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Book review: Faiths Lost and Found, edited by Martyn Percy and Charles Foster

28 March 2024

Lyle Dennen identifies common themes in accounts of ‘apostasy’

EDITED by Martyn Percy and Charles Foster, this collection of profound case studies is written by a range of people, explaining their journey from one set of beliefs and structures to a different group with a wider and more compassionate set of beliefs: a movement that seems to be both an escape and a homecoming. They write about the renunciation of abusive and traumatic relationships, and their discovery of a new fellowship of depth, openness, safety, and personal growth.

Traditionally, such movements were described as “apostasy”. This divorce, renunciation, and separation was deeply distressing to those who left, because they suffered shunning, aggression, exclusion, verbal abuse, and, historically, even execution. In this book, which is an endeavour to understand contemporary apostasy, the editors, by placing a poem on the first page, have subtlety focused on the central theme, compassion: “In Mary’s house the mourners gather. Sorrow pierces them like a nail. Where’s Mary herself meanwhile? Gone to comfort Judas’s mother.”

Although most of the case studies are within the Christian ambit, there are a great variety of experiences, deep hurts, and considerable achievements. The editors do not make clear how they selected the contributors, but there is a dominant theme in most of the studies: being damaged by dogmatic, abusive, and narrow conservative Evangelicalism. There is a remarkable case study by Charles Foster who moved from the Evangelical Iwerne movement, which had the scandals of John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher. Foster then went on to the Charismatic Holy Trinity, Brompton, and then finally found his home in the Greek Orthodox Church.

A quite different journey was that of Thomas Bohache, who left Roman Catholicism. He wrote: “I was gay in a church whose representatives said I was going to hell and God hated me.” In the Metropolitan Community Church, he found that God loved him. Yet another direction was that of Anthony Bash, who called his a journey of a misfit. He moved from his Jewish family and roots to be ordained priest in the Church of England. He wrote: “Christians are called to be misfits” (not conformed to this world.

One of the most compelling case studies is by Rosie Harper, who describes herself as a “secret apostate”. As a woman, she found deep hostility in her conservative Evangelicalism, which she described as with a “sado-masochistic vibe” and an “elision of love and violence”. She says she was finally beguiled by the space that she found within the Church of England to be herself.

Harper clearly shows the link between dogmatic theology and the exercise of power. She quotes from a clergy wife who was a survivor of serious domestic abuse: “It’s the theology that did it.”

The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is a former Archdeacon of Hackney, in east London.

Faiths Lost and Found
Martyn Percy and Charles Foster, editors
DLT £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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