Is evangelical theology abusive?

I came to faith and was nurtured in the evangelical tradition, and I also attended a public school (Dulwich College in London)—though funded by the local authority, since my parents had run out of money to pay for me after funding my brother and sister ahead of me. But I had no contact with the quite small and select circle of those involved in the Iwerne Minster Camps which were for a short time overseen by John Smyth, who it is now alleged physically abused boys he met there at his home. Reading the account of one of his victims is harrowing indeed and, many years later, still captures the painful humiliation that was inflicted and experienced. If you have not experienced abuse, then it is a challenging task to imagine the depths of the wounds that were inflicted, and in this sort of context this is compounded both by a sense of betrayal by those in whom you invested so much personal trust, and the spiritual crisis that then follows. How can I now believe anything about God when those who taught me have betrayed me so badly? Mark Meynell, who did attend Iwerne Camps but many years later, captures this sense of disorientation well:

I started trying to write a post about it all yesterday but found myself too upset and shaken. There’s just too much to process and disentangle. And I never suffered this abuse nor even knew Smyth’s name. It was all before my time. But it’s become a perfect storm with all kinds of different agendas driving various responses…I just can’t find a way to write about it carefully or objectively at the moment (even though a number of friends have asked if I would). Perhaps one day.

Mark helpfully goes on to identify an agenda for prayer around this issue, starting with the two most important issues:

  • For the victims who have thus far gone unheeded to find some resolution, restoration and justice – that all these years of buried and suppressed pain would find healing and that they will be honoured and comforted as they deserve. This must also include those who are closest to Smyth’s victims specifically, because they will inevitably have faced consequences indirectly.
  • For the exposure of the guilty (whoever they are, regardless of their theology, status, subsequent achievements, or passage of time since the crimes). That victims would have the courage and security to bear witness to what they suffered and that the guilty would recognise their guilt.

But Mark also highlights another area of concern: ‘that this would not become a bandwagon for waging other battles (which is sickening indeed)’. He mentions this because this is exactly what some figures have done. Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University comments ‘I feel ashamed for those in power who have allowed this to happen and who still can’t admit how a conservative evangelical theology aided and abetted it. That theology is evident in the bishops’ statement [on same-sex relationships].’ And Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, appeared on Channel 4 News to make the same point, that this wasn’t the fault of one man, but of a whole theological tradition. David Robertson observes:

While I expect the more extreme atheist secularists to take this kind of line (and to be fair many secularists would not make that kind of clumsy connection), it is more than a little disappointing that a professing Christian leader should use this tragic case to further a particular theological/political agenda within the church.

It seems bizarre to me that any Christian commentator should imagine that those outside the church and faith might respond to this by saying ‘Oh, I see, so one Christian theological tradition is unhealthy, but the other traditions are fine.’ The use of these tragedies to criticise particular traditions is simply heard as a condemnation of religion of all kinds. Worse than that, it detracts from the plight of the victims, as they themselves comment. Mark Stibbe, who has been well-known as a speaker, writer and leader in this tradition, and who himself was one of the victims, responded:

The person who anonymously spoke to the Telegraph also comments:

The final thing that I would like to say is that, from my perspective, it’s not about institutions and organisations; all of those four institutions that I’ve listed include good people doing important, valuable work. So, for me, it’s all about specific individuals. It’s about John Smyth. Myself. The other victims. And all those individuals who have known about this story during those 40 years – and said nothing.

Remarkably, in an act of considerable personal courage, the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, has gone public in admitting that he too was part of this circle, and did experience abuse at the hands on Smyth on one occasion. He observes:

I would also like to express the concern of myself and some of my fellow survivors that we are seen as people and not used as pawns in some political or religious game. Abusers espouse all theologies and none; and absolutely nothing that happened in the Smyth shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology that I’ve come across before or since. It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives.

Elaine Storkey, when interviewed earlier on Channel 4 News, was unequivocal:

Was that Christian? Absolutely not. There was nothing even remotely Christian about the attitudes [Smyth] had. It violates every aspect of Christian theology….The point about the Bible verses is that Christian faith has a high view of the body. The idea that you violate someone else’s body to draw them in line is absolutely reprehensible.

When asked how it is that abuse can happen in the Church, Elaine responded: ‘Because we recruit from the human race.’

But is Andrew Watson right? Or does evangelicalism have a particular problem in this area? It is important to put such a question in the context of other tragic examples of abuse. Bishop Peter Ball was firmly in the sacramental tradition, and was convicted of child sex abuse. John Howard Yoder fell from grace in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. And how quickly we forget the case of Chris Brain and the Nine O’Clock service in Sheffield, firmly in the progressive/’original blessing’ theological tradition. What these situations have in common is a powerful, charismatic figure who attains a status and a following where both victims and ‘observers’ find it difficult to ask the appropriate questions, and where structures of accountability fail or simply do not exist. Does evangelicalism, and in particular that branch known as conservative evangelicalism, have a concern in this area? For sure. Is there any tradition immune from this tendency? Clearly not.

Every theological tradition will have its own strengths which allow it to resist cultures of abuse and manipulation, and each tradition will also have its points of vulnerability. The evangelical tradition in general has, I think, two potential points of vulnerability. The first is a tendency towards rationalism, and in this evangelicals have been in danger of embracing too readily an Enlightenment rationality under the guise of a commitment to truth as propositional rather than personal. The second weakness (ironically) is a tendency to reject structures of authority, and instead focus on personal discernment of what is right. Such individualism can make it harder to spot structural examples of abuse and have the frameworks in place that lead to a clear sense of accountability.

But evangelicalism (in the broadest sense) also has some key strengths which can protect against abuse. The first is a commitment to questioning authority, and rejecting uncritical acceptance of claims to truth. This can be seen historically in the radically egalitarian approach to access to the Bible as articulated by Wycliffe and other early translators, and it is a commitment that runs through evangelicalism to the present day. It is also evident the New Testament’s commitment to plural leadership, and the idea of the ‘ministry of all believers’ which, from a theological point of view, undercuts every notion of the all-knowing and all-controlling leader. Evangelical theology also has another major strength to draw on, and that is its commitment to being counter-cultural, and being ready to subject all aspects of culture to critique. One thing that has emerged very clearly from this episode is the prevalence of corporal punishment in the English public school system. Where evangelicals participated in this, they have done so through adopting the surrounding culture instead of standing against it—by colluding with culture, rather than offering an evangelical critique of this culture as they should have done.

Every theological tradition will have such points of strength and points of vulnerability, and so all need to do some soul-searching here. The last thing we should do is use such incidents as ways to ‘score points’; it is the victims and the quest for both healing and justice which must remain at the centre. Mark Meynell concludes his piece by repeating words he had posted earlier:

It is NOT a betrayal of the gospel to report criminal offenders to the police, even if their offences occurred under the auspices of gospel ministry… They are the ones who betrayed both the gospel and those they abused. It is agonising for all concerned, and yet it is the only way to protect the integrity of gospel ministry.

So if you or someone you know was abused then either:
– Call 101 and ask for “operation cubic” or
– if in CofE, email the Church of England safeguarding officer: [email protected]

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111 thoughts on “Is evangelical theology abusive?”

  1. You are right, Ian, and I hope your post gets wide circulation. Evangelicalism is not intrinsically abusive nor necessarily prone to end in abuse. But, and this is a point for humble reflection for all evangelicals, perhaps especially when we claim some level of victory over sin, it does not have any special protection from falling into abuse. Nor does any other part of the Christian spectrum. Elaine Storkey is also spot on as she explains why this is so!

  2. You are right, Ian, and I hope your post gets wide circulation. Evangelicalism is not intrinsically abusive nor necessarily prone to end in abuse. But, and this is a point for humble reflection for all evangelicals, perhaps especially when we claim some level of victory over sin, it does not have any special protection from falling into abuse. Nor does any other part of the Christian spectrum. Elaine Storkey is also spot on as she explains why this is so!

  3. The main danger-factor for abuse is the period 1963-83 and/or the ideas being put about and broadcast at that time. Those who were card-carrying followers of those ideas were disproportionately responsible for abuse, but the fact that they normalised those ideas throughout society meant that abuse was also found throughout society.

    Penal substitution:
    Most would agree that:
    given that evangelicals do not question scripture;
    given that Isaiah (esp. the servant-songs) was the main scriptural portrayal of how a messiah’s life would pan out;
    given that Isaiah 53 is, purely according to the NT documents, arguably bar none the scripture Jesus most applied to himself and seems to have understood his ministry by;
    and given that that most central passage of all spoke of the Messiah ‘taking punishment’ and says that ‘it was the Lord’s will to crush him’, all within a substitutionary/vicarious-punishment backdrop of sacrifice of bulls and goats, and the scapegoat practice;
    then penal substitutionary atonement is scriptural and is therefore going to be affirmed by evangelicals whether they personally find it pleasant (and how is that relevant??) or whether they don’t. Things do not become true by virtue of being pleasant, nor untrue by virtue of being unpleasant. What could be more obvious?

    The silliest part of Bishop Wilson’s presentation was that our theology has to be psychologically healthy. It just needs to be accurate and truthful. His failure to realise that means that he actually does not think that theology is dealing with realities at all, and therefore does not need to be accurate, just nice and aesthetically pleasing. However psychologically healthy it is, that will not make it true if it isn’t. He thinks that one can tailor-make God to be the way we’d want him to be. By the law of averages, a real God would not always be the way we would wish him to be (but that’s just ‘tough’): isn’t that obvious? Talk about a God made in one’s own image, 2nd commandment. In my experience, a leading liberal rabbi and a LGCM official both were nonplussed by this (surely obvious and central) point, as though it had neve occurred to them before.

