Abuse of power with a difference

There is a story that is coming out of the area of South London where a long time ago I used to work as a clergyman. It concerns a clergyman, originally from Uganda, who was until 2011 the Vicar of the parish next door to where I had been in the 1970s. His alleged misdemeanour is a strange one. It was to officiate at the marriages of people who had no right to be in this country and thus provide them with the right of residency. The numbers of couples involved came to almost 400 over a three year period. The story, as recorded in the newspapers, described couples queuing up to be married, sometimes changing for the service in the church loos and normally having no witnesses or guests.

Having been a clergyman for many years, there is one part of the story I can identify with. There is the moment when by handing a green certificate to a happy couple, you are party to a fundamental change in their life story. Because of something you have helped to set up, you have become part of a life-changing moment in the couples’ lives. You are a bit like a midwife to a new birth.

Obviously the clergyman concerned may have been motivated by money and there was a missing £50,000 sent off to his homeland of Uganda that had not been declared to the diocese. But the crime seems an extraordinary one to commit for money as it is extremely hard to hide evidence of this particular crime. Also as the South London Vicar knew, you cannot conduct bogus weddings without the cooperation of others. So in court with the Vicar is a verger and a PCC secretary. They presumably were complicit with all the fake paper work that had to be sent off the Registrar at the end of every quarter. While filling up registers is not hard, it does take an eye for detail. It is no fun having a query from an eagle-eyed registrar in Basingstoke who spots some discrepancy or actual mistake. I am also puzzled by the fact that the same registrar, that sometimes queried my marriage returns, did not apparently wonder why the numbers of weddings in the parish in South London had shot up from 6 a year to 200. Do registrars not communicate with Archdeacons when something deeply suspicious takes place?

There are various aspects of the story that do not add up and I shall never know the answers. But I want to add my commentary on the story by noting that it may not have been primarily a matter of greed that sent this particular clergyman apparently down the path of illegality and crime. I would suggest that at the heart of the crime, there is also the possibility that it may have all began when the Vicar found for himself enjoying the power of taking marriages. Possibly he learnt to enjoy this exercise of power in people’s lives so much that the whole thing went to his head. Power is something is addictive and insofar as a Vicar exercises real power in acting as a registrar for the state, this enjoyment of power may eventually come to be a motive for crime.

It is hard and probably wrong to speculate about the motives of another person’s actions. But it is, I believe, instructive to think about the way that the love of power is at the heart of most wrong-doing and crime. Gaining money is of course one particular manifestation of human power games but Christian ministry in fact offers multiple ways of enjoying power. One can almost say that for the wrong kind of personality, the ‘vocation’ to ministry might be a calling to the enjoyment of privilege and power. Most enjoyment of power in ministry can be achieved honourably without illegality, but when power is through the naked pursuit of money or sex, the minister at some point will be tripped up. In the case of the Vicar who is alleged to have made money taking illegal weddings, it may have been a case of two sorts of power games colliding in one person. As the chances of getting away with a crime on such a scale are fairly slight, one might claim to see an addictive, almost self-destructive aspect to the Vicar’s actions. Whether the Vicar was addicted to power of money or the power of having control and influence over people’s lives, there was a kind of recklessness about his behaviour which suggests he was strongly driven in a self-destructive way. But there is an important difference between the moment of satisfaction in handing over a certificate to a happy couple to the desperate murky manipulation of the system which is alleged in this case. One was, hopefully, a legitimate satisfaction as part of the role, the other a grubby grabbing attempt to bolster up deep inadequacies. But once again we enter the realm of speculation and hypothesis.

Every church leader is given the responsibility of exercise of power. Some do it honourably and well while others find themselves propping up character weaknesses by using the same power in a self-directed way. When power is used badly by those in charge in any institution, then someone gets hurt. Abuse of individuals in the church is always through the abuse of power. That is why we keep coming to this subject and reflecting on its manifestations from one of its many angles.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

18 thoughts on “Abuse of power with a difference

  1. Acting not being:
    I see in this story hints as to why we have such a mess in modern church activity.
    Stephen has spoken many times about the point where ‘power’ takes over in a life.
    Back in the 70’s we all started on, what was supposed to be, a level playing field? Suddenly ‘leaders’ emerged with other agendas. the first was the subtle way the ‘Christian music scene’ became married to an industry, generating hero’s like Larry Norman. It is my belief that even Larry Norman would shudder to see what we have today. It ends up with the star of a ‘Christian’ music show too busy, to important, to speak to the plebs, this I have personally experienced. There is a debate within my own thinking whether to name and shame these people, but, needless to say, I reject them, utterly and with contempt.
    The ‘Christian’ book industry with writers like Hal Lindsey, David Hunt has grown to monumental proportions, until I’m sick of hearing ‘Christians’ ask each other, ‘have you read this, have you read that?’ The plastic nature of this is sickening.
    How this has become normalized, or a better question is why has it been normalized, is for readers of this blog to discuss? At the moment I see what is called the Christian church going 90 miles an hour down a dead end street.
    I sent back my equity card in 2005 and no ‘Christian’ sales person will convince me to take it back, of that I solemnly assure you!

    1. Chris: James Lloyd exposed the Rapture Cult Lie along with other famous writers (wrote two books). Also, wrote a great book exposing Calvary Chapel and Chuck Smith (he is calling men liar’s that need to be called liars on Internet radio broadcast), he researched a matter. People need to read their Bibles and not depend on liar’s in pulpit’s giving them the verses they want to hear in order to fleece the flock (people). It equals a perversion of the Gospel.

