Open Letter to Evangelical Alliance

evangelical AllTo Steve Clifford, Director of the Evangelical Alliance

Dear Steve,

I am writing this open letter to you about the events which have been taking place over the past year at Trinity Brentwood. Although all the facts in the next part of the letter will be familiar to you, I am rehearsing the points to assist any reader of this open letter who does not know the full story.

Towards the end of October 2014, an allegation was made by an American former student of the Peniel Bible School in Brentwood. This allegation concerned a rape she suffered at the end of the 80s at the hands of a member of Peniel church. Although Trinity Church, the successor of Peniel, has long been resisting any attempt to investigate the numerous allegations of abuse at church over the past 30 years, it was apparent that this crime was sufficiently serious for them to have to provide some kind of proper response. In the months that followed Trinity Church consulted with you at the Evangelical Alliance about the best way forward. You offered to help them make an appropriate response through suggesting that they should set up a Commission which would make a thorough investigation of the past. While this was not meant to be in any way a Commission which was to act in your name, you offered to nominate an independent chairman who would help them to accomplish the task the church had set itself of examining the past. The former Bible School student was in particular insisting that she had been the victim not only of a criminal sexual assault but also she had suffered in numerous other ways in what can only be described as a cult-like environment.

After various meetings which were naturally privy to the Trinity trustees and yourself, the Alliance eventually asked John Langlois, to chair a Commission of five to investigate the culture of the past and suggest ways of moving the church into the future, possibly under new leadership. This appointment was only confirmed six months later on 1 March 2015. It was apparent, reading between the lines, that it had not been easy for the Alliance to find a suitable candidate. At least one name was published, who then withdrew after a short time. The choice of John Langlois was greeted by all sides with considerable satisfaction as his reputation is known to many both as a lawyer and as an eminent Christian layman.

In the months that followed John and his fellow commissioners diligently sought to gain the trust and confidence of many individuals who claimed to have been abused by the church at Brentwood over three decades. He achieved the remarkable feat of obtaining no less than 70 testimonies about the church, not all of them critical. It was universally accepted that he was a patient and compassionate listener. According to the blog which covered all this process at Brentwood, there was a general consensus that through John Langlois and his Commission, the truth, good and bad, would finally be heard.

In mid-August 2015 the work being undertaken by the Langlois Commission was suddenly interrupted. Trinity Church decided summarily to dismiss the work of this Commission and its chairman when it had not completed the task which it had been given. There was a suggestion that John had not been impartial in his enquiries. But, as he vigorously replied in an open letter, he was not accorded the courtesy of being allowed a right of response and reply to this accusation. His open letter also revealed that one of the commissioners working with him, Terry Mortimer, had been attempting to undermine the work of the group. In particular, confidential information privy to the Commission, was being leaked to members of Trinity Church. Although John was, following this complaint by Terry, dismissed with the other commissioners from their role as investigators, he, with the support of the two remaining members of the Commission, nevertheless decided to continue with the task that had given to them. John commented that it would be easier to work, now that the interference of the church had been removed. In a letter from Kim Walker at the EA to Nigel Davies around that time, you at the Alliance implied that even if you were not actively supporting this intention to continue this work, neither were you in any way opposing it. You also mentioned that you were in touch with the Trinity trustees. Obviously the content of this communication with Trinity has to remain confidential, but they have not subsequently at any point suggested that the Alliance has ever accepted any wrong-doing by John, their nominee. This issue of John’s honesty and integrity is hardly a matter where anyone can take a neutral position. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the neutral observer has to conclude that you have supported John Langlois and continue to do so. For reasons known only to yourselves, you have chosen to keep this support outside the public domain.

After the dismissal of John Langlois’ Commission, Trinity Church appointed another commission consisting of two Pentecostal ministers, Phil Hills and David Shearman. These two individuals had been well known to the congregation and the leadership. Their enquiry seems to have failed in two essential ways. First of all they omitted to search out many of the witnesses who had spoken to the Langlois commission, including Kathryn Bowden, the victim of the rape incident. Secondly these two ministers appear to have such a close relationship with current leaders and Trustees that they were unable to gain the trust of more than a handful of those who claim to have suffered under the church, both in the past and present.

We now come to the present. On 1 November 2015 the two reports were published. The one by Phil Hills and David Shearman consisted of about 15 pages of text. It was lacking in detail and, although critical, it did not appear to want to suggest that there were particularly deep-seated problems in the church. This is the report that has been published by the church on its website and sent to you and to the Charity Commission. The other report which was written by your nominee, John Langlois and the two remaining trustees is the most remarkable account of the functioning of an abusive church ever to see the light of day. It illustrates extremely well the full potential range of abusive practices capable of being perpetrated by Christians against other Christians. In the church today we have become obsessed with a single form of abuse, the sexual. The Langlois report shows that this is an incredible damaging simplification. Trinity Church, to summarise the Langlois Report conclusions, has been the scene over 30 years of the most appalling range of abusive practices, physical, emotional and spiritual.

I am writing this open letter to you with a suggestion that the wider reputation of the Evangelical Alliance is on the line if it fails to make any response to the material that has been revealed through this Langlois report. As I indicated above, I have no reason to assume that you have abandoned your support for John and so his report remains a credible account of the events taking place at one of your member churches over 30 years. I recognise that the Alliance, again in the words of Kim Walker, only offers advice to its member churches and does not ‘give instructions’ but it beggars belief that your body has absolutely nothing to say when faced by such a catalogue of abusive behaviour within one constituent Christian body over such a long period of time. The victims of this church will have felt thoroughly let down if their detailed witness in front of an Alliance nominee is ignored. Talking to John Langlois was for them speaking to the Evangelical Alliance itself. Any observer has to conclude that your nomination brought you morally, if not legally, into the process that has been going on over the past six months. To abandon John and his report would seem to be an act of cowardice in the extreme. I can only think that you have refrained from comment for as yet unknown internal political reasons. I find it hard to believe that a man of the status of John Langlois who has worked for you many times in the past with great diligence is being publicly ignored and side-lined.

The choice for the Evangelical Alliance is a stark one. It can take the path of silence or it can at the very least announce to the world that it has in fact read the report and is taking its conclusions seriously. This would at the very least involve some proper conversation with the Trinity trustees and advising them to address issues of governance, integrity, accountability and leadership. This may, for all I know, be already going on but public silence is creating much unease among those who wish to see a proper outcome for this process. Your failure to publish any statement about either of the reports since the 1st November is already being regarded by many as a sign of weakness which implies that the Alliance does not want to engage with the real issues that face churches today. John Langlois, your nominated chairman with his Commission, have detailed in a report of 300 pages the toxic nature of one particular church congregation in the UK. The churches which you claim to represent look to you to take a lead in taking some kind of stand in the practical task of addressing the problems raised by such an evil toxic culture. It is neither right nor wise to believe that you can stand to one side and say nothing.

Yours sincerely,
Stephen Parsons

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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.

One thought on “Open Letter to Evangelical Alliance

  1. This strong stuff, Stephen. It’s good that you have gone in hard, and I hope they will take note. May I suggest you proof read again? A couple of typos have crept in.

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