    Please do not be taken in by the agenda of Cathy Newman and Channel 4 News – all their ‘spin’ is serving the same ideology which is also the ‘same old’ ideology – we are not ignorant of their schemes:

    -No Justin Welby was not a ‘colleague’. Hierarchy was: board (Smyth etc.) – commandant (Fletcher) – adjutant (Wells) – officers (1:3 ratio with boys) – dorm officers (Welby latterly) – senior campers (Atherstone: peaking at 139 in 1977; including Welby formerly) – boys (and from mid-1980s, girls; peaking at 285 in 1977: Atherstone).
    -No, no abuse took place at camps. The Telegraph and Tablet – in fact most outlets – are repeating this untruth. Abuse was not even in the same county, and involved one man (+ boys).
    -No, the Church should not be ashamed, since almost no-one knew, except Smyth and schoolboys/students. JW kindly apologises once again for something that’s not his fault; by saying that the church should be held to a higher standard he says he is quite ok with the idea that others (e.g journalists whom Tom Wright likens to Pharisees) should meet a lower standard themselves and be free to criticise as hypocrites those who have adopted a higher standard.
    -No (yet again) ‘the Church’ does not equal the Church of England: media should disentangle the two when speaking of them.
    -No the iwerne camps are not Church of England but parachurch though in fact C of E majority.
    -Mark Ruston (born c1920s) and David Fletcher (born 1932) are ‘friends’ in a sense but far from being contemporaries.
    -Welby was not aware because the abuse was in its infancy when he left the country in 1978.
    -The connection with Welby is highly tangential, and is no greater with him (save for the Ruston connection) than with any other senior camper or boy. It is also obvious why the media spin the Welby-connection angle. Predictable and dishonest.
    -Anne Atkins does not say that the male senior campers did a lot of the drudgery. The camps were to replicate public-school conditions. No females were therefore obliged to attend at all, but if they were kind enough to attend, they would not by definition be part of the main structure any more than men would be if they attended the parallel Motcombe girls’ camps.
    -The character of the products of Iwerne is the best I have ever known. This is a central fact that Channel 4 has never mentioned. And here we are speaking of an institution that had no abuse (just to reiterate).
    -If more publicity had been given (and most certainly the police should have been told at once) that would have harmed the boys’ families, the media would never have let it drop (and therefore it is partly their fault ofor having such a nature as they do) and the camps would have been extremely-inaccurately stereotyped from that time forward, thus unnecessarily spoiling decades of great work.
    -So far from the ethos of Iwerne was Smyth’s appalling abuse, that Iwerne men asked for him to leave the country, alerted Winchester so that Smyth could be banned from there, and had as top priorities to stop Smyth and care for those he had harmed. The latter partly took the shape of easing some of these outstanding young leaders (several of the best young Christians at that time were at Winchester, which had a mid-1970s revival abetted I imagine by John Woolmer then teaching maths there, though I see evidence in the accounts of another unnamed maths teacher who was instrumental; and the best of all will often show youthful idealism – though what happened is shockingly enough not so far removed from what they and their contemporaries would have found in both boys’-schools and military around this time) into the structure of the organisation, by increasing their travelling-speaking opportunities. Smyth as Stibbe says was the snake in the grass (a role in revival also ascribed, but a bit less fairly, to Jessie Penn-Lewis). But a barrister who has to work hard enough to beat Geoffrey Robertson AND John Mortimer AND against the cultural tide is certainly under pressure (cf. Paul Diamond these days who has to take on a whole stream of cases) – and the influence of sleeping pills? (Jan 1977 when the abuse possibly began was a month or two after the Gay News prosecution campaign got under way), and I do not imagine the abuse lessened the pressure in his life 1980 when he had to pull out of the Romans in Britain trial (settled out of court?) with illness.

    Cathy Newman was inaccurate when she claimed she was thrown out of a mosque; when (early autumn 2016 Dispatches) the filming of abortion protesters cut out the salient fact that the man ‘harassing’ was in a wheelchair; when she criticised the idea that more than 50 studies show the abortion-breast cancer link without knowing what the chapter and verse for this was ( 16 out of 74 studies and 1 meta-analysis show negative correlation but 58 studies and 2 meta-analyses show positive correlation – and far more evidence can be presented even over and above this); when she relied on the uncontactable Dr Kate Guthrie (from the ‘RC’OG which is actually a Trade Union) who quoted no chapter and verse at all on air to nay-say this. Face it: there are targets she wants to get, and everything is spun in that direction; those who say the truth about abortion and the ABC, for two.
    In the course of ostensibly protesting against harassment, she herself harassed protester Jusztyna about her salary which is far lower than her own!
    Does she care about harassing another person: the godly David Fletcher at age of 84?

    • “Penal substitution:
      Most would agree that:
      given that evangelicals do not question scripture;
      given that Isaiah (esp. the servant-songs) was the main scriptural portrayal of how a messiah’s life would pan out;
      given that Isaiah 53 is, purely according to the NT documents, arguably bar none the scripture Jesus most applied to himself and seems to have understood his ministry by;
      and given that that most central passage of all spoke of the Messiah ‘taking punishment’ and says that ‘it was the Lord’s will to crush him’, all within a substitutionary/vicarious-punishment backdrop of sacrifice of bulls and goats, and the scapegoat practice;
      then penal substitutionary atonement is scriptural and is therefore going to be affirmed by evangelicals whether they personally find it pleasant (and how is that relevant??) or whether they don’t. Things do not become true by virtue of being pleasant, nor untrue by virtue of being unpleasant. What could be more obvious?”

      Re Isaiah 53. Whilst it is true that parts of that chapter do indeed seem to be about someone who is punished on behalf of or in place of others, the New Testament’s use of various verses from Isaiah 53 is very careful (one might even say selective) and never even comes close to implying that this was the case with Christ. In fact, it’s striking just how careful the New Testament writers (John, Paul, Matthew, Luke and Peter) are in their use of Isaiah 53 given how extensively they refer to it. They never even quote the “punishment” texts, much less apply them to the cross. And if they (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) didn’t then perhaps we ought not either. The New Testament writers clearly knew the “punishment” parts of Isaiah 53 (verses 4b, 5, 6 & 10) and they knew of the crucifixion, yet they never make any connection between the two: in fact, those verses are delicately danced around, with the verses either side of them being quoted in full. There is a marked refusal to cite the verses about him being punished for us.

      Being generous, Isaiah 53:6 is strongly alluded to in 1 Peter 2: 24-25 but without the bit about the Lord laying on him the iniquity of us all – i.e. without any hint of punishment. Rather, it is reworked as Christ taking upon himself the iniquity of us all. Notice the difference: no-one lays anything on him; he takes it upon himself. That is a very small but very significant detail that changes everything: here, Christ is not the one on whom God lays the sin of the world but Christ is God taking (and taking away) all our sin.

      What Isaiah (ch. 53) couldn’t have imagined or foreseen was that the suffering servant *is* Yahweh: “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” is really “the LORD has taken upon himself in the form of Jesus the iniquity of us all”

      As for this “all within a substitutionary/vicarious-punishment backdrop of sacrifice of bulls and goats” I’m not sure that’s what OT sacrifices are about . . . .


      • Oliver, I don’t think I am too far away from Hebrews on the role of bulls and goats in taking away not their own sin but that of the humans. Am I?

        Scaregoat is undeniably substitutionary, and the got undeniably suffers a punishment. (The killed animals obviously also suffer punishment, and a worse one than that of the scapegoat.)

        Your argument about NT authors not mentioning Isa53 punishment is not *entirely* (but is partly) an argument ex silentio, because you pick up on Peter’s alteration of the text. (I am writing without commentaries here, so will take it that you’re correct.) But if any NT author had been asked about whether the whole or selected bits of Isa53 applied to Christ, to a man they would have said ‘the whole’. There is no option of cherrypicked bits being true of Christ and other bits being untrue of Christ, since that would be to impugn Isaiah’s integrity, and indeed cast doubt on the very process of citing prophecy at all.

          • I think that the solution lies in discovering exactly what is meant by righteousness in the NT, for this is the result of Christ’s sacrifice.

            ‘Dikaiosunes’ is focused on restoring offended honour to the satisfaction of the aggrieved party.

            I would really recommend reading Eric A. Havelock’s ‘The Greek Concept of Justice’.

            He writes of Homer’s Odyssey and Ilead:
            ‘Both epics, however, are very far from identifying “justice” as a principle with a priori foundations, whether conceived as the necessary “rule of law” or as a moral sense in man. These “justices” administered in the plural by kings (archaistically) or by magistrates (realistically) are processes not principles, solving specifics, not applying general laws; they express themselves in negotiated settlement of rival claims. They operate to restore proprieties in human relationships’

            That last sentence is very significant to the NT. As an example of dikaiosunes, Havelock describes King Menelaus’ grievance with Antilochus’ obstructive cornering in the chariot race at the Funeral Games (Ilead book 23). After the race, Menelaus demands that Antilochus should declare under oath that he did not race obstructively.

            Antilochus promptly declines to make such an oath, but in seeking reconciliation, admits that his youthful impetuosity was the cause of his audacious and dangerous manoeuvre.

            In seeking reconciliation, Antilochus offers back everything he could have kept in his grasp (a mare for placing second) to Menelaus.

            In the same spirit of reconciliation and with his due honour now restored by Antilochus, Menelaus graciously returned the horse to Antilochus, thereby achieving peace. The King explains his motivation for doing this: ‘so all may know my heart is never over-proud or unyielding’. This desire overrides his desire for retribution.

            So, Antilochus’ peace with the King was simply and entirely reliant upon Menelaus’ desire to exercise leniency. It was a righteousness of faith, not works.

            Dikaiosunes is not an exercise in averting a judge’s criminal penalty, but in dissipating grievance by publicly mediating between parties to end the dishonour and injury caused, and instead of allowing it to be ignored or trivialised.

            The cross of Christ is the horrific reminder that, despite God’s desire to forgive, offense against God is neither ignored or trivialised.

            In fact, grace should teaches us: ‘to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, (Titus 2:12)

        • “I don’t think I am too far away from Hebrews on the role of bulls and goats in taking away not their own sin but that of the humans. Am I?”

          I’m not sure I follow you. I read “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ) — could you expand and explain what you think Hebrews says? I’m genuinely intrigued and interested.

          “Scapegoating is undeniably substitutionary, and the goat undeniably suffers a punishment.” no, the scapegoat is *not* punished. But is it substitutionary at all? Maybe, I don’t know. Is it referred to at all in the NT? No. Jesus is the slain lamb, not the (e)scapegoat.

          “But if any NT author had been asked about whether the whole or selected bits of Isa53 applied to Christ, to a man they would have said ‘the whole’. ”

          Would they? And you know that . . how, exactly? Because they clearly don’t apply the whole of the chapter to Jesus. I would say the omissions look positively deliberate given how extensively the rest of the chapter is cited.

          “There is no option of cherrypicked bits being true of Christ and other bits being untrue of Christ, since that would be to impugn Isaiah’s integrity, and indeed cast doubt on the very process of citing prophecy at all.” But that’s exactly what the NT authors do. They quote Is 53 VERY selectively. You might wish it were otherwise but there you go.

          As for “an argument ex silentio” well, yes, ipso facto because I am saying that there are thing the NT doesn’t say then that is by definition an argument from (or more accurately about) “silence”. See also UFOs and Brexit: not in the NT either.

          In fact it is you making an argument from silence by saying the unquoted parts of Is 53 apply to Christ just as much as the ones cited: but surely if the NT is “silent” on those verses then shouldn’t we should be also?

          (P.S. I have a £10 bet with my wife that the next argument you make is about “propitiation”.)

          • Hi Oliver:
            BULLS AND GOATS- Hebrews is speaking about the reason bull and goat sacrifices were performed and their role or perceived role in OT times (the author does not set much store by that perceived role). It is human sin that is in question, and unrelated animals that suffer for it.