  2. It’s confession time. Once when I was curate in charge (without hyphens) a lady with learning difficulties asked to join the Confirmation class at the mother church. I thought to myself, she will be an awkward member of the class, and can’t get herself there, so I said I thought it was not a good idea. She was disappointed. As I turned away, a voice in my head said “that’s oppression.” I did not know what oppression was, but I knew from Scripture that it was bad, so I turned back to her and said, “Sorry – not thinking straight. I’m sure we can arrange a lift for you.” It proved easy, and she attended the classes and was confirmed without any problem. Praise God for voices in the head! (Well, the good ones that is). Note how easy it was for me to abuse my position. None of us is immune, I reckon.

  3. A friend of mine in middle management told our Bible study of an incident from early in his career. He had to discipline someone whose time keeping and attendance was poor. He did actually know that there were domestic problems, but he was “firm” with him. Looking back, he couldn’t believe he had been so heartless.

  4. The Church Times reports today that this case has collapsed due to wrongdoing by officers at the UK Border Agency; all the defendants have walked free and the priest has been reinstated. Seems like a terrible outcome and one wonders what is going on.

  5. Yes, haiku, the clergyman is reinstated but there is still missing Diocesan money, to the tune of £50,000 not accounted for. All wedding fees are supposed to be handed into the Diocese as the clergyman is not entitled to keep them. It demonstrates how powerful is the Freehold of a clergyman and why the powers that be were keen to remove it a few years back. The removal of this perk could not be applied retrospectively so existing freehold holders, such as this clergyman, remain almost unsackable. It is a strange world.

  6. Government like the Church is SELF-SERVING and basically all in bed together, so to speak. Neither can correct when in sin themselves, can’t judge righteous judgment; Arthur Katz “Prophetic Call and Apostolic Foundations” would explain it best. “As the church goes, so goes the world” ( Leonard Ravenhill); if the world is corrupt it’s because the church is. Also, thank you David Pennant for sharing on your comment about Opprssion.

  7. Apologies, haven’t looked or research J.L. in years. Would have to look at timeline of lawsuits vs. reading the books. Also, have a friend who really researches these matters and will get back to you? I’m just going to make the phone call myself and follow-up with a letter to J.L. Back in the day would have applied: a used by name of church/leader. People’s negative Feedback with name of church/leader. Controversial articles on leader/church. At the time Calvary Chapel booklet was excellent and finally someone exposing the approx., 150 year lie of rapture cult teaching. I’ve seen so many people/leaders go off, down a wrong path due to money, power and control and religion will make you mentally ill with all it’s rules with no love and legalism (been there, done latter) or being part of the gossip and religious piety. Ongoing things that have to repent for. I do NOT worship anyone, don’t go to So-called Christian Conferences (waste of time/money); wouldn’t give you 2cents for most of what’s out there. I’m to the point if God wants me to hear someone, they would have to come to my Town but then your dealing with politics of church hosting, all the dogma we have all had to endure with such endeavors or worse yet paying for the Gospel when it’s free. Worse, if you ever corrected any such type of movement, you’re ostracized, ask to leave, spies sitting around, unhealed people vying for gifting/place or envy, witchcraft, legalism of such groups. Have a core group of friends that are gifted apostolic/prophetic, we share teachings, Dvd’s, books, U-tube’s but it’s as iron sharpens iron and there is accountability and correction if need. Can’t think of any unsaved person I would take a so-called church to, would the house2house movement if healthy. We should be carriers of the Glory, wherever we go. Again, apologies for not reviewing J.L.’s current status. It should be in our own homes, prayer closets and out in marketplace. Later.

  8. Chris: your last question. Addressed this to church leadership for YEARS one of many examples. You could have sat in Foursquare/AOG or AG “assassins” of God (really assemblies) and they would have NEVER gone through the Bible completely once. Pervert the scripture, beat the sheep with their legalism teachings to keep them suppressed/bondage and coming back for more and giving to their coffers to be kept in their lifestyle. NEVER teaching the truth about tithing, just pulling those verses they want to keep the people giving by guilt, condemnation, criticism and such OPPRESSION. Worse, never really getting the Gospel or salvation message. Grew up with this Dogma for years. Talked about going to large or Hugh funerals and never was the Salvation message given. “Don’t Call Me Brother by Austin Miles depicts very well along with Pagan Christianity (green cover) by Frank Viola how these false churches/movements are run. Ask Mr. Parsons for the Report Church Abuse list, have him send you that email referencing. Amazing we attend, tithe and don’t research a matter especially so-called pastors early years and backgrounds of how they became used car salesmen selling their dead religion. Or, the foundation, history of any so-called Christian churches that behave so much like Mormonism. P.S. Called J.L.’s ministry few times, no answer hmmm!

  9. Thanks WOW, It amazes me that you are still in the faith believing.
    Myself and many wounded people from my past have moved into a hopeless agnosticism. I see the organised Christian faith as one of the most dangerous movements on earth. I have witnessed the total destruction of wonderful unique personalities (I have a CD and booklet ‘Surviving Church’). I lost my youth to this giant (Now crippled giant, but too late for me and my friends!) and its not like a hangover from too much wine! You live it every day. Peace & Love, Chris Pitts

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