Over recent years we have learned that abusive Christian leaders commonly use church structures to groom victims for their own perverse pleasure. John Smyth QC did this through the Iwerne network, and his close friend Jonathan Fletcher has done it through his extensive contacts. It is a common feature of this kind of abuse that the perpetrators have given into temptation incrementally, and have come to slowly justify their behaviour in their own eyes. The consequence of this is that they find it very hard to repent when confronted. This remains the case even when some are brave enough to recognize that they have been victims of such abuse, such abusers and the structures on which they have relied do not therefore automatically repent and seek to put right the wrong they have done. Instead, they very often double-down on the power and influence they initially used. They continue to justify their behaviour in their own eyes in order to prop up their wilful self-deception to disguise, minimize or continue their abuse. It is common for victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in the church to complain that the ways in which they are treated in the aftermath of disclosure – what they call secondary abuse – can be worse than the original offence.
An article headed Time to Come Clean quoted in full the statement issued by the Revd. Jonathan Fletcher on 11th July. It is his only public reaction to the allegations that he has been guilty of serious and chronic abuse of power over men who regarded him as their spiritual leader. Jonathan Fletcher’s response to the allegations is to seek to minimize them, and to feign astonishment that anyone should find his blatantly bizarre and abusive behaviour inappropriate. By this means he continues his self-deception and, drawing on the power of his previous reputation, pressurises others to share it. He implies that he doesn’t know who he has harmed, or how he might have “unwittingly” harmed them. He asks his victims to identify themselves to him, and says that he wishes to “beg their forgiveness” (although he does know who some of them are). Then, with a frankly breathtaking misinterpretation of 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, he lays upon them a duty to forgive the harm that he himself refuses to acknowledge he has done. In all of this, Fletcher prioritises his own reputation, and the reputation of what he calls “the evangelical hierarchy.” In his choice of language and his misuse of scripture, Fletcher doesn’t seem to have recognized that it is “time to come clean.” On the contrary, he appears to be trying to invoke what is left of his authority to suppress the voices of victims. By directing victims to a website set up by Emmanuel Wimbledon, the church risks colluding in this effort to “keep it in the family.”
We know that there are more victims of abuse by Jonathan Fletcher who are struggling to make sense of their experience, and some who are readying themselves to speak publicly about what they have suffered. We urge them to recognise the harm that has been done to them, and to seek help from trusted friends, and from agencies outside the church. We commend MACSAS, a support network for those who have been abused by ministers and clergy. MACSAS runs a helpline on 08088 010340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until there has been full disclosure and repentance, talk of forgiveness is premature and a perverse abuse of the Gospel (see Eric Schumacher’s excellent article, ‘The Gospel Centred Abuser’-https://www.emschumacher.com/the-gospel-centered-abuser/). It only risks re-abusing those who have already been grievously hurt. On a wider canvas, until the Anglican evangelical establishment begins to consider seriously what it is about its culture and theology that has enabled men like Smyth and Fletcher to do such damage, and the part it has played in colluding with their abuse of power to ensure that accountability is neither properly acknowledged or realised, we will leave others free to abuse or be abused and the Gospel will be discredited in the eyes of a watching world.
Rev Melvin Tinker
Bishop Gavin Ashenden
Rev Dr Peter Sanlon
Rev Carl Chambers
Rev Andy Byfield