            SCAPEGOAT is likewise substitutionary because the sin in question is human sin and is nothing to do with the goat who nevertheless ‘bears’ it. Yes, NT makes little or no use of the scapegoat. My point is that it helps us when we are considering a substitutionary text like Isa.53 – substitution was something broader-based in the culture.

            NT AUTHORS WOULD GO AGAINST WHAT ISAIAH SAID – I could believe they could quote Isaiah rather loosely, emphasise and de-emphasise bits of text, etc.. That’s not what I meant. I meant ‘If someone asked them, do you affirm, or do you rather deny, this text of Isaiah?’ they would never admit to denying a text so sacred.

            APPLYING THE WHOLE OF THE CHAPTER – I have not seen an entire chapter being applied at any point in the NT, nor anything approaching an entire chapter. This point therefore falls.

            DELIBERATE OMISSIONS – See previous paragraph. How can anything be corporately deliberate among the various NT writers; and how can there be such a thing as ‘omissions’ at all when the percentage of scripture that is quoted at all is so tiny. Was the remainder deliberately omitted or just not quoted in the first place? A deliberate omission would be if there were a continuous quotation that left out particular lines/verses.

            THEY QUOTE ISA53 VERY SELECTIVELY – No they don’t. They pick out the appropriate lines and phrases, which is no more nor less than the normal way of quoting the OT. Nothing suspicious.

            YOU MIGHT WISH IT WERE OTHERWISE BUT THERE YOU GO (whatever ‘there you go’ means) – You just called me an ideologue and dishonest. I spend my life opposing ideology and dishonesty – a case of mistaken identity.

            ‘IT IS YOU MAKING AN ARGUMENT FROM SILENCE’ – This clause presupposes incorrectly that it is possible only for one person (not none, and not two or more) to make an argument from silence.

            I didn’t say that the unquoted parts of Isa53 apply to Christ. I don’t know if they do or don’t – that is an historical question. (And there is a third option, that he considered them to apply to himself, whatever Isaiah II’s thoughts on the matter. And a fourth option: that he did not.)
            I said that the NT authors would have *considered* them to apply to Christ, for reasons above.

            They could not coherently take Isa53 to be referring to Jesus at all if it said things that did not apply to Jesus.

            PROPITIATION – I see you have stereotyped me before getting to know me. Does the NT text speak of this? Romans 3.25 by Dan Bailey’s exhaustive account means ‘mercy-seat’ as in the Septuagint.

          • What a truly God-awful ungracious exchange between you two!

            And I don’t think that God really cares who started it.

          • Sorry, David. The net takes away the opportunity to see faces and hear tones of voice, with the result that sometimes attempts to be factual and precise (and also point our where false presuppositions are unjustifiably being made, which is a necessary task) come across as cold.

          • DId you note that my capital letters are my way of headlining various points made by Oliver rather than being me ‘shouting’?

          • Hi Christopher,

            The internet medium will typically interpret capitalization as shouting, but Oliver seemed to be pouring petrol on the fire by chortling about the £10 bet with his wife on your next argument being about propitiation.

            Sometimes, the tone of our exchanges here (and I do include my own) remind me of the story of three hospital patients, who had been trapped a few hours earlier in a burning building.

            Two of them were disagreeing vigorously about exactly how the fireman, who lost his life in saving them, had managed to liberate them from the inferno.

            By comparison, the other survivor didn’t really have a clue about exactly how his rescue was effected, but just repeatedly expressed extreme gratitude for the great sacrifice by which he had escaped certain death.

            The words of ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’ come to mind.

          • Good illustration. My capitalised headings (purely for clarity) were drawn from Oliver’s own text, and because of this they largely fell into the category of being assertions I would not personally make, but was responding to. (So if I were ever to shout, which I hope I never do unless in extreme circumstances, the content of these headings is not the sort of thing I would shout anyway.)

      • Oliver

        You did not mention the last bit of 1 Peter 2:24 ‘by the bruise of whom ye were cured’ which is the last phrase of Isaiah 53:5. This reads in the literal Hebrew:

        and he being wounded from transgressions of us being crushed from depravities of us discipline of wellbeing of us on him and in welt of him he is healed to us


        I think it is reasonable to say that Peter’s quoting the last bit of 53:5 indicates that he had in mind the whole of 53:5. And Peter obviously links this to the cross by ‘carried up in the body of him onto the tree’.

        If Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus, which it clearly is, then what it says is true about Jesus. It stands on its own two feet. Your case seems to be pitting the OT and NT against one another.

        The case for Christ bearing the wrath and condemnation of God in his death can be made from elsewhere, and not just relying on the meaning of ‘propitiation’. I might have a go at that if this theme persists on this thread. The first step would be to make the case that we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. Would I need to make the case or can we take it as common ground?

        Phil Almond

        • Thanks Phil, that’s a good point about the last bit of 1 Peter 2:24 (“By his wounds you are healed” in the NLT). I accept that, but that is not the same as God punishing Christ in our place.

          In fact, I’wondering whether 53:5 carries or contains the message of someone (the servant / Messiah / Jesus) being punished by God and indeed whether that message is *anywhere* in that chapter. I need to read and think further!

          I guess you think chapter 53 does have God punishing; if so, could you say where and how / why?

          Re this: “If Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus, which it clearly is, then what it says is true about Jesus. It stands on its own two feet. Your case seems to be pitting the OT and NT against one another.” I hope I’m not doing that. I do think that the NT authors use that passage very carefully. It would be the easiest thing in the world for Paul or Peter or whoever to say: (e.g.) “Jesus took the punishment from God that we deserved” or “God vented his righteous wrath on Christ instead of us” or similar. After all these are concepts (anger, punishment, substitution etc) that I think were well understood in NT’s milieu. And yet nowhere do we ever get a short, simple statement of classic penal substitution anywhere in the gospels or epistles. Unless you think we do? Because you then go on to say:

          “The case for Christ bearing the wrath and condemnation of God in his death can be made from elsewhere, and not just relying on the meaning of ‘propitiation’. [. . . ] The first step would be to make the case that we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. Would I need to make the case or can we take it as common ground?”

          OK, let’s assume that premise. So: make the case for Christ bearing the wrath and condemnation of God in his death.

          I’m genuinely intrigued and interested.


          • Thanks Oliver for your careful engagement in this. I would agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to attend not only to the OT texts that the NT make use of, but also *the way* they make use of them.

            You are right that there is little sense in the OT sacrificial system of sin being ‘transferred’ to the sacrifice, or the sacrifice being punished in place of the one offering. The only example of this is the scapegoat, and this is not taken up in relation to Jesus (and would be a very obvious case to cite if the NT writers thoughts Jesus was punished for us).

          • Oliver
            OK I will have a go at that. But I suggest, subject to Ian’s OK, that we continue this on the thread ‘On the cross when Jesus died, was ‘the wrath of God satisfied?’. I have already disagreed with Ian’s view on that thread and there are some relevant posts. Are you (and, Ian, are you) OK with that please?
            Phil Almond

  4. When I speak of the two far senior men called by the media Welby’s friends, I am of course discussing whether they shoudl be called friends of Welby, not of each other.

  5. Ian, while some survivors object to the association, others either make the link themselves, or find the theological discussion helpful.

    Evangelicalism isn’t to blame for this, but it’s worth asking whether aspects of evangelical theology (or, more specifically, the brand Calvinism that motivated “bash camps” for the English elite) helped create a climate in which this abuse could go under the radar. I’d say exactly the same about other traditions if they were involved.

    • James, Atherstone ‘Welby’ says that by the early 1980s over 7000 boys had passed through Iwerne alone, never mind the other camps (girls; ‘2nd division’ boys!).

      Of these we know one leader culpable, and no hints of any others.

      in addition, the number of people with excellent character that emerged is large.

      Nor were his culpable acts on camp premises.

      By the standards of any milieu, and of the times, this record is far better (or less bad) than average. Are you relying on preconceived stereotypes?

  6. Ian Thank you for these reflections – but I think your title is unhelpfully narrow and will tend to narrow, defensive responses and suggest there is binary yes or no answer. And in this context it is a very male focused – as this tradition so often is. It is much more complex. There is no one answer. Do the answers to this question change at all when we consider stories of the experiences of women within the evangelical tradition?

    • David, the reason for asking this question is because this is precisely how it was expressed by Alan Wilson on Channel 4 news, and it is now forming the basis of a concerted campaign by Linda Woodhead, as she says quite explicitly on her Facebook page.

      The interview went like this (transcribed):

      Alan W: The theology these people bring to the table very often has an element of violence and sort of nastiness in it, a kind of element of punitive behaviour – God is seen as this punitive figure who is somehow out to get people – and I suppose it does blind people to what’s going on in front of them sometimes, when there is that kind of violent basic theology….

      C: And that comes particularly from the Evangelical wing of the Church you’re saying?

      A: Well I think this particular thing which was all about an obsession with sex and masturbation was in there… I think this kind of theology is very much part of it.

      So there is a clear assertion to be answered here.

      • In 1982 the Iwerne leader replied to a question on the latter topic (‘Is it a sin?’) as follows: ‘There are many things listed in the Bible as sins, but not that. Of course, if it involves fantasising about some real individual, that can be a different matter.’

        If even at the head of the very same organisation, the position was fairly diametrically opposed to the stereotype, then people are speaking without sufficient knowledge to be able to contribute to the debate.

        Alan W’s ‘these people’ is proof positive that he has so little specific knowledge that he has not even got to the point of distinguishing one individual from another. Real people are never an amorphous mass.

  7. What few commentators (save, perhaps inevitably, Giles Fraser) have picked up is the ethos of the Iwerne/Titus Trust camps. Is selecting boys (I see there are girls now on the shiny website) from only the ‘top’ public schools as future leaders in the church, following the gospel? This was the 1970s and 80s (not the 1870s). Little wonder there has been so much misogyny and homophobia in the higher echelons of the CofE (tho’, I admit, not all from that camp).

  8. Penelope, I never attended one with no girls there as campers. Oxford Christmas conferences 1982, 1983; summer camps 1986 (and other later camps). Iwerne became mixed more than 30 years ago, in the very period under discussion.

  9. I would like to take issue with your suggestion that practicing corporal punishment was something that evangelicals “copied” from the public school system, when they would have done better to offer a critique of it. Clearly corporal punishment was practised in public schools, but it is surely true that evangelicals had in the 1970s and early 80s their own scripturally mandated culture of corporal punishment for children within the family, using verses such as Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13 and explicated by such books James Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline.” It was then considered to be all part of loving your child, provided it was proportionate and not undertaken in anger. It seems very anachronistic today, but my recollection is that this was widely practised and relatively uncontroversial, although starting to become controversial perhaps into the 80s.

