Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Occasional blogs from people wishing to contribute to the debate. We do not necessarily agree with all that is said by guests, but are keen to allow divergent views an airing.

Shunning: A sad situation that produces no winners

Church shunning or ostracism is a topic that has appeared several times on this blog and an article I wrote three years ago still gets googled by individuals around the world who have experienced this. I include a guest article from Eric Bonetti in the States giving his perspective on the topic. A further Australian example will be forthcoming. It is important to understand the power of this aspect of church abuse.

Shunning, or the deliberate exclusion of a person or persons from a church by a member of the clergy, is both devastating and widespread. Unfortunately, those who engage in this despicable practice rarely recognise that it hurts them, and the larger church, in a powerful and lasting way.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece for another prominent faith-oriented blog describing my experience with shunning, doing so without attribution but my editor’s full knowledge of my identity. My hope was that this would allow for discussion of the larger issue, versus the facts of my particular case.

The response was overwhelming. Literally dozens of individuals commented, sharing their own experiences of being excluded from church, typically for petty issues, like disagreeing with the Rector in a vestry meeting, or for having varying views about a minor secondary doctrinal matter.

Means of shunning by clergy often were cunning, ranging from suddenly being removed from church mailings, to not learning of upcoming meetings, to instructing church staff to be uncooperative in ways large and small. In some cases, clergy came right out and informed persons that they were unwelcome.

An ancillary issue, often alluded to but rarely addressed in full, was the tremendous pain that those who are shunned experienced. Deprived of the joy and psychological support of friends, many commenters described resulting major depression, PTSD, and in many cases, leaving the Christian faith altogether.

Tellingly, the blog for which I wrote the article is visited primarily by active church members. Thus, one might conclude that a larger number of persons never saw my article, because they no longer have any connection to church.

Theologically, of course, shunning flies in the very face of the whole notion of church. If we indeed believe that the church is the body of Christ, then it follows that causing suffering to any part of the church causes suffering for all.

And so it is with my experience with shunning. While it serves no useful purpose in this post to identify the priest and church involved, recent documents show that the parish indeed has paid a heavy price for my rector’s campaign of shunning, having lost almost 1/3 of its pledging units since my situation erupted two years ago. Additionally, there have been major declines in attendance at divine worship.

That stands to reason. In a day and age where bullying is illegal in American schools, and often legally actionable in other settings, few are likely to conclude that a church where shunning is acceptable is a safe, inclusive place, or somewhere to grow in faith.

At the same time, churchgoers are notoriously adverse to conflict, and will often quietly slip away to more tranquil environs when they encounter a church in which shunning, or bullying in any other form, is acceptable. In such cases, even two or three bullies can cause tremendous damage, both near- and long-term, and real leaders may be few in number or non-existent.

My experience with shunning also suggests that bystanders often rush to judgement, which in turn leads to widening circles of tension and conflict within the church. “He must have done something to deserve it,” people speculate, in my case sometimes even suggesting that sexual or financial misconduct must have occurred. So, while some bystanders are quick to defriend the victim of shunning on Facebook and other social media, those who remain friends are thrust into the unenviable position of having to decide whether, for example, the person shunned should be invited to holiday parties and other social events. Or as one long-time friend said to me, “Sorry you weren’t invited. It just would have been awkward.”

Given the disparate perceived power between clergy and laity, in my experience I also noted many otherwise honourable people who, without question, honoured my priest’s instructions to shun me and my family. This unwillingness to question authority indeed is troubling, for it is the same blind trust that all too often allows clergy to engage in sexual abuse without any accountability.

Some go even further. For example, one young member of my church, posting to social media under a pseudonym that was sexually explicit, urged me to “go kill yourself.”Still others may attempt to discredit the victim of shunning by lying and claiming that the victim harassed the perpetrator, or otherwise engaged in behaviour warranting shunning. Yet shunning is never warranted as response, even if such allegations were true. And in my parish, the continuing presence of laypersons who have engaged in criminal acts or other misconduct illustrates the arbitrary and capricious nature of shunning.

