Developments at Brentwood

TrinityRegular readers of this blog will know that I keep a close eye on the events at Trinity Church Brentwood. The recent news from this church seem to indicate that at last the log jam is clearing. The terms and background of the Commission of Enquiry have been published and promises of dates, publication of the findings etc have been circulated. I have to say that in spite of a few phrases which, on their own, might be read as a pre-emptive attempt to anticipate findings generous to the present leadership, there are also phrases that suggest a steely determination to get to the bottom of all that was horrendously wrong in the past and see how the corruption contaminates and haunts the present. One can see in the document possible evidence of the way that the ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’ have sought to get their perspective into the text. I may be completely imagining this, but I suggest that a lot has been going on behind the scenes. Needless to say, the report, when it appears in the Autumn, will be of prime importance to the understanding of the way that cultic churches operate. Existing reports on dysfunctional churches have tended to focus on areas that constitute illegal and even criminal actions. I am thinking, for example, of a Charity Commission report which investigated a large Black-led church in London. The report said nothing about the life of the church, but focussed entirely on bad book-keeping and failures of financial management. In this particular report, it was revealed that millions of pounds were siphoned off by crooks who were supposed to be investing the money for the benefit of the church.

In looking at the terms of the Commission I detect a readiness to face the past failures, even if these are not in fact criminal. The Commission has said that it will not, in fact, be addressing issues of a criminal nature, nor those which might potentially involve the claiming of damages. Since many past members were financially exploited, this may seem, on the face of it, a set-back for the cause of justice. The misappropriation of funds, particularly the holding of special collections to buy property which was then put in the name of the leaders, is one area of particular concern to ex-members. However, in contrast to this area of church life, there seems to be some important concessions to the to the issues aired by the other blog. A commission that is prepared to look at issues of culture and theology in a church that led to abuse, is, as far as I know, a first in the history of report writing. This will make my detailed interest in this process understandable.

The first statement by the Church leadership concerning the Commission, is to say that, under Michael Reid, things were taught as biblical which were not. These same false teachings infected the church like yeast infecting dough. This unbiblical teaching caused ‘hurt and grief’. This image of yeast is a powerful one and shows that the Commission does not seem afraid of some strident theological deconstruction of the teachings of MR. This may, we hope, offer some trenchant critique of the theology which undergirded the cultic techniques used by Reid. The fact that he enriched himself in the process has to be acknowledged and it is difficult to see how the financial aspects of MR’s ministry will not be, in part, addressed by the Commission. The money spent by MR on himself and vanity projects which took him all over the world business class, may have vanished, but the theology that sustained this opulent life-style may yet be revealed.

The second statement about the Commission that I have picked up is the following: ‘We hold out a hand of fellowship to all those who have been hurt and assure them ….be reconciled to them in every way and move forward with them and with the whole church as brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they still attend Trinity or not.’ This statement that the church is going to regard its ex-members as possessing the status of ‘brothers and sisters’ is a massive subversion of the cultic structure of the church. Many churches play the projection game on their ex-members as a way of keeping the faithful close to the leadership. In other words, if the leadership can persuade its members that the former members are apostates and renegades, then the sense of solidarity is greatly strengthened. The Commission is setting out firmly that this cultic trick is no longer to be tolerated. The ex-members are brothers and sisters in Christ. Nigel is not to be regarded as the enemy at the gates, but someone to be offered the hand of fellowship.

The dynamic of Trinity will need to change to accommodate this new way of thinking and for many it will be extremely difficult. It is so much easier to believe you are a member of a persecuted misunderstood group than to acknowledge, as seems inevitable, that Michael Reid ran a church which exploited and cheated you. It is even more difficult to recognise that the individual at the gate, in the person of Nigel Davies who ‘prophesised’ week by week, was actually speaking the word of God more accurately than was being said inside the walls of the church. No, either of these two new ‘truths’ will be deeply subversive to the existing membership of the church and it is very hard to see how it will continue in its present form.

One detail who gives me great hope for the Commission is that ‘Gail’, the American Bible Student, whose allegation of rape began this whole process has great faith in the integrity and thoroughness of John Langlois, the chairman of the Commission. I have no hesitation in agreeing with her assessment, having read one of his earlier reports. I have already suggested in a previous blog that the Evangelical Alliance has had its own reputation challenged by its past support of Trinity in the face of challenges and complaints. It would help the EA if the entire structure of Trinity collapsed before being reformed, so that a reputation for toughness and impartiality could be claimed. In the meantime watch this space. You can be sure that the report when it finally appears in the Autumn will be scrutinised extensively by this blog. It may be one of the most important documents on the subject of ‘abusive churches’ ever to have been published.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Cumbria. 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.

3 thoughts on “Developments at Brentwood

  1. Hi Stephen and thank you for this post that helps keep the public advised and the pressure on. Let me just say to anyone reading this that might have a story of their own regarding Trinity/Peniel, I encourage you to write to the commission yourself. Now is the time.

    1. Thank you Kathryn. We can now refer to you as Kathryn and not by your pseudonym Gail from now on. I am glad on the other blog that you are confirming my judgement as to the reliability of John Langlois. A good report in the sense that it gets to the bottom of things will be a massive event in this country. Because the law does not recognise anything except physical or sexual abuse, it has always been hard to get anyone to take seriously the issue of emotional and spiritual abuse. Your stand, which was to say that the culture of emotional and spiritual abuse was as damaging as the actual rape, is of great importance. The Commission have to take that stand seriously. Even if they do not get anyone sent to prison for emotional abuse, they have to look at it and come to a mind about it. That makes the report to appear in the autumn an event to be celebrated as providing some sort of legal take on the whole issue. Just because the immoral is not always illegal, a strong legal mind like JL, will still want to utter an opinion over the fact that a church has behaved immorally even if its actions were just within the law. You don’t send someone to prison for lying but you can put into a report that an institution was corrupted by the deliberate falshoods. Thank you Kathryn for setting in motion the sequence of events that may prove to effect a real change in the of churches that lie, deceive and cheat their members. The Comission is not a court of law but it is the next best thing for the future health of churches in the future.

  2. Thank you, Stephen. I never expected this sort of response when I first published my story. To say I was caught off guard would be an understatement! While it is a little overwhelming at times, I am glad that my story can act as a catalyst for others to step forward and tell stories that are far worse than mine. I am just thankful that finally, someone, is listening!
    be blessed!

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