THE Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has published material intended to initiate conversations about “issues of culture, power and abuse” within its constituency.
The materials, published on Wednesday, are “designed to help Evangelical churches review, repent and reshape their cultures on the back of the recent Thirtyone:eight independent reviews into two prominent Evangelical churches and their leaders”, a press release says.
The reviews to which it refers are those of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Ridgway, in Wimbledon and the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (News, 26 March), and the Crowded House, a non-denominational Evangelical church in Sheffield, at which “some instances of emotional and/or psychological abuse took place as a result of persistent coercive and controlling behaviour”.
The resources include an introductory film and a “liturgy of lament” for churches to use. There is also a booklet, Church Cultures Review Questions, which contains more than 100 questions for churches.
On leadership, it asks: “What Christ-like qualities does your church look for in the character of its leaders? Are there qualities that are valued that do not reflect Jesus? Are the voices of anyone raising questions about the character of leaders being listened to? How do you know?”
On attitudes, it asks: “How does your church seek to ensure that those who serve as leaders are neither put on pedestals nor bullied? Is there anything about your church’s history and theology that makes either idolisation or a lack of proper respect more or less likely?”
On diversity: “Is there the possibility of everyone in your church family exercising their gifts, or are there any characteristics that disqualify someone from sharing their gifts — including (but not limited to) ethnicity, sex, class, age, sexuality, marriage status?”
On sexuality: “What is presumed? Is your church’s posture felt to be one of grace and welcome or legalism and fear? What unbiblical and unhealthy rules have caused shame and confusion?”
On safeguarding: “When were your safeguarding and complaints procedures last mentioned up-front in a Sunday church service?”
And on the use of power: “How is the plurality of leadership we see in New Testament churches reflected in your church’s decision-making structures? What effective checks and balances are in place to protect against sinful or unwise decisions being made?”
Ed Shaw, one of the CEEC co-chairs, said: “These resources are very much the beginning of the conversation — with God and each other — on the issues of culture, power, and abuse within Evangelicalism. We are simply hoping to kick-start discussions that others will continue both within and across local churches. We are especially aware of further work that needs to be done on how badly expressed and applied Evangelical theology has sometimes been used to justify unhealthy cultures, misuse of power, and horrific abuse.”
The resources, he said, are for the leadership teams of Evangelical churches — clergy, churchwardens, and laity — and PCCs across the country. He also hoped that they would be of benefit beyond Evangelicalism. “Problematic cultures, misuse of power, and abuse are, sadly, to be found everywhere.”
In the introductory film, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, who is a survivor of John Smyth’s abuse (News, 10 February 2017), says: “Speaking as a survivor of abuse myself, and having listened to the stories of survivors who have often suffered far more than I did, there is a sense that this is a life sentence. It really does damage people very badly.”
It was vital, he said, “that we not only engage with safeguarding and training, but also look more seriously at the culture in our churches. We need to ask ourselves: ‘What might lead people to go astray, abuse to go unchecked, power dynamics to become unbalanced?’.”