    • John, thanks for the observation. I am not saying it was ‘copied’ as such—but it was part of an assumed culture, and evangelicals failed to critique it.

      I agree with you about Dobson et al—but as an evangelical (whom many would see as ‘conservative’) who listened carefully to Dobson’s teaching about parenting in the 1980s (and much of it was helpful), I didn’t have any difficulty rejecting this aspect of it. It is hardly a part of evangelical ‘theology’ as much as the culture that many evangelicals shared…and shared it with others.

        • Mmm Dobson’s support for Trump showed a qualified* wisdom . . . .

          * qualified, adjective: not complete or absolute; limited.

          • Hi Oliver

            ‘Qualified’ has various meanings. I should have specified that the meaning I had in mind was ‘intellectually-accredited’ rather than ‘partial’. These 2 meanings are, obviously, quite distant from each other.

  10. I don’t understand why Mark Ruston and David Fletcher did not report Smyth to the police. Were they right to be more concerned about protecting the otherwise impeccable work of the Iwerne camps and preserving it for future fruitfulness rather than seeing that justice would be done? Hustling Smyth out of the UK seems irresponsible because it exposes vulnerable boys in another country to a predator. Is there a biblical reason for hushing up this sort of scandal (e.g. 1 Cor.6:1ff), since I have noticed similar cover-ups in other scandals within the church?

    • The UK media are just appalling in never letting juicy stories drop, and not caring about the elderly, families, or that proportion of victims who don’t want to be constantly reminded. They constitute more than sufficient reason for taking the risk of silence. But also there would be the wish to draw a line and move on – quite rightly. And forgiveness: what’s past is past and the perpetrator can now go on to a new life. Lots of reasons therefore. To which we can add that people do what is normal practice in their own culture and era of history.

      They strongly opposed Smyth’s actions and got rid of them. Maybe it did not cross their mind that he might reoffend. Yes, police should have immediately been informed in every country & locale that he travelled to. In a busy life I am sure that this kind of international communication may not be an easy task (and might have been seen as officious, busybodying, or paternalistic).

      • Further, the point has already been made that reoffending is not part of the narrative. A repentant sinner has been restored albeit punished. One does not see sinful tendencies as unchangeable and likely to remain for life. One believes in the power of Christ to transform the vilest offenders and offences for good. It could be unthinkably negative to take a different tack.

        • Christopher, your views are wrong. I’ve come across them before and they have resulted in abuse continuing when it could have been stopped.

          All the evidence is that paedophilia (and I think the facts are clear that Smyth was sexually aroused by children) is a disease that cannot be cured. Also, paedophiles are very manipulative people who are skilled at saying whatever is necessary to gain access to children who they will then go on to abuse. This includes claiming to be changed people, or repentant sinners who have met with Jesus. Reoffending rates are very high amongst paedophiles.

          Smyth himself is a good example of how an abuser operates. He was described as delightful and charming by Justin Welby. He must have presented an extremely good impression to many people for many years in order to become chair of the Iwerne Trust. Until the reports emerged, he was a member in good standing of his church in South Africa. But he is a sadistic monster.

          Expecting a paedophile to be cured through faith in Christ, I am sorry to say, is about as ill-conceived an idea as expecting an amputee to regrow their missing limb(s) when they become a Christian. It simply doesn’t happen.

          • David, you are wrong here, because where did I say these were *my* views? They are what I call ‘the narrative’ with which Smyth’s whistleblowers were perhaps operating.

        • Christopher that is appalling. Exactly the kind of attitude that has allowed abuse to continue in the church, the BBC, the NHS. And it is not up to us to forgive the abusers, it is for the victims – if they ever can (and God, of course). Furthermore, if C4 hadn’t investigated this it might never have come to light. One of the victims – Mark Stibbe – whom Ian quotes in his blog, has tweeted his gratitude to Cathy Newman and C4 News. Of course the media has an agenda, but when it has served to expose ills in society, we may call it a virtuous agenda. I hope you do not believe in the dualistic fallacy of a binary world in which the sacred and secular are opposite forces, engaged in some kind of spiritual warfare.

          • Penelope, it looks like you are speaking as though these are my own personal views (which they are not in every respect, and I did not say they were) as opposed to my reconstruction of why *other* people acted as they did.

          • I certainly believe in spiritual warfare, very much so. In the same way that Paul did in Eph.6. In fact SW is everywhere in the biblical worldview.

            There are many things that are not in fact binary which people treat as binary. This error is one that I often point out, and it is good that you do too.

      • Charles Moore on this point:

        ‘Then there is Winchester College, the ancient public school. John Smyth never taught there; but he seems to have taken vulnerable boys from the school out to lunch at his house nearby and then thrashed them mercilessly – supposedly to purge their minor adolescent sexual sins – in his garden shed.

        The then headmaster of Winchester, John Thorn, grew suspicious about Smyth’s lunches and banned him from any further contact with the boys. Winchester is now being attacked for not having contacted the police. But when I spoke this week to Mr Thorn, who is 92 but still strong in mind, he told me that parents concerned about Smyth’s activities had not wished to have the police drawn in. They wanted their children protected from the man, not subjected to the trauma of a court case.

        Nowadays, going to the police in these cases is considered imperative, but they are overwhelmed with claims and are not necessarily investigating them efficiently. Though told about the Smyth allegations in 2013, they seem not to have turned up anything useful in the ensuing years.’

  11. There are still moments when, in vulnerability, I think, “God’s going to get you.” That view I lay entirely at the door of evangelical theology because it was the only theology I experienced as a young, uninformed Christian. Bad evangelical theology undoubtedly, but evangelical theology nevertheless. I’m sure Ian you’re not saying that bad theology cannot be abusive…or does evangelical theology (pace David Runcorn on your misleading title earlier) get a pass from proper scrutiny?

    • In that case, biblical theology is equally ‘at fault’. ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God’ etc.. The fact that something is written in a biblical text does not *make* it true, but we can be quite safe in discarding every ‘position’ that asks only ‘is it nice?’ not the main question ‘is it true’. We all know very well that things that are not nice are quite often true.

      • ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God’ etc.. The fact that something is written in a biblical text does not *make* it true, but we can be quite safe in discarding every ‘position’ that asks only ‘is it nice?’ not the main question ‘is it true’. We all know very well that things that are not nice are quite often true.

        Except the line ‘It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God’ is not in the Bible. The fact that something is NOT written in a biblical text does not *make* it true. 😉

        We can be quite safe in discarding every ‘position’ that asks only ‘is it nice?’ not the main question ‘is it true’. We all know very well that things that are not nice are quite often true.

        Yes, and this (“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God”) is neither true or nice.

        • Correct – ithe word angry is not in Heb. 10,31 (I conflated the verse with Jonathan Edwards’s sermon-title in error); however, the God referred in this verse is the biblical God who is angered by sin and is taking vengeance.

          Are you saying that the God (also called a consuming fire) envisaged in this verse is not angry? If so, how would you describe their attitude?

          ‘We all know that things that are not nice are quite often true’ is a truth of wide and general scope. Do you deny its truth? Its truth extends way beyond this verse.

          • I believe in God’s anger.

            (One my pet hates is the phrase “the wrath of God” — an anachronism. Who says “wrath”? We say “anger”. And we seldom construct the possessive (genitive) in that form (“the x of y”) we say “x’s y”)

          • Since you believe in God’s anger (of course, no good person fails to be justly angry about some things), I’m also asking (as above) whether you agree that God is independent of us and his character and attributes will be as they will be, and will by the law of averages sometimes fail to fit our specifications or even our preferences.

          • Since you believe in God’s anger (of course, no good person fails to be justly angry about some things), I’m also asking (as above) whether you agree that God is independent of us and his character and attributes will be as they will be, and will by the law of averages sometimes fail to fit our specifications or even our preferences.

            Yes. As long as by “our specifications or our preferences” you do mean, us, we, not just me. But also I’m not sure that “his character and attributes will be as they will be” — God is love. He is just and holy. He is kind and merciful. But he is not a person like us who has this preference or that dislike or who changes his mind when new information comes to light (although he perhaps does change his mind when people change their ways: he turns blessing to curses and vice versa but gives plenty of warning in either case.)

    • Simon, I think the key question here is what we mean by ‘evangelical theology’. As you know, evangelical theology is much more diverse than those looking on from the outside realise. So at the very least we need to talk of ‘one strand of evangelical theology’.

      Second, it can never be as simple as identifying ‘evangelical theology’ with ‘things I was told in an evangelical church’, not least because some such teaching is plainly heretical! I have been bullied and harassed by particular evangelical people, who cite theological reasons as the justification for their bullying—but that does not lead to the conclusion that ‘evangelical theology’ is inherently bullying.

      A serious reflection here would ask: ‘What are the well-defined contours of this theological tradition, and what connection does that have with particular actions?’ on the idea that ‘God is out to get you’, I’d want to reflect on the very developed theology of assurance in historical evangelical theology, though alongside the questions of anxiety that practically manifest in evangelical culture. And I would want to locate that in a theology of judgement, which is primarily about accountability before God.

      I make really clear in the blog that evangelicalism as a whole has some real points of vulnerability…as well as points of strength.

  12. Perhaps another underlying problem is that churches attract a wide cross section of society and often people on the fringes: some of whom will have self esteem issues and abusive pasts. I believe there is strong evidence that people who have been abused are more likely to abuse and I suspect that people with low self esteem are more likely not to report abuse.

    Then there’s church culture, whether through naievity or wanting to believe the best: abuse gets ignored. There is also an emphasis on counselling, one to one work and confession – all of which have the potential for abuse. (Interestingly i read the RC introduced the confessional booth to help priests avoid the temptations of being with young women). Finally church leadership seems scared of the consequences of confronting abuses, often preferring to move abusers or turn a blind eye.

    So yes people abuse because they are fallen. But, for the above reasons, I suspect churches are more prone to it than secular organisations.

    • On reflection the statement “strong evidence that people who have been abused are more likely to abuse” could be distressing to those who are reading this and have been abused. Checking online, I found 2 conflicting articles regarding this:
      The good news, common to both articles, is that the vast majority of those abused do not go on to be abusers.

      Going back to Ian’s original question “Is evangelical theology abusive?” I was sickened to read in “The Week” (11/02/17 p11) that 7% of all Catholic priests in Australia from 1950 to 2015 have been accused of sexually molesting children (or 1,880 different alleged perpetrators with over 4,440 claiming to have been molested).
      Sadly the article finishes with a lawyer mirroring the penultimate sentence of my original post, “There was a depressing pattern of victims being ignored or even punished, and the accused priests were simply moved on”.

      Clearly this is a stain that affects all traditions of the church.

