Trigger warning: The alleged acts of child sex abuse described in this story are disturbing.

The worship services began in Kenneth Fairbanks’ living room, but the charismatic pastor had a vision for something grander — an international church that would share the word of God throughout the world, train and ordain ministers, and promote development to help lift people in underprivileged villages out of poverty.

FaithWorks Ministries was an informal church designed to appeal to those who felt left out by conventional religion; it offered comfort and empowerment to worshipers looking for a new start.

As Fairbanks’ 2014 book, Life’s Perspectives: Wisdom for Everyday Living, put it, his teachings would allow “the average person to take control of their lives” by “purging old hurt, pains, and destructive thinking from the minds and hearts of those that would experience new freedom and a productive mindset.” The heart of the ministry was Kenneth Fairbanks himself. His author’s biography described him as “a great visionary” with “compassion for ministry and all people.”

The bio proclaimed, “One of his greatest assets is his ability to sense the heart and pulse of God. When he speaks, he does not speak as men speak, but listens intently to the spirit of God, and then shares God’s heart with his creation.”

And the Greensboro pastor made his mark as a leader of a congregation that grew to hundreds of members and moved into a conventional church building adjacent to Whitestone retirement community on Spring Garden Street. Fairbanks traveled several times to Nairobi, Kenya and raised money to help build a school for an orphanage there.

Back home in Greensboro, Fairbanks raised his pastoral profile beyond the church walls to play a prominent role as a community leader. In 2007 and 2008, Fairbanks and his wife, Shelia, served on the Guilford County Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, a project funded by the US Justice Department and administered through a center at UNCG. Kenneth Fairbanks served on the Greensboro Violent Crimes Task Force, a police-community partnership in which repeat violent offenders are offered a choice between community support or aggressive prosecution. In 2015, FaithWorks Ministries teamed up with the Greensboro Police Department to collect supplies for children going back to school, culminating in a daylong event at the coliseum. Fairbanks also served on Chief Wayne Scott’s Faith Advisory Council.

Kenneth Fairbanks

But four criminal indictments allege that for much of the time Fairbanks was operating his ministry, he was also sexually abusing children. The alleged victims include his daughter, a niece and two other girls who attended his church. The four alleged victims are named in court documents but have not been identified in previous media accounts. Two are speaking out publicly for the first time.

Christa Fairbanks, who is now in her late twenties, said her father, now 62, began abusing her at the age of 6 or 7. According to the indictment, Fairbanks sexually abused his daughter from August 1997 through December 2006. The three other indictments, which uniformly accuse Kenneth Fairbanks of “lewd and lascivious” acts upon the bodies of minors under the age of 16, allege shorter periods of abuse ranging from three to 30 months, continuing as recently as December 2016.

Christa Fairbanks said her father kept her isolated from other adults and took advantage of the fact that her mother was away from home receiving treatment for recurring bouts of cancer.

“She would be in the hospital or doing treatment, and that would kind of be his, I guess, opportune time to prey on me,” Fairbanks told Triad City Beat. “A lot of inappropriate touching, kissing, fondling. He would sneak into my bed at night. That’s pretty much all I can say. This went on ’til I was 15 or 16, and I finally found the courage to tell my mother.”

Kenneth Fairbanks declined through his lawyer to comment for this story.

He was released on bond after 40 days in jail, but was forced to surrender his passport after a judge declared him a flight risk based on his charitable activities in Kenya. Before Fairbanks was even charged, FaithWorks Ministries had been evicted for nonpayment of rent from the church on Spring Garden Street and the landlord had donated the building to the Greensboro Fire Department for a live-fire training.

“Mr. Fairbanks is a good man who has been through a lot, and I want him to be judged impartially by people,” said Brennan Aberle, his lawyer, explaining why his client isn’t commenting while his case is still pending.

While Kenneth Fairbanks’ supporters cast him as a victim of familial treachery, his daughter, Christa, alleges that he sexually abused her for years, along with other girls, while isolating her to exert control and extorting her silence by admonishing her against ruining God’s plan for their family.

Christa said she finally told her mother about the sexual abuse when her father attempted to come into her bed during a family trip to her Alabama grandfather’s — Kenneth’s father’s — funeral.

