Since my last post on the situation at Trinity Church Brentwood, the situation appears to have entered the end game. The latest news is that Peter Linnecar, the leading pastor and his wife Carolyn have gone on ‘extended leave’. We are left to guess whether this means in fact the prelude to his dismissal by the trustees. According to the comments on the Nigel Davies’ blog concerned with the church, it does seem possible that the Linnecars will never return to Trinity.
Some of the comments on the other blog suggest that any gradual fading away of the leadership would be a disappointing result for the church and its many victims, given the many issues that still remain to be faced and addressed. Nigel’s last post in fact listed 25 reasons for Peter Linnecar to resign. Today I tried in a blog comment to suggest that whatever happens to PL, we could still look forward to a positive outcome if John Langlois makes his report sufficiently punchy. Such a report will be something of great significance and a potential reference point for evaluating churches of this kind all over the country. If he successfully identifies the causes as to how such a tyrannical regime at Peniel church came to be, then his report will provide material to be studied by independent churches for a long time to come. I suggested in my anonymous comment how John Langlois’ report might go. In the next two paragraphs I am reproducing what I said on the Brentford blog. I have in fact no expectations that the report will say anything of the sort, but free comment enables me to speculate and make some serious points even if my writing is tongue in cheek.
These are my words from my ‘spoof’ version of the report that is going to be issued by the Peniel/Trinity Commission.
This is what happens when you allow a single charismatic individual to take charge of a group and transfer the infallibility that some hold to be true of Scripture to himself. Once you allow an individual to exercise this kind of unchallengeable power, you will have all the problems of extreme tyranny in a church setting. There will be exploitation – sexually and emotionally – of members. There will be rampant financial corruption. Truth will be supressed and lies told whenever it suits the powers that be. Secrets and the withholding of information will also be part of the currency of such a church. In short everyone should avoid a church where these kinds of values are expressed. You are always in extreme danger in this kind of set-up.
To ministers of neighbouring congregations, BADEF (Brentwood and District Evangelical Fellowship), Evangelical Alliance and any individuals who accepted the generous hospitality of the church (£500 and dinner at the golf club) for a single address. Your loyalty and indirect connivance in the evil perpetrated by the leaders of this congregation for over three decades is a matter of shame. You knew what was going on but you chose to keep silent for fear of rocking the boat and your own financial and other advantage. A lot of evil flourished at Peniel/Trinity while ‘good’ men did nothing. The corruption at Brentwood has corrupted you.
I wrote these two paragraphs as a way of summarising what I believe to have happened over a long period of time at the church not least through the connivance of its outside supporters. I can write in this way because, as I have said before, I’ve never been the victim of a cultic church. I believe I am better able to see with clarity the issues which may be hidden from those closer to the situation. It is for example not hard for someone right outside the situation to understand a little of the way that an extremely wealthy congregation can corrupt its neighbours by offers of hospitality and the loan of facilities. Most churches struggle financially and a wealthy church with many resources can have a mesmerising effect on struggling congregations nearby. But this is not the only example of the corrupting effect of this church which has become clear over the months and years that I have been following this story. Individuals with connections even within the Anglican Establishment, have allowed themselves to be seduced by first class hotels and ‘love offerings’ in return for preaching a single sermon. Michael Reid and Peter Linnecar after him were effectively buying influence for the church whenever they could. The guests never seemed to look below the surface to ask questions about the nature of this congregation. They were, in effect, flattered and bribed into a shameful collusion with this congregation and its leaders.
As I said above, I am very much hoping that the report, which John Langlois will produce some time in the next two months, will have some trenchant words, not only for leaders and former leaders but also for those who supported this dangerous cultic church by simply allowing themselves to be blind and deaf to evidence of wrongs. Part of the problem is that until recently we simply have not had adequate tools of analysis to be able to spot when things are very wrong or on the way to being wrong in churches. The Church of England was badly caught out in 1995 by the events at the Nine O’clock Service in Sheffield. No one understood then the dynamics of charisma and power abuse that can so easily take root in Christian congregations. I can still remember the struggle I had personally when writing my book twenty years ago to make sense of the alarming things going on in some churches at that time. I might have felt discomfort at the kind of things going on at a church like Peniel, but I would not have been able to identify, as I can now, the dynamics underlying the dreadful dysfunction of the place. If my analyses now are anyway correct, then they may help to raise consciousness in others and further their ability to understand what is going on.
We await to see the final outcome of the present developments at Peniel and the report on which a great deal depends. Let us hope that it fulfils at least a few of my hopes for it.