  13. This is awful. But I fail to see what it has to do with specifically evangelical theology or culture, and I’ve been taken by surprise by the suggestion. Are there studies showing a disproportionately high amount of abuse perpetrated by those schooled in evangelical theology? No one has cited any and I haven’t heard of any. This appears to be an isolated example, like those from other traditions. Drawing general conclusions from single events and individuals is a very dubious business; I believe the usual term is prejudice. (Isn’t it hate speech to say ‘he did this because he is evangelical’ without any kind of objective basis?)

    I can well believe that public schools at that time had elevated incidences of abuse owing to the role of physical violence and discipline in their culture. But that has nothing as such to do with evangelical theology.

    Frankly the whole attempt to put evangelical theology in the frame feels like a shameless lash out from progressives smarting from the unexpected (and unfamiliar) kickback from the bishops’ report. Linda Woodhead’s outrageous remark makes the link explicit. Shame on them.

    • Bp Wilson used a telltale phrase like ‘these kinds of people’ when interviewed on Channel 4 News. This makes 2 errors: generalisation (which brings inaccuracy) and stereotyping (which depersonalises precious individuals).
      He has form here having previously written of ‘the green-ink brigade’ who oppose homosexual practice. Two questions obviously arise.
      (1) What is the actual proportion of those who oppose it and write to the Bishop who use green ink? He implies a high proportion or a majority, but is this accurate, or another stereotype?
      (2) Style above substance. Would any of the points made be truer in black ink and less true in green? Talk about skewed priorities – style-over-substance (and thus triviality) is written all over this. Concern for young people’s lives (often literally that they should not die or become diseased) is the main issue that causes people to write the letters in question – and all he cares about is some fashion faux pas?

      • I the phrase ‘green ink brigade’ to be metaphorical rather than literal, though like many such phrases has grounding in historical reality. It refers to those who express hatred in the form of vitriolic letters, regardless of the actual colour of ink. See for one treatment of the subject.
        One of the issues this raises, for me at least, is the extent to which biblical literature might on occasion use this kind of linguistic device – a colloquial phrase having a non-literal meaning to the original intended audience, but which is now lost to us.

      • Christopher utterly appalling and disgraceful again. Green ink letters (some are actually written in green ink, god knows why) are not written by concerned conservatives, but by abusive people threatening harm. And it is not only +Alan who regularly receives them. It is, rather, Alan, and most progressives and conservatives who care about the life and health of young men (and women). The green ink writers don’t care about life and health, spiritual or physical. Smyth did not care. He drove one young man to attempt suicide, he drove another to self harm because he was a homosexual.

        • There’s no connection between Smyth and green-ink. If you disgree, then say what the connection is (otherwise you agree).

          The letters referred to by Bp Wilson were not as a genre threatening harm, they were typically saying ‘Do you not realise you are encouraging buggery?’.

          You say that some green-ink letters are written in green ink. I thought all of them were. There may be an idiom ‘green-ink letters’ that I was not previously aware of?

          The word progressive is meaningless in the way in which you use it, since:
          (1) one person’s progress is another’s regress;
          (2) some of the things advocated by those happy to bear the name of ‘progressive’ are regressive (e.g., if they are connected with the sexual revolution then they split more families than before, not fewer);
          (3) to say that you are progressive is to say that those who disagree are regressive (or neutral) – but are they? The point has not even been argued. That is soundbiting not debate.

          • The connection between Smyth and the writers of green ink letters is the fear and loathing of ‘sins’ such as masturbation and buggery and the desire to punish those who either indulge in them or who claim that they are not sinful. These people usually call themselves Christians. Alan may be fortunate in receiving those which only accuse him of encouraging buggery, others receive threats which have been reported to the police.
            If you don’t like progressive, try liberal, or with reference to scripture revisionist. I agree that none of these labels – conservative, for example – is entirely satisfactory. What I was attempting to say was that no one on either ‘side’ of the debate on sexuality would wish anything but life and health to gay people, young or old. There are, however, those who call themselves, Christian who would beat homosexuality out of people, or consign them to lives of self denial and self harm. And no, I do not believe in spiritual warfare between the religious and the secular world. At the moment the HS seems more at work in the world than in the church.

          • Hi Penelope

            I never said I did not ‘like’ the word progressive, since this is not a matter of taste or emotion. I said that the word ‘progressive’ is incoherent, which it is.

            The people write against sexual practices (like B – on M see what I wrote above on the Iwerne 1982 stance) which are associated with very high instance of STIs and thereby early death and messing up people’s lives (as well as being against biology – that is a sidenote). Fear? Loathing? You would need to explain the connection with either fear or loathing. What is the connection? They, like the rest of us, can see it is a bad thing because it is very associated with disease and early death. Who would not be opposed to things like that? The people affected are precious, and the message they are getting is often a lie, as they find out too late. But what is that to do with either fear or loathing?

            In fact the degree of their emotion (best characterised as outrage at the ignoring of evidence and of people’s lives) is appropriate and proportional in circumstances like that. Not excessive when it comes to issues of life and death.

            I do not think SW itself needs necessarily to be between secular world and church. SW is very central to the Christian and biblical outlook, and Paul would certainly have seen secular world vs genuine church militant as a key SW, as he says in Eph.6.

          • Christopher, as Bishop Alan keeps pointing out, buggery is more common in heterosexual couples. But, I’m all in favour of warning people of the potentially deleterious effects of certain sexual activity, as we warn people of the dangers of smoking, drinking to excess, too much sugar, excessive sunbathing etc. Then they can make informed decisions and assess risks, as all of us do. I am more concerned about precious people being driven to self harm and suicide by abusive theology which tells them that their sexual orientation is disordered or sinful. That is very wicked.

          • Yes, I had exchanges with Bp over this. The related diseases break out far and away more commonly among homosexual couples. These have no healthy unitive option, unlike married couples.

            Surely all the things that cause either death-without-warning or suicide are bad. It’s not a contest or a case of either/or.

          • No, I diisagree. If you decide to smoke you know the risks. If someone bullies you into committing suicide they are very wicked and you are a victim.

          • You can also be a victim of those who untruthfully tell you that smoking (or anything else) is normal or harmless.

          • Penelope can you give a source for this claim about relative buggery prevalence as my search on Google didn’t bring one up? Thanks.

          • Will, you will find it in Bp Alan’s More Perfect Union? The figures he cites give 32% of homoesexuals (a very dramatic and deliberate decrease since AIDS), 34% heterosexuals.

          • Thanks Christopher. Oddly Wikipedia doesn’t agree with this statistic, though says data is sparse.

            But anyway, I’ve now read more on this topic than I really wanted to.

  14. I see two sides to this:

    Within the conservative evangelical movement, it does seem that the primary view of God is of an angry father who is going to severely punish his children for their sin with eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Conservative evangelicals probably preach about sin, judgement, and the wrath of God far more than other Christians, including other branches of evangelicalism. I have heard it suggested that parents must severely punish their naughty children in order to evoke this picture of God in them. If it is literally beaten into children that misbehaviour will be punished, then children will grow up fearing God and trusting in Jesus as the way to escape the punishment that will be otherwise due to them. So perhaps it is valid to suggest that one school of evangelical theology does encourage one type of abuse.

    But, as Ian illustrated, abusers have held to all sorts of theology, so I’m not totally convinced that there is anything special about conservative evangelicalism in this regard.

    • I’m curious as to where this school of thought is prevalent?

      I cannot think of anywhere in Scripture where YHWH is presented as an angry father. All references to anger and wrath that come to mind are in the context of a ruler or an avenger – both of which are images of the political / legal realm rather than the family. There are references to physical discipline of sons for correction, but such things have been practiced across cultures all over the world for millennia, and in scripture are very separate from passages referring to pouring out of wrath. Certainly, any reading that encourages proactive beating (i.e. not in response to specific acts of wrongdoing) reads cultural presuppositions into the text.

      Not only have I not encountered this in Scripture, I’ve not encountered this in any “conservative evangelical” works I’ve been exposed to. “It’s ok to smack as a form of discipline”, yes. I’ve rarely encountered “An occasional beating will toughen them up” on message boards, but never from a leader thinking about what they are teaching. “Being an angry father shows them what God is like”, never.

        • Interesting that one of the very few times Jesus calls his Father “God” is on the cross (“Eloi, Eloi”) — the cry of desolation and abandonment from Ps 22. He also, of course, asks his “Father” to “forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

          As an aside, why do some comments on here have a grey rectangular “Reply” button and others not?

          • Because, very sensibly, my blog will allow two nestings of replies to replies, but not more than that. So if you want to reply to a reply of a reply, you need to reply to the reply.

            Blogs that don’t do that, but allow infinite nesting, end up with columns one letter wide, which doesn’t work very well.

    • ‘So perhaps it is valid to suggest that one school of evangelical theology does encourage one type of abuse.’

      No it isn’t, not without evidence. It’s prejudice pure and simple. And evidence means more than one example. It means actual objective evidence of a disproportionately high incidence of abuse connected to that theology.

    • David – ‘the primary view of God’?

      Evidence? It figures, but in order to be primary it would need to outweigh other pictures, and does it?

      It is quite inconceivable that evangelicals or anyone else sees God as having only one characteristic!

      But in the case of evangelicals you are even more inaccurate, since they affirm every single attribute of God attested by Scripture. That is a lot of attributes.

  15. Thanks for tackling this. On the basis of slight contact a dozen years ago I’ve always warmed to Giles Fraser and wished I had the brains and opportunity to chaff him for the sillier things he says. His contribution to John Kurht’s blog on ‘light in the darkness’ was brilliant and I thought his C4 news interview comment about an interplay of public school culture, evangelical theology and empire was thoughtful … though all the above assures me that the case against evangelical theology is tenuous. No-one has picked up (or did I miss it?!) +Andrew Watson’s line about the longing of young people to live godly lives which seemed to me capture rather delightfully a key component of the problem and perhaps a strength of evangelical theology – or should that just be ‘theology’?!

  16. Despite Alan Wilson’s performance on Channel 4 (how did he keep a straight face?) I see not the slightest justification for linking evangelical theology to naked thrashings of teenage boys in a garden shed; but doubtless the opportunity to put his own spin on a shocking story was too good to miss. He might have done better to comment on the fact that not one of the public school boys involved burnt down the shed; he could have made a searching comment on the lack of independence of mind in boys who attend ‘independent’ schools. The instinct to conform, to play the game, can be a deadly prison warder to a captivated mind.

    It seems to me that 3 things came disastrously together to make this wretched thing happen: the public school ethos, a personality disorder, and well intentioned manipulation. While we will all have our own views on public schools (I went to one and am grateful for the education I had) and what may have motivated John Smyth, it is the well intentioned manipulation that causes me to comment here.