“She screamed, she cursed, she demanded that he get help immediately, or she would go to the police,” Christa said, recalling her mother’s reaction.

Kenneth Fairbanks pretended to go to therapy for about two years, Christa said, but in reality moved on to another, younger victim. City Beat is not naming the youngest victim, but the indictment alleges that she was abused over a period of three months from June to August 2011.

“Honestly, finding out about the youngest victim is what made me come forward,” Christa said. “I realized that, okay, I knew he had a problem, but he doesn’t realize it. And he is not going to stop until he is behind bars or he is buried.”

The allegations of sexual abuse, first aired privately and then to police investigators, have ruptured at least two families. Shelia, who has stood by her daughter, obtained a divorce from her husband, reclaiming King as her maiden name. The victims have found themselves shunned by family members, while Kenneth Fairbanks has retained vocal supporters among friends and pastoral associates, who have ventured various ulterior motives for both the allegations of sexual abuse and the divorce.

Brianna Fleming, who attended FaithWorks Ministries as a child with her mother, told City Beat that Kenneth Fairbanks touched her inappropriately when she was in seventh grade, while she was visiting the Fairbanks’ home after school.

Fleming told City Beat that when Christa went outside to feed the dogs, Kenneth Fairbanks called her into his bedroom where she found him lying in bed. She said he touched her arm, moved his hand over to her stomach and then moved it downward and fondled her through her clothes.

Fleming said she had previous experience with sexual abuse by a family member, and she recognized immediately that there was something wrong about the encounter.

“He looked at me really deeply, I guess trying to read what my reaction was,” Fleming recalled. “And I froze. And I stared back at him like I wanted him to understand that I knew this wasn’t right. It felt like forever just standing there staring. And then I yanked back, and I ran out of the house, and I went to my cousin’s house, who lives right next door.”

Brianna Fleming and Christa Fairbanks said the incident put their friendship on hiatus because Fleming didn’t want to come over to the house anymore and risk being alone with Kenneth Fairbanks.

Fleming said she was initially reluctant to talk to the police when Christa Fairbanks contacted her to see if she and other girls had experienced abuse. Learning that there was a younger victim ultimately swayed her, Fleming said.

“No matter how minimal it was what happened to me, it still happened,” Fleming said. “And hopefully it can be a piece of the puzzle to make sure that he doesn’t keep doing this stuff with other girls.”

Fleming said when she told her mother about the abuse, she responded by saying, “Well, what do you expect me to do?”

Instead of accepting that her pastor had done something wrong, Fleming said her mother deflected blame by portraying her daughter as being promiscuous.

“Even a previous member of the church told me that when I told my mom about [the abuse], she was scared I was going to tell everybody,” Fleming said. “She told the church I was being ‘fast.’ ‘Don’t listen to anything Brianna has to say. She’s just being fast in her pants, and she needs to sit down somewhere,’ basically.”

City Beat spoke with Christa Fairbanks and Brianna Fleming for more than two hours last September. Fairbanks asked to delay publication to honor the wishes of the prosecutor handling the case, but after repeated continuances in the case, signaled her wish for the story to go forward. Fairbanks provided additional details through subsequent Facebook messages and a phone conversation during the course of reporting for this story.

Eventually, Fleming left FaithWorks Ministries, but she said her continued attendance at the church for years after the alleged abuse was cited to discredit her. It was having a child of her own, she said, that ultimately influenced her decision to leave FaithWorks Ministries when her son was a year old.

“Immediately, all the thoughts that I had suppressed about what happened came back,” Fleming said. “I remember what he did to me. And I got my child, and we left. And that was one of the things that my mom tried to throw in my face when I brought it out: ‘Well, you let him christen your son. You didn’t have a problem with it then.’

“She’s just brainwashed, that’s all,” Fleming added. “She can’t wrap her mind around the fact that this person she’s trusted her entire life is not who he has portrayed himself to be. I guess she’d rather believe that he’s good than that her daughter isn’t a liar.”

Fleming said she continues to maintain a relationship with her mother, but the price of doing so is refraining from discussion of the subject.

