As my regular readers will know, today, December 6th, was an important day in the history of one abusive church, Trinity, Brentwood. This is the day when Nigel Davies, the courageous editor of a blog seeking an apology for some grotesque wrongs committed by the church under Michael Reid, the former pastor, met the Trustees face to face. He was allowed some forty minutes to speak to them, giving both spoken and written testimonies about various acts of power abuse that took place when Michael Reid was in charge. The main problem for Nigel and his supporters and fellow sufferers has been that, apart from the removal of MR, the entire staff who participated in the financial and emotional abuse have been allowed to remain in post. They have never admitted to anything, apart from some platitudinous expressions of regret.
As I have explained in a previous post, the incident that led to today’s meeting was a statement by an American Bible School student who was at the church some 30 years ago. She was treated appallingly by the church, culminating in incident of rape by one of the church members. In her recent statement about the incident which was published on Nigel’s blog, she stressed that the real suffering she had had to deal with was as much the humiliating way the Church had treated over the whole 18 months she was in England, as the event of sexual violence. This testimony for the first time spurred the church into action. They contacted the police and the Charity Commissioners because they realised that a rape allegation could not be buried like the other accusations swirling around the church. The victim of the incident has, as I mentioned before, linked up with our blog and no doubt will be reading this update in addition to Nigel’s account on the other blog.
As soon as I read Nigel’s account on his blog this afternoon, I entered a comment on the fact that the Trustees were forbidden to ask of Nigel any questions. This strikes me as a typical lawyer-inspired gesture of defensiveness. I pointed out in my comment that if the Trustees really wanted to engage with the problems of the past and Nigel’s presentation, they would want to reach out to him as a human being by talking to him, not just treating him as the conveyor of a written testimony. This defensiveness seems to be a ploy to try and objectify the problem and deal with it through quasi-legal means, such as denial and forgetfulness. In other words the Trustees are still behaving like a closed group which has no intention of changing unless it has to. In my comment I expressed the hope that the Charity Commissioners would see the testimonies that Nigel had brought along as they will want to see that some changes are being made in the culture of the church, maybe even proper expressions of regret.
Trinity Church Brentwood seems to have confirmed that it is institutionally incapable of doing the correct thing, unless compelled. I am hoping that ‘Gail’ will read this and realise that she too needs to put pressure on the church to engage with her, not just as the writer of a testimony about a crime, but as a human being who has suffered severely. I would suggest that she demands to speak to them by Skype, but she will only address them to their face if they allow proper interaction with her testimony. If they treat her like they have treated Nigel, by forbidding questions and interaction, then she should refuse to speak with them.
Nigel’s meeting with the Trustees today is the latest stage in an ongoing saga. It is important to our blog because it is a live developing example of the kind of behaviour that I have been trying to study and understand over the past twenty years. One particular change over this time is that the law of the land now seems to recognise the existence of emotional abuse. How that will apply to churches like Trinity remains to be seen. It may be that the Charity Commissioners may intervene a little more quickly when the detect a regime in a church which is obviously not conducive to an individual’s psychological and emotional health. As the law has stood, it is only when behaviour extends to actual violence, sexual or otherwise, that the police and courts will intervene. As readers of this blog will know, there are many, many ways of abusing an individual which do not involve actual violence. Abuse can be devastating in a person’s life, as Chris has testified. If the church of Christ cannot recognise abuse when it happens, it is a strange thing that such an institution can claim to have anything to with the teaching of the Gospels.