CONSERVATIVE Evangelical leaders need to explain why the Revd Jonathan Fletcher was invited to attend conferences up to two years after disclosures of his abuse were first made, members of an independent group have said.
The Independent Advisory Group (IAG) was set up to support the two independent reviewers who undertook the lessons-learnt review of the activities of Mr Fletcher when he was Minister of Emmanuel Church (Proprietary Chapel), Ridgway, in Wimbledon, from 1982 to 2012 (News, 23 March). The review was commissioned from Thirtyone:eight by Emmanuel Church.
The IAG, made up of Thirtyone:eight staff members and four external members, held regular progress meetings with the reviewers, and saw drafts of the review. Early on Tuesday, the four external members — Graham Shearer, Sarah Smart, Dan Leafe, and an anonymous victim representative — issued a statement based on publicly available material. All label themselves conservative Evangelicals.
Their statement concentrates in particular on the wider “culture of fear” found by the reviewers, which extended beyond Emmanuel Church. The fact that people were afraid to speak out because of possible repercussions was “undoubtedly, a vital part of the explanation as to why Jonathan Fletcher was able to operate abusively in plain sight for so many years and only finally be censured long after his retirement”, they suggest.
Furthermore, “the fear that the Review describes is expressed as current — participants were still afraid. . . That is, people who still lead churches, still preach and still train leaders. This is a profoundly troubling matter and calls for urgent reflection and action. . .
“It is our view that, until this culture of fear is convincingly denounced and eradicated from our circles, conservative Evangelicals can have very little credibility when we claim to represent Christ to a watching world.”
The statement says that a “troubling picture” emerges when examining the sequence of events between February 2017 — when Emmanuel Church acted on the first disclosures — and June 2019, when a statement was made about Mr Fletcher to a meeting of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (News, 5 July 2019).
The IAG members point out that, in February 2017, concurrent with the Emmanuel actions, “Fletcher undertook not to exercise his PTO to the diocese of Southwark, which then expired later in the year.”
Despite this, however, Mr Fletcher continued a public ministry: speaking at a residential conference for students at St Andrew the Great, Cambridge, in March 2018; participating in the licensing of the first UK GAFCON bishop in September 2018; and, in January 2019, attending, “as apparently in good standing”, an invitation-only “MissionMinded” conference, which was addressed by the Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, the Revd William Taylor, and the Revd Phillip Jensen, formerly Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. Mr Fletcher also served as a trustee of St Peter’s Barge, a plant of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, until 15 February 2019.
From this, the IAG members say, “it would be thought that no one was aware of the allegations against Fletcher until that time. Indeed, Revd William Taylor, in his address as the Chairman of the ReNew Network, stated that he, ‘. . . first learned anything about Jonathan’s abusive activities in February 2019.’ Without doubt, however, others did in fact know earlier.”
The IAG statement continues: “It is time for the leaders of the ministries involved to be open in explaining what happened. Without doing so, they make it improbable that other victims of abuse will feel safe to come forward in the future.”
The IAG external members repeat the message of the independent reviewers, stating that “those in positions of leadership should take responsibility for the failings described here and in the report. . . Genuine repentance for some may involve them stepping down from positions of leadership.”
The IAG statement alleges that, in some conservative Evangelical circles, “safeguarding has been regarded with suspicion and [has] even been denigrated as a ‘distraction’ from the gospel”. Such a mindset “is incompatible with any biblical understanding of the person and work of Christ”.
Read the full statement here
Read an extract from the statement in our Comment section