Among the various theories posited by Kenneth Fairbanks to explain the allegations against him is that his daughter and other young women in the church chafed against his religious authority.

“I think he was preaching what he should have been preaching; I think it might have hit them the wrong way,” said Ed Cobbler, a private investigator hired with state funds to work on the case on Kenneth Fairbanks’ behalf. “His own daughter was rebellious. I don’t think she understands how serious this [set of allegations] is.”

Cobbler, who has worked as a private investigator for 36 years and started his career with the Greensboro Police Department in 1968, said he has known Kenneth Fairbanks for 20 years. The two men served on the Greensboro Violent Crimes Task Force and fed homeless people together. Cobbler said he went into the case with an open mind, and nothing he’s uncovered in his investigation has caused him to question his belief in his client’s innocence.

“When you talk about inappropriate touching — not rape or intercourse; that’s not alleged here — when you put stuff out like this, you’ve destroyed a reputation,” Cobbler said. “Even if he’s acquitted, people will say, ‘Oh, he just got off on a technicality.’ His reputation is ruined. I don’t think he’ll ever pastor a church. Fortunately, he’s maintained his innocence. He’s a very strong man of prayer. I’ve been in touch with him trying to keep him strong. But this has not been easy. I can only imagine, as a man, what a toll this has taken on him.”

Aberle said via Facebook that Cobbler “was appointed as an investigator on this case because he had some background information about Kenneth Fairbanks, and it seemed ideal to have someone familiar with the case working on the investigation.”

Christa Fairbanks said Cobbler has harassed her by showing up at her apartment and “demanding to know the truth.”

“Honestly, it got to the point where I — I called the police on him five times before the DA actually stepped in,” Christa Fairbanks said. “The last time he actually came to my home, he was so loud and belligerent that I had neighbors below me come out and see if I wanted to call the police. He’s yelling out questions in front of my children pertaining to this case; it’s definitely not something I need for them to hear…. Just being loud and belligerent. Trying to intimidate. Trying to kind of force his way into my home. I asked him to leave three times; he still would not leave. I got on the phone with the police and the DA. Once he saw me reading off his license plate he sped away.”

Cobbler admitted that he tried to talk to the women, while denying that his behavior was aggressive.

“I can promise you: my reputation in the community would speak for itself,” Cobbler said. “Any attorney would say, ‘No, he’s just the opposite. He makes friends with witnesses and perpetrators.’ I go to the jail and get confessions from murderers that they haven’t given to the police or to their own lawyers.

“I was surprised that they wouldn’t talk to me,” he added. “One person made up the lie that I was pushy and harassing them. That was far, far from the truth. I will go to the door, and if they say, ‘I don’t want to talk to you,’ end of story — I’m gone.”

Aberle said he hadn’t been aware that Cobbler was contacting witnesses, and once he found out, he pulled him off the case.

“I did not ask him to contact specific witnesses in this case,” Aberle said in a prepared statement. “Typically, I wait until we receive discovery in a case before I set up an investigation plan. The district attorney’s office called me and said there were some witnesses who were contacted who were upset and did not wish to be contacted by Mr. Cobbler. When I found out about that I called Mr. Cobbler and told him to not have any further contact. He is not actively investigating in this case.”

***

FaithWorks Ministries started in the home of Kenneth and Shelia Fairbanks. At first, the majority of the church was comprised of family members, Christa Fairbanks recalled.

“And everybody knew everything that was going on with everybody basically,” she said. “It was a very tight, tight-knit….”

Her voice trailed off as she looked for the right word. Seated next to her friend, Brianna Fleming during an interview at Panera Bread in September 2018, the two women said in unison, laughing: “… Cult.”

“I find the way that my family became involved in the church to be very ironic because they were already going to a church in Winston-Salem,” Fleming said. “There were four women all in the same family — single women with children. None of them were involved with a male at all.”

Fleming said she sees a pattern in Kenneth Fairbanks’ recruitment of her family.

“He would always run men off from the church; that was one thing that was very noticeable,” she said. “There would always be full families that would come in as new members or guests. The women would stay, but the men wouldn’t stay. It was always something about the men leaving.”