    We are told that the ‘Bash’ camps were specifically restricted to posh public school boys on the assumption that they were the ones who would have disproportionate influence in the nation in later life. The logic is inescapable: pick out the ‘best’ people, invest in building up their faith, and you will ensure disproportionate influence for Christians and Christianity within the nation – a mechanism for gearing up your influence. It could be portrayed as being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But is it? Do the ‘good’ ends justify the questionable means? Is it Christian manipulation by a superior group? Would Jesus have chosen to work in this way?

    Of course protestations that the results are indisputable cannot be proved because we will never know what potentially great (greater?) leaders were eliminated because they didn’t tick the ‘right public school’ box. Clearly the present condition of both church and nation hardly gives a great recommendation for what Christians, under their specially selected leaders, have actually achieved; but, there again, it might be said that things would be much worse if the ‘manipulation’ described hadn’t been done.

    I detest manipulation both of events and of people (it’s one reason I have never approved of the ‘Shared Conversations’) and it can often amount to putting your trust in being clever (subtle) rather than being open and honest – and for Christians that is not good enough. I’m pretty sure that a lot of Christians who have, one way or another, remained mostly in the public school bubble would protest that they are simply using their talents to best effect and that my concern has political overtones. They would point to many great Bash alumni who have indeed served with distinction in their later Christian lives.

    But it’s interesting to note that public defence of the Bash camps in the media don’t come over too well: the kind of exclusivity involved, collusion with a system that judges people by their wealth (or their parents’ wealth); and a class based instinct for separation which doesn’t fit well with a Christian gospel which is for everyone irrespective of class or monetary situation.

    I intend no criticism of the many good people involved with Bash camps over the years. We all mostly try and do what we think is right at the time; as times change our methods can change with them. It’s easier enough to pontificate, harder to stick you neck out and do stuff. But there’s no harm in questioning whether things could be done differently; I’m sure the present disclosures will focus minds for the future.

    • I disagree that the problem here is that Christians have been shrewd in having a focused elite-oriented ministry. Heaven knows we have plenty focused on the poor and disadvantaged groups. Why shouldn’t we also have ministries to the elite? Surely it’s just sensible? More than that, it’s necessary if we’re to reach every social group with the gospel. The rich have spiritual needs too. Why pretend that society doesn’t have an elite? We’re to be wise and shrewd, not naive and self-defeating. Manipulation is hardly the right term for a godly ministry focused on a social group with spiritual needs, which also has a disproportionate impact on society as a whole. Why be negative about something that bears fruit for the kingdom?

      • I entirely agree, Will. Firstly you can’t discriminate against particular groups – they should all hear the gospel. Second, future leaders are especially important in one way: their future influence. Bash reckoned they could be like multiplication tables – how sensible (and strategic, I suppose) to concentrate on them.

        • Will and Christopher, thanks for your response.

          I was not suggesting there should be no ministry aimed at privileged groups, whoever and wherever they are – everyone needs to hear the gospel and be encouraged when they respond. I am, however concerned at the idea that Christians should receive ministry in exclusive groups based on the British class system. Bash camps were apparently strict in excluding all but pupils of favoured schools. Chaplains and Christian teachers within public schools will obviously be focussing their attention on that group alone during term time – there’s no other way to do it. Should this still be carried on outside of school in holiday time?

          You will never eliminate societal tendencies for people of different gifts and outlooks to form groups, hierarchies even, and I don’t believe Christians should waste too much time fussing over this in a political sense (except that justice is always a Christian concern) – attempts at social engineering usually create equal or worse problems. But I think they should beware of reinforcing it so that it is carried across into the family of Christians.

          I fully understand the gratitude of many Bash alumni for what those camps gave them personally – perhaps there was / is no other way to operate that kind of ministry for young people in that position. But I stand by my instinctive unease about it and my uncertainty over the results for our church and nation, even if my pondering over it raises hackles in those who are convinced it is fully justified.

          • Together with this there was the strictly invitation-only (not application) means of ‘entry’. I have always been a fan of personal invitation, e.g. to church: the personal option is always better than the impersonal. And certainly when it came to senior-campers I am not sure there was much in the way of inner rings, more a contest to see if Oxford or Cambridege could provide the most. Nonconformists (not just denominationaly) definitely ended up attending.

  17. John Smyth’s online sermons, which certainly show him to be a thoughtful analyst who will have been clear in his own mind about why he did things, emphasise the panBiblical point (the Bible is a succession of blood-covenants) crystallised in Heb9.22 that without bloodshed there is no forgiveness of sins. See sermon on ‘The Cross and Salvation’.

    Not only is the recent past (public school and military discipline) a foreign country, but the world and thought-world of the New Testament writers is not the modern one that most of us are familiar with either. It is even more foreign.

    Fast forward a couple of chapters, and we get to Heb12 which Smyth is acknowledged to have quoted to victims (12.4: ‘in your struggle against sin you have not yet reached bloodshed point’ – these words originally had a very specific historical context, but they are also part of the passage’s internal logic and the passage always had general application). The entire passage 12.1-11 is highly relevant to his thinking, climaxing with the idea that discipline never seems pleasant at the time, but it is exercised out of long-term fatherly love and long-term it produces a harvest of righteousness. That is, indeed, the whole (and not inaccurate) presupposition of military training, highly familiar in the mid-to-latter 20th century but not to us.

    Discipline and beating are of course not strict equivalents, but it is far from eccentric to say that Heb12 has beating in mind. The quotation in Heb 12.5-6, which underlies what follows, is from Proverbs 3; and Proverbs 23.13-14 (spare the rod and spoil the child, effectively) is cut from the same cloth and speaks with the same voice. Smyth could also have emphasised that Hebrews dates from new rather than old covenant times. But it is the Lord’s and a father’s discipline that Hebrews/Proverbs speaks of, no-one else’s.

    Smyth was, in the 1970s, in an era of (often juvenile, selfish and immature) anti-authoritarianism whose malign effects the courtrooms saw daily. He will have wanted to counteract these bad effects that were ruining individuals and society. It is no coincidence that the same era produced the Fort Lauderdale Five and what was later called ‘heavy shepherding’. Derek Prince, one of the five and a man of intelligence, later acknowledged that the pastor’s intermediary role had been taken to excess.

    Smyth had no right to play an intermediary role, as Mark Ruston’s report emphasises. (The same book of Hebrews frequently emphasises that Jesus is the one and only mediator, and secondly that what he achieved was once-for-all, ephapax. So Smyth is being selective.)

    Maybe he saw everywhere young men who were not actually receiving the fatherly discipline that would have done them good – cessation of national service will certainly have meant a massive and (to many) strange and negative rise in laxity. Decades later we will forget how this will have seemed at the time.

    So far so good. I consider that good motives were mixed with quite obviously wrong ones. Why on earth be naked when beating? Or demand that others be? Or go to the lengths of thousands of beatings? Or kiss their backs or pray and quote the Bible when naked? Or disrobe victims? Michael Green is right to classify Smyth as ‘a sadist’.

    • Thanks Christopher, that’s a good analysis (imho).

      However, I’d query this: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” Heb 9:22 is a neat soundbite but . . .

      But . . . that is part of a sentence and the context is everything: “In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood, for without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

      Second, even if forgiveness is only possible after bloodshed, not all bloodshed is propitiatory / expiatory (take you pick or provide your own alternative).

      Third, I think “bloodshed” may mean “sacrifice” rather than the literal runny red stuff. Hence this, by Dag Hammarskjold: “Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you — out of love — takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done.  Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.  The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate others in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.”  (Easter 1960; trans. W. H. Auden)

      Finally, I was beaten by conservative evangelicals and it never did me any harm.

      I am absolutely normal as long as I take my meds at the same time every day.

      And no, I don’t want to talk about it.

  18. Thank you – you have built up a richer picture.

    The issue is how John Smyth interpreted it, and he will have interpreted it according to how it appeared in 20th century UK in the translations used there. I do also think that bloodshed is a way of showing that something is deep rooted not superficial. Covenants, ‘cross my heart’ oaths, marital bed, you name it.

  19. Just a note about Penal Substitution:

    The Greek of the NT contains all the words / concepts necessary to make an unequivocal statement of “classic” penal substitution. Yet nowhere do we get one. Consider how much the NT says about the death of Jesus. All the models and metaphors (mostly economic: debt, ransom, redemption), all the theology of restoration and reconciliation, all the talk of sin and salvation, holiness, mercy and justice. And yet you can’t give me a single reference. I’m not looking for a proof-text (a single, decontextualised verse) although that would at least be a start. I’m looking for some solid Biblical proof, not inferences or allusions that say more about the reader than the writer. The bottom line is it’s just not there.

    And the fact remans: ALL the NT’s extensive use of Isaiah 53 stops short of penal substitution or God punishing Christ. It is quoted in a way that excludes those verses whilst retaining the sense of sacrifice.

    Finally, there’s the problem of the resurrection. Yes, problem. If Jesus is punished for our sins then how / why is he raised? Isn’t hell eternal? Everlasting? Yet Jesus rises after about 40 hours.

    If Jesus was punished for our sin he’d still be dead and/or in hell.

  20. I find that this is an area where the distinctions made are very fine.

    Think of it:
    -you distinguish classic PS from non-classic PS,
    -then penal substitution needs to be distinguished from substitution in general,
    -which again is unsatisfactory, since any sort of substitution in this context IS penal insofar as it involves some creature that’s innocent of the specific crime receiving the due penalty in place of the guilty party. This is my main point. Does all the ‘for you’, ‘for our sins’, ‘for many’ language work without PS? In what sense ‘for’? ‘For’ is substitutionary, and substitution is penal by nature.

    It is also a classic case (what isn’t?) of needing to go to the work of the experts (Ovey, Stott?) rather than of relative amateurs like the rest of us.

    People often treat the truth or otherwise of penal substitution as a single issue. But it’s multiple issues:
    -Did IsaiahII refer to PS? (yes, that’s virtually undeniable);
    -Did Jesus aim to fulfil Isaiah 53? (not at all unlikely);
    -Would the NT writers have seen Isaiah 53 as referring to Jesus? (surely, on the evidence: yes);
    -Given that they did see it as referring to Jesus, it would just not have been a case of certain things in it being able to be used as parallels. That wouldn’t have been prophecy-fulfilment.

    There is nowhere where any such doctrine is expounded head-on in scripture. The NT writers believed pre-existing scriptures, Isaiah 53.5,10 among them, and those pre-existing scriptures contain thousands of articles of belief that are never expounded in the NT. This is one of those, and the fact that it is not expounded suggests that it was believed but was not in the forefront of writers’ thoughts. Remove it, however, and the overall picture makes little sense to me.

