How should evangelicals respond to the abuse of power?

Ed Shaw writes: Like many groups in society, and other church traditions, we evangelicals have a problem when it comes to unhealthy cultures, misuses of power by those in leadership, and the resulting abuse of those meant to be enjoying their care. Names from the US like Mark Driscoll and Ravi Zacharias quickly illustrate this, as do UK leaders like John Smyth, Steve Timmis and Jonathan Fletcher. There have been independent reports that confirm it—as well as numerous painful experiences shared on social media and elsewhere. Some of these have hit the headlines, other names and situations have gone unreported, but all have been devastating for the individuals, churches and organisations involved. I have been forced to see another side to some leaders I admired from afar, and friends who I thought I knew better than I did.  

What have people done in response? I have heard of survivors and bystanders walking away from evangelical churches. On social media, and elsewhere, there has been talk of cover-ups and the names of other alleged abusers and, incredibly, innocent victims have been made public. Numerous blogposts and podcasts have been produced and books written and read. Most of all, tears have been shed as hidden pain has, at last, been openly shared and people have responded with justifiable anger and grief about the evil that has gone unchecked. 

There have, of course, also been plenty of conversations along the lines of “something must be done” with people repeatedly asking the obvious question “how can we stop these things from happening again?” The independent reports commissioned have provided some helpful answers, but there has been a growing sense that the problems go wider and deeper and are not limited to just one part of evangelicalism. There has also been a right recognition that no single report, no numbered recommendations, no prominent resignations, do justice to the scale of the problem.

So it was with considerable trepidation that, at the beginning of this year, a group of Anglican evangelicals were commissioned by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) to form a workstream on culture, power and abuse. The CEEC seeks to unite Anglican evangelicals and the group was made up of women and men, young and old, lay and ordained, conservatives and charismatics, and, crucially, survivors of abuse. We were charged with providing resources that would help evangelicals start to respond effectively to what has often gone wrong in our midst. 

Today we launch the results of countless meetings, of listening to the voices of survivors, of reading the reports, of sharing our own positive and negative experiences of evangelicalism, of extensive engagement with a range of other resources, of getting the generous input of many outside voices. But what we share is not the answer to evangelicalism’s significant problem, instead we are simply hoping to encourage and equip all of us to start to have better conversations—with God and each other—of our experiences of culture, power and abuse. 

When we began to meet, we were united by a sense that “something must be done” but soon concluded that whatever might be done, nothing could be rushed. In response to our instinctive evangelical activism, we wanted to call ourselves, and others, to pause and lament what has happened before we do much else. As a result, the first of our resources is a liturgy of lament, an Anglican service of the Word, that draws on scripture, our rich liturgical tradition, and the voices of survivors. Our hope is that it will enable both individuals and churches to talk and listen to God about the range of emotions many are feeling right now: anger, guilt, shame, confusion—and so much more. It will give some churches the language they need to share in an act of corporate repentance for what has happened, unchecked, amongst them. Using the liturgy ourselves was one of the richest experiences of the many hours we have spent together. 

But, of course, some are not yet feeling the need to lament—we think the problem is only in another part of evangelicalism, at the church down the road. Or we are just talking about “a couple of rotten apples”not a wider cultural issue. As a result, we have developed another resource—a series of questions to help evangelical churches review their cultures and discern together what might be healthy, or unhealthy, about them. These questions have been grouped into four key themes (Character & Accountability, Diversity & Difference, Safeguarding & Protection, Power & Decision-making) that focus attention on areas in which things have clearly gone wrong in the past—and where there might well be things for us to confront in the present too. Importantly they aim to help people distinguish between our good intentions and what is actually happening in people’s lives—too often we can deceive ourselves about reality and deny there is a problem. 

To introduce both resources, and explain how they work together, we have also produced a short six-minute film (also embedded below) in which some of us involved in the workstream share our feelings and the ways in which we trust the resources will help. We hope that watching the film will encourage evangelical churches up and down the country to use what we have produced—some starting in corporate lament and moving onto reviewing church cultures, others journeying together in the opposite direction.

Links to all the resources can be found together on one page on the CEEC website.

More resources will be needed in the future. Many already in existence are listed at the end of our cultures review questions. Future reports and events will highlight different things that have gone wrong. At the CEEC we will review our resources in the light of feedback that users are encouraged to provide. We are especially aware of further work that needs to be done on how badly expressed and applied evangelical theology has sometimes been used to justify unhealthy cultures, misuse of power and horrific abuse. 

But, for now, we hope and pray that all evangelicals come to realise that we do, together, have a problem, and that the CEEC’s resources might be used by our gracious God to help him begin to solve it. 

Ed Shaw is the Co-Chair of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and led their workstream on culture, power and abuse. He is also the Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre (an Anglican church plant in the Diocese of Bristol), a lay member of General Synod, the Ministry Director of Living Out and the author of The Plausibility Problem and Purposeful Sexuality (both IVP). 

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56 thoughts on “How should evangelicals respond to the abuse of power?”

  1. One-man leadership of congregations is a large part of the trouble. There were multiple episkopoi (meaning overseers, as in LXX) in each congregation according to the New Testament (Acts 20).