Fleming said her stepfather was among the men who found Kenneth Fairbanks alienating. And it was her stepfather as opposed to her mother who stood with her when she stepped forward to allege abuse.

“He said that he had always had bad feelings, and that he was actually just starting to accept him,” Fleming said. “So, he was really hurt by it. And it caused a big rift between him and my mom because my mom is still on that side of the fence. And my stepfather supports me wholeheartedly.”

Between frequent church attendance and isolation from other families, Christa Fairbanks said she didn’t have much context for what a healthy father-daughter relationship should look like. But around the age of 11 or 12, she said, she recognized something wasn’t right.

“I started to realize this isn’t what it should be,” she said. “This isn’t right. I don’t feel right. I don’t feel good about this. I feel very — I feel ashamed…. I remember asking him — he had snuck into my bed one night, and I lay there. I feigned sleep, just in hopes it would make him leave faster. As he was about to leave, I asked him: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Because at that point I understood this isn’t how a father-and-daughter relationship is supposed to be. He said that he accidentally got into the wrong bed and he thought I was my mom. Which, considering that she’s had a mastectomy, I don’t think that’s very possible.”

To her knowledge, Christa Fairbanks said, “penetration” didn’t occur, adding, “I can’t honestly say that it didn’t [occur] because I have a lot of just kind of blank patches there, which my therapist said is my brain protecting itself.”

Kenneth Fairbanks’ authority as a father and pastor was magnified by “a vast collection of guns,” his daughter said.

“He would take them out and clean them and tell me I couldn’t tell anyone because it would ruin God’s plan for us,” she said. “Because he’s a pastor, and his church is going to be worldwide. It’s going to be a megachurch.”

Speaking to City Beat, Fairbanks apologized at one point for a graphic description. She recalled her father touching her around the time she reached puberty.

“So he was alarmed that I had pubic hair,” she recalled. “And he recoiled, as if I were a monster, and said, ‘When did that happen?’”

Kenneth Fairbanks physically abused her on top of the sexual abuse, Christa Fairbanks said. One incident in particular stands out.

Christa Fairbanks and Brianna Fleming had reached high-school age. They snuck out late at night with their boyfriends. Christa Fairbanks recalled that her boyfriend was driving them back to her house when her father jumped into the street from behind a fence “like a ninja” while brandishing a loaded pistol. They said they heard Kenneth Fairbanks cock the pistol.

“We all started freaking out,” Christa Fairbanks said. “We thought he was going to start shooting. We thought he was gonna kill us. And my boyfriend backed up really fast. We were in a real-live chase.”

They drove to Fleming’s house, they said, and Kenneth Fairbanks was waiting for them there.

Christa Fairbanks recalled that her father pistol-whipped her boyfriend and called her a ‘whore.’”

Fleming said her mother sent her away to stay with family members in Morganton, and the incident was never spoken of again.

Christa Fairbanks said that according to her father’s account the judge was sympathetic to his position being that he himself was a father with a daughter and sentenced him to community service.

Guilford County court records confirm that Kenneth Fairbanks received multiple charges in April 2006 — for assault with a deadly weapon, assault by pointing a gun, simple assault and communicating threats. Marquez Parker and Christopher Tinnin, who were dating the two girls at the time, are listed as the victims in court records. Three of the charges were outright dismissed, while Kenneth Fairbanks received deferred prosecution — which typically involves dismissal in exchange for community service — for the charges of assault with a deadly weapon and assault by pointing a gun.

Christa Fairbanks said her boyfriend was aware of the abuse, and the police investigation into the pistol-whipping incident led to a wider inquiry.

“And they actually sent a police officer — female officer — to come and ask me: Was I being abused?” she recalled. “My issue with that is she asked me about three feet away from my father. So, I did not come clean at that time. I denied everything. I mean, he was right there. After she left, that was the first suicide attempt I can remember. Because, like he said, I thought that I had ruined everything. I had ruined God’s plan for him. That was the first and last time I tried to tell a police authority, until now.”