Of course, the notion that this sort of behaviour is appropriate derives from seeing the example of an clergy member who abuses his or her power by engaging in shunning. If a priest can engage in behaviour that has rightly been described on this blog as “psychological murder,” why not invite the victim of shunning to murder himself? The one logically follows from the other.

Ironically, while shunning is an abuse of power perpetrated by clergy who are seen as occupying the more powerful position in the church, if called onto the carpet clergy who shun will attempt to treat the person shunned as a peer. Specifically, in my case, I started a “name and shame,” blog to let as many people as possible know that my church is not a safe place. Yet, when we later met to discuss the matter, my priest angrily denounced my blog as defamatory, despite the fact that it is not. Indeed, at one point he objected loudly to a meme I had developed that said, “Jesus. Welcomes Outcasts,” along with an image of Jesus. Alongside was my priest’s name and image, with the subtitle, “Creates Outcasts.” Yet what better way is there to illustrate that shunning is the antithesis of the Christian faith? And having engaged in shunning, why would he object to anyone illustrating this dichotomy in clear terms such as this?

My further observation in this space is that clergy always are responsible for maintaining appropriate boundaries with those entrusted to their care. Thus, when those boundaries are violated, the victim is under no obligation to be nice. Victims of abuse must do what they need to do to recover, and there is no shame in doing so. In other words, it is never the disclosure of clergy misconduct that causes harm. It is the misconduct that causes harm. And no one argued that I should refrain from commenting when a drunk driver killed several members of my family. So why should my priest be any different?

Once a member of the clergy or other person in a position of power engages in shunning – truly a barbaric practice – one of the few things victims can do is to tell their story far and wide. Doing so can be quite painful, as I know, and one will lose friends for doing so. But the hard reality is that the clergyperson’s actions will already have cost the victim many of his or her friends, and by sharing their story, victims can take back control. This is in contrast to many who are shunned, who often slip into deep depression when they conclude they are powerless to stop the abuse.

Ironically enough, in telling their stories, victims of shunning may discover that another group deeply hurt by clergy who shun are his or her family members and other close associates. Because clergy who engage in shunning often are serial bullies who are adept at making themselves seem kind and caring, family members and professional acquaintances alike may be shocked and appalled by public criticism of the clergyperson, feeling that the victims are overreacting, “unbalanced,” or should, “move on.” In that vein, one of the things I deeply regret is the pain that my actions, taken in resistance to my priest’s shunning, caused for his family members. While I was not prepared to stop telling my story until such time as my priest lifted his edict of shunning, knowing that I was causing distress to others was troubling indeed.

Of course, for the victim, the results of shunning are often lasting. While my priest eventually complained that we were discussing matters that had occurred two years earlier, the reality is that some members of my family affected by his shunning will never fully recover from their distress. Shunning is a traumatic experience that causes suffering for years to come, and in many ways can never be undone.

Similarly, experts note that shunning and other forms of clergy misconduct my affect churches for many years to come. In her excellent book, “Restoring Trust. Wholeness After Betrayal”, Episcopal author and Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Connecticut Robin Hammeal-Urban shares her experience that parishes sometimes act in unhealthy ways 25 years after clergy misconduct if there is not a deliberate effort to disclose the misconduct and work towards healing and health. Yet all too often, church judicatories are loathe to address the elephant in the living room when clergy have engaged in shunning, labelling the matter a “personality conflict,” or as something best resolved within the parish.

If the church is to live into its mission as a safe and welcoming home for all persons, we need to move to an understanding that shunning, or bullying in any other form, is utterly unacceptable.

Eric Bonetti Eric is a member of The Episcopal Church and lives just outside Washington D.C.

