Some months ago I posted up two case studies of abusive churches(53 and 58), one in Britain and one on the other side of the world. The information posted up is freely available on the web, so I make no apology for using them here as exemplars of what happens in churches when leaders give way to power games over church members. Arguably such power abuse is exercised as a way of relieving some deep inadequacy in their lives.
The saga of Bishop Albert Vun has come to a sort of conclusion with his expected death from pancreatic cancer on the 15th July. I say ‘sort of conclusion’ because it appears that even after his death, he had the power to accuse and disturb those whom he had treated badly in life. The funeral service was expected to be a recalling and honouring of his memory organised by other senior churchmen. Instead what the congregation received seemed to be a kind of rant from beyond the grave, directed at those who had tried to oppose his alleged tyrannical behaviour while alive. This was organised by his widow and family. Bishop Vun had known that an accusation of financial impropriety hung over his memory. The response was to tell the congregation that everyone at some point has stolen money. Somehow that bizarre statement was meant to make everything OK as far as he was concerned. He in fact only admitted stealing from his grandmother, not the large scale expenditures that have occurred under his watch. There were other attempts to put himself in the victim role by a posthumous pardon of those who had accused him. The attempt to forgive his accusers, while avoiding any explanation of his actions did not seem to resolve anything. Rather it was experienced as a continuation of the verbal lashings out that many had experienced from him during his life. A DVD of his final sermon has been made and this, with all its bitterness, is thought to be suitable to be shown in every church in the diocese.
The situation of complete demoralisation in the Diocese continues and no obvious successor is in the wings to take over. Apart from a number expensive vanity building projects which need to be wound up, there is the no small matter of various institutions being run by members of Bishop Vun’s immediate family. Nepotism runs deep and it is likely that all the main posts have been filled with the Bishop’s ‘ yes’ men over recent years. While my information is based on the admittedly biased opinions of those who opposed the Bishop, there are enough objective facts, including the report of the Provincial Working Party, to suggest that things will not recover easily. Last but not least is the low educational calibre of the young clergy ordained in recent years. It will take a tough person to sort all this out. I will keep an eye on things and report further news to the blog when there is something to report. In passing it should be mentioned that mention of Bishop Vun has brought us a number of readers from the Diocese of Sabah. They are most welcome.
The other saga on which I reported some months ago is that of Trinity Church Brentwood. There is in fact little to report here as the chief pastor refuses to move towards the many victims of the church in any meaningful way. A flicker of interest was aroused a few weeks ago when an invitation appeared on the church web-site inviting those who believed they had been wronged to approach the church for a conversation. A brave individual called Catherine did as was requested. Although she details some terrible examples of mistreatment towards her and her children, the apology she received seems to have been neither heartfelt or particularly deep. She regrets the time and emotional energy that was put into making the contact. Peter Linnecar, the chief pastor, made no attempt to meet up with her. The original wording on the website which expressed ‘regret’ at the past was also vague and lacking in real understanding of the depth of trauma of the Peniel victims. The conclusion of all of us who watch this process was that church was trying to make the gesture, not to help victims, but to address an audience of its own current members. I still find myself putting on some quite trenchant comments about what I see happening in this church. I suppose that my trip to the States has given me a greater awareness of the appalling things that churches can and do do to their members.
These two churches I just two examples of situations that go horribly wrong. In each case there is hope because somebody has been prepared to challenge the status quo using the power of blogs. It is remarkable that the way the Internet gives power to people who want to stand up against tyranny and evil whether in the churches or elsewhere. In the past abuse had still greater power for the fact that it was hidden from sight. Now the light of public opinion can mitigate to some extent the evils that have been done by individuals through the abuse and exploitation of others.