  2. There is an important place for process of course, but essentially it’s people themselves who need to stand up to bullies at the moment when the bullying happens; not to do so will make for a peaceful life (in the immediate short term) but it effectually strengthens the bully’s position and so contributes to an ongoing bullying culture.

    There are two aspects to this: firstly we do need to discern the actions of other people for what they really are (which will often involve the disconcerting business of recognising faults in heroes or revered leaders), secondly we need to exercise the strength of will to oppose the bully (easier said than done in many circumstances!),

    Paradoxically I think people in Christian groups may be particularly prone to failure in dealing with bullying. Why should that be? As a group, and individually, we are often under pressure from the world around us; we need each other for support and fellowship; we share strong beliefs which include the imperative for unity and peaceful inter personal relationships; there is plenty of scope for use of subtly deceitful language to control other Christians in our own interests; we view straight speaking as unnecessarily divisive; we tend to have a considerable personal investment in membership of our church community; we have a lot to lose if other members of that community fail to support us if we speak up!

    Is it an evangelical thing? No of course not, bullying is a universal phenomenon in human interaction. However there’s clear evidence that we evangelicals need to toughen up in this area – firstly as individuals and then through process (leadership organisation etc) if necessary. One aspect of toughening up for Christians involves gaining a balanced picture from the whole of the Bible rather than particular sections which are thrashed (sorry!) to death at the expense of other sections which reveal something different about God and the way he wants us to live. Metaphors about being sheep need to be weighed against metaphors about being soldiers!

    • Hi Don,

      I don’t disagree with anything you say here – and I whenever I read your comments I expect to find important things to consider – thank you. In this case however I put it to you that you while nothing you say is unhelpful you are speaking one level down from where the issues lie. If we must stand up to leaders who are bullying people then we definitionally already have a bullying leader. The question is how does a bullying leader get to be a bullying leader?

      Instead of address this question I witness almost all the energy going into steps that seem to be directed at stopping abuse at its early stages. Better safeguarding, more than one person in senior leadership. But these aren’t steps which are directed to ensuring that only leaders who can be relied on to act appropriately get recognised as leaders – these are merely steps designed to ensure that they have more difficulty in doing so when they are recognised/appointed (I say recognised because one thing we must recognise about leadership in order to have a change of culture is that someone doesn’t become a leader only in being appointed to a position of leadership – they need to functioning as a leader and are then recognised to be.

      Instead we should be directing almost all our energy towards seeking to ensure that those who are released as leaders are a better kind of person. I recognise that focus has to be given now and for years to come in responding appropriately to those who have been abused – and to ensuring that those who did the abusing are disciplined and if possible restored (to the body – not to leadership – unless their abuse is criminal in which case they must go to jail – this however doesn’t make their restoration someone else’s responsibility). But if we don’t make the right changes in respect of who is a suitable person to lead we will be doing these things forever.

      With the aim of taking this focus I point out what I believe to be two essential characteristics of healthy leadership:

      – In cultures which are healthy it isn’t so much leaders that lead a church but instead of set of ideas – doctrine – which sits above everyone including the leader. The leader’s job is to supervise an ongoing examination of these ideas about God and about right living. When this is the culture every person feels as if the church is their church as much as anyone else’s – they will therefore take responsibility for what happens in it as a matter of instinct. For this doctrine driven culture (the opposite of a personality driven culture) to flourish the leader needs to have the skill to communicate the truth clearly and to supervise ongoing examination of it. If there are only three people in all of the C of E who can do that (I am not saying there are three – I am simply explaining a principle) then only those three people should be leading – and every structure of the C of E would need to be changed to ensure that only those three people are. When ideas about God and right living are communicated transparently it empowers people to take responsibility – to speak and act confident that as they do they are in alignment with their leaders. Do we see then how in this situation power is then distributed? Anyone who is aligned with a church’s beliefs and practices is empowered to lead – inside and outside the church.

      – Where there is healthy leadership the leader’s focus is on moving into the background – empowering others to do and become what they have the potential to become. Again this cannot happen unless the leader presents the truth in a way that says “this is all there is to the truth and this is all there is to being like me”.

      It’s easy to tell that no matter what leaders in the C of E are currently saying that they don’t give a rats about creating a healthy leadership culture. We can see it in the fact that C of E leadership refuse to interact with people in any context other than one in which people are allowed their four and a half minutes – and where their question must be asked in advance. And in the fact that there is a culture in which Bishops either choose – or are expected to – not express any view even somewhat publicly as part of their being entitled to be a person – except of course Bishops who go on TV and say that committing adultery is no big deal – a special exemption is made in their case.

