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Justice matters more than power

by
26 March 2021

Advisers to the Fletcher review say that addressing abusive leadership is a gospel issue

The Revd Jonathan Fletcher

The Revd Jonathan Fletcher

THE safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight has published its review concerning the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon (ECW), and the surrounding culture.

It concludes that “the aspects of unhealthy culture at ECW and more broadly across the affected CE [conservative Evangelical] constituency might only be addressed fully by those having played a key role in the establishment and maintenance of that culture to no longer enjoy the influence they have had to date (i.e. considering their positions and stepping down)” (p.11).

After all that we as the IAG [Independent Advisory Group] have learned over the last year, we can but say how deeply this conclusion resonates with us.

The way that Jonathan Fletcher’s abusive influence has been so profoundly embedded within the CE culture means that the process of purification and healing will only come over time and with great struggle.

Yet it is necessary, because at issue is not merely a question of personalities, politics, administrative competence, or procedural correctness, but a question of our grasp of the gospel itself.

 

IN A compelling passage in Book XIII of his On the Trinity, St Augustine writes of the devil’s sin that: “The essential flaw of the devil’s perversion made him a lover of power and a deserter and assailant of justice, which means that men imitate him all the more thoroughly the more they neglect or even detest justice and studiously devote themselves to power. . . Not that power is to be shunned as something bad, but that the right order must be preserved which puts justice first.”

It is painfully clear from this review that too many within our constituency have put the cause of maintaining power and control above the call of justice. This is an inversion of the gospel. As Augustine states: “It pleased God to deliver man from the devil’s authority by beating him at the justice game, not the power game, so that men too might imitate Christ by seeking to beat the devil at the justice game, not the power game.”

It is the wonderful claim of the gospel that, in the cross, Christ vindicates the justice of God while allowing sins to be remitted and forgiven.

Concealed sin, therefore, is a denial of the grace of the gospel. It implies either that sin does not require justice or that sin confessed cannot be forgiven. Upon the horns of these two lies, the devil has pierced many souls. But the grace of the gospel exposes both as false: first, it condemns the sinfulness of sin by condemning it in Christ, and, second, it offers absolution and forgiveness to all those that truly repent and put their faith in Christ.

Any culture, therefore, in which sin is concealed and in which power is placed above justice, can only represent a twisted parody of the true biblical gospel. And yet it is that same biblical gospel which offers hope that real repentance and change is possible for those that will bring their sin into Christ’s light.

 

IT HAS been a great, if at times painful and troubling, honour to play a part in the production of the 31:8 Review, and with it, hopefully, a step in the direction of healing, justice, and reform for our conservative Evangelical constituency. We are deeply conscious of the need for these matters to be handled sensitively, carefully, and biblically. Replacing a culture of fear, control, and abuse with a culture of suspicion, anarchy, and accusation would be a victory for no one but Satan.

As a counterfeit minister, Jonathan Fletcher did what all counterfeits do: debase the genuine. The care of souls given to Christian leaders is such a weighty task that no one can fulfil it without stumbling, failing, and seeking forgiveness. That is why they point us to Christ, as they themselves look to Christ.

All Christians, let alone all leaders, face the daily battle against pride, self-regard, falsehood, and thoughtless lovelessness. Yet just as a coin can be scratched and faded and still retain its full value, so leaders who seek to stand firm in the grace of God, despite their weakness and failings, are worthy of honour, respect, and loyalty from their flock.

It is, therefore, for the sake of such leaders, in addition to the victims, that we are so concerned that this issue of abusive leadership should be dealt with properly, openly, and fully, through repentance and transparency. Genuine currency is only fully trusted when the fraudulent is exposed.

We applaud the publication of the 31:8 Review in full, but it can only be the beginning of the process of the pursuit of justice; justice that must be sought for the consolation of the victims, the condemnation of the guilty, and, importantly, the acquittal of the innocent. “It is time for judgement to begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4.17), the scriptures say, and no doubt this will involve pain and loss for some, alongside soul-searching and repentance for all.

As we say, genuine repentance for some may involve their stepping down from positions of leadership. Yet we believe that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ holds out the pattern, power, and promise of a Christian community in which Christian leaders serve their people not in order to devour them, but so that, together, they may “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4.15).

 

This is an edited extract from a statement from the external members of the ECW-Jonathan Fletcher Review Independent Advisory Group. Read the full statement at soulinformation.org/iagstatement

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