“Thank God I am not one of those,” is a prayer fewer and fewer Christians can pray about OTHER denominations. Remorselessly, like some demonic harvesting machine, more and more varieties of Christians have been swept up by scandal, mostly to do with leaders who prey upon their flocks.
First they came for the Catholics, then the televangelists, then the Southern Baptists in the United States, but instead of being like Martin Niemöller’s famous “first they came for …” list, which was about people who should have been stood up for in Nazi Germany, this is a list of terrible behaviour by Christian men, who cannot be defended.
Of the crisis now sweeping the Southern Baptists, one of their leaders, Albert Mohler, wrote: “We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority. When people said that Evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible – even to me. I have been president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty-five years. I did not see this coming.”
That was written after the downfall of several key leaders in 2018, and before a second tsunami hit this year – the uncovering of some 700 cases of sexual abuse by 263 church leaders, due to the hard work of the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News.
This year, my tribe, conservative evangelical Anglicans, can join the list. The British version of Sydney Anglicanism, a group called “Reform”, is dealing with the exposure of a man called Jonathan Fletcher who for decades headed one of their key churches, Emmanuel Wimbledon (yes, near the tennis courts in south-east London).
Fletcher engaged in spanking young men on their naked buttocks with a sneaker and nude massages as part of his discipling (not discipline) of them. His behaviour is described in a public statement to a recent meeting of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London.
This behaviour was engaged in by several leaders in what is known as the Iwerne camping movement, a key part of upper-class evangelicalism in Britain. Public school boys (that is, from upper-class private schools) were evangelised through a holiday camp system. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Alpha’s Nicky Gumbel and the late John Stott all were Iwerne boys – as were virtually all of the posher sort of English evangelical leaders. (That list includes possible victims rather than perpetrators.)
A certain perpetrator is the late John Smyth QC, who was banished to South Africa by the Iwerne movement, only to continue his abuse. There are possibly four other leaders of the camps yet to be exposed.
Sydney Anglican leaders have been linked with Fletcher for a long time but the British evangelicals concealed the scandal – and the cover-up.
“We in Sydney have known Jonathan Fletcher for many years as a visiting preacher,” Mark Thompson, principal of Moore College, tells Eternity. “He was last invited to speak at Moore College during his visit to Australia in 2014. As principal, I only became aware of concerns surrounding other aspects of Jonathan’s ministry in January 2019, and of the details and extent of those concerns when they became public recently.”
That possibly came about because of the tragic plight of one Iwerne victim, Andy Lines, who, upon being appointed as a bishop to lead a conservative Anglican alternative to the Church of England, had to take a break.
“I have been coming to terms with elements of spiritual manipulation in my own life,” Andy Lines said in a statement released by GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) UK.
“It has been a very hard and painful process, requiring months of professional counselling for me to come to terms with what I have experienced. It took considerable time before the light went on, and has required lots of support during three months in Australia.
“However, I now realise the nature of what was happening. I have come to realise that this can happen to strong as well as vulnerable people. I have become aware that the particular manipulation and control I have experienced has been experienced by a number of others.”
It is now clear that Lines was a victim of Fletcher. Eternity is aware that several other key leaders in evangelical Anglicanism also came from the Wimbledon church, and may also be affected.
It was a bit of a mystery at the time why Lines was coming to Australia, soon after his appointment as a missionary bishop.
(GAFCON links conservative Anglicans and constitutes a majority of the world’s Anglicans.)
George Conger of Anglican Unscripted, a video newscast in the Anglican Church, has reported that the other international connections of GAFCON were also kept in the dark.
In a statement to the Church Times, Fletcher described his interactions as “lighthearted forfeits”. He added, “These sessions categorically do not have erotic or sexual overtones, and I have never coerced or intended to coerce anyone into an arrangement. If any have felt pressurised by me to do this, I apologise.”
Judgment, the Bible says, begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). At a time when we may be tempted to point the finger at others outside the church, this Scripture is the one being fulfilled. Judgment is indeed coming to each of the various houses of God.