*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Leader comment: Finger points at conservative Evangelicals

by
26 March 2021

AS WITH people, so with organisations. Few would command respect, if any, were they to be judged by their worst behaviour. The Church as a whole would think it grossly unfair if people based their view of it on the abuse and prejudice exhibited by a minority (and would be horrified by the number of people who regard it in exactly that light). It is dangerous, then, to argue outwards from the accounts of abuse and mistreatment at Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon (“ECW” in the reviewers’ report, published on Tuesday). Yet this is precisely what the reviewers do, supported in a separate statement by members of the Independent Advisory Group, which was close to the investigation. The reviewers quite correctly concentrate on the activities of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (who declined to participate in the review); but then argue that the factors that enabled him to operate unchecked extend far beyond a not-quite-parish church into the wider conservative Evangelical network.

The list of failings is damning: favouritism, the demand for unquestioning obedience, rule by charisma, the bequeathing and withdrawal of access to an inner circle, the exploitation of patronage (often in a literal sense), a lack of accountability, the “othering” of outside forces who might be expected to exercise oversight, warm fellowship followed by an escalating series of tests to prove that it is deserved, the calculated use of humiliation and fear to maintain loyalty, a sense of privilege, the “unfellowshipping” of people who are judged to have lost their attraction or usefulness, and an enforced code of silence, applied even to those who might ordinarily have been thought to have escaped the clutches of the leader. To label these factors as “cultic” is to put an undeserved religious gloss on them. What they most resemble is gang behaviour, found equally on south London estates and in the lavatories of public schools. What they least resemble, of course, is a healthy, humble, pastoral Christian community.

Wise leaders in the conservative Evangelical fold will recognise that there are particular susceptibilities in their branch of Christianity. It can be unkind to those who fail to conform to its codes; it likes to deal in certainties; it encourages fellowship that is close but can become closed; and it often defines itself in opposition to others, including other Christian traditions. This last tendency generates a defensiveness that discourages self-examination. Indeed, the ECW reviewers question whether leaders who overlooked Mr Fletcher’s behaviour are capable of addressing the “unhealthy culture” across the conservative Evangelical constituency, and whether they should not be considering their positions. The Church of England Evangelical Council is offering “a range of resources” on its website “to help Anglican Evangelicals in a time of lament”. We imagine that a more thoroughgoing response will be made in the near future.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)