      The best place I know at the moment where people are learning about leadership is this very website. The unique feature of it is that Ian Paul puts ideas before the group – gives people complete freedom to respond and to interact with each other – and also participates in the discussion – guiding it when he believes it is necessary. Ian knows that I have one area of what I believe to be primary disagreement with him – which saddens me – and I cannot remove what I see as my obligations in respect of primary issues – but I find myself in a situation where I can only point to his site to explain what I believe to be a somewhat healthy culture – if I did not use this site as an example what would I use? And yet – despite the prominence of this forum – there is not a single C of E senior leader participating – not one Bishop – not one Archbishop. The closest I can think of to something resembling a helpful culture is Bishop Tomlin’s GodPod – but again the only way to interact with him and the presenters is by sending a question. If I sent my questions to Godpod there is no way they would be answered. My prayer is that God will raise up leaders whose wisdom is a product of their pursuing nothing but the truth and whose openness is the product of their having nothing to hide. Until the senior leaders of the C of E are willing to create a healthy leadership culture – change will be confined to the limited contexts where leadership is by some miracle based on principle instead of position. I don’t want to give the wrong impression – just because I say that in a healthy leadership culture leaders are willing and equipped to engage with people in open contexts does not mean that I believe that as things stand that anyone should be engaging with Bishops and Archbishops in the C of E – who have forfeited their right to lead in openly turning away wholesale from scripture – their views on sexuality are only a symptom of a larger problem – they place a cone of silence over everything they do – and they treat the truth as something which must be agreed on at a Synod meeting before it becomes true. Or publicly discussible.

      This video was made by the CEEC. The CEEC has people linked with it like All Souls Langham Place who have sat in silence while Archbishops trashed the truth and while people like Nicky Gumbel preached a gospel which only managed to omit God’s holiness, justice, mercy and grace and the need for repentance – despite their being international leaders in respect of the gospel via Christianity Explored. And people like New Wine whose most senior leader Paul Harcourt retweets the Archbishop of Canterbury – as if completely naïve about the nature of evil – and about what God can transform and change and what he cannot. These people must publicly confess their failure to obey basic directives from scripture. Let us know when you are serious CEEC. If you cannot either identify or implement a culture which is of the nature I have outlined above – which is both intolerant of primary wrongdoing and merciful and gracious – if you can only manage one of those or neither – you are disqualified from leading at a time like this – and must either stand down – or be told to stand down.

  3. “These questions have been grouped into four key themes (Character & Accountability, Diversity & Difference, Safeguarding & Protection, Power & Decision-making) ”

    I think these are good categories. Of the four themes I would have thought the first is the most significant. It seems that the training process (and I speak from a Baptist perspective) often fails to properly detect the right character traits necessary for good leadership. I have seen many example of minsters and leaders put in, or elected to positions of authority for which it is plainly obvious they are unsuitable. Sometimes this is because there is such a dearth of candidates to choose from -particularly if it is a small church with not many members. I am not sure how you would institute an effective process of screening but it might be worth Ed’s group considering how to do this in some depth.

    As for accountability, this is fundamental. Nobody is indispensable. Some churches I have seen that use a ‘Moses’ model of leadership are courting disaster. The best form of accountability I have seen (which was in a Baptist church ) was one when the leadership could only stand for a period of three years and then had to step down and lie ‘fallow’ for two, before being eligible for rel-election. This proved effective in preventing dominant personalities taking control.

    Problem here, of course is that you need a church with a big enough pool of candidates to choose from and many churches don’t have that luxury. And it might not work in an Anglican context.

    • Chris,
      Good points, especially the last one about requiring a sufficiently large pool of candidates to succeed the current leader. As you say, this might not work in an Anglican context (where incumbents are the norm).

      Abuses of power occur when there is either an excessive concentration of power in too few people or insufficient separation of powers (the executive, legislative and judicial branches of ‘government’).

      So, without the clear separation of executive from legislative power, in 2007, Mark Driscoll was able to force through proposed changes to the bylaws that granted indefinite terms of office to “executive elders”.

      For Ravi Zacharias, the RZIM governance committee was the ‘judicial’ branch of the organisation. Yet, instead of launching a thorough investigation into allegations against him, that judicial function was in thrall to his executive authority to the extent of authorising lawyers to sue Lori Anne Thompson, the married woman that he groomed, while insisting that Zacharias was the real victim of her blackmail plot.

      The 1982 Ruston Report was critical of John Smyth’s beatings, but did not have sufficient judicial authority to impose sanctions, Instead, according to a 2019 Scripture Union review, found “firm evidence that John Smyth was encouraged to leave the UK by senior Iwerne staff and alumni2. In other words, those who could have exercised that judicial function became accessories after the fact of his abuse.

      According to the Crowded House Learning Review, there was a concentration of executive authority in Steve Timmis’ approach to ministry (in essence, an executive leader who exercises a de facto judicial function). One contributor to that review explained :
      “What I would suggest is always needed is an accountability structure in which perhaps external, respected leaders can have access to the elder and meet with the flock to assess how things are going. Criticism of Steve was taken very personally and was quickly shut down.”

      As I outlined below, an alternative to this is to provide “accessible, authoritative and independent checks and balances in relation to the normative authority and decision-making”.

      Of course, as with all initiatives, adopting this approach will precipitate resourcing concerns, but nothing that can’t be overcome by the concerted political will of the church/diocese/religious organisation.