Joe’s letter to the House of Bishops of the Church of England

bishops of C of EThe background to this powerful letter to the House of Bishops from ‘Joe’ is as follows. Joe was sexually abused by a senior churchman and emotionally abused by another nearly 40 years ago. His experience of trying to bring these episodes to the attention of bishops in the Church of England was constantly frustrated and he was met with massive obstacles. Eventually a report was commissioned into Joe’s case by the Diocese of London, and the Elliott Review was duly produced in March this year. A meeting of the House of Bishops last month (May 23-24 2016) was addressed by Bishop Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton. She had been entrusted with the task of implementing the Review and making sure that all the Bishops understood its implications for future practice. The House, according to reports, has agreed to a number of sweeping changes in the implementation of safeguarding practice by every diocese. Two particular issues came out of Bishop Mullally’s presentation. (See the blog post written on the 5th June) The first was that safeguarding procedures must be made standard right across the church. There can be no room for a local bishop to deviate from following best safeguarding practice. The second principle was to ensure that pastoral care for survivors must take priority over the demands of the church’s own insurance company. This company, Ecclesiastical Insurance (EIG), seems to encourage bishops and other church officials to clam up when faced with crucial questions in historic abuse cases.

Joe’s letter must be read against the background of knowing that at least some of his expectations have been met. Initially Joe had been told the Bishops were planning to delay changes, hence this passionate letter. We await to see whether the Church of England can indeed move to make the changes demanded by the Elliot report. Quite apart from what happens in the future we have in this letter a powerful emotional plea which gives us a strong sense of the frustration and powerlessness of the survivor when facing a brick wall of official intransigence over many years. Joe’s persistence has, we would claim, significantly cracked open the logjam of colluding official power structures that today exist in the Church of England. The Goddard report, when it finally appears in five years time, may well deliver another blow to a system of power and patronage which so often protects the powerful against the weak.

We are very grateful to Joe for letting survivingchurch publish this letter. It is of historic interest as well as being a testimony of the strength of a survivor when facing almost impossible odds. The partial victory of David over a Goliath of official inertia, indifference and protection of privilege is to be celebrated and applauded.

Letter to Church of England Bishops

I call on the House of Bishops to repent at your meeting in York at the end of this week. Others in the survivor community are saying the same. Repentance implies action and not just words – it is about turning around 180 degrees and starting again. The crisis this senior layer has brought upon itself has finally woken the church up to need for real change. If the bishops hope to delay changes as we are told you might, the situation will be acutely embarrassing. It is a worrying indication of a culture in denial and paralysis that no bishop has commented on the Elliott Report since it came out in mid March -100% silence. Perhaps your strategists have given instruction to ignore it and ride the storm out. I think their advice present in much of your hidden structure of response to survivors has been spectacularly bad. It has led you away from the values of your own gospel and narrative.

I am urging Bishop Paul Butler, Bishop Tim Thornton and Archbishop Justin Welby to lead a call for repentance across the whole House of Bishops. All these bishops have involvement in my case. Denial of disclosures to senior figures (“no recollection”) and blanking of crucial questions by the bishop I reported to were main features of the church’s response in the findings of that report. Along with reckless compliance to the demands of Ecclesiastical, your own insurer. And silence from Lambeth Palace to more than a dozen cries for help. Similar experiences of many other survivors from what MACSAS* tell me – indicate many other bishops know the same powerful criticisms apply to them. This cuts across the board.