***

The last time Kenneth Fairbanks visited Mogra Children’s Centre in Nairobi, Kenya was in 2017, according to the Rev. Hannah Njoroge, the orphanage’s founder. She said Fairbanks helped raise funds to build a school to serve the orphans. Njoroge’s organization was able to complete the project with additional funds raised in Kenya.

Njoroge said in an email that the allegations of child sex abuse don’t square with her staff’s impressions of Fairbanks, “as he was really very good and clean, and to say molesting children would be the worst-case scenario for an allegation. We know him as a very powerful man of God, and that to us is just unbelievable.”

Njoroge said Fairbanks was never left alone with the children at the orphanage and slept at a hotel when he visited.

Njoroge, who performs marriage counseling, said the last time Fairbanks visited he complained that his family had turned against him.

“He said, ‘I don’t have a wife who’s caring for me,’” Njoroge said. “I told him my husband, we were praying together. My husband said, ‘You cannot leave your wife.’… Pastor Ken told me: ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore. Hannah, what am I going to do?’ From what he was telling me, the wife was on the side of the children.”

Njoroge said the allegations of child sex abuse against Fairbanks surprised her because they don’t sync with his conduct at the orphanage.

“There’s nothing we can say that he has done wrong,” she said. “There’s not any language or any sign he has done anything with girls or women. We have never heard about any wrong anything.”

Others say they have made similar observations.

“I’ve interacted with him many times, and I’ve seen him around females,” said Ed Cobbler, the private investigator in Greensboro. “He always conducted himself as a gentleman. He’s always been quiet. He’s been involved in the community, but he’s not a flamboyant person.”

Shaun Wagner, who attends a different church in Charlotte, said he considers Fairbanks to be a “mentor.” When Wagner was going through some personal difficulties a couple years ago, Fairbanks provided spiritual counseling to him over the phone. Wagner said Fairbanks is a frequent visitor and beloved by the congregation at New Foundations Church, where Wagner’s brother is the pastor.

“I watch people’s mannerisms,” Wagner said. “I never even saw this man say anything inappropriate to any woman…. I know pastors who are flirtatious with women. I never saw him be flirtatious with women.”

Brianna Fleming and Christa Fairbanks said it was a different story at FaithWorks Ministries, and that even while he was sexually abusing children, he was also having inappropriate relationships with adult women.

Although her mother would downplay it, Fleming said that Fairbanks “did a lot of inappropriate things and made a lot of inappropriate comments, even to my mom.

“He was commenting on their behinds,” Fleming added. “You don’t do that when you’re a preacher, you know?”

In 2016, FaithWorks Ministries was evicted from the church on Spring Garden Street. Kenneth Fairbanks rented the church building from the North Carolina Masonic and Eastern Star Foundation, a nonprofit that owns Whitestone retirement community. Walt Clapp, grand secretary of the foundation, said Fairbanks “wasn’t very good about paying his rent.”

Clapp recalled: “The one time I remember meeting him was the time that we told him he’s going to have to exit the property. He told me his wife had cancer. I said, ‘I hate to do this to you at this time of your need, but we got to move on.’”

The building was in such bad condition, Clapp said, that the foundation opted to donate it to the Greensboro Fire Department for a live-fire training. Assistant Chief Dwayne Church confirmed that the fired department conducted a live-fire training on a building at a Spring Garden Street address on Sept. 23, 2017.

Less than five months later, Kenneth Fairbanks was arrested and charged with four counts of indecent liberties with a child.

One of the pastor’s most ardent defenders was Brian Fairbanks, Kenneth’s son and Christa’s half-brother.

“My father is a father first, a pastor, an upstanding citizen, a loving father and a loving grandfather to a host of kids,” Brian Fairbanks told Fox 8 News. “People that know him could definitely tell you, you know, that this is not in his character.” Brian Fairbanks declined to comment for this story.

Other siblings did not return messages for this story.

Both Kenneth Fairbanks and Shelia King had children from previous marriages.

“As far as I know, I have five siblings from my father, and two from my mother’s previous marriage,” Christa said. “Her husband passed away before her and my father met. He was a rolling stone. All of these children have different mothers, different ages. Honestly, I didn’t find out about half of them until I was 16, 17. And they’re all older than me. So I have a lot of siblings. On his side, I only have one that is supportive.”