  4. Once exposed, abuses of power typically result in loss of credibility for the very authority structures that were either incapable, or unwilling to protect the victims.
    While useful, the review questions don’t appear to address this key issue.
    The key question to ask is “What are the accessible, authoritative and independent checks and balances in relation to the normative authority and decision-making in our church/diocese that ensures that complaints about abuse of power get a fair and unbiased response?”
    In the cited cases (e.g. Mark Driscoll, Ravi Zacharias, John Smyth, Steve Timmis and Jonathan Fletcher), it was the lack of accessible, authoritative and independent checks and balances that prevented complaints about abuse of power from getting a fair and unbiased response.
    Until that changes, I’d be stupid to think that the reflective questions will change abusive cultures.

    • David. Thank you for your very perceptive comments here. I agree they appear to be a still needed dimension to this process.

      • Thanks, David

        What’s interesting is that, despite Paul spending two years of selecting and training elders in Ephesus, he still told them: “ I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.“ (Acts 20:29-31)

        It would appear that despite putting his best endeavours into (as one commenter described it) “seeking to ensure that those who are released as leaders are a better kind of person, he could not prevent the influence of unhealthy leaders.

        Instead, his instructions to Timothy provided ‘judicial’ checks and balances to thwart abuse: “ 19Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

        This is what I mean by “accessible, authoritative and independent checks and balances that prevent complaints about abuse of power from getting a fair and unbiased response”.

    • It would also be unwise to think that their presence will change abusive cultures.

      Your comments – which are directed towards practical ways in which corruption of the heart can be restrained – give you away. You would not write them unless you take this approach to your own failings – instead of changing direction.

      See my comments elsewhere here about what real leadership culture change is and is not.

    • Since I have said that much let me add that your refusal to acknowledge any submission in the created order – including Christ to his Father – as outlined in 1 Cor 11:3 – or women to men – is you seeking to give your own conscience space to continue refusing to submit to God.

      • Please do not reply that such a created order is not established by 1 Corinthians 11:3. You are maintaining your views about Jesus in the face of the teaching of all of scripture.

        • kephale here is *not* a metaphor for ‘authority over’. That is easily established by looking at contemporary Greek literature. The Hebrew rosh (head) for leader of a clan is mostly translated in the LXX by archon (ruler) and not by kephale (head).

          In the creation narratives of Gen 1 and 2, there is not the slightest suggestion of hierarchy between the sexes.

          So, God’s creation order, yes: complete equality of authority between male and female, just as Paul says so clearly in 1 Cor 7.4.

          • Indeed. How do you read the language of ‘being ordered under’ (hupotasso, not ‘obey’ hupakouo) in the light of the exercise of the authority of the wife over the husband in 1 Cor 7.4? And in the light that we are all to submit to each other in Christ?

            And the fact that the primary commands here are to the husbands—that they must give themselves in love to their wives, rather than dominating them?

          • Hi Ian,

            I have booked for your training this Saturday. I’m looking forward to it but I want you to know that if the end of the world comes before Saturday I expect a full refund. I looked everywhere at Eventbrite for the terms and conditions but found no such clause. Are you sure you aren’t one of those prosperity preachers?

            I one hundred percent agree that leadership is not about having “authority over” people – as I have indicated before. Instead I believe that scripture shows leadership to be an obligation to pour oneself out to create an environment of justice for others in the hope that it becomes possible to offer mercy. That is what Jesus’ leadership in the cross is. Nobody seems eager to suggest that there is anything about the leadership of Jesus which is inherently abusive. It’s clear when we look at Jesus that leadership is not OF ITS VERY NATURE open to abuse – although people do abuse it. Since leadership isn’t about having authority over people this means that there is never a need – OR ANY BLESSING – in asserting one’s authority over people. If God places us in leadership it doesn’t matter if other people refuse to recognise that leadership – we are still free to act rightly – we are no less free to lead when our leadership is refused – we show our leadership in how we deal with that refusal. No act by person A stops person B from being able to act for their best welfare. When any leader sees their leadership as ANYTHING other than fulfilling an obligation towards others with the servant heart of Jesus they are no longer operating within their authority as leader.

            We also see in the life of Jesus that it is impossible to lead as he does (and all leaders are expected to lead as he does) without suffering – even terrible suffering. To win others to God – which will involve telling them the truth – will often see us rejected by them. Faithful Christianity will see us sacrificing all we are, humiliated, isolated, and questioning the meaning of it all – as Jesus experience in his life and death. So it’s all the more bizarre that we should reach a point where we view leadership as INHERENTLY dangerous.

            Despite the clear servant like and suffering nature of this responsibility – and our being both free and obligated to recognise people’s refusal of our leadership – leadership is like anything in creation – it can be co-opted for evil. Just men’s leadership or all leadership? Is the personal power of a woman not able to be similarly co-opted for evil? Is not a woman free to emotionally torture a man? To deliberately humiliate him? The general position in the C of E is anti male in a way that requires explanation – there is only one reason it – and it isn’t an especially evil group of men – it is a reverse response to male abuse of power in the C of E. Like the man who preaches against sexual immorality week after week because he’s involved in it. C of E men have failed to act like men in protecting the truth for the best welfare of others so they pretend in order to cover it up that men’s natural inclination to care about principle for the welfare of people – to seek to act in a way that brings protection and blessing to others – is itself a failure to be a true man. Real man should instead promote the idea of women leading in their place. Which leads us to wonder what female leadership is – to insist that men lead instead of them?

