The Trials of Robert Skynner

Robert Skynner is an individual that I do not know personally. However I have been viewing his series of videos on Youtube about church abuse for some time. He lives in the south west of England and has been posting videos on this and other topics. The ones that are of interest to our blog are particularly those connected with his involvement with some of the independent Pentecostal churches in his home area. His perspective is sharpened by the fact that he has a degree in theology from a Scottish university and this enables him to comment from a position of theological insight. His purpose in producing these videos is to show up the hypocrisy and some extraordinary theological teachings in this cluster of churches. The hypocrisy that he identifies is in the fact that certain church leaders admit to sexual misbehaviour of various kinds including addiction to pornography, adultery and the protection of a convicted paedophile. While he has not been sued for slander, because the facts of the claims are not contested, this attempt to publicise these facts has got him into trouble with the police. He is due to appear in court on November 18 charged with harassment without violence.

I shall not of course give any more detail about the individuals whom Robert is accused of harassing. Nevertheless, his involvement with and insight into these churches is extremely interesting from the point of view of this blog. The critiques that he makes of these congregations and their leaders come under two headings. In the first place he is extremely critical of some of the theology taught by the leaders. In addition he has a great deal of inside information about the sexual shenanigans which seem to be out of control among some of the leadership in these churches. Because of their heresy and immorality, these churches are, he believes, fatally undermined in their witness to Christian values.

It would of course be wrong of me to suggest that the situation that Robert has identified in these particular congregations is in any way general across the country. One has, however, to ask how often does someone with Robert’s insights actually get involved in such independent unsupervised congregations? To put the question another way, how many congregations with crassly narcissistic leaders who specialise in accumulating money as well as seducing female members of the congregation are called to account? These are not the sort of places where people with education, let alone degrees in theology attend. We may imagine that there are areas in Britain other than the one in the South West, where scenarios, such as those Robert describes, take place. These do not normally reach the public domain because the people who continue to attend either do not have the stamina or the education to stand up to such tyrannical and hypocritical behaviour. The individuals who might have stood up to such abuse have long since walked away. But, by doing so, they have left the evils of abuse to ferment and grow.

Robert’s dedication to exposing the inner corruption of one particular group of churches would probably need to be described as obsessive. But, in using this word, I am not meaning in any way to be critical of him. Struggling against any kind of tyranny is hard and normally unrewarding. You will be vilified, attacked and shunned in ways that you never thought possible at the hands of so called Christians. Just as John Langlois’ report about Peniel opened the lid on decades of cruel and tyrannical behaviour on the part of Michael Reid so Robert Skynner has also opened up something which might so easily have remained buried for ever. We need to applaud him for the obsessiveness with which he has undertaken this important work. Another individual, whose name I will not give, suffered a nervous breakdown in her attempts to support Robert in this work.

His degree in theology from a Scottish university has meant that Robert is far more sensitised to aberrations within Pentecostal teaching than I am. He is also aware of a variety of maverick understandings of the doctrine of the Trinity and he himself was a member of a movement called Oneness Pentecostalism for a short time. His YouTube videos spend quite a lot of time critiquing various heretical ideas which he has identified in this group of churches. It is not for me here to go into this aspect in any detail. I mention it to make the point that members of any church which is independent will have to tolerate whatever comes from the pulpit. No one will normally have the background knowledge or courage to challenge anything that is said. I did however notice one item in a doctrinal statement from one of the churches. This spoke of an understanding of the Trinity as being in accordance with Holy Scripture. My own theological understanding immediately wanted to protest that there is in fact no clear doctrine of the Trinity in Holy Scripture. It is a teaching which was gradually worked out over a period of several hundred years in the Early Church. The idea that a fully formed Trinitarian doctrine is found in Scripture is based on a very weak grasp of the Christian tradition.

How did Robert get involved in this network of churches? He tells his story in brief. He had a conversion experience and joined a group of Christians doing street evangelism in city streets some eight years ago. He stayed with them only a matter of months before he found himself completely out of sympathy, both for their strange methods of doing theology and also for the rampant immorality that he found in the group. A particular complaint he has for one of the congregations was the way that a convicted paedophile was allowed to have access to children. The leaders accepted the testimony of the paedophile that he had been converted and was no longer a risk to children. Such naïveté is dangerous and possibly criminal. The individual concerned has now been sentenced to a second period in prison for a repeat offence.

Why do I give Robert Skynner a blog post all on his own? It is because, in spite of his possibly unwise and obsessive behaviour, we have a light shone by into one dark place within the church. The stand that he has taken has demanded levels of courage and perseverance. The price that he is now paying for standing up against hypocrisy and, as he sees it, heresy is a high one. The charge against him, harassment without violence, will probably not lead to a jail sentence but it is still hard to see how he can come out of this situation without suffering a good deal. So far in my writing on abusive church practice, I have not had to engage with any active opposition. Even the writing of my book, Ungodly Fear, did not produce the levels of opposition that I expected. Examples of Christian abuse that I encountered were geographically a long way away from where I lived. I encountered the pain of other people but did not have to experience it at first hand. Robert Skynner has entered the lions’ den of local Christian abuse and hypocrisy. For that he is paying a heavy price.