The House of Bishops needs to show clearly that you are finally able beyond the eleventh hour to work rapidly for profound change in your culture and structure – arising from honest acceptance of the mess you have made. Survivors will know the weight is lifted when we see the church willing to buckle beneath the weight of the questions and all the impact – that we carry on the church’s behalf. When we see the church being honest and transparent in its answers to questions – then we’ll know the weight is shifting to where it belongs. The senior layer needs to dig its way out of the hole you have dug yourselves into. Cover-ups, denials, obscuring of issues, intentional inertia, fog, smoke and mirrors, blanking of questions, unchallenged power of bishops, legal games, incestuous dependence on your own insurer to limit liability, unethical closing down of cases and withdrawal of support on the instructions of EIG, bewilderingly adversarial settlements – all of which I and many others have experienced – all this must come to an end in real repentance. So that survivors, those of us currently on the way through a process and many others yet to come forward, are responded to safely and sanely. You can no longer operate a mirage in which Responding Well can be torn in two to suit the interests of your own insurer – especially when the aims and actions of EIG run so malevolently counter to your own stated guidelines. This mirage is rotten, can only do further harm, and must now stop. You need to disentangle your response to this problem from your own insurer – it has led you into deep complicity and does enormous damage to both survivors and yourselves.

But you know what to do. You have been told many times through regular visits of survivors to Lambeth Palace and repeated challenges to your Head of Safeguarding. Challenges to so many of you in fact – from survivors and others, both in person and through growing number of articles in the press. You cannot wait for more waves of crisis to hit you before finally doing the right thing. If you continue to rely on the tenacity of survivors to do all the painful work of trying to transform your structure – the Goddard Inquiry will be over and the church you lead will look powerfully diminished. Senior leaders and bishops need to show tenacity yourselves and act quickly now to transform the situation for everyone. This starts with repentance and real action arising from a commitment to change. If you can make this collective decision at this critical House of Bishops assembly – you are likely to move forward through the Goddard Inquiry and everything yet to emerge with greater grace and much less pain. And better prospect of healing for everyone, including yourselves. The church can hold its head high knowing it is doing the right thing. If you make the wrong decisions – well, it seems obvious to survivors that there is no grass left to kick changes into. The crisis will be acute and can only deepen. The Elliott Report into my case could be repeated across so many survivor experiences – as similar issues have appeared again and again elsewhere. I don’t how more embarrassing you need a Report to be .. so it astonishes me and other survivors I am in contact with – to hear that the House of Bishops might try and delay changes. I urge you not to. I urge you to repent.

‘Joe’ of the Elliott Report

*MACSAS is an acronym for the Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors

Peniel marriage – another view

keep-calm-and-have-a-happy-marriageKathryn has written a response to my piece of yesterday. I am posting it as a guest post as it raises several issues alongside my concerns. Both of us agree, I think, on the need for maturity and growth in marriage. I would maintain that this is made far harder after someone pushes you towards a partner.
Yes, it is true that there were many “arranged” marriages in the Peniel’s on both sides of the Atlantic, though I suspect it was more common in the Brentwood church. I think though, that while there were certainly unhappy marriages and even (gasp!) a few divorces, many of these unions were and are happy ones. One reason for this is, despite the many times abusive atmosphere within this church, there were also many, many people who sincerely and honestly wanted God and to live for Him as best they could. Because of that, most of us took our vows very seriously. One thing we were all taught is that love is not a feeling, it is a decision. Because of that teaching, and I believe there is truth in that idea, many of us made the decision to love our life partners and to seek God for His help in making our marriages work. I did not have an arranged marriage, (I can’t count the times I was told no man would ever want me and they would never be able to find anyone willing to marry me!) but my husband and I did become engaged 2 weeks after we met and were married not long after. That was 25 years ago and while there have been rough times, I would say our marriage is happy with no more or less troubles than the average couple. I do know several couples that were arranged and I know of only 1 union that ended in divorce and, as the others are friends of mine, I think I can say those marriages are not any happier or unhappier than the average couple. I do have a theory about why this may be so in some cases, though it would hardly apply to every case. There is a bonding that occurs when you go through a trauma with someone. I think, in some instances, the shared traumatic experience of the abuse and mistreatment of Peniel actually strengthened the bond between people. I know that was not always the case, especially when one wanted to leave and the other did not, but I know that has been true in many cases. You reach a place where all you have is each other and no one else. As much as I think they would sometimes to have liked to, the ministry at Peniel could not actually invade the most intimate places of a marriage relationship, it could certainly influence it. I know of marriages that the ministry were successful in destroying, some of them close friends, and that is heartbreaking, but there is something about the bond created in marriage that is strong enough to withstand a lot of attack. Like in many unhappy unions, sometimes it is simply because of the wounds brought into the marriage by one or both that make it unhappy. Of course, most of those wounds can be laid at the feet of the ministry at Peniel.

