The challenge of abuse in the Church.
About twenty years ago I was editor of a small magazine, published by a now defunct ecumenical organisation based in London called the Churches Council for Health and Healing. The magazine had only a modest circulation of around 400 but editing it gave me a journalistic appetite for finding out what was happening in the world of Christian healing. What I discovered was not always very pretty. At the time we were in the height of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic and this was followed in 1995 by the breaking of the scandal in Sheffield centered around the so-called Nine O’Clock Service. For those who may have forgotten this latter scandal, a Christian leader called Chris Brain ran a highly ‘successful’ but cult-like church in Sheffield. Many people were attracted to the alternative style of worship using light and drama but the whole thing collapsed when it was discovered that he had been exploiting sexually a number of young women in the congregation. The Anglican church was seen to have exercised little or no oversight over the church or Chris Brain himself and many people were left severely damaged by the whole episode. The church authorities were left looking rather foolish by the incident and it seemed that supporting apparent ‘success’ with young people was more important than wise appraisal of what was really going on. In both cases there was an issue of power, the misuse of power. As with many other people at the time I did not have the skills to interpret what was actually going on with these two phenomena.
Towards the end of the 90s, having witnessed other similar disasters in the church and seeing how little the church authorities really seemed to understand the dynamics of what was happening, particularly in the world of charismatic Christianity, I decided to do my own research. This research on fundamentalist charisma resulted in a book which appeared in 2000, Ungodly Fear, Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power. The book for the most part tells stories of abuse but these stories are interspersed with commentary and an attempt to put the stories into historical context. While writing the book I obviously felt drawn to offer some psychological insight and I found myself offering a few pointers from my reading of Melanie Klein. Because psychology had never been my subject of study, this dimension of the study was not prominent in the book. I was far more interest in the history of charisma and the theological challenges that it presented.
After the book was published in April 2000, I received quite a number of letters from people who had experienced the kinds of abuse issues that I had described in my book. The reviews were fairly good but the book itself did not sell in large numbers. Over the 13 years since its first publication I have quietly tried to deepen my understanding of the phenomenon of abuse within a Christian context, particularly using the resources of psychology. One difficulty I have had is that there seems very little interest in the UK in the issues I tried to describe. Sexual abuse of children has appeared as an issue for all denominations but the abuse of power in the church whether financial or emotional does not seem much talked about. Thus although my book is out of print and little known, it is still the only book in the UK to address the issue of abuse in the church beyond the sexual realm.
The story of the way this blog was started is found in the Welcome page. Chris and I, though coming from very different places, have found an affinity in wanting to keep this issue of church abuse alive. Our conversations translate into blog posts and we hope you will enjoy these as they unfold. Obviously the enthusiasm that we have for this blog will be greatly enhanced by your participation in the issues that are raised. Please comment as you wish or contact me directly if you don’t want your thoughts and experiences to be shared and visible to all. Just visiting this site and encouraging others to do so will help the whole process along for the coming months and, we hope, years.