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.

11 thoughts on “The Trials of Robert Skynner

  1. Hi Steve,
    Just to let you know. Robert had his caution upheld against him in Plymouth’s Magistrate court yesterday. He had a restraining order placed against him; had all his recording equipment removed and received a custodial sentence imposed because of his vindictive hurtful attitude on YouTube. His motivation was questioned in court regarding his victimization of a women called Joy Holmes and her husband. It appears his motives weren’t really Christian.

    1. We have to accept that there are two sides to this, and that Robert may not have behaved well. I’m not saying courts don’t make mistakes, of course, but let us assume that this finding is correct. But we shouldn’t jump to judgement about Robert’s motives. They may be confused. He may believe that certain people should be punished, and if the system doesn’t do it, then he should. And he is probably wrong about that. But that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t shone a light where some people at least would have preferred there to be darkness. Tell me, were the people who allowed the paedophile to be with children prosecuted? They should have been.

      1. Yes, the people were investigated, but they had done nothing criminal. The paedophile has now been in prison since February for 4 years. Perhaps Robert’s motivation was appropriate; his behaviour and obsessional need to tear people down, regardless of the evidence (the court established, and was confirmed by Robert) that was based on opinion, hearsay and gossip was inappropriate. Churches have a well-deserved ‘bad’ name in many cases. But, trying to destroy individual people, and not address the issues, hasn’t helped. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Making false statements about people NOT involved and harassing them to the point of depression, ulcerative colitis, fear and psychological trauma – as confirmed by the courts (with no remorse or sorrow shown by Robert) isn’t appropriate behaviour.

        1. I’m afraid it may well be criminal to allow a paedophile to operate. It depends. No-one is supposed to work with children without undergoing DBS checks. If they didn’t do the checks, and thereby the paedophile gained access to children, then that is indeed a criminal offence. Of course, you don’t need to do checks every time someone new joins your congregation!

          1. I agree.
            The law makes it clear that all people working with children or vulnerable adults should be DBS (CRB) checked. Church members aren’t required to be checked, unless that is church policy, which would be strange, if they’re only coming to worship.
            The issue with Robert Skynner wasn’t about this in the trial, but about harassment. He had received a police caution and been formally spoken to again, but insisted in challenging this and continuing in his approach, insisting in having his day in court and going to jail.
            It appears the judge obliged!

  2. I have tried hard to be even handed over Robert. I have described him as obsessive but also I admire his courage. I don’t think I would ever act as he has done but at the same time I don’t think I would ever hang around in what appear to be obviously dysfunctional even corrupt congregations. I think the point I want to make is that if Robert is even a small bit right (and his evidence is of a high standard), then that raises questions about the supervision of independent churches everywhere. What he has shown up resonates with other ghastly tales of certain independent churches elsewhere in the country that I know about. Sexual misbehaviour and narcissistic power games are not only found in Robert’s area. We don’t hear about them most of the time because churches are normally good at closing ranks. Meanwhile people are severely damaged by such behaviour. The Peniel report opened this issue up for many people. I also get stories of damaged individuals from time to time which for obvious reasons I can’t share on the blog.

  3. I regret having had to remove some of the comments on this post. The issue is not whether posters are telling the truth or not but the tone in the comments was deteriorating. My original post was an attempt to air the problem of what Robert Skynner was trying to do in an even-handed way. It is clear that both opponents and supporters will have a story to tell but I am unable to host these strong arguments in this blog. If anyone wishes to send further updates on the situation in Plymouth I will be pleased to write a new post on the topic. Once again it will try to be objective, though I have to say that as a non biblical inerrantist my sympathies will probably veer towards anyone who is wanting to show up hypocrisy and abuse which is done in the name of an inerrant bible.

  4. the videos he made were telling the truth about what went on over here when the plymouth team came over, yes they were crude but unfortunatley true and ms holmes
    did have a short fling with one of the married pastors. she and her father (a pastor) then used the law to cover this up.i honestly think that we should have someone to turn to when we find a “church” like this as i dont think the police are really interested. it even said on there website that its up to them where the money goes ,surely some kind of legislation is in order o be able to check these rogues out and stop them destroying lives because thats what their doing.

    1. Having an affair is not illegal, and neither is lying in many circumstances. Fiddling accounts usually is. Churches are usually registered as charities, so if money is being misappropriated that could be dealt with by the law.

      1. they are saying they live one way and are clearly living another all robert was doing was shining a light on that fact. surely the heavyhanded way they reacted points to the fact they have something to hide

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