A public letter to William Taylor of St Helen’s in light of his Easter Sunday apology over his remarks on the Fletcher affair

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On 23 March, 2021, Emmanuel Church Wimbledon released the report of a review they’d commissioned from safeguarding charity 31:8. The 146-page report examined both Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church and included evidence from 27 victims of Fletcher’s abuse. It published 66 recommendations which called for far-reaching changes, not only for Emmanuel Church but for others representing what it called the Conservative Evangelical constituency in the UK.

On Sunday 28 March, two key churches of this constituency made announcements regarding the report’s publication. All Souls, Langham Place made what we consider to be an exemplary statement (it can be viewed here). St Helen’s Bishopsgate’s announcement (copied below, video here) was, in our opinion, deeply problematic.

On Sunday 4 April, William Taylor made an apology at the beginning of the St Helen’s worship service (here). In it he welcomed the private admonitions that had been made to him in the previous week. Ours was one of them. We sent a letter last week which made clear that, regardless of what he may do on Sunday, we intended to make a public response in the near future.

William responded privately to us on Sunday evening and we very much appreciate that. It showed a willingness to engage with criticism that bodes well. Later on Sunday evening, his apology was published to a popular Christian website. The byline says “by William Taylor” but whether he personally submitted the apology or whether it was published in his name, the matter has gone to a new level of publicity. We feel that this opens up two lines of dialogue — a private and a public. We very much hope to continue the private line but now that the matter is firmly in the public square we feel that we must address those aspects while interacting in a parallel way in private.

So for now we will not make public our initial private letter. We will seek to foster a healthy dialogue privately and hope that this continues. At the same time we want to address the public aspects that William has opened up. We do all this in order to keep sight of where we’ve been, the progress made, and where, crucially, we need to get to. There is still a significant distance to travel.

LETTER

Dear William,

We were glad to see your apology on Easter Sunday. It goes some distance towards addressing the concerns raised by your Palm Sunday statement. Furthermore it sends a far healthier message about the way forward in this crisis — a way of contrition and repentance. In particular we are glad to see these four admissions.

 ●     You admit to undermining the 31:8 review;
●     You admit to undermining confidence in St Helen’s safeguarding;
●     You admit that your statement caused pain to victims and, in particular, to the victim representative who served as part of the IAG;
●     You admit to publicly misrepresenting the communications of another senior leader who is involved in the Jonathan Fletcher case (John Stevens).

We hope this has not mischaracterised the nature of your apology. Please do clarify if so.

We thank you for the humility it requires to make such admissions. We will continue to pray for you as you continue to reflect on these and your ongoing response to them. They are weighty matters.

We also feel it is necessary to draw attention to things absent from your apology. We recognise that you cannot say everything in a short announcement but while we await anything more comprehensive we raise these issues. We do so in the interests of continuing the conversation to a more fitting conclusion. More could be mentioned but we feel these two urgent matters represent crucial steps that must be taken in the current crisis.

1)    An appropriate response to the IAG
The IAG were a significant part of your Palm Sunday announcement and, as we’ve already written to you, you denigrated them in multiple ways. Given that you offered an “unreserved” apology in general, to leave out the IAG in any of the specifics must have been an intentional omission. This is especially so given the way you single out other parties. Those defamations remain in place and a large part of the harm of Palm Sunday therefore remains unaddressed. You have offered to John Stevens a very fulsome public and private apology. We would have expected a similar course of action for the victim representative on IAG (which could be done readily via 31:8). Having checked with an IAG member, we understand that neither the victim representative nor any of the external members of the IAG have received an apology. We do not think the Easter Sunday apology is complete without this.

2)    An appropriate use of authority
We have already written to you about the abuses of authority which we believe the Palm Sunday statement represented. You used the pulpit of St Helen’s during public worship to answer questions raised on Twitter, and cited 2 Timothy against those asking questions. This was a deeply improper use of your pulpit, the occasion, and of Scripture. We believe this to have been a very serious error which goes beyond the specifics of what you said. It is deeper than mistaken words, this is about a mistaken use of power.

The 31:8 report and the IAG statement both highlight the need to review the culture of our constituency. We believe this to be an urgent matter. Sadly, we believe your Palm Sunday statement embodied something of the unhealthiness we see in our leadership culture. On Palm Sunday we remember the Saviour arriving in Jerusalem on, of all things, a donkey. His was not a kingdom to be built on assertiveness or prowess. On Easter Day we celebrate God’s vindication of his Servant. Because he humbled himself, therefore he was exalted to the highest place (Phil. 2:5-11). It is precisely this characteristic of leading from weakness and not from fleshly strength that we believe to have been significantly overlooked in our leadership culture today. Jonathan Fletcher is an extreme example, but not the only one.  We hope you will agree that an essential part of improving our collective safeguarding is an urgent review of our leadership culture.

Once again we thank you for furthering the journey we are all on by making this apology. We also thank you for engaging with us graciously in private correspondence. As you know, we are also responding to you in that capacity and we very much hope such conversations can continue. But since you have published your own statement online, we felt we had to address some of these concerns publicly. We do so prayerfully and in hope that we can all “walk together in the light, as He is in the light, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sins.”

Yours in Him,

Sam Allberry
Glen Scrivener