            Arguing that something has potential for evil is not a valid argument against its existence. If I use the fact that I know Barack Obama to extort money from people that doesn’t make Barack Obama guilty for extorting money from people. It sounds pretty ridiculous when you say it that way, doesn’t it?

            In the light of what I have said about the nature of leadership I don’t see why you feel as you have said something only in pointing out that kephale does not mean “authority over”. I ask that instead of saying something which I agree with in disagreeing with me that you will not persist in being a small target – that for example you will say what you believe to be the meaning of kephale and why? Do you believe that Christian leadership is inherently abusive – or only as abusive as anything else is when co-opted for evil? What does it mean biblically to be a leader? Since we agree that leadership isn’t “authority over” anyone where does that now mean we are? I’m not trying to trap you – feel free to present your views about the nature of godly leadership and where you believe God wishes to appoint people leaders. You could provide me with a one sentence explanation of your conclusion and main reason for it for each of the following passages – 1 Timothy 2, Genesis 2, Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Peter 3. And 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – which you agree with me shows that practising same sexual behaviour is a sign that someone is not saved – while opposite sex behaviour within righteous marriage is not – the only difference being the differing sexes. Revealing that sex differences are of primary importance to God – at the very heart of the gospel.

            I gather you accept the social science that shows that there are differences between men and women – why do you believe those differences aren’t enough to make men and women suitable for different roles? When men and women naturally act that way – when men and women are left to choose – even in societies which seek to remove what they believe to be social biases – they will choose differently in respect of work roles and work areas.

            I am very surprised that you quote 1 Corinthians 7:4 as evidence that men and women are hierarchically the same in respect of authority in life. That passage is about the giving of marriage partners to each other sexually. Are you saying that authority over someone’s body (which as I have explained isn’t the right to have sex with our partner whenever we want – it’s the opposite – it’s to have sex with our partner whenever doing so will be a blessing to them) is authority in life? The thing that I am left to wonder Ian is why when you know that most of the Christian world thinks that passage is about the giving of marriage partners to each other sexually that you can just say out of the blue that it isn’t without so much as a few words explaining why. Why do you imagine that you have done enough in simply stating your view without any reasoning – even if you are right?

            You said that you believe that Genesis 1 and 2 has nothing to say about hierarchy between the sexes. But then again you do what you did with 1 Corinthians 7. Instead of responding as if aware that there are loads of people in Christendom who don’t take that view – because 1 Timothy 2 says that Eve’s being created after Adam is an indication of hierarchy – and also 1 Timothy 2 says that Eve’s being deceived is a sign of her lack of suitability for SPIRITUAL leadership of men – you simply say nothing. Why if you are right are you so unwilling to help us wayward folk out – unwilling to explain why we are wrong?

            I wish that you would chose a more helpful – more conciliatory path. A path that expresses a desire to be united with me and others who hold my view.

            If my submission makes too many demands please be assured that it would in my mind be progress if you were to respond to a few of them.

          • And Phil Almond’s comment? Did you not reply to his because it was too short? Think of the two comments as medium in length if that helps.

            Egalitarianism is like sex – it’s something that consenting adults only seem to engage in in private.

          • Ian
            I have answered this in a former thread to which you have yet to respond. And re-read my long essay on this subject.

            Phil Almond

      • I would point out that the excuse of ‘submission in created order’ has been a significant source of abuse in relationships, and the failure of churches to deal with this.

        • Are you saying that men are more sinful than women? That we have a man problem in the church? Or are you saying that we have a message problem – that we are drawing ideas from scripture which are not there? Or misunderstanding their heart if they are there?
          I hope that you will go further because as things stand I don’t think you have said enough for anyone to know where you are really coming from.

          • I want to know for example why David you mention men’s having authority in relation to their wives being dangerous but women’s having authority in relation to their children is not. Or bosses having authority in relation to their employees.

          • Philip. Well I am not saying that men are more sinful than women. But I would certainly say that we have what you call ‘a man problem’ in the church. The evidence is clear. The only named offenders in Ed Shaw’s article are male church leaders. This whole CEEC initiative is an attempt to respond to and to change a perceived coercive male leadership culture. And, for the record, by far the greater incidence of safeguarding abuse cases in churches are men on men or men on boys.

          • If men are not more sinful than women then by definition we don’t have a man problem in the church – we have a sin problem. And if we have a sin problem it would be very odd if it affected only one sex and not the other. Where there is male abuse of power we will also find women seeking to rule over men. To justify the first we sanctify the second (we call it women’s rights – and women’s ordination) – it’s the only way in which men can justify their continued failure as men.

            Having said that in the C of E the failing began with men. Not in the men who abused people – their opportunity to do that was the result of a prior failure of other men. The failure was to fail to speak and model a path of pouring oneself to establish an environment of righteousness. In such an environment abuse is not tolerated – and those tempted to abuse will not feel able. But instead those who lead the church just point at the abusers and wag their finger. Sorted. And announce a range of measures designed to appear as if they are doing something.

