2. Richard, do you understand that people that watch child porn are getting stimulated by watching little girls and boys, even infants, being molested? Some of them cry out for their mommies and daddies. And someone is enjoying this? This is a deep, psychological problem that is rarely completely cured, merely controlled. In other words, it continues to be dangerous. To equate this travesty to eating too much ice cream is why children and babies will continue to be molested in our churches, communities, and online.
      Thanks to TRR for reporting on this.

      1. I don’t believe that I equated anything with anything. You and John need to calm down just a tad.

        I think this church used very bad judgement in having this person do what he is doing.

        Since you and John have thrown some brickbats at me, allow me to inform you that I was a teacher in a men’s prison for nine years. Some of the inmates I worked with were incarcerated because they had molested children. Is it just possible that I know a few things about crimes against children? I probably have been acquainted with more child molesters than you have. You assumed that I’m completely ignorant about this subject. I’m not. I’m also aware of how inmates can be very good actors. Prison staff and volunteers are often reminded of how manipulative inmates can be.

        I’d like you to tell me what previous sins committed by a candidate for ministry or a current minister without question exclude that person from a pastoral role in a church and which ones are possible to overlook, given the development or whatever of that person. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are the Seven Deadly
        Sins, so-called because of what their cultivation can lead to. Which of these definitely exclude someone from church work? For example, is it permissible for a church to hire someone who in the past has physically assaulted others?

        1. Hi, Richard. I work in child protection. I think I may know more child victims of sexual assault than you.

          When faced with the choice of protecting children and protecting pedophiles, I’ve already made my choice. It seems, unfortunately, that you have as well.

          1. Wait a minute.

            Let me repeat myself: “I think this church used very bad judgement in having this person do what he is doing.”

            Are we in some contest to see who can be the most accusatory? I never said that this guy should work with children or be around children, did I? Did I minimize child molestation? I don’t think so.

            Did I commit “sin leveling” ? I didn’t. How about if you answer my question instead of playing oneupmanship at this blog?

    3. Having a felony on your record disqualifies most candidates from positions of trust in any field. Grace and trust are not synonymous. It’s entirely appropriate, scriptural and wise for trust to be merited.

      1. The polarization of this article reveals a small minority on either side of this debate. The majority of people are somewhere in between asking this question: “Is there restoration for me?” May I speak to them.

        Are you tired? Are you weary? Do you have a speck in your eye that you struggle to have removed? Is your prayer, “God, I am a sinner, please forgive me, please remember me when you establish Your Kingdom?” Then Jesus, the One who was sent to reveal to us our Heavenly Father, is listening to your prayer, and He is praying for your restoration.

        Our Heavenly Father was revealed to us in the parable of the son who asked for his inheritance early, spent it on wicked living, and returned to his Father hoping to be a servant. Instead the Father received him, cleaned him, and restored him to his rightful place as an heir. The Father acted contrary to the law.

        The pastor in this article is like the Father in that parable. The man in this article is like the son who was restored. Are you asking, “Can I also be restored as this man was in this article?” I would say to you, find a pastor like the one in this article and allow him to restore your life. Find someone who has been with you in the battle who is like the Father. Allow them to draw you in close to the Father’s love. Submit yourselves as the man in the article has and learn to hear your Heavenly Father’s words over your life. You will find rest for your souls.

  3. So some of you seem to be saying that GOD can not change a man if these are his sins??? Are you saying God has no power over certain sins???
    Once you are Born Again The Bible says all are given gifts to Glorify God… do these not get any gifts then to love God with???

    1. It is possible to believe that God can change a man, while also holding that the church should not gamble on that change by endangering children. Public services are not the only way someone participates in the life of a church. A sex offender may participate in small groups where children are not present. He also may serve in contexts where no children are present.

  4. “Allowing registered sex offenders to attend church and serve in ministry has become a topic of public debate in recent years. A related issue is whether a congregation should be informed about the involvement of registered sex offenders in church life.”

    I would welcome such “debate”, in general, and about the cited issues specifically. Simply because authentic debate is a good and healthy aspect of human life. However, such debate is not had if holding to some viewpoints on relevant issues, involves the denigration of the person or persons holding to such viewpoints.
    Some people will view the generic practice of holding that some persons or categories of person are “beyond the pale”, with general concern; where for some others, such practice is viewed as a common-sense part of absolutely necessary moral and practical self-protection and protection of others. It is always difficult to bring about real debate between persons holding to these antithetical viewpoints.

  5. Difficult subject to talk about, and a confusing one. Is clergy held to a different or higher standard than the congregant who has committed comparable sexual sin? Do we remove any and all clergy and congregants from church fellowship/membership because of sexual sin of any kind? Is there biblical precedent for this issue? Is one kind of sexual sin worse than another? I am not coming down on one side or the another with my questions and I understand sexual sin is a terrible, terrible thing especially when we talk about the victims of sexual sin, in which case I would think excommunication and/or criminal prosecution would be appropriate. Any and all comments are welcome to my inquiry.

  6. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV): “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

    1. I am Mike Colwell’s brother in-law and I have found him to be according to 1 Timothy 3:1-7:
      above reproach,
      the husband of one wife,
      able to teach,
      not a drunkard,
      not violent but gentle,
      not quarrelsome,
      not a lover of money;
      he manages his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive; he is not a recent convert;
      And he is well thought of by outsiders.
      Therefore, I believe, qualified to be an overseer as Pastor Brad Westercamp has determined.

      1. “Well thought of by outsiders.”

        He’s convicted of child-related sex crimes. He’s absolutely NOT well thought of by outsiders.

  7. There are other ways for people with a criminal past to be in ministry. I know some men who have felony convictions and served prison time who also run a very vibrant ministry. They operate a transitional housing program for men getting out of prison and a church for people like them – people with things in there past that make it difficult for them to be a part of other churches. I’ve been to a few of their church services and I know when I go there that most of the people there have a criminal past.