I was actually in a relationship when I was in Bible College there. He was a wonderful young man with a very bright future ahead of him and we are still friends, but we were told we were not allowed to date because he was not in a place to marry. So we were separated and the ministry ended up fostering such abuse on him that he ended up leaving the church. His is a story that I hope the commission hears. Looking back, we should not have married as we were both carrying baggage from our pasts that would have destroyed our relationship. If we had both remained there we may have eventually married and I would not know the love of my life or have my 5 wonderful boys.

The bigger problem, in my opinion, with all of this relationship control is that young people never learn how to properly be in a mature relationship. I am not encouraging premarital sex but we were never allowed to learn how to interact with members of the opposite sex because there was no casual-type dating. You sort of knew someone, then you decided if you would be interested in marrying them and, if so, you dated for a month or two and then you got married. I did not have many romantic relationships prior to meeting my husband, but I can say that I learned something from each one of them about what it means and how it works. Even with that, I cannot say that I was prepared for marriage, most of us in Peniel weren’t. That is another factor in unhappy marriages.

I guess to sum it all up, Peniel did arrange some marriages, some happy, some not so much. But the cause of most of the unhappiness was not the fact that the unions were arranged so much as no one was allowed to mature relationally in order to become ready for such a commitment. We were all so damaged and wounded with no idea what it meant to be in that type of relationship. It was one of the ways we were all kept controlled, we were not allowed to mature in many ways. We were so dependent on the ministry that many of us didn’t really become adults until we were out from under the church, regardless of our chronological age.

I can’t speak for everyone, these are only my thoughts on my experiences and what I witnessed. It is just one more area Trinity/Peniel managed to screw up. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a wonderful husband whom I love very much and who returns that love. We went through Peniel together and we came out together and it is part of our history. I, for one, am truly glad it is history!

Get new subjects sent by email

formOn each page of this blog – half way down on the right – is a little form you can complete. (just like the picture here)

When you complete it you will get an email to the address you have entered.  In this email there will be a link you must click, this confirms that you really want to subscribe.

Once subscribed in this way you will get an email every day on which a new subject was just started.   You wont get any more than one email per subject – and you wont get emails of the comments that people enter.

Here’s hoping that helps!

Love.  Dick Davies.

63 Abusive Spritual Leadership

A personal story from IHOP

If you google “leaving IHOP” you will find a “rich” (or rather very sad) vein of writings about a current example of abusive church.

Here is a link to just one of these posts:

Babel, Pentecost, and the House of Prayer: My Time at IHOP-KC

In this particular article Gary Wallin details his time at the International House of Prayer.

Much of the material on this blog  is illustrated all too vividly in this contemporary example of an abuse of spiritual leadership.

55 Pilling Report – English Fudge? part 1

James Blott has kindly contributed a piece on his reading on the Pilling report.  In this first part he stresses the importance of understanding how good intentions on the part of Christians  can sometimes have negative effects on others.   In other words Christians sometimes cause harm to others by their beliefs, even though these beliefs are sincerely held.  This is itself a theme that we would hope to explore in future posts and discussions.  Part 2 of this wise analysis will follow on Tuesday.  Editor

A few days ago, I mentioned to my ministry team colleagues that I was reading the Pilling Report on ‘Human Sexuality’, and I was challenged to summarise its findings in a couple of sentences. I said this: “We don’t like homophobia, so we’re going to suggest that for the next two years we go through a process of ‘facilitated listening’ between people of intractably opposing views. At the end of this period, we’ll decide that we can’t change anything because of the risk of splitting the Anglican Communion.”