    • I find Ovey, Stott et al. utterly unconvincing on PS. “Experts” and “amateurs” is telling; some evangelicals love to be told what to think (“sit under the teaching” of x or y — usually men — which may be on a spectrum along with “heavy shepherding” and “beat me in the shed till I bleed”). The Refomation was supposed to put the Scriptures in the hands (and language) of the laity, no? So it’s ironic when Reformed Christians revert to a kind of Scholasticism. Also, I am not an “amateur” — I have postgraduate degrees in theology and publications to my name.

      Basically, though, you’ve admitted that PS isn’t in the NT. Ok, I’ll take that.

      And the resurrection? All those lovely evangelicals who believe in eternal hell as punishment for sin would have Jesus raised after 40 hour and then seated at the right hand of God (ie alongside, equal to) in heaven. You can’t have it both ways. If he took the punishment then he should still be dead and worse.

      • Oliver, this particular comment of yours has a few things wrong with it.

        (1) Experts and amateurs – well OK I am a NT PhD but PS is outside my area of expertise. I meanr ‘amateur’ in that sense. The two of us are on a level there – very biblically literate but not the go-to source.

        (2) Going to the experts is absolutely nothing to do with evangelicalism specifically. It is what all sensible people do. We think we can solve life, the universe and everything by having chats in pubs. We can’t. There are people who have devoted years to considering particular questions. In 99% of cases we are best advised to form our opinions through listening to their top-level debate, since we ourselves can only be that expert in 1% of topics.

        (3) You classify me as an evangelical. I am in fact a truth-seeker, an eclectic (eclectic in the sense of choosing the option where the evidence is best *not* that where the aesthetics are nicest). ‘Evangelical’ is a term that needs unpacking anyway, and can be used broadly or loosely. It is a good term, one that I like and affirm and identify with, just as I also identify with ‘mere Christian’, ‘Christian democrat’, ‘conviction Christian’, ‘thinking Christian’, ‘rational Christian’, ‘New Testament Christian’, ‘brother’, ‘believer’, ‘friend’, ‘follower of the Way’, ‘disciple’. I put truth (accuracy to reality) first, and will only ever affirm ‘Christianity’ or anything else insofar as it is supported by the evidence.

        (4) You mock the way that a theory does not seem to add up (I don’t think I have thought about the matter sufficiently, but have never knowingly held the precise configuration of views you imagine I do), but don’t address the points that (a) you need to state one that *does* add up perfectly, cut-and-dried, and (b) that incomprehension when it comes to divine matters is somewhat to be expected, and is much less surprising than clear comprehension would be.

        • Thanks Christopher.

          Re your first two points: “Experts and amateurs” with respect, penal substitution is not outside my area of expertise: I have at least one publication to my name on that subject.

          The two “go-to sources” / “experts” you’ve named — Stott and Ovey — are, I think, wrong (the latter much more so than the former). That’s not my opinion as a layman / amateur / armchair theologian / pub bore: that’s my very well informed, highly educated expert opinion. You can take it or leave it and you are of course free to disagree with me just as I disagree with Ovey et al. but so far your arguments haven’t convinced me.

          “There are people who have devoted years to considering particular questions. In 99% of cases we are best advised to form our opinions through listening to their top-level debate, since we ourselves can only be that expert in 1% of topics.”

          Yes, me. I’ve spent years studying theology at great expense and have the qualifications to show for it. That said, I’m often wrong and still learning.

          “You classify me as an evangelical.” No I don’t. (Where?) I did perhaps unfairly / unkindly caricature evangelicals though and for that I am sorry.

          “You mock the way that a theory does not seem to add up.” I do. It doesn’t.

          “but don’t address the points that (a) you need to state one that *does* add up perfectly, cut-and-dried”

          See my post over on the other thread for a fuller account of what I *do* believe rather than what I *don’t* (which is what this thread is about).

          “and (b) that incomprehension when it comes to divine matters is somewhat to be expected, and is much less surprising than clear comprehension would be.”

          Hmm. Yes and no. A late appeal to “mystery” looks like a dodge, an opt out. We do, after all, have a lot of teaching about Christ and his death in the NT . . . God does, I think, want us to know and understand and believe the truth(s) he’s given us in Scripture.


          • Oliver, we agree totally on appeal to ‘mystery’. It can often be a total and highly convenient cop-out, exactly. But do you really think that when speaking of divine motives and action we would expect to have a watertight unarguable theory? Some things (a lot of things) are bigger than us.

            You use the word ‘admit’ for me. I never admit nor concede anything. The only people who do are those who hope that a certain answer is right, and are therefore not open-minded or evidence-led. I can affirm or deny, disagree or agree; but not admit nor concede, because my whole method is about not being biased in the first place. To be biased is anti-scholarly.

            I did not actually know that you have specialised in PS, and if you have that is great and you can speak with some authority on it.

          • Thanks Christopher, I agree with you about “mystery” (’tis mystery all the immortal dies!)

            Great point about admit or concede. I’d never thought of that.

  21. The idea that this is a ‘Conservative Evangelical’ problem is ridiculous. Several of the teachers who taught me at school (St Paul’s) are now in prison for similar offences and now my football team (Chelsea) are found to have harboured a paedophile on its coaching staff. Looking back, both institutions should have put the victims ahead of their own reputational interests – that, and the culpability of the individuals involved, is the common link not some imagined connection to substitutionary atonement.

  22. Christopher, Oliver
    It’s entirely up to you of course, but I would find it helpful if this debate about the atonement could take place just on the ‘on that cross when Jesus died was the wrath of God satisfied’ thread rather than on that thread and this thread.


    I am unclear whether your ‘There is nowhere where any such doctrine is expounded head-on in scripture’ is your view or whether you are quoting/paraphrasing Oliver’s post. Because I understand you to go on to say that Isaiah 53 does expound that doctrine. Could you please clarify?

    Phil Almond

    • Philip, I meant that biblical texts are not systematic-theology textbooks. Isa 53 asserts it as a truth, and provides context, yes. You are right that there is not much difference.

  23. Phil, yes happy to continue the atonement debate on the other thread. And have done.

    But in terms of the specific (sub)culture and theology of evangelicalism in relation to the alleged John Smyth abuse I will say this:

    It’s deeply ironic when evangelicals go outside (usually beyond) what scripture actually says. Liberals can appeal to reason and Catholics to the church but evangelicals are bound by what scripture says: no more and no less. And scripture never says Jesus was punished (which is one step beyond what the Bible actually says) nor does it say that Jesus bore the wrath of God (which is the step after that).

    Why do evangelicals do this? Well, there are certain evangelical shibboleths that are taken as read, as fundamentals and givens and non-negotaibles and not even an argument from the Bible itself will persuade them to reconsider these views. Sad and ironic. And yet this the “sola scriptura” brigade: do you see the contradiction, the irony?

    And at the same time “authority” is often unquestioningly accepted: “sit under the teaching of him”, accept the heavy shepherding of the pastor etc. etc. Slightly fascistic and masochistic. They say that, for example, penal substitution is true and make it so by saying it is. People accept and believe what they are told rather than what the plain text of the Bible says, the actual words on the page. And yet these same evangelical laity are, to paraphrase Marc Bolan & T Rex, “the children of the Reformation”. No more Latin, no more priestly class, no more elites! Alas, we now have our own caste of “experts” and “leaders” who must be obeyed and followed. 🙁

    It’s odd that the brightest and best young men, who were identified as future leaders (!), submitted to savage beatings as 18, 19, even 21 year old men. Adults. Not children, adults. Institutionalised, yes, and perhaps psychologically damaged / vulnerable but not abducted street kids or rent boys making money: intelligent, privileged young men. The cream of society. Money, class, Public School, Oxbridge: our ruling class.

    If anyone had suggested giving me a beating for Jesus when I was 21 I’d have punched them in the face and/or reported them to the Police. I think some of these “victims” need to take responsibility for their situation, for their collusion, connivance and complicity.

    • Replying to my own comment:

      Re the final two paragraphs — having re-read and thought about some of the accounts of the alleged abuse it seems it started when the boys involved were indeed children (legal minors, <18) and also vulnerable (away from home on camps and/or boarding school).

      So it's not as simple as an older man approaching a younger man and asking if he'd like to be beaten ("If anyone had suggested giving me a beating for Jesus when I was 21"). It sounds like an abusive relationship that started when the victim was a child and set a pattern of fear and dependency that went on into early adult life.

      So I would like to retract or at least modify my comments about how "some of these “victims” need to take responsibility for their situation, for their collusion, connivance and complicity."

      With hindsight that was not a wise or good thing to say.

      The rest stands though (I speak as someone who grew up in a fairly toxic / abusive conservative evangelical environment and was beaten as a child and saw "heavy shepherding" and all that shit in the 1970s and 80s).

  24. Ian,

    Your response to this situation hits the nail on the head, isolating the nastiness of the Smyth situation and then tackling the theology. Personally, I was furious at the way a whole evangelical tradition was suddenly being damned by association with the whole business- to my mind, your piece asked the right questions about the public school background of the abuse.

    In my own experience, I saw levels of physical and sexual abuse taking place at my local scout group when I was younger (in the 1970s), and eventually left them to enjoy the ministry and youth-work of a local evangelical Anglican church that was life-affirming, intellectually stimulating, and lived what they said they believed. They represented the very antithesis of what I saw in the Scouts, and truly embodied that ‘commitment to questioning authority, and rejecting uncritical acceptance of claims to truth’ that you mention. (How the clergy coped with our arguing back, I’ll never know.) In fact, their ministry probably led to my being the first of my family to go to University. (The fact that there were lots of girls at church, was possibly an added helpful factor.) This isn’t to damn the whole Scouting movement for what I saw and experienced then- but we’re probably much less accepting of some things that ‘just happened’ than we used to be. The Good Old Days sometimes weren’t. And as for the Church? I’ll always be grateful for those faithful people who nourished generations of young people like myself, with care and respect.

  25. In my first long comment above, I distinguished some of the multiple ways in which we see biased and teleological media spin (which has a desired end, or desired assassinations, in view) in the reporting of this story.

    These included:
    1. Messrs Smyth, Fletcher and Ruston were never merely colleagues or friends of Welby (though they were friends too. Smyth not a close friend) – they were far senior figures within an already authoritatian set-up.

    2. None of the abuse took place at the camps, but the media wish it had. Nor even in the same county. The one grown man involved was alone in knowing, perpetrating, or approving. When others learnt, they were so very opposed as to force him to leave the country. They also provided counselling, and I see no evidence that they would at any point have refused to continue that counselling if asked. All *possible* closure (very difficult in a case like this for young victims) could and should and doubtless would (whenever requested) have come through these avenues, not through largely-unrelated bodies like the C of E central admin.

    3. ‘The Church’ (whatever they mean by ‘the Church’) can’t be ashamed of or apologise for something it did not do and something it would never have failed to condemn.