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Shelia Fairbanks had divorce papers served on her husband in Greensboro Jail Central. The divorce was finalized on June 4.

Shelia, who continues to struggle with health challenges, declined to comment for this story.

“I am really dealing with a lot right now,” she said in a Facebook message. “Just not something I want to add to the list. Trying to keep away as much stress as I can, but thanks for asking.”

Kenneth Fairbanks has continued to profess his innocence.

“They offered him plea deals, because right now he’s facing four to 24 years,” Christa Fairbanks said. “Like I said, he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. How can you make someone say that they’re guilty when they honestly don’t feel any remorse or guilt?”

Even though Kenneth Fairbanks is prohibited from having any contact with the four victims as a condition of release, Christa Fairbanks said she took the initiative to meet with her father after he was charged.

“If you will get help, I will not press this any further,” Christa said she told her father. “If you just admit that there is some type of issue that needs to be addressed….”

She said he cut her off, and responded, “I don’t have a problem. I never did those things.”

Kenneth Fairbanks’ most recent court date was Jan. 22, and court records don’t specify the next time he’s due to appear in front a judge. The Guilford County District Attorney’s office declined to comment for this story.

Christa Fairbanks said she’s been in therapy for seven years — a process begun before she gave birth to her first son.

“I’ve been in therapy for a very long time,” Christa Fairbanks said. “Honestly, I probably will always be in therapy, just like I will always have my meds. It’s not something that’s cured necessarily; it’s just managed. That’s what I’m trying to do, is manage the best I can.”

She said surviving sex abuse involves a lifetime of reprogramming, particularly with regards to establishing a sense of sovereignty over her body. For a long time, she said, she “had to work through the fact that sex is okay.”

“I’m just now as an adult approaching my thirties coming into my own sexuality, if that makes any sense, because I wasn’t given the opportunity to,” she said. “So, a lot of things have been confusing because my normal was obviously not normal.”

If and when the case eventually goes to trial, the outcome will likely depend on whether jurors believe Kenneth Fairbanks or his accusers.

Christa said she’s authorized two different therapists, a psychologist and her primary-care physician to release her medical files to the court. She said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and three different anxiety disorders. The court has a list of medications, with a history of how long she’s taken them.

“I understand that these are allegations, but medical files don’t lie,” she said. “Multiple therapists and psychologists don’t lie. It had to have happened. There’s no way that my life — psychologically and mentally, I would not be this damaged had this trauma not happened. It’s just impossible to fake. There’s no faking post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Ironically, court filings suggest that the victims’ mental health history is likely to play a role in the defense strategy as well.

Brennan Aberle, Kenneth Fairbanks’ lawyer, filed a motion for discovery last year requesting “information that may indicate that any witness suffers from mental illness, infirmity, impairment or any kind of impairment of their senses,” along with information that may indicate any witness suffers from drug or alcohol addiction; any information “that may show bias, hostility or motive by any witness”; or any criminal records or “prior bad acts” by witnesses.

Christa Fairbanks and Brianna Fleming said their only motivation for coming forward is to protect other children from being abused.

“I have nothing to gain by telling something like this,” Fleming said, “but I have a family, I have a husband, I have a job. I have a lot that I’m putting on the line. I’m putting my children in harm’s way. He could react however right now.”

Christa Fairbanks concurred.

“My children do not leave my sight,” she said.

Both women said they hope that that by speaking out they will help people understand that it’s not okay to turn a blind eye or excuse child sex abuse by family members.

“It’s not okay because what they’re missing is that the age at which these things are happening is a very vital part of the child’s development,” Fleming said. “Being taught at an early age incorrectly about sexuality and what is okay and who it’s okay with is extremely, extremely impactful. And can cause mental illness, can cause promiscuity. It can cause even for that child to abuse someone else because this is what they were taught as a child is okay. And it’s not.

“And you need to tell on Uncle So-and-So, however old they are, however long they’ve been doing it,” she said. “It’s not okay, and they need to stop. And they need to get help. Or they need to be locked up. Either way. We’re ruining children. Children are the future. What kind of future is it going to be if we’re devouring our kids?”

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