Actually this is an unfair characterisation of a 200 page report which is not one report, but two. Although the members of the Working Group chaired by Sir John Pilling numbered only five, the report itself is littered with the phrase ‘some of us’. It is hard, having read to the end, not to conclude that the Bishop of Birkenhead, The Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, disagreed with almost every conclusion that the group reached. And this is the first extremely difficult question: If you have a group tasked with investigating an important issue and reporting back with recommendations, when one member of the group ‘dissents’ from almost everything, why would you accord that individual the right to put his own highly unbalanced views across in one fifth of the space taken up by the entire report?

Why should such a report matter to a blog that concerns itself with abuse within the Church? Isn’t this just a bit of dirty washing by the Church of England, demonstrating how out of touch they are? If it were, we needn’t concern ourselves with it, but the sad fact is that abuse of gays within the Church, as well as in wider society, has a long and shameful history. And the fact that Pilling stresses how important it is for such ‘homophobia’ to be rooted out, points towards the reason why it has been welcomed by many, even though it represents no real change in Church policy in relation to homosexuality. In fact the main conclusion of the report is that current policies must remain, unless and until a process of listening and discernment results in a consensus to change them. This implies that unanimity is possible, but is there really any ground for believing that positions will change? The report itself states on a different page: ‘We are not certain that consensus, in terms of agreement on all key points in belief and practice, is possible…’ and the ‘dissenting’ views included in the report sadly do not imply a willingness even to engage in discussion, let alone be open to change.

In view of this, I found myself wondering as I read the report, what the prospects were for a coming-together of views in two years’ time, after the end of the recommended period of facilitated listening and reflection. The one advantage of having the Bishop of Birkenhead’s views represented so starkly and stridently, is that these bring into sharp focus the colossal mountain that must be climbed.

The critical areas covered, which I’ve tried to summarise below, would seem to be: The Challenge of Homophobia, The Science of Homosexuality, The Interpretation of Scripture and The Issue of Church Leaders. They’re all relevant to our blog and its look at abuse in the Church, and most of them have been addressed in posts before. To me, some of the arguments have a ghastly familiarity, as they’re so close to the bankrupt ones used by those who have opposed the appointment of women as bishops.

The Challenge of Homophobia. The Pilling Report rejects homophobia uncompromisingly, but also manages to give a glimpse at why it will be so difficult to eradicate. For example, gays are loved by God and are full members of the Body of Christ, but the current policy is that the Church won’t bless homosexual relationships, because they are ‘errant’. Intriguingly the Church finds no such difficulty in blessing nuclear submarines.  And the Church won’t accept for ordination those in gay relationships, unless they make a commitment to remain celibate (which others have pointed out is a recipe for encouraging ordinands to be economical with the truth, as it can hardly be policed). The report stresses that these policies are not homophobic. This may be true on one level, but the policies are certainly offensive; it’s hard to reach any other conclusion if you speak to gay people. What the gays I speak to say is that the Church, at an official, national level, fundamentally rejects the human person he or she is. The dissenting Bishop of Birkenhead, in his own parallel report, says that homosexuality is an indication of what happens when people “stop worshipping the Creator God: their humanness, even perhaps their image-bearingness, deconstructs.” Can someone claim that homosexuals have ceased to worship God, and lost their humanness and their creation in the image of God, and at the same time reject being labelled a homophobe? These are surely some of the most hateful and hurtful things you could ever say to a fellow Christian. The Bishop relies on his good intentions. But does the intention matter? During the debate over Women Bishops, the Revd Canon Jane Charman said this to a Bishop who claimed exemption from being labelled a ‘misogynist’: “It may be a comfort to you that your intentions were benign, but it will be meaningless to me if the impact it has on me is just the same as if your intentions were malicious….Surely we have to take responsibility not just for the intention behind our actions, but for the actual effect on others?” And we know that rejection of gays does real harm to real people. The Bishop of Birkenhead also says this: “It cannot be pastoral to affirm a form of relationship which is contrary to God’s will.” We have before in this blog pointed out how invidious it is to claim that one’s own views are a reflection of God’s will. It maximises the danger of developing a Napoleon-complex and also maximises the hurt that gay Christians feel, when others lay claim to the right to wield God’s own authority against them.