    4. ‘The Church’ is not the same as the Church of England. This is one of those ignorances that makes media unfit to report stories like this (same as when they confuse evangelistic with evangelical). But the C of E is the all-purpose whipping boy, and can be relied on to be suitably apologetic and sufficiently culturally compliant.

    5. The Iwerne camps were not a S of E set-up anyway. They were partly, or at times, connected with Scripture Union, a cross-denominational body. But even apart from that, they were still as cross-denominational as the boys on their books and the men on their staff. (Iwerne did have a C of E majority, clearly.)

    6. Welby’s time at Iwerne ended 1978 in the abuse’s infancy. However, he did pay at least flying visits to camps at least occasionally thereafter.

    7. The connection with Welby is no closer than with a myriad of others. This is just the dumbing-down that wants ‘Archbishop’ to be in the headline.

    We add this to Cathy Newman’s abominable behaviour towards pro-lifers and towards evidence in the Autumn dispatches. She is happy (probably genuinely so) to provide comfort and increase closure; but it is convenient that targets are also in mind. Pro-lifers are a target of hers; ‘the Church’ could also be, given her insistence on putting Welby inappropriately centre-stage and on persisting with errors 1-7 or most of them.

    Smyth was not only the only man involved: he could not have been less typical at Iwerne. He was a lone wolf:
    -His profession was law – practically all others were revs and teachers;
    -His schooling was in a Canadian school – practically all others were English public-school (note the spartan nature of Anglican schools around Edmonton, Alberta where he was educated, even up till 1990s let alone 1950s: see recent report on Ampleforth teacher Shepherd/Sheppard). In Canada corporal punishment persisted longer than almost anywhere. Andy Morse, victim 003, suggests that Smyth was replaying what he himself suffered.
    -His nationality/culture in formative years -what he understood to be normal- was therefore also different from his Iwerne colleagues.

    The modern way is to dredge up the past, even where an attempt at closure had long ago been made and never necessarily withdrawn. This is like the cheap magazines that delight in freak stories that actually involve people with both feelings and families. The Winchester policy of not publicising for the families’ sakes and at the families’ instruction seems better, provided that adequate provision had been made against future offences (it was not).

    Why did the boys get taken in. Three good reasons:

    (1) Andrew Watson understood that JS was ‘tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives’. Having successfully cut out sins from their lives in the Winchester revival, they will have expected to be able to cut out other sins that proved more obstinate. The alternative would have been an unthinkable defeatism or negativity.

    (2) They will already have been familiar with sporting and military training aimed at producing discipline through pain.

    (3) The fact that JS’s colleagues at Iwerne actually were men of great goodness almost to a man. Not easy to spot the snake in the grass. Many of us will judge a person by the company they keep. (Even JS’s dignified demeanour, concern for beneficial discipline in the young, analytic powers as a preacher, stable family etc attest to significant good in him mixed with the bad.)

    (4) Idealism and not letting the tradition down – wanting to be the best for God, as Ruston’s document put it. Achieving as high as one possibly might. Look at the families involved. One peerless in crossword puzzles (father and elder brother) AND banking (father). One that had a grandfather cricket blue AND England football captain; together with a father quintuple blue (son quadruple) AND England Test player. See Chris Cowdrey ‘Good Enough?’ about the impossibilities of following in famous footsteps. To think that such highest intentions had led to bad results will have been, and was, excruciating to bear – but here is the point: young men with good intentions are resilient, because only bad intentions would have been a sin to uproot. All victims are unanimous that Smyth alone (not any accomplices) was to blame.
    This resilience resulted in no time at all in several of the men appearing not merely undamaged but indeed unusually admirable. And this successful rehabilitation was actively undertaken by the camp staff now being ignorantly vilified.

    Things could and should have been left there, together with as much ongoing counselling as necessary for those poor victims who needed and need it. Instead, some of them (though Mark Stibbe has not swallowed anythiong whole) have seen Cathy Newman’s kindness as enough, never mind the economical attitude to truth and the whole journalistic goss environment. It is Leon Brittan over again: sledgehammer rather than toothcomb. The things are being dredged up because of a fleshly need for more goss. They are being spaced out (and the spirit of gradual revelation has too much in common with titillation) in the typical journalistic manner, to extract max juice. Old stories are repeated with nothing new added, or just a new angle added, or one tiny detail added and the others rehashed. No: Journalists are not necessarily our friends in all ways. Closure could have been 35 years ago for some of the individuals – let those particular sleeping dogs lie. Do the journalists care about feelings (it is excruciating to be plastered over national press) or families (ditto) including elderly parents?? I don;t see evidence of that. There is a danger that victims who are treated nicely by journalists who have something to gain from them (not that that is always the reason for the nice treatment) end up with the same modus operandi and outlook as the journalists themselves. Feelings. Families. Please remember.

  26. Update after Channel 4 News bulletin 31.5.17

    Again we see the deviousness of the Channel 4 set-up.

    Krishnan Guru-Murphy says Justin Welby claimed to have had no contact at all with the Iwerne camps after 1978 (0:20). Similarly Cathy Newman (2:48) says JW claimed to have ‘severed all ties’ with the camp(s).

    Both newscasters are wrong. JW claimed no such thing (2:00). Rather, he says he left for France in 1978; ‘I came back in ’83, and had no contact with the camps **during that time** (1978-83) at all.’

    This, by the way, is inaccurate. Bad memory? Precis/summary of his major geographical movements leading him to bracket off 1978-83?

    I remember that his presence at one camp (and I think he attended only one of my three -Summer’86; New Year’87; Easter’91) was in the shape of a flying visit. That may have been typical, as he always seems to have been travelling.
    He did address the Harrow CU in the first half of 1981 it would have been (as did John Smyth a little earlier: that January) and the vast majority of speakers there were Iwerne officers. That was concerning his Bible-smuggling; he was flagged up for that rather than for any Iwerne connection.

    Why don’t the newscasters admit that dragging JW (as absent a Iwerne officer as almost any in the relevant period 1978-82) into the centre of this story is a shameless piece of headline-grabbing? It wouldn’t have the same ring without ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ being crowbarred into it.

    Cathy Newman is quite out of order when she sees any post-1978 link of J Welby with any Iwerne camper or officer as suspicious. If he does not immediately drop all his friends, is that a suspicious matter? Quite the contrary: it would be highly irregular if he did drop his friends. Iwerne was/is close-knit, and many there would have counted their best friends as being Iwerne men (3:19). Cathy’s position is totally confused. She takes one address-book entry as evidence that he did keep in touch with his fellow Iwerne campers. A: he could scarcely have dropped so many friends at once; B: why on earth would he? C: she is making a generalisation based on a single case, as though what is true of one must be true of all.

    Mark Stibbe says quite rightly that two speakers (among many) both speaking in the same multi-speaker speaking programme implies who knows what? – it is not sufficient evidence of anything. This is a more measured and accurate assessment than any of Newman’s. C Newman persists (like all journalists – yawn! we know what you are up to) in making the C of E link (and MS goes along with this too much at 2.33, 4.37), even though Iwerne was/is only in part, and was/is not centrally, a C of E enterprise. Nor was the Winchester College Christian Forum essentially a C of E enterprise.

    Senior figures knew (4.37). Yes, and the information has been in the public domain since the Winchester HM’s (1991) autobiography. Even that went against the expressed wishes of the parents. So if the parents justly wanted to move on and Winchester HM in fact mentioned it in his book – where on earth is the ‘cover up’?

    But that is not the angle Channel 4 wants you to see.

    Maybe Iwerne people took the Bible seriously. The Bible says ‘Don’t gossip’. Maybe they didn’t, hence other people in the same circles not knowing about this.

    Maybe the protection of the reputation meant that little mention was made.

    Maybe the sincerity of the victims, as attested by the report (their motives were good), shows that we are dealing with unusually high-minded and idealistic people. Least likely people to gossip, therefore.

    Maybe afterwards they were thoroughly ashamed.

    Or wanted to forget the whole horrible experience.

    Lots of reasons therefore for avoiding mentioning it.

  27. Addendum to the last comment:

    In the same 31.5.17 Channel 4 bulletin, both Cathy Newman and Mark Stibbe spoke as though Sunday 12 August 1979 (Smyth’s talk) and Monday 20 August 1979 (Welby’s talk) were part of ‘the same camp’ at Iwerne. This is probably unlikely. Camps, I believe, lasted ten days (or a week)? There were 3 camps in the summer. I would think that 12 August would have been part of Iwerne B and 20 August would have been part of Iwerne C. There was an appreciable change of personnel between A, B, and C, although more so in the case of boys than in the case of leaders. Even for very many of the leaders, it would have been unfeasible to devote as many 30 days out of a 45-day summer holidays to Iwerne camps.

    Mail On Sunday (& thence mailonline) 1.10.17 persists in speaking of abuse at UK camps. This is a textbook example of newspaper people writing the story they want to write. Yet no actual story has emerged of abuse by Smyth at UK camps rather than in his shed. Something inside them is telling them that this is the version that ‘must’ be true, evidence or no evidence. It is a very interesting question what that ‘something’ is.

    Colin Coward, in his initial Smyth response Feb’17, writes of Iwerne leaders allegedly manipulating situations where gay campers were in at least semi-nudity in presence of leaders. ‘Manipulation’ is somewhat subjective. The said situation is extremely hard to avoid, in fact, in a sporty context that requires supervision. And at the date in question (and even today) it would be pretty much standard. That amounts to little. He admits that nothing sexual, or, apparently, even involving inappropriate touching, took place. Why would it have? How would the leaders know which campers self-identified (then or later) as gay. This all looks gossipy to me.

    Andy Morse, who also said earlier that his radar in camp days latterly told him that Iwerne was not a safe place, now says (Oct. ’17) that there were 5 other Iwerne abusers. (The term is a vague one, and presumably could cover physical and/or sexual.) Without evidence or specifics, it is hard to see what this amounts to, great or insignificant. Think of Cardinal Pell – if a supervisor is with boys in a pool (as they need to be), almost anything can be dressed up as ‘abuse’. Proximity to the semi-clothed!! Touching in that context!! It would be a miracle if anything so mild could possibly be avoided in such a context.

  28. I put forward the following theory: Catholics can go to confession and receive absolution. Evangelicals, on the other hand, do not have the sacrament of confession. Therefore many Protestants, like these school boys, have a greater consciousness of sin than other Christians. The cunning Smyth worked on the boys’ feelings of shame and guilt until they felt that a beating was the only way they could expiate their ‘impure thoughts’ and other so-called ‘sins’.

  29. When I was in Hull (1986-2008), we had at least 3 clergy all of a liberal catholic tradition who ended up with prison sentences. One was even given a parish when they came out of prison!
    I have seen no comments or acts of repentance about any of them.
    I was involved in the Lymington VPS camps and have never heard of anything untoward. It is a shame if all branches get tarred.


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