I apologise if any of my readers have grown tired of the theme of Trinity Brentwood. I do in fact not regret any of the space which I have given to this topic since the outcome, the Langlois Report, has proved a rich source of material for any student of Christian abuse.
To recap on this notorious church in Essex, two reports about its past appeared on the same day, 1st November. These both offered insight and information about the abuses of the previous 30 years. The first one, by John Langlois and his commission, was the more substantial of the two. It was a report totalling 300 pages but was in the end an unofficial report, since his commission had been dismissed in mid-August by the church. The second report, although it was critical about the church’s past, was nevertheless reluctant to name names and go into detailed analysis of what had gone wrong. This latter report was written by two Pentecostal ministers who had been in and around the church over the previous few months. It has been suggested that one or other of them was interested in taking over as chief pastor. Also some background material on one of them, David Shearman, has been published online. This suggested that, at the very least, his pastoral skills were deficient. There was also an indication of some bizarre theology being shared by him at a UK gathering of Pentecostal ministers
On 7 December the leaders and trustees at Trinity published a seven-point plan to respond to the shorter less rigorous report put out by the ministers, David Shearman and Phil Hills. On the face of it, it appeared to be moving in the right direction. I have identified in summary five main points from the document which I list here.
1. The church wishes to seek out individuals who have been wronged in the past in order to make apology and seek reconciliation.
2. The church intends to bring in a consultant clinical psychiatrist who will work with two other independent individuals both to offer counselling or the financial assistance to seek it elsewhere.
3. There would be financial reparation for individuals who wanted it. This process would be administered by the group of three mention in the previous point.
4. Phil and David, the authors of the approved report, would help the church to identify key areas of biblical teaching which have been neglected. They would also help to recreate a culture of trust.
5. There would be a determination to establish a more effective structure for the leadership and governance and for this experts would be consulted.
This response would be a pretty good attempt at doing something about the church if we only had in front of us the Hills/Shearman report. But it becomes totally inadequate when it is placed alongside the more substantial and detailed report from John Langlois and his commission. Within an hour of reading the church’s response, I posted an anonymous critique of this action plan on Nigel Davies’ blog. My main points were three in number. I first of all questioned whether the church would get near its victims to speak to them without some public acknowledgement of the horrors that have been uncovered in the Langlois Report. His report had named names, and the individuals concerned have been accused of the most appalling breaches of human compassion, pastoral care and common decency. If the church does not openly acknowledge, or at least investigate, the accusations of appalling behaviour by named individuals, it cannot expect former members to want to come anywhere near the church to listen to apologies. I also questioned whether there was such a person as a consultant psychiatrist who had adequate understanding of the dynamics of a cultic church. Without a background or working knowledge of several disciplines, would this individual really be able to fathom the depth of suffering and pain caused by this terrifying institution? John Langlois had brought to his report not only his legal expertise but also his extensive experience of the evangelical world, including its wilder manifestations.
The second point I made was in response to the idea of reparation. I mentioned that what many of those who had given tens of thousands to the church over the years really wanted was a full forensic examination of the church’s finances over a long period. There were so many questions unanswered about where money had gone, the money sacrificially given by church members. Handing out what might be relatively small sums to damaged individuals did not seem the way forward. The time for an end to the financial secrecy in Peniel/Trinity had arrived.
The final point I made was to question whether tinkering with leadership and governance structures was adequate to address what the church needed. I suggested that, after reading the Langlois Report, most people would conclude that the church needed a completely new structure with the old systems completely purged.
One person did find my remarks rather sharp edged, but the majority of comments were also equally scathing towards this attempt by the church to put things right. The large elephant in the room will always be the Langlois Report which church officials are pretending does not exist. My readers might wonder why I have the confidence and temerity to speak about these matters when I live so far away. I would only say that this new longer Langlois report, with its vivid detail chronicling what people have suffered as members of this church, gives one a real sense that we are all eye-witnesses to the events taking place within this congregation. The individual testimonies from Peniel/Trinity read as though they are addressed, not only to the members of the commission, but to everyone who has the ears to hear. We are all, as it were, eavesdroppers in a situation of terrible suffering inside a church ruled by sociopaths.
In recent days I have been encouraged to think that the Langlois Report will achieve a wider circulation than just being available to a few people on the Internet. I have been in touch with an academic who is concerned about issues of bullying and abuse within institutions and she has been circulating this report among her colleagues. There is also an awareness, albeit small as yet, in the Church of England that if we are to tackle sexual abuse in the church, we must also be aware of other forms of power abuse that exist in institutions. I am certainly hoping to write something on the Langlois Report for the church press but it remains to be seen if they will accept it. Bullying, violence and power abuse of any kind are intolerable in any institution. They are in particular intolerable in and among a group of people who follow a master who eschewed power in favour of peace, love and mutual service.