After a long wait the two reports on Trinity Church Brentwood have been released on the same day (November 1st). To remind my readers, the first report turns out to be a hard hitting 300 page document written by John Langlois and the two surviving members of his commission. This commission was officially disbanded by the church on 17 August and it is not hard to see why the church would have been fearful of its conclusions. The second less important report which Trinity church itself commissioned was written by two Pentecostal ministers, Phil Hills and David Shearman who have had links with the church over the past few months. They have been particularly in evidence since Peter Linnecar took extended leave from his leadership role.
It will be impossible to do more than give a brief account of what these reports say. My comments here on John’s report are based only on a synopsis of the full version and I await to receive this full report in due course. But to reduce the report to a single sentence we can say of John Langlois that he and his fellow commission members provide a brutal forensic description of what has taken place in Trinity/Peniel church over 30+ years. I hope that the full report will be published and made available to all those who have anything to do with the training of ministers in independent congregations. Of particular interest is the way that Langlois identifies a moment in the early history of Peniel when there was a shift in attitudes. First it expressed itself in church members feeling spiritually superior to those outside, and then this attitude of superiority infected the leaders so that they believed that they had the right to dictate to members exactly how they could obtain access to God and his salvation. In other words the criterion of membership became obedience to the leadership and not anything to do with an individual journey of faith. Once this pattern of control was established and accepted, the results in people’s personal lives were devastating. Members were forbidden to have contact with the outside world and when one party in a marriage wanted to leave, the spouse was forced to divorce the departing family member. To quote a single sentence which occurs in the report to describe the culture:’ an atmosphere of fear was pervasive, fear of the leaders spreading false rumours, fear of false accusations, fear of Inquisition, fear of ostracism, intimidation, crashing of spirits, lack of encouragement, a lack of openness, resulting in despair and feelings of inadequacy’. This description particularly applies to the period of the church when Michael Reid was in charge but the situation after 2008 when he was ousted had not improved significantly.
I will be writing much more about this report, particularly after I receive the full 300 page version. It is very much in the style that I was expecting from a lawyer who knows how to discern truth from propaganda and lies. Although he was never able to receive a response from Trinity leaders because of the way that his commission was dismissed in mid-August, the report uses a legal principle that the facts speak for themselves (res ipso loquitur). All the allegations about events in the church were backed up by third-party evidence and John and his commission are quite confident that what was reported is a fair recollection and statement of what really happened at the church. The comments about the leadership over the decades is completely devastating in its outspokenness. Of Michael Reid it is said: ‘it is hard to imagine the conduct of a Christian being more corrupt than the stories we have received. We are lost for words to describe his disgraceful conduct’. Of Carol Linnecar the report says: ‘there is no redemptive feature that can be used to describe Mrs Linnecar’. Even more devastating are his words about Peter L. the present leader (he announced his resignation on 1 November). The report states that: ‘we are unable to identify one redeemable feature of Peter Linnecar’s conduct’.
John Langlois’ report spends some time in analysing the changes or non-changes that took place in 2008 when Reid departed. The report concludes (in contrast to the second report) that apart from a few cosmetic changes that the old culture was allowed to continue, ‘the old habits of lying/criticising/cynicism etc continued’. There was also a complete lack of remorse among the leaders who took on the responsibility for leadership after Michael Reid about what had happened under his charge.
Moving from the important report by John Langlois’ commission, we come onto the official but highly compromised report of Phil Hills and David Shearman. They were able to hear evidence from 77 individuals and also examine documents that they requested. They in addition received representations from the current leadership. The first impression of looking at the report is to observe that it is rooted in an attempt to apply Scripture to the situation. Interestingly the report begins by examining the passages much used by Michael Reid in his successful attempts to control and terrify his congregation. Nigel’s blog had already mentioned the excessive use of an obscure passage from Romans 9.13.’ Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’. This passage was apparently frequently used by Reid to humiliate and exclude any people of whom he disapproved. He was also fond of the verse from 1 John 2.19, ‘they went out from us because they did not really belong to us’. These and other passages were used to humiliate and control anybody who was felt to be a threat to Reid and his leadership. But in stark contrast with the first report makes out that things have much improved under Peter Linnecar’s leadership. Such criticisms as can be read of the current leadership are muted and indirect. Indeed the report speaks of ‘no sense of any superiority from the current leaders’. It is in this evaluation of the present leadership that the two reports most strongly diverge.
This second report speaks about the failure of good practice in the governance of the church but overall impression one is left with is that almost all the problems of the church and school belong firmly to the past and can be blamed on the unbiblical character traits of Michael Reid. The report speaks of aspects of a historic culture which continue to exist but for the most part every negative comment about the church and its teaching refer to episodes which took place before 2008. Speaking as an outsider, my comment would be that this is a dreadfully feeble analysis of a highly dysfunctional institution, even though its writers had potentially access to far more documentation and material. They also had the opportunity to speak to and question the leadership denied to the compilers of the first report. For me the only useful thing to come out of this report are the list of ‘abusing texts’ which that writers noted were used frequently by Michael Reid. No doubt other church bullies use them with equal effectiveness as a way of controlling congregations which have the temerity to question their authority or answer back. All of these texts were used with great effectiveness by Michael Reid in his overweening attempt to retain power through the tools of corruption and self-aggrandisement.
I will probably not be returning to this somewhat feeble official report, unless the Trinity Church tries to use it in a way that seeks to undermine the far more powerful testimony of the John Langlois report. The 300 pages of this latter report will need time for analysis and further reaction. Because this report is, I believe, a first of its kind in the history of church abuse, it is incumbent on me writing a blog on this topic to give it my closest attention. I hope that my readers will travel with me on this journey of exploration and analysis.
To read full Langlois report copy/paste below into your browser