In conclusion, the main Report states that the Church needs to repent of past sins of homophobia, but it does not say how, or when. Neither does it address what the Church needs to do to make amends for the appalling abuse of gays in the past. Recently, the Primate of Nigeria said this: “Any society or nation that approves same sex union as an acceptable life style is in an advanced stage of corruption/moral decay….(We) seek to shield Nigeria from the complete annihilation that will follow the wrath of God should this practice be accepted  as normal in this land.” The repentance the report calls for has certainly not started with the report itself, despite its protestations to the contrary. Maybe this is partly because the Group has accorded such space and prominence to the Bishop of Birkenhead’s views? Reading his submission reminded me of something said by the late much-loved leading evangelical, The Revd John Stott, when writing on this subject. He insisted on using the term ‘pervert’, claiming he was using it only as the converse of ‘invert’, but completely ignoring how loaded and abusive this word is to gay people. It seems that despite assurances that homophobia is out, much that is offensive and hurtful is still being written and said.

The Pilling Working Group was commissioned before it was decided by the government to legalise gay marriage. This change has resulted in the Church having got itself into a real bind. The Church rejected civil partnerships and now that gay marriage is legal, they reject this too. If the Church has, as it claims in the report, a view that lifelong, stable, faithful relationships are what God wants, then why reject both attempts to increase the commitment that gay people might make to each other?

Part 2 to follow


43 Looking at the Church from the outside

Some thoughts from Chris

I have been thinking a lot recently about the barriers that exist between those ‘in’ the church and those outside.  ‘Barrier’ is perhaps an understated word as from my perspective there is an enormous chasm between the two.  Nowhere is the gulf as clearly observable as between the poor in our society and the culture of the established churches.

I am one of those who has known the meaning of poverty and powerlessness and only in my late twenties was I able to escape the worst effects of being totally ignored and disregarded in the workplace.  Because of illiteracy in early adulthood, I had to endure bullying and disempowerment because of the jobs I was forced to do – building labourer, toilet cleaner, farm labourer and finally Nursing /Care  assistant.  Having finally gained literacy I went to Bible School and eventually worked in Mental Health with people with learning difficulties where I was able to use my musical skills to a degree.

Compared with the people who contribute to this blog I come from a place of poor education but I want to speak about the issue of how the church is seen and experienced  by someone with my background.

My early unhappy encounters with the church were with ‘bible-centered’ evangelical communities.  I have written elsewhere about my experiences but I want to focus here on what I would call ‘evangelical theatre’.   This includes everything that happens in church to do with entertainment, all that we mean by ‘happy-clappy’, loud rhythmic music and everything necessary to enthral congregations and keep them happy.  I have no doubt that among this ‘theatre’ there are sincere Christians but equally in this world are many who are being in different ways misled and dragged into something that ultimately lets them down.  Others on the outside of these groups, perhaps the greater number, look on at this theatre are utterly confused by what they see.

When discussing as we do, issues about the church in a fairly cerebral way, we must never forget how non-members regard what we do.  The ‘evangelical theatre’ I referred above is regarded as a kind of insanity to most of the people I know.  How can such an ‘insane’ church be a guiding force to society?  We really need to engage with the impression that the church is giving to the outsider.  The leaders of the church fail to grasp how the church as a whole comes over to the wider public.  It appears from the outside to be a form of self-indulgence, a pick’n mix entertainment where you get to choose what titillates you most.  What has that got to do with the daily struggle for life which ordinary people have to contend with every day?