          • Philip. I do not agree. The CEEC workstream concerns power and abuse of power in leadership in a corner of the Christian church where women are not allowed to exercise leadership or have oversight authority. That is what men do. So it when it comes to unredeemed behaviour in church leadership in this context – this is an issue for men and men need to face upon it.

          • Let me explain myself another way.

            The Church of England has been heavily influenced by both Pharisees (the word without Jesus) and liberals (Jesus without the word). I admit that I have been slow to see the Pharisaical element (I obviously could see that some were being found out for their abusive behaviour but what I didn’t see that it was coming from the spirit of the Pharisee) because my direct contact with the C of E since coming to the UK has for reasons I won’t divert to explain with those who are seeking to separate the word from Jesus – liberals. What I didn’t realise until recently is that this forum is similar – I was aware of the liberals but it has taken me time to see that there are as many Pharisees here as there are liberals – and in the C of E generally. The attitude of some on this forum who would call themselves orthodox and yet long to damn instead of save – is wicked.

            The child abuse is done by both sides. There are the well publicised Pharisees who have abused young people – but there are also liberals abusing – they are abusing those who are struggling with issues of identity by affirming their feelings – which is a path to depression, self harm and even eventually to people taking steps to mutilate their bodies – the child abuse does not belong to one side.

            My previous point – hopefully now made clearer – is that those who have led the C of E at the highest level are primarily responsible for BOTH of these cancers growing within the C of E. It is not appropriate to consider Pharisee leaders who ended up abusing children as being solely at fault – nor women and their supporters who have taken advantage of the space provided by senior leadership to overrule men and to undermine the teaching of scripture. The primary fault is with those who were in a position to ensure that neither happened and who did nothing.

            The CEEC is not as things stand in a position to lead anyone out of this – they have failed to begin by confessing their own sin – their remaining silent for the sake of the growth of their own ministries – and their having a peaceful path.

          • Philip. I’m afraid your point is not clearer. We also come from very different places to this debate – not least on men, women and scripture. Happy to leave my comments alongside yours at this point.

          • The point that I should have added is that there is no basis whatsoever for thinking that the existence of hierarchy in male and female relationships is of its very nature abusive (and therefore wherever it exists and there is abuse that those who believe in such hierarchy are responsible or partially at fault for that abuse). If that was so we would be obligated to believe that every boss to employee relationship was intrinsically abusive (or just male boss to employee – or just female employee – relationship if we believe that to be male is to be intrinsically abusive). Which shows that the whole idea is utter nonsense. With that out of the way we must find an explanation – since hierarchy isn’t that one – for abuse – which I provided – and since no-one has provided any other viable explanation it currently stands unopposed.

          • Philip. I note that you have exchanged with Ian on the issue of hierarchy between men and women. I share his view that the bible teaches mutuality not hierarchy. Hierarchy between men and women appears in the scriptures at the fall. It does not follow that, as a result, all relationships are abusive in the sense this thread is exploring. They are plainly not. By God’s mercy where sin abounds, grace abounds more. But if hierarchy is not God’s creating intention but actually expresses a world fallen from that – well we should hardly expect practising it or imposing it on each other to be good or healthy for us. And it is not surprising if we have to face up to deeply unredeemed expressions of it in the church – as we are at this time.

          • I have “exchanged” with Ian on the issue of hierarchy between men and women. This exchange saw Ian withdraw however.
            It therefore doesn’t amount to expressing an opinion accompanied by reasoning to simply say “I support Ian’s view” when the only thing we have from Ian is his conclusion and his belief as to what one greek word DOESN’T mean in 1 Cor 11.
            To have a case the egalitarian must make the case for there being no hierarchy between men and women in scripture by referencing bible passages which by any person on the street’s reading would support the existence of hierarchy – and therefore which any presenter must recognise and account for in their presentation:
            Gen 2 (this has a plain reading as a result of 1 Tim 2)
            1 Cor 11
            Eph 5
            1Tim 2
            1 Pet 3
            And finally I have presented my argument that sex differences are primary – they relate to the heart of the gospel – using 1 Cor 6:9-10.

            I tweeted a C of E bishop last night – as part of it pointing out that egalitarianism is dead – proven by the unwillingness to argue for it in the public space. I am not asking anyone to embarrass themselves – only pointing out that there simply is no willingness – at least on this site – in any person holding an egalitarian view – to present that view in public.
            Again – in the absence of anyone being willing to make the case for egalitarianism my view that the presence of hierarchy in male and female relationships is not any more intrinsically abusive than say a male employer and female employee relationships – stands.

          • ‘This exchange saw Ian withdraw however.’

            Er, no. Better ‘This exchange showed that Ian has a life and his chief goal is not actually spending his whole day answering my massively lengthy comments’.

          • David Runcorn, you comment: ‘The CEEC workstream concerns power and abuse of power in leadership in a corner of the Christian church where women are not allowed to exercise leadership or have oversight authority.’

