Langlois report -the face of Christian abuse

TrinitySince the publication of John Langlois’ report on historical abuse at Trinity church Brentwood last Sunday, there seems to have been a deafening silence all round. Nigel Davies has published the full text of the report in four sections but his supporters so far appear to have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of reading matter. There are three hundred pages of text. The comments there have disappeared to zero. Meanwhile the official website of Trinity Church Brentwood has chosen to ignore the report entirely, even though it has a great deal to say about their church, both past and present. It falls on me to offer further comments. The Langlois report for me represents the most meticulous account of the workings of an abusive church ever published, at least in the UK. The other ‘approved’ report is given pride of place on the web-site, but for the reasons mentioned in the previous post we intend to ignore it. The church has published a list of vague promises to look at its past and certain issues of governance but it would appear that the present trustees are trying to pretend that John Langlois’ incisive report does not exist. Meanwhile Peter Linnecar has declared that he is resigning but he intends to return as a member of the congregation at Trinity. It has of course nothing to do with John Langlois’ devastating comments of last Sunday. How he could presume appear in public again after the extraordinary conclusions of the report about his conduct shows a marked absence of shame. To have such a notorious ex-minister in the congregation after everything that has come to light, means that the task of taking over the congregation and moving forward by a new independent minister is going to be almost impossible.

It is at present unclear when and where John Langlois report will be published. It is not available as a hyperlinked document anywhere so far and it is hard to see how people are to hear of it except through this blog or the one that Nigel writes . I keep hoping to hear that the Evangelical Alliance is going to take it seriously and publish it. I am sure that John himself will be sending a copy to the Director, Steve Clifford. Nevertheless it may be politically too hard for the Alliance to want to sponsor such a devastating critique of a church under their overall supervision without upsetting other churches which are uncomfortably close to Peniel/Trinity in culture. From my point of view the report is just what I have been looking for a period of time. It is a credible account of the way that abuse can take root in a Christian setting and flourish because power issues are not owned up to and ‘bible teaching’ is allowed to give individuals influence and authority which creates tyranny, abuse and fear among people in their congregations. The particular point that I want to stress about the value of the report is that although a rape allegation sparked off the original commission, it is not sex that is at the heart of the horrors of Peniel/Trinity Brentwood. It is a clear setting out of all the myriad ways that power can be misused by people in Christian leadership. It will be unavoidable, given the sheer quantity of material in the Langlois report, for me to avoid returning again and again to this key source document. Even if the document is supressed in some way, I shall go on quoting it because it is by far the best account of fundamentalist abuse that is likely ever to be published. As far as John Langlois was concerned the witnesses to his commission were totally credible and what they said was confirmed again and again by others. Although the leaders and trustees, by dissolving the commission in this August, never had the opportunity to respond to the allegations, the commission found themselves unable to suggest that anything they were told by their 77 representors was in any sense a slander or a lie.

In my years of thinking and writing about Christian abuse, I have always wanted to make the point that Christian abuse is so much more than just about sexual matters. The very word ‘abuse’ nearly always conjures up ‘affairs’ by clergy or acts of molestation against children. Such stories do happen and sometimes involve ministers coming before the courts. But there is a wider problem over power abuse by clergy which technically may not actually break the law. Because of the sex scandals affecting every denomination, the hierarchies of the various churches have become blinded to this wider abuse scandal which may have nothing to with sex. They fail to see the fear, terror and complete disempowerment in congregations where Calvinist hell-fire teaching is presented in a way that gratifies the leaders’ desire for abject obedience by the people in the congregation. Within the 300 pages of the report we have set out all the crazy and horrific manifestations of what happens when clergy act out their base motivations of dominance and use the name of God to make it an easier process. Power is a corrupting force – that we all know. But somehow corrupt power within the church is doubly obscene. At Trinity and Peniel before it, every form of power abuse was practised. In the report we have many examples of what happens when people come under spiritually corrupt leadership. Whether we are talking about the humiliation of small children in the church school, the exploitation, whether financial or sexual, of the adults, or the miasmic pervasive atmosphere of fear, it is all there in the report to be studied and reflected upon for years to come.

I cannot of course in a single post do justice to this huge range of types of abuse that the report reveals in connection with Peniel/Trinity. But I thought that it will be useful to begin by mentioning something which I touched on in my previous post, the use of the Bible as a way of demanding total slavish obedience by the congregation. John Langlois and his commission traced a moment when obedience to God was subtly changed to mean obedience to God’s representative, Michael Reid. I mentioned in the last blog post two or three of the texts that were commonly exploited in Michael Reid’s desire to dominate and control. Once the domination and control were in place then the abuse could begin. One feature of the church that was picked up by the commission was the use of constant humiliation as a tool of preaching. Basically Michael Reid would use the pulpit as a way of controlling anybody who appeared to question his decisions or insights. (My wife and I witnessed this personally in 1998) The humiliation that he dealt out was made in public and then reinforced in private. The power of his personality was such that few people could stand up to him. Having at some point accepted him as a man of God, the member of the congregation could not muster any argument which would offer some kind of defence to self-esteem and human dignity. These verbal attacks were so devastating that men, women and children were left shaking and terrified. Many wanted to leave but most found this extremely difficult because they knew that they would have to abandon families, friends and an entire social network. I want to finish with just one testimony about the effect of the verbal bullying that Michael Reid used with such powerful effect. We can be sure that this kind of behaviour is not unique to this single church in Britain. This blog is in the business of naming and shaming such disgraceful behaviour which takes place within not a few Christian churches.

455. I should have seen the things that were wrong but unfortunately the ‘fogging effect’ of constant elevation of Michael Reid and devaluation of my own value worked against independent thinking. Constant preoccupation with activities at church/school prevented me from having time to think. The relentless erosion of self respect through sarcastic, abusive preaching (withholding hope of the full assurance of the gospel) led to lack of trust in one’s own opinion. It also led to loss of hope in God’s love.

To read full report copy/paste below into your search engine

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.

5 thoughts on “Langlois report -the face of Christian abuse

  1. Thanks Stephen, for this helpful summary.

    Many years ago I helped with an investigation of Peniel and had to wade through several hundred hours of Reid’s ramblings. The question remains as to whether anything will change substantially at Peniel / Trinity. There are certainly larger lessons to be learnt about how such terrible abuse has been allowed to continue unchecked by so many for so long. There are other abusive churches out there that need to be investigated as well.

        1. Christine. It is good to welcome you. There is new on the Trinity/Peniel front but I have to get settled with my move before I can write further.

  2. Thanks Stephen. Doesn’t a house move rank second or third on the list of stressors? Very high. You must look after yourself. In the meantime, it is good for me to have found somewhere to ventilate my frustrations and ‘unGodly fears’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.