The new Roman Catholic Cardinal, Vincent Nichols, has spoken out on behalf of the working poor but there are few others who are prepared to do more than offer a tin of beans to a food-bank.  Some caring people in society do see the appalling inhumanities in our system but the typical church goer feeds on the latest volume from the Christian bookshop.  Why is giving so often concentrated on the other side of the world which is far away from the need in this country,  the mud of the gutter with the smell of stale urine and human effluent?


27 Moving Forward

Advice about moving on after suffering power abuse.

A guest Blog by Peter G Nelson (Retired lecturer at the University of Hull)

I am sorry about the difficulties Chris and others are having with Evangelicalism.

The problem is that Evangelicalism today is not what it used to be. It has branched off in various directions, each departing from the teaching of Scripture in one way or another. There is a need to bring the different branches together by combining their strengths and removing their weaknesses.

In the meantime, the best advice I can give to those who have had a bad experience is to forget what they have been taught and read for themselves the life and teaching of Jesus. A good place to start is Matthew or Luke, followed by John. Let Jesus speak to you. Anchor your faith in him. Then look for a local church that is seeking to follow Jesus in the same way. If you can find one, join it. If not, seek to follow him on your own, as faithfully as you can.

Remember what he said to a wayward church, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and commune with him and he with me’ (Revelation 3:20).

Peter is a long time friend of Chris Pitts and has written books about the relationship of contemporary science to an Evangelical perspective on the writings of the Bible.

22 Is Evangelicalism to blame?

And more importantly is Liberalism the answer?

A Guest Blog By Dick Davies

I too suspect that the roots of abusive spiritual leadership are not so much linked to a particular theology such as evangelicalism (or for that matter liberalism). Rather they are in my opinion more linked to the way in which we hold to a particular “ism”, and use it to exert power.   I very much appreciate Stephen’s careful discrimination between the words “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist”.

Generosity helps

I confess to be a U2 fan, and one of their songs has the lyric,  “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.  That makes sense to me.  If we worship an utterly transcendent being, then all theology should surely be provisional.  And if provisional, I would suggest also held to in a generous attitude.  And yes I am aware of the irony in saying this as an evangelical!

The idea of generosity came to me reading Brian Maclaren’s excellent book “A Generous Orthodoxy“. It is also reflected well by him in his blog at where many less “provisional”  evangelicals seem eager to pick fights!  Brian’s responses always seem to me to be most generous and gracious.

Is Liberalism the answer?

I have read a couple of books recently:  Stephen’s excellent “Ungodly Fear” and also Robin Meyers, “Saving Jesus from the Church”.  Both books come from (what looks to me as an evangelical) similar standpoints.  Both take a more classical “Liberal” approach to the Bible text.  Quite understandably both look at problems in the church, and seem to see the answers in their own theological context. But is there a bigger picture?  And if the whole answer to the abuse of spiritual power is not located in one particular theological stream, then where is it?

Philosphical changes

I think Stephen’s consideration of Psychology certainly merits further thought.  There is however another big dichotomy in the area of philosophy – in particular between the “modern”, and “post-modern”. This dichotomy is giving rise to a significant growth of evangelicals in the USA who are on the political left.  For me this movement gives great hope. These so called “red-letter Christians” emphasise a Jesus – centered orthopraxy (doing right) as distinct from orthodoxy (believing right).

More heroes less experts?

People such as Shane Claiborne are leaders of this new “red letter Christian” movement, politically & theologically radical, effectively saying not “believe what I believe” but “live like I live”.   Living with the poor, involved in their lives.

Maybe we need more discipleship and less emphasis on orthodoxy – from whichever theological standpoint?  I hate it when people use the Jesus “trump card”, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Isn’t that how he did it?