            I don’t understand why you think this? I am a member of CEEC…

          • Nobody is asking those with egalitarian views to present them complete on this forum – only to use this forum to point to where they exist in some kind of coherent summary. This has nothing to do with having a life or not having a life – only with whether one’s views exist in some readable form anywhere. If yours do Ian you have so far not been willing to point to them – on any number of possible occasions. Again if you don’t feel comfortable that you can present a view this is not a crime – the only crime is to pretend that you have in fact done so and to chime in to the discussion making comments which you consider to hold water when you have never shown their place in your overall view.

            Let me repeat – no-one who is isn’t actively presenting their opinions in the area of sexuality has any responsibility to present their view here. But everyone who is does.

            There are plenty of people on this forum that support egalitarian position – unfortunately to this point they all have one thing in common – they aren’t willing to present any kind of summary of their views. (Those who believe that homosexuality is not sinful would as part of their theology of sexuality also need to explain Leviticus and Romans 1 along with 1 Corinthians 6).

            My expressing what I have above should not be considered to be an indication that I believe myself not to have successfully made these points on many occasions in the past. Only that I don’t wish for anyone on this forum – or anyone visiting it – to be under any illusions as to how things stand.

          • Philip. ‘Let me repeat’ … no please don’t. You make yourself very clear – and at length – including your complete disregard or respect for views other than the ones you yourself hold.

          • Ian. So sorry – very clumsily put. I know better but had in mind the conservative end of course. We agree on this. But while you are welcome in the CEEC, I am not ‘CEEC seeks to unite Anglican evangelicals’.

          • David R, you concentrate greatly on the concept ‘views’ which is an unusable concept since everything from a wish to a demand to a hard-won research conclusion is a ‘view’.

            You then, secondly, say that if people are coming from very different places they cannot debate. But every debate in the world is between people who come from different places.

            They are seeking to advance their understanding.

            Hoping for convergence.

            Views are worthless, but the arguments (not assertions) they are based on are what is worth a lot. If people state only assertions or pre-emptive conclusions, they lose the debate.

          • Also your presupposition of a spectrum between conservative and not-conservative shackles debate. That spectrum is to do with age and fashion only, both of which are irrelevant factors.

            The only spectra worth anything are:
            coherent to incoherent;
            accurate to the realities to inaccurate to the realities.

          • It’s difficult to have disrespect for views which to this point – in the absence of any summary – do not in fact exist.

            Even if they did exist would Christian love compel me to respect those views? It would – unless I intend to behave like a Pharisee – require me to seek to find anything of merit in them there was to find. I believe that I have sought to do that in presenting the view that the C of E has both failed in choosing the word but not Jesus (Pharisaism) and in choosing Jesus without the word (liberalism). And I have said that the existence of both is a failure of senior leadership – and the existence of each group is to some extent a reaction to the existence of the opposite group. I think that that is a conciliatory view which I wish that C of E leadership – and people on this forum – would adopt.

            I explain my view more fully in the tweet thread at the link below:

          • David ‘But while you are welcome in the CEEC, I am not ‘CEEC seeks to unite Anglican evangelicals’.’

            CEEC unite those who are evangelical, and where terms have become increasingly plastic, CEEC asks that people who come do have clear continuity with historic understandings of evangelical theology.

            The reason for that, sadly, was that several people, who privately have long admitted they were not evangelicals, continued to use the term, because they could use it to broad support and gain for themselves positions of influence. And they then used access to meetings to dominate and protest, which was a shame.

          • Ian. I have no idea who you are referring to. But you surely know I am referring to fellow evangelicals like me and in places like EGGS who were excluded by the deliberate insertion of a more restrictive basis of faith that they could not accept. Drawing the fence posts tighter is one way to achieve unity – simply because the only people inside all think the same. But now is not the time and this is not the place … sorry … but I write as, I thought, your friend and brother in Christ, but am not sure you think that in the light of what you wrote.

  5. It seems that we have strayed from Jesus’ thoughts on abuse. Matthew 18 has been “sectionalized” into multiple vignettes that we use to talk about church discipline, restoration, forgiveness, etc. However, in doing so we are blinded to the meaning of that chapter when read in context. The very words spoken to comfort and restore the abused are sometimes turned into weapons against them.
    “A Jesus Hug” is 12 minutes of a unique perspective that may be worth considering in light of the current position of the church world.
    May God continue to bless your work for Him,

  6. While this is being considered as a quasi-judicial process with checks and balances, could it be suggested that the *rules of natural Justice* apply at all stages in the process.
    David Shepherd has set out a scriptural process, but other scriptural wisdon wisdom literature also pertain.
    Consider the whole process of the trial(s) of Jesus and what may be learned, even the trials of Paul in Acts?
    But, to set some distinguishing features: what is Church? An organisation, an institution a heirachal structure that vests authority? Or is it more, different? Is it family?
    Leadership, is not leadership, without authority, Questions of scope, limits, and how it is exercised come into play.
    Sure, there is also situational authority and influences of change who don’t have structural authority.
    But all positions carry a burden of accountability (though that may be difficult to recognise as being applicable to influencers.)
    Can leadership be taught I asked? No, was the short answer from a local preacher, prof in Business Studies at a world class English Uni?
    Character is key.