  8. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
    Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
    And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. I understand the concerns, these things are not new, it is covered in the word. I do not see any passage in scripture to keep someone out of the Church because they are struggling with a sin, I see were those who are practicing sin and refuse to be accountable are separated from. The advice given from trauma expert Diane Langberg to keep out someone from the church who Jesus’ cleanse and washed with his own blood have no scriptural grounds. I would have the same fear if my child was in a Church with a child abuser, I would have to trust the Lord and be wise. Such where some of you! God does not look on that man as a pedophile if he as truly accepted his Son.

      1. Thank you Julie Roys, I did take a listen, Dr Langberg did make some great suggestions. I think however her one size fits all approach to this problem is where I would disagree with her. I agree with her about a person being in a leadership position in the church who has been convicted of this crime, but even with that it depends. I am looking for a case study in scripture where a Penitent sinner sin is so bad that they must be kept out of the Assembly, or it is so bad that only a few members must meet with such a vile one, I just cannot find one. Dr Langberg in your podcast try to use the Apostle Paul as example, I just do not see the connection in this case. I am willing to understand more because it is a sensitive topic and one that we all need to get a grip on who ministers to God’s people. God is into the business of redeeming and restoring people to himself and to others. Thanks for all you do.

  9. For what it’s worth, consider this.

    So “sinner” is not a trap but a surrender and therefore—paradoxically—a liberation. It admits brokenness and yields power to God. It signals membership in a community that is the Body of Christ even as it is also constantly becoming the Body through healing faults, mending brokenness, and restoring the divine image.

    The community comprises broken persons who know that their wholeness rests entirely in Christ and depends entirely on God.
    + Dr Peter Bouteneff: How to Be a Sinner

  10. Thank you Julie for your last comment!

    When I was on staff at a couple different churches I dealt with this issue a few times. A pedifile is completely different individual that the church, in my honest opinion, is ill equipped to handle or even begin to understand. While yes, God can change any person who has a willingness to be changed. A pedifile is a person, a large percentage of the time who doesn’t have the capacity or ability to change. Simply, their neuro-pathways are now hard wired that way.

    Whereas recent studies show with other sexual addictions non pedophilia related the neuro-pathways can be in a sense re-wired and the addict can change (see research by Dr. Kevin Skinner, Dr. Patrick Carnes).

    I believe in the ultimate healing power of our Creator. I also know His word tells us to speak up for His most vulnerable. Churches would be wise to read parole stipulations if you decide to not have a zero tolerance stance. If you decide to allow a registered offender on your campus understand the risk you are taking, keep your people informed and use a buddy system for your protection and the individuals protection.

  11. I’m no forensic psychologist, here, but I suspect that a part of the problem in pedophile’s mind is the need for power. Sure, it’s a sexually motivated crime, but also a need to lord oneself over another. If any of that is true, these guys shouldn’t be brought into leadership positions for that very reason.
    I understand bringing him back into the fold, but why allow him to be a teacher? Just my opinion, but I think there’s a vital difference between various sins (such as have been mentioned here) and the sin of pedophilia. I would say that most sins mainly hurt the sinner himself and often times, hurt others. But pedophilia, whether it’s looking at child porn or seeking to assault a child, is a sin that doesn’t simply hurt others as a side effect, it SEEKS to hurt others. It causes the man to get off on hurting a child or watching someone else hurt a child. I think that once a man (or woman) has come to the place in his life where he exhibits a sin which cannot exist without hurting others, he has reached a level of depravity that he will not recover from. I don’t think this is because of God’s unwillingness or inability to forgive and heal, it’s just that I think this particular besetting sin will always be crouching at the door.

  12. My understanding of this situation is Mr. Colwell became a Christian in the same year as the conviction and for eight years has turned his life around. Is eight years enough? Biblically where is the line? When does 1 Timothy and Titus leaders qualifications start? Before being transformed by Christ or after? If, as in this case the church allows a leadership role should the church as a whole be notified of the past? If the church is notified of the past should they work with those who have concerns or not? Sexual abuse is a horrific damaging thing to have happen to a person, especially children, do you trust with your children, that the person has been transformed?

    1. A convicted embezzler and admitted kleptomaniac can certainly repent and find fellowship in my church. But I’m not going to hire him as our church accountant or give him easy access to the offering plates.

      As someone who works in child protection, I can tell you that sexual abusers — especially those who offend with children — suffer from deep-seated, long-lasting psychological dysfunctions and character deformities that almost always persist despite religious conversion.

      They’re also almost always highly skilled liars who have offended multiple times without getting caught, mostly due to their ability to groom not only children but their parents and communities.

      When deciding who to protect — a child abuser or a vulnerable child — I think it’s clear we have to prioritize the safety of a child. Certainly these men can find other jobs that don’t vest them with spiritual authority and access to kids and families. They can move on with their lives if they’re excluded from ministry. But you can’t unrape a child.

      1. Having witnessed grooming first-hand in a church, and the attempted process of restoring the perpetrator to the pulpit, I can say it was not only a disaster but it was dangerous. When there is substantial evidence of harm, there is always more behind closed doors. Period. Forgiven or not, the perpetrator of children has already shown they are a wolf who feeds on children. If the church wants to imitate Christ, the leaders also need to be capable in doing so in order to guide the sheep to do so. Nowhere in my copy of the bible does it say that a qualification of being Christlike is to use sheep as food. I believe Jesus has called wolves evildoers. If you were raped as a kid and told to trust the person who raped you just because they were hired to be your pastor, how is that scriptural or even representing Christ in any way? God is love; He is also just. And in being just, he protects the sheep.

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