JOHN SMYTH, the Evangelical Christian camp leader accused of savagely beating young men during the 1970s and ’80s in his garden shed (News, 13 April), has been formally expelled from his church in South Africa, where he now lives.
In a lengthy statement, the elders of Church-on-Main, Cape Town, where Mr Smyth and his wife, Anne, have worshipped since 2013, announced that the Smyths would be “excommunicated, with all its scriptural implications”, because of Mr Smyth’s refusal to engage with the church leadership about the allegations.
The statement explains that the church was aware that some had criticised Mr Smyth’s holiday-camp ministry in Zimbabwe when he first joined Church-on-Main, four years ago, but had been assured that this was nothing more than jealousy at the ministry’s success.
Last September, however, the church elders found out that Mr Smyth was regularly meeting young men from Church-on-Main at a sports club, playing squash before showering together and then questioning them about “pornography, masturbation, and other sexual matters”.
They then discovered that Mr Smyth’s Zimbabwe camps had been involved in a court case. The elders’ statement said, however, that whenever they attempted to discuss the matter with Mr Smyth, he became defensive, and attacked the elders’ leadership of the church.
After the allegations first surfaced in the UK in February (News, 10 February), the elders said that they had urged Mr Smyth to return to the UK to work with the police, and told him not to attend Church-on-Main meetings or contact any other church members.
Because he has refused to engage with the leaders, or follow their advice, he has now been excommunicated from the church, the statement says.”
Our counsel has always been for John to present himself to the UK authorities for whatever consequences he could face, admitting, if necessary, to any accusation that holds substance, and to apologise, asking for forgiveness and mercy,” it says.”
If our having had John as a leader of a discipleship group, or his role in any form of ministry has led to hurt or risk to anyone, or to bringing the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ into disrepute in any way; for this we apologise.”
Channel 4 News, which first broke the story in February, has broadcast new details that appear to suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury continued to be involved with Iwerne Trust camps at the same time as Mr Smyth.
Archbishop Welby was a dormitory officer at the holiday camps in the late 1970s, when Mr Smyth was one of the leaders. A statement from Lambeth Palace, issued after the Channel 4 programme, said that the Archbishop had worked with Mr Smyth, but that no one had discussed the allegations with him.”
I was completely unaware of any abuse,” the Archbishop told LBC radio in February. “I never heard anything at all, at any point. I never had the slightest suspicion that there was anything going on.”
Last week, Channel 4 News reported that the Archbishop’s name appeared on a speaker roster for an Iwerne Trust camp in 1979, as did Mr Smyth’s, and he remained on the camps’ mailing list, despite then living in France.
Archbishop Welby denied that these documents implied that he was connected to Mr Smyth. “I left to work and live in Paris in 1978 — as I understand it, a year before the abuse was to begin — and did not return to work in the UK until 1983,” he said in a statement this week.”
As I have previously stated, I was not one of the inner circle of people surrounding John Smyth, or in the leadership of the camps. A talk on reading the Bible, which I did as a one-off in 1979, does not make anyone a member of an ‘inner circle’.”
A spokeswoman for the Archbishop declined to comment on Mr Smyth’s expulsion from Church-on-Main.