  7. Isn’t it because people are human and fallen? My worry is that any action taken beyond the obvious and basic (try to spot and address bullying behaviour, even with people who are highly effective) will do more harm than good. This is where safeguarding and CDM have ended up, and do a lot of harm to the innocent and imperil the church’s mission. They are also run by people after all. It’s important to remember we can’t solve every problem, can’t prevent every wickedness. New systems and procedures can frequently become millstones without actually doing much to help because people are still people.

    • Hi Will,
      You reveal in exactly what way placing the main focus on strategies designed to restrain corruption won’t help – those who are responsible for such mechanisms are themselves fallen.
      However that isn’t the end of it because the Bible sets out a standard for the behaviour of leaders. Therefore even if we cannot identify any path forward (I have elsewhere here – I’m talking theoretically) we would at the very least have to insist that those who don’t meet the tests for leadership not operate in leadership.

      • What are those tests and who will apply them? It’s quite a thing to exclude talented people from leadership who’ve done nothing wrong because they fail your test of what you think they might do wrong in the future. Sounds like a recipe for smearing people’s reputations and blighting their careers and depriving the church of their ministry without due cause to me. Unless I’ve misunderstood what you’re proposing?

        • Thanks for you reply Will.

          It’s not a matter of what you or I think is a good idea. It’s about what the Bible says must be present in a leader before they are released into leadership. See below bible passages which outline the tests that a person must pass to be operating as an elder in a church (a senior pastor being an elder and almost always a teaching elder) see:

          – Titus 1:5–9 (husband of one wife, believing children, not open to the charge of debauchery (they are disciplined sexually), or insubordination (they have learned submission), not arrogant, not quick tempered, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain, hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

          – 1 Peter 5:1–4 (be a shepherd, not because of duty, but willingly, not for gain, not domineering, an example to the flock).

          – Acts 20:26–31 (teaches the full counsel of God, keeps an eye on oneself, and on the flock – protects them from harm, is willing to admonish, then separating from, but does not enjoy it).

          Admonishing starts less severely and becomes more severe if unsuccessful – it usually begins with gentle correction (2 Tim 2:25, then rebuking (Titus 1:13), then disciplining (Matt 18) and if all that fails – separating from (also Matt 18 but also see Rom 16:17 and 2 John vv10-11).

          – James 5:14 (prays for the sick)

          That’s quite a list. The message seems to be – “don’t let people into ministry unless they meet a high standard” – instead of “everyone’s a sinner but deserves a go”. It’s better to be strict before damage is done instead of strict after.

          • Please ignore the words “then separating from” after “willing to admonish” – editing error – in the paragraph about Acts 20.

          • So if someone was a Church leader and then as their children grew up, despite their parents best efforts they stopped believing, do you think that person should be required to resign all leadership positions in a church?

          • Hi Kingcrawa

            What do you think?

            The one to do with believing children is linked to being able to manage one’s family – see the passage below which includes that test and should have been part of the list of passages I provided previously.

            I think that it’s very unlikely that a leader who is failing in respect of character will fail only a single test. That’s not how poor character works.

            1 Timothy :1-7 ESV
            The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

    • Good that you show such a capacity for independent thought, Will. It shows us what we are missing when so many are captive to groupthink.

    • There has also been a significant sea change in culture, with super-sensitive, affirmation craving coming to the fore, that can giving rise to frivelous and vexacious claims.
      That said, the main abuses that have been highlighted in the article and comments, can hardly be daid to fall into those types of claims
      And just because all human nature is fallen, and systems doesn’t mean we do nothing. Just the opposite. Christians are to seek to model justice as individuals and in systems. All scripture
      esteems and cries out for justice and implaccably opposes injustice. God is just. As Christians we are not be indifferent, intellectually distanced nor red-mist occluded in our approach.

  8. There’s been an exchange on twitter about the people producing this material and their perceived proximity to some of the abusive people mentioned above.
    There is no list of authors (some are survivors so rightly anonymous – but others aren’t). So people have looked at those on the video.

    Who are the right people to comment & advise on these events?
    Is the UK conservative evangelical scene simply a small world? Should the authors declare their connections? For such a painful & sensitive subject should the material be widely consulted both inside and outside their constituency before release?

  9. We now learn that the 31:8 report on the culture of the Titus Trust is being published tomorrow (8th). I wonder why CEEC workstream has been produced ahead of the unpublished report and its findings? As they have not seen it, it cannot directly have informed or guided their work. It could look like a bit pre-emptive at the very moment it needs to be seen to the transparently engaging with independent findings. So I wonder why they did not wait and allow the material to express accountability and an informed, critical response.

  10. David,
    Why does this have to be seen as either/or, or indeed pre-emptive. Can there not be a cogent argument for a composite evaluation?
    Just as you refute a pre-emptiveover LLF?
    What is troubling is attributing bad faith motives (including my own).

  11. Greetings Geoff. Let me put it another way. The process is always part of the content. In fact the way an issue is approached (process) strongly influences how we respond to the issue itself (content) – and even if we trust it.
    But it is out there now – and we pray it all achieves what it needs too.
    By the way, I made no mention of LLF. Nor did I attribute ‘bad